Tres Puentes, Chile, Coscoroba Swans and Coots

Two new Coot species also made it onto the life list at Tres Puentes. These were Red Gartered and White-winged Coot. The former being present in larger numbers. A number of both Coot species were seen with juveniles in tow. The images below are not the best but always nice to get a snap of a new bird.

White-winged Coot, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Red-gartered Coot, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Tres Puentes ducks noticeboard, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

The rest of the wildfowl present was not new to me or Tony, as we had seen them in the Falklands on different occasions, but what I certainly noticed was how much more the confiding the Chilean birds were. Yellow-billed Pintail and Chiloe Wigeon are particularly wary in the Falklands, yet here they swam quite close. It may well be that the birds are simply more used to the noise, traffic and people who visit. The population of Punta Arenas is 120 thousand. Slightly more than Port Stanley! We also enjoyed good views of four Coscoroba Swans and a single male Cinnamon Teal and a number of Speckled Teal. The commonest species around the reserve was the Upland Goose. Probably in the region of 5-600 birds were seen, mainly on the surrounding grassland.

Coscoroba Swan, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Coscoroba Swan Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Cinnamon Teal, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Yellow-billed Pintail, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Chiloe Wigeon, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Steve C

Red Shoveler and Ashy-headed Goose at Tres Puentes Reserve, Chile

After leaving Fareham and travelling for close to 36 hours via London, Madrid, Santiago and Puerto Montt, I finally arrived at Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile. After a half hour bus ride on which I saw both Chilean Flamingo and Black-faced Ibis I finally joined HMS Protector.

HMS Protector alongside Punta Arenas, Chile

The first few days were spent settling in but on Monday afternoon myself and Tony T who is already serving on the ship jumped in a taxi and headed to Tres Puentes; a local wetland reserve on the outskirts of the city. Although the reserve is backed onto by an industrial estate and has two main roads running adjacent it is a cracking spot with plenty to see, all the better if the sun is shining as it was for us that day. Two birds that I have been desperate to see in the Falklands but have never connected with, were found here within a few minutes. Both species were present in good numbers; Red Shoveler and Ashy-headed Geese.

Tres Puentes noticeboard, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Ashy-headed Geese (inc juvenile), Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile

Small flock of Red Shoveler, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

I would estimate around 40-50 Red Shoveler were present on the small lakes with maybe around 70 Ashy-headed Geese. Both birds are pretty much unmistakeable. The majority of the shovelers were roosting to the rear of the reserve. Although they did come a little closer later in the afternoon. The bulk of the geese flew in as we watched and after a cleaning and preening session moved out onto the surround grassland to feed. A great start to my stint on the ship.

Red Shoveler (female), Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Red Shoveler (male), Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Ashy-headed Geese, Tres Puentes, Punta Arenas, Chile 7th April 2014

Steve C

Antarctic Birding: Port Lockroy and Snowy Sheathbill at Palmer Station

With the survey tasking completed HMS PROTECTOR departed the waters around Detaille Island on the morning of Tuesday 18 Mar 14. Heading north the ship crossed the Antarctic Circle in the afternoon and held station overnight in Crystal Sound to the southeast of Pendleton Strait. The following day the ship sailed passed more stunning scenery as PRTR transited through the Grandidier Channel under clear blue skies.

Grandidier Channel, Antarctica – 19 Mar 14

Grandidier Channel, Antarctica – 19 Mar 14

Due to there being insufficient daylight to transit the narrow Lemaire Channel that evening the ship held station overnight several hundred meters from the entrance. Humpback and Sei Whales were regularly spotted around the ship and one sighting was particularly memorable. From inside the Bridge I heard a whale blow on the starboard side of the ship. When I reached the starboard Bridge Wing I spotted a Sei Whale just a few metres from the ship’s side. The animal submerged but remained visible as it swam alongside the ship in the crystal clear water. Just before it was directly below me it banked to the right and turned about showing its pale flanks. It then resurfaced, blew and then submerged and was lost to sight.

The following morning in misty conditions PRTR transited through the Lemaire Channel. Kelp Gull, Brown Skua, Imperial Shag, Antarctic Tern and Wilson’s Storm-petrel were regularly encountered. However, the most spectacular sighting was the rafts of literally thousands of Gentoo Penguins. The ‘Gentoos’ were so closely packed together that from a distance it was difficult to discern what the dark masses moving around ahead of the ship actually were without the aid of binoculars. Four Adelie Penguins were also encountered during the transit.

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica – 20 Mar 14

After the ship exited the Lemaire Channel the ship headed for Port Lockroy. Although the UK Base had already been shut down for the winter, the ship had been tasked with removing the waste that had been separated and left for collection. Unsurprisingly, there was considerably less ice present than during my previous visit three and a half months earlier (as shown in the two images below).

Port Lockroy (UK), Antarctica – 20 Mar 14

Port Lockroy (UK), Antarctica – 3 Dec 13

Just after I had tucked into my lunch the Officer Of the Watch informed the Ship’s Company that a Leopard Seal had been spotted close inshore with a penguin kill. Although I refrained from ‘legging it’ to the upperdeck I did grab my camera and binoculars and made my way there as soon as I had finished eating. Half an hour later I spotted the same or another Leopard Seal appear from behind the island. It moved purposely very close inshore and its presence had an immediate effect on the behaviour of the ‘Gentoos’. Those on the island backed well away from the edge of the water, and an exposed group on a rock close inshore knew that they were vulnerable. Not content with huddling together in the middle of the rock, first one and then the rest of them leapt into the water and made a mad dash for the island. All the ‘Gentoos’ made it safely across but several minutes later my attention was drawn to a gathering of seabirds to port. Through the binoculars I witnessed a ‘Leopard’ thrash a penguin kill violently from side to side. The surrounding water turned a bright red and the Giant Petrels, Brown Skua, Kelp Gull, Antarctic Tern and Wilson’s Storm-petrels were drawn in like a magnet for a share of the spoils.

Yelcho Base (Chilean), Antarctica – 20 Mar 14

The following day PRTR visited Palmer Station, one of three US Bases in Antarctica. The visit provided me with my last opportunity to get ashore in Antarctica. The highlight was my first and only Snowy Sheathbills of Ice Patrol 4.

Palmer Station (US), Antarctica – 21 Mar 14

Palmer Station (US), Antarctica – 21 Mar 14

Snowy Sheathbill (presumed immature), Palmer Station, Antarctica – 21 Mar 14

Snowy Sheathbill, Palmer Station, Antarctica – 21 Mar 14

Snowy Sheathbill, Palmer Station, Antarctica – 21 Mar 14

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Early Purple Orchid in West Sussex

Yesterday I was in West Sussex visiting another member of the Royal Naval Birdwatching Society. We were discussing ways that we could improve our online database. This shows records of seabird sightings and landbirds onboard ships that have been collated by the society since its conception in 1946.
http://www.rnbws.org.uk/search-2/
A proactive morning was followed by a very nice lunch and I decided to hit the M25 before it became a carpark.
On the way out I admired his garden and the small wood next door. Talk got to orchids, as it does and Stephen took me to see his “spotted orchids”
We passed bluebells, primroses and Lady’s Smock until we came across a wide expanse of orchids. With spotted leaves, deep purple colour and loose flower heads, I straight away recognised them as Early Purple Orchid.

Early Purple Orchid, West Sussex, 9th April 2014

A nice surprise as some years I seem to miss this species. I only had my Iphone, so the above image is pretty rough
Looking forward to finding some new orchids this summer
Mark C

Antarctic Birding: Emperor Penguin at Detaille Island

Iceberg, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

No more than ten minutes after I had enjoyed superb views of my first Leopard Seal I was piped to the Bridge. I presumed it was because the Leopard Seal had been relocated, but on my arrival I was informed by the Commanding Officer that an Emperor Penguin had in fact been spotted to port. To my misfortune though the ‘Emperor’, the species at the top of my wish list, had dived and was no longer on show. Conscious that there were numerous pairs of eyes looking out ahead and to port, I went to the back of the bridge and kept an eye out astern and to starboard. I had dipped on the only other previous sighting of an Emperor Penguin that was spotted by the Bridge Team very late one night in the Weddell Sea during Ice Patrol 2. Fortunately, after a frustrating few minutes I was delighted to relocate the ‘Emperor’ that had appeared on the surface of the water behind the ship. The bird briefly launched itself onto a chunk of sea ice and stood up before it disappeared once again into the water.

Emperor Penguin, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Emperor Penguin, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Either it or possibly another individual was then spotted by the Officer Of the Watch (OOW) off the starboard bow. As with the Leopard Seal the Commanding Officer then got the OOW to utilise the bow and stern thrusters to manoeuvre PRTR towards the Emperor Penguin. Although the bird regularly dived the ship got progressively closer to it. With record shots in the bag I went out onto the Port Bridge Wing from where I got progressively better and better photographs of the bird that called frequently. Unfortunately, the ‘Emperor’ that had settled on a chunk of sea ice took to the water before I had reached the focsle from where I had hoped to get even better photographs of what is by far the largest species of penguin.

Emperor Penguin, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Emperor Penguin, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Emperor Penguin, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Emperor Penguin, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

HMS PROTECTOR remained in the area overnight and the following morning I spotted a distant Emperor. Later the Chief Bosun’s Mate ‘Inga’ confirmed my suspicions that there were indeed at least two birds present having seen one and heard another calling from a different direction.

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Antarctic Birding: Leopard Seal at Detaille Island

Whilst I was on Watch Rotation Leave during Ice Patrol 3 HMS PROTECTOR conducted extensive Survey Operations of the poorly chartered waters that surround Detaille Island. It isn’t a very large island, and when the UK Station was constructed there it was assumed the exposed rock was adjoined to the surrounding terrain. However, as the ice retreated in response to climate change it eventually became apparent that the station had in fact been built on an island, and that realisation resulted in it being abandoned. Ironically, the ship despatched to pick up the last team to be stationed there couldn’t reach Detaille Island because of extensive ice. Therefore, they were forced to walk across the ice to the ship and had no choice but to leave the vast majority of their equipment behind. Consequently, the station represents a time capsule and it is a popular destination for cruise ships to visit. Hence no doubt the tasking.

Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Unfortunately on PRTR’s return to Detaille Island on 17 Mar 14 the landing point was chocked with ice and the intended ‘Leg Stretchers’ had to be cancelled, so I was unable to get ashore. Only the Royal Marine Detachment managed to get landed, at a less suitable alternative landing point on the other side of the island, tasked with the recovery of the survey tidal gauge equipment that had previously been setup and left to record data. In addition, both PRTR and the Survey Motor Boat conducted Sonar Survey Operations to fill in the gaps that remained from Ice Patrol 3.

Detaille Island and surrounding Icebergs – 17 Mar 14

Icebergs – 17 Mar 14

That afternoon at approximately 1700 the Officer Of the Watch (OOW) informed the Ship’s Company that a Leopard Seal had been spotted ahead of the ship on a slab of ice. Within minutes I was wrapped up in warm clothing and stood on the port Bridge Wing looking at the animal through my binoculars. Fortunately the ship wasn’t surveying at the time and was free to manoeuvre so the Commanding Officer, who was keen to take a closer look, got his OOW to steer a direct course towards it. It was a decision that certainly got my vote, despite the poor quality of the existing navigational charts. As the ship slowly approached the occupied slab of ice I was treated to ever closer and closer views of what can only be described as a menacing looking creature. Being the Top Predator (standfast Orca) it was only when PRTR was almost on top of it that it reluctantly turned and disappeared into the cold Antarctic water. It or another individual was regularly seen the following day.

Leopard Seal, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Leopard Seal, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Leopard Seal, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Leopard Seal, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

Although it had taken a long time to connect with a Leopard Seal my first encounter turned out to be well worth the wait. I have subsequently seen three more individuals, and on two of those occasions the ‘Leopards’ thrashed a Penguin violently from side to side turning the water a bright red. The Leopard Seal kills were easy to spot because Kelp Gull, Southern Giant Petrels, Antarctic Tern, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, etc would congregate around the spot for a share of the spoils. I have since read that the reason for the thrashing is to turn the Penguin inside out and make it easier to swallow. Fortunately for the penguins the Leopard Seal’s diet is also comprised of fish, krill and other seals.

Until shortly after the close encounter with the Leopard Seal the ‘birding’ highlight of the day had been several sightings of Snow Petrel. The sightings were my first of Ice Patrol 4, and once again the species was to be found in close proximity to significant amounts of ice. The sightings of what had been a regular species on my day lists during Ice Patrol 1 and 2 also turned out to be my last.

Snow Petrel, Detaille Island, Antarctica – 17 Mar 14

I didn’t expect the day to get any better after I had enjoyed yet more stunning scenery, bizarre shaped icebergs, sightings of the graceful Snow Petrel and my first ‘Leopard’. However, it did – ten minutes after the Leopard Seal!!! I joined HMS PROTECTOR knowing I only had an outside chance of connecting with what for me was the species at the top of my wish list. That box has now been well and truly ticked.

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Antarctic Birding: San Martin and Imperial (Blue-eyed) Shag

After HMS PROTECTOR sailed from Rothera it continued south to conduct a Base Visit of the Argentine San Martin Station at 68.2°S. It was the furthest south the ship was to go on this particular Ice Patrol and indeed had ever been.

Marguerite Bay, Antarctica – 16 Mar 14

Marguerite Bay, Antarctica – 16 Mar 14

San Martin Station (Argentinean), Marguerite Bay – 16 Mar 14

Brown Skua were once again regularly encountered. Southern Fulmar, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, Kelp Gull and Adelie Penguin were also spotted as PRTR held station offshore. However, the most numerous species was Imperial (Blue-eyed/Antarctic) Shag.

Imperial Shag, Marguerite Bay, Antarctica – 16 Mar 14

After the Base Visit to the Argentine Station PRTR turned about and commenced the transit north. En route the ship sailed pass the Teniente Luis Carvajal Station (Chilean) on Adelaide Island and discovered that it had already been shut down for the Antarctic Winter. A similar selection of species were to be found offshore, although a long strung out line of at least 300 Imperial Shag were particularly noteworthy. The birds flew low over the water and were headed for Adelaide Island.

Imperial Shag, Marguerite Bay, Antarctica – 16 Mar 14

Imperial Shag, Marguerite Bay, Antarctica – 16 Mar 14

There were also several Humpback Whales present. The two animals below showed particularly well.

Humpback Whale, Marguerite Bay, Antarctica – 16 Mar 14

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Kumlien’s Gull and Hoopoe in West Sussex

I am due to fly to South America to re-join HMS Protector on Friday so I have this week on leave along with my wife Jo. I asked her if she fancied a trip to see the sights of Arundel today. She was more than happy even though she was well aware that part of the day would be spent birding. We set off west in the fog but a half hour stop at the “unmissable” TK Maxx home store on the outskirts of Chichester allowed it to lift before we arrived at Arundel.

The frying pan selection has to be seen to be believed.

With the numerous antiques shops visited and the obligatory toasted teacake consumed, we headed down to the village of Climping to have a look for the recently reported Hoopoe. Glad to report the bird was showing well if a little distant in a horse paddock at the back pf the beach car park. The Hoopoe was constantly feeding and I was hoping it would venture a little nearer the camera, but a couple of para gliders came buzzing along the beach and unfortunately put the bird to flight.

Hoopoe, Climping, 1 Apr 2014

Hoopoe, Climping, 1 Apr 2014

Hoopoe Flushing Service........Does look good fun though

 

This is how close you see them in Portugal. Photo Mark Cutts

We checked out the grounds of the nearby Bailliffescourt Hotel but could not relocate the bird. We then drove down the west side of the River Arun and parked up in the car park adjacent to the mouth of the river. I looked around but could see no sign of the hoped for Kumlien’s Gull that has been residing in the vicinity since early February. We had lunch in the car overlooking the river and fortunately as we ate, the Juvenile Kumlien’s flew down the river in the direction of the sea. I was hoping that the bird would have alighted on the long groyne at the river’s mouth and sure enough about fifty metres out there was the bird perched on the wood. I was then hoping the bird would take to the air and come a little closer but there it remained for the remainder of our visit.

Kumlien's Gull, Littlehampton, 1 Apr 2014

Kumlien's Gull, Littlehampton, 1 Apr 2014

Kumlien's Gull, Littlehampton, 1 Apr 2014

Steve C

Chiffs, Cetti’s and Little Egrets down the Titchfield Canal Path

A couple of walks down the Titchfield Canal last Week produced a decent number of birds. On Sunday I walked from my house to the sea front; whereas on the previous Thursday I parked the car on Bridge St and just walked to Hammond’s Bridge and back. Chiffchaffs were well represented with 12 birds on Sunday and around seven on Thursday. All the birds were as you would expect particularly vocal in the spring sunshine. Cetti’s Warblers were heard in similar proportions with 10 and 7 respectively. 12 Little Egrets together in the first field south of Bridge St on Sunday was a great sighting. The birds were all feeding in the shallow floods of the nearest field.

Chiffchaff, Titchfield Canal Path, 27 Mar 2014

Little Egrets, Four of the twelve, Titchfield Canal Path, 30 Mar 2014

Little Egrets, Six of the twelve, Titchfield Canal Path, 30 Mar 2014

580 Black-headed Gulls were counted on the Posbrook Floods. No doubt part of the large Haven population to the south. There was a constant movement of gulls up and down the valley. I could also hear a number of Mediterranean Gulls amongst them. Other birds in good voice were Robins, Dunnocks, Greenfinches and the usual Tits. Nice to see the Reed Bunting in the same place as on the 22nd. The bird was still singing and calling repeatedly, so quite obviously on territory, maybe yet to find a mate. Nice also to see good numbers of Bumble Bees; many attracted to the flowering catkins of the canal side Willow Trees.

Dunnock, Titchfield Canal Path, 27 Mar 2014

Reed Bunting, Titchfield Canal Path, 30 Mar 2014

Bumble Bee on Willow, Titchfield Canal Path, 27 Mar 2014

 

Steve C

Visit to Lagao dos Salgados, Algarve, Portugal

After returning from the Falklands, I spent a week with my wife in Albudeira on the Algarve in Portugal. Most defiantly not a birding holiday but I did manage to talk her into going to a local reserve on our last day. Lagao dos Salgados can be found about 6m to the West of Albufeira and consists of a large salt marsh next to the sea divided by a large area of dunes.
We grabbed a taxi and was dropped off at the carpark at the far East of the reserve. A broadwalk follows the reeds to the West. One of the first birds I spotted was a Crested Lark and these turned out to be fairly common. Cetti’s Warbler would every now and then blast out a song and both Coot and Black-headed Gull were in good numbers.  Then, in the distance I spotted the bird that I had come for.

Greater Flamingo, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal 25th March 2014

All in all there were about 100 Greater Flamingos on the reserve but all stayed well out in the middle. Pochard and Shoveler were there in tens or so and I saw the odd Moorhen.
Avocets were feeding in the shallows and alongside them were Black-necked Stilts. I was a little disappointed that there were no other waders present, or at least none that I could see, not having a scope.

Black-winged Stilt, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal 25th March 2014

The broadwalk ends at another carpark at the South-west corner but a track leads north alongside the Western edge and the best viewing area is half way along. In the scrubby fields behind me, I could hear Goldfinches, Sardinian Warblers and at least 5 singing Corn Buntings.

Corn Bunting, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal 25th March 2014

As I walked North I spotted a goat herder and close by were 30-40 Cattle Egret, weaving in and out of the goats, flushing when the farmer got too close.

Cattle Egret, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal 25th March 2014

I spent a few hours here before the wife decided she had enough of the beach, which is lovely by the way and absolutely empty. We opted to walk back to Albufeira and see how far we could get before we gave in and called a cab. A mile or so down the road and we came across a small pine wood. I could hear some harsh bird calls and guessed what they might be, my second target bird. I chased them around the wood for a while but they were incredibly elusive and this is about the best image I could get of the small party of Azure-winged Magpies.

Azure-winged Magpie, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal 25th March 2014

As we set off again I stopped and pointed out a bird to the wife. Not a birder, but who could not be delighted by the sight of a Hoopoe sat quietly on the ground, a bird that she has always wanted to see.

Hoopoe, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal 25th March 2014

We did get the taxi a little later after stopping for a well deserved “Large beer”. So just one day in the field but what a great place, maybe one day I will return.

Greater Flamingo, Lagao dos Salgados, Portugal. 25th March 2014

Oh ! and I saw an Alpine Swift from my hotel balcony, bonus !
Mark C

Antarctic Birding: Rothera – Adelie Penguin and Antarctic Fur Seal

The primary task of Ice Patrol 4 was to deliver Aviation Fuel to the UK’s largest Antarctic Station of Rothera located on Adelaide Island within the Antarctic Circle at a latitude of 67°34’S. Equipped with a runway, constructed on terra firma rather than ice, its primary function is Logistic Operations in support of wider British Antarctic Survey (BAS) operations in Antarctica, although a limited amount of mainly marine research is also conducted.

BAS Station of Rothera – 14 Mar 14

Onsite Dutch facility and HMS PROTECTOR – 15 Mar 14

I mustered on the jetty with the rest of ‘Stick 1’ for a tour of the base at 0930 on Saturday 15 Mar 14. I only expected a brief tour of the station followed by a visit to the shop, but in between our guide took us on a complete loop of the eastern end of the island. The highlight on the base itself was the marine laboratories where a selection of the organisms found in Antarctic waters were on display. Unsurprisingly, one of the current areas of research is the response of those marine organisms to increased water temperature, to determine how they will react to further increases in water temperature caused by climate change.

The North Cove end of the runway – 15 Mar 14

North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

After the tour of the station we set off eastwards along North Cove in calm relatively sunny conditions. I expected to see a few penguins and then return to the new accommodation building for a visit to the shop, but we kept on going until we reached the top of the hill that overlooked PRTR and consequently I was treated to an impromptu wildlife experience. Being late summer there were far fewer penguins present ashore but there were plenty of Antarctic Fur Seals.

Antarctic Fur Seal, North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Antarctic Fur Seal, North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Antarctic Fur Seal, North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Southern Elephant Seal, North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Imperial Shag, North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Adelie Penguin (presumed moulting chick), North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Adelie Penguin, North Cove, Adelaide Island, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Jenny Island, South Cove, Antarctica – 15 Mar 14

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Falklands Birding : The Voyage Home

Well my time in the Falklands came to an end a few weeks ago and I am home, taking a well earned (?) break, I have already been and returned from Portugal, more on that soon and I am looking forward to my next adventure onboard a pusser’s grey line cruiser.

I had a superb time in the Falklands with many highlights, here are just a few.

The Mourning Sierra-Finch. Found by an observant female Sergeant in the RAF, unsure of what it was, she took a photo. So weeks later I am constantly throwing seed out of my ground floor cabin window. Sure enough, one morning there it is. I get the word around and over the next few days birders from Stanley and within the forces are stood in my cabin staring out, waiting for the bird to appear. This was not helped by the fact that all the smokers passed this window on their way to the smoking shed. Some strange looks came our way. By the time I had left the bird had been seen at seed outside Nick Smith’s window, some 300 metres from mine and as far as I know is still present around the accommodation blocks.

 

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin. A great day was had at the Rockhopper Penguin colonies around the northern coast of Berkeley sound. Alan Henry hoped this bird would be present but it wasn’t until our second visit of the day that we saw it. I have written a short note on this and other sightings of this species within the islands and hopefully it will be appearing in the next edition of Sea Swallow, the annual publication of the Royal Naval Birdwatching Society.

The Cinnamon Teal. Coppo had seen this bird the year before and I was determined to catch up with it, on what was possibly my last visit to the Falklands. We found it on the same pools where it had been seen over a year before. A speculative visit as I had seen a huge amount of ducks on them earlier that morning whilst travelling from work. It proved well worth the detour.

Finally I would just like to thank those that helped during my short stay. Alan Henry and family. Alan is forever sarcastic but hugely enjoyable company and is the backbone of birding within the islands. Nick Smith for dragging me out when I wanted to watch the football to enjoy some great birding days. Mike Morrison for at least trying for the Snares Island Penguin and Micky Reeves for good conservation during yet another failed twitching attempt.

Hopefully not my last visit to a place forever in my heart, who knows ?
Mark C

Passage South to Rothera on HMS PROTECTOR – Killer Whales, Seals and breathtaking Antarctic landscapes

Brown Skua, The Gullet, Antarctica-14 Mar 14

The weather improved significantly after HMS PROTECTOR reached the Antarctic Peninsula and sailed through the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits bound for Rothera. The ship then took the seaward route and sailed into Crystal Sound via the Pendleton Strait. It was within Crystal Sound that the OOW announced the presence of a pod of Killer ‘Orca’ Whales in front of the ship just after lunch on 14 Mar 14. Consequently, I ‘legged it’ to the Bridge Roof via my cabin where I grabbed my binoculars. Conscious that whales and dolphins are often quick to disappear, I didn’t bother with my camera because I had literally put the battery on charge no more than ten minutes before. My priority was simply to get my first ever sighting of an Orca. Once I reached the Bridge Roof I scanned around the ship but couldn’t see any whales, let alone a ‘Killer’. Therefore, I headed down to the Bridge to see if anybody was onto them, but unfortunately nobody was and many started to drift away. Not prepared to give up so easily I returned to the Bridge Roof and almost immediately spotted the pod of Orca astern of the ship. Amongst the pod that contained at least six animals was a male. Its dorsal fin was absolutely huge. Through my binoculars I watched a narrow triangular fin that just kept rising out of the water before eventually a body became visible. I’ve often queried the apparent size of male Orca dorsal fins on TV but they really are that large. I hurriedly returned to the Bridge to get those that remained onto the pod that also contained a calf. Although a little distant the pod showed well as they made their way towards an iceberg. That single pod of Killer Whales has remained the only one I have seen to date, and I have been surprised how scarce sightings have been for a species that has never been commercially hunted. In contrast I have seen hundreds of ‘Humpbacks’ and dozens of Sei and Antarctic Minke Whales. That evening HMS PROTECTOR sailed through the Antarctic Circle and I ticked off yet another lifetime ambition.

The ship held station overnight in the vicinity of Liard Island and the surrounding landscape looked stunning in the warm sunshine of the following morning as the ship prepared to continue on towards Rothera.

South of Crystal Sound, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

South of Crystal Sound, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

Crabeater Seal, The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

Weddell Seal, The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

That stunning landscape became simply breathtaking as HMS PROTECTOR transited the narrow channels to Rothera under blue still skies. Every time the ship turned a corner or you looked the other way there was another photograph you just had to take. There are certainly far worse places to work.

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

The Gullet, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

In the evening the ship berthed alongside the UK’s Logistics/Research Station of Rothera and the ship took centre stage on the stations webcam. After I conducted the ceremony of sunset on the flightdeck I headed for the jetty to enjoy a barbecue cooked by the chefs for both the Ship’s Company and Rothera staff.

Rothera UK Logistics/Research Station and runway, Antarctica – 14 Mar 14

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Bunny Meadows: Golden Plovers and Greenshank

Enjoyed a couple of hours at Bunny Meadows today, a fraction after high tide. Had a decent selection of waders but surprisingly no Dunlin or Ringed Plover which I would normally have expected. Both have seemed scarcer this winter than normal. This could be down tom the mild winter, but not sure. A flock of Golden Plover in flight provided the best for numbers with 107 birds counted from one of the images. On the mud, Black-tailed Godwits came in with around 50 birds feeding; many were approaching full breeding plumage. One particular bird, image below was swimming almost Phalarope-esque across one of the tidal channels. In the region of a dozen Redshanks were scattered along the meadows and a several Grey Plovers were among a small feeding flock of Godwits as well as the odd bird along the river. A single Greenshank feeding quite close to the path allowed a decent photograph and was probably the bird of the visit. Overall quite pleased with the days images.

Greenshank, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

Black-tailed Godwit, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

Swimming Black-tailed Godwit, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

Grey Plover, River Hamble, 26 Mar 2014

Golden Plovers, 5 of the 107, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

Oystercatcher, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

Double Decker wrapper competing with a Redshank in the orange accessory department

Redshank, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

It wasn’t all waders.

Black-headed Gull, Bunny Meadows, 26 Mar 2014

Herring Gull, River Hamble, 26 Mar 2014

Steve C

South Atlantic Birding: Northern Royal Albatross and Southern Royal Albatross on passage to Antarctica

HMS PROTECTOR sailed from East Jetty, East Cove Military Port at 1400 on Sunday 9 Mar 14 bound for tasking around various locations of the Antarctic Peninsula. The weather forecast was not good with a deep low predicted to pass through Drake’s Passage in a few days time. However, the delayed departure meant that the ship couldn’t afford to lose more days of Ice Patrol four tied up in the Falkland Islands. Although the ship would be in the relative sheltered waters of the Antarctic Peninsula before the worst of the depression hit the waves in the South Atlantic were already building.

As is often the case bad weather often leads to good ‘birding’, and within just three hours of the ship’s departure I connected with a single Northern Royal Albatross – ‘pelagic lifer’ number 19 of the 2013/4 deployment. There was every possibility that I had misidentified a Northern Royal Albatross from my previous patrols on PRTR as a ‘Wanderer’, although none of the large albatross photographs I have kept show a ‘Northern Royal’. However, nobody is born an expert and I have had to learn my trade in the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean by myself. Due to the upperdeck being out of bounds the images below were taken on the Bridge through windows covered in sea spray. I’m just hoping for an opportunity to get better record images, of what for me represented albatross species number seven, during the passage north from Antarctica. Fingers crossed.

Northern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic Ocean – 9 Mar 14

Northern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic Ocean – 9 Mar 14

Northern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic Ocean – 9 Mar 14

Throughout the night the weather worsened and it was difficult to achieve any constructive work in the very heavy seas. The ship rolled to an angle of thirty-eight degrees at one stage, and although that was nothing compared with what the ship had experienced on the passage to the Falkland Islands a couple of weeks before, it was enough for me. Unable to work I spent a few hours wedged in a corner of the Bridge. The highlights were at least two Southern Royal Albatross and once again I marvelled at Slender-billed Prions and Black-bellied Storm-petrels as they dodged the spray just above the waves.

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic Ocean – 10 Mar 14

On Wednesday morning I stepped out onto the ‘inbounds’ Main Deck after the ship had entered the sheltered waters of the Bransfield Strait between Elephant Island and King George Island of the South Shetland Islands. The heavy dusting of snow that had fallen overnight provided appropriate conditions for HMS PROTECTOR’s return to Antarctica. The landscapes I have witnessed on my second visit to the Peninsula have been as breathtaking as those seen during my first back in Nov/Dec 13.

Southern Ocean – 12 Mar 14

Christina Island, Antarctica – 12 Mar 14

Gerlache Strait, Antarctica – 12 Mar 14

The ship’s first task was to transfer the aviation fuel contained in the AvCat Tank to the British Antarctic Survey’s logistics base of Rothera. Therefore, the ship continued south to the Antarctic Circle.

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)