After Watch Rotation Leave I rejoined HMS PROTECTOR on 8 Sep14 alongside Cape Town, South Africa. The ship was alongside for a Tech Stop and as an engineer it was a very busy time, particularly as the Royal Navy is currently hemorrhaging engineers. However, Steve and I were still able to get out occasionally for a spot of ‘birding’. My first outing was to the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens. Both Steve and I were then able to enjoy a day out together with a local birder that took us more than ninety kilometers from the city. A significant defect kept the ship alongside for an extra 48 hours to enable time for the required stores to be delivered. The delay provided an impromptu afternoon off for the Engineering Department, to the unfounded disgust of the other departments, and enabled Steve and I to visit Table Mountain. Over a month after PRTR sailed for the Falkland Islands I still have photographs to process of the numerous ‘lifers’ I connected with. However, rather than keep jumping back and forth between South Africa and the present we’ll post our South Africa entries during our next Watch Rotation Leave.
PRTR sailed in a much improved material state on 17 Sep 14. Initially the conditions were calm but on the second day the sea state began to increase and continued to over subsequent days. Consequently, the upper deck was often placed out of bounds. Fortunately though, Steve and I were granted permission to proceed out onto the Main Deck together in all but the worst of the weather, as the ship endured persistent stormy weather for the remainder of the passage to South Georgia.
Cape Town and the westward passage across the South Atlantic Ocean to South Georgia was to be my last opportunity to enjoy ‘pastures new’ during my extended time onboard PRTR. For the westward passage to South Georgia I had two target species having already seen Cape Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull and Cape Gannet whilst in Cape Town. They were Shy Albatross and White-headed Petrel; however, I had the good fortune to connect with a third. Shy Albatross was almost guaranteed and sure enough Steve and I spotted a total of approximately 100 as PRTR headed west during the first day out of Cape Town. However, none were seen the following or on subsequent days.
Two days later I connected with a single White-faced Petrel. It was a species that was occasionally seen for the following three days as PRTR altered course and took a more southerly route westward to avoid the worst of the forecasted stormy weather. Unfortunately, the views were always a little distant and often obscured by fog in the heavy swell.
The third species, although not really unexpected after a little homework, was Grey Petrel. It was the first bird I spotted in an afternoon birding session from 01-deck after stepping out of the back of the accommodation tower. Regrettably, Steve was still getting changed in his cabin but we both connected with a second bird later in the day.
On the 23rd I spotted my favorite species of the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean – Antarctic Petrel. We encountered several birds over the next three days with a particularly memorable spectacle of four birds flying around the ship on the 25th.
The picture below shows the sea conditions encountered on the 27 Oct 14. There were a few occasions when I regretted the Officer Of the Watch granting Steve and I permission to leave the warmth and comfort of the accommodation tower.
Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)