Sunday, 29 December 2013

All at Sea: the way to South Georgia.

Ready for two days of solid sea watching, 
in the Southern Oceans!

I woke up early, to see both grey skies and a stormy grey sea. It had been quite a rough night, but I was keen to get up & about - there was a lot of sea watching to be done & great seabirds to see. And I was not to be disappointed.

Northern, or Hall's Giant Petrel.

Another Northern Giant Petrel.

Southern Giant Petrel for comparison.


 Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross.
Southern Royal Albatross.
Black browed Albatross
Black browed Albatross - the commonest species.
Adult Grey-headed Albatross
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

White-chinned Petrel
This species was quite common
 over the two days at sea.

Cape Petrel - a constant companion
 throughout this entire trip.

Cape Petrel following in the wake of the ship.

Slender-billed Prion.

Common ship followers included Northern Giant Petrels; White-chinned Petrels; Cape Petrels; plenty of Slender-billed Prions and unbelievably, up to six species of Albatross!

Fairy Prion

Antarctic Prion

Black-bellied Storm Petrel.

This species sometimes came very close to the ship,
 but was quite hard to photograph


Common Diving Petrel.
After mid day on the first day at sea, the composition of some seabirds started to change. Fairy Prions started to be seen & by the end of the day I had seen more of them, than Slender-billed Prions. Just before I finished sea watching in the late evening, I saw my first Antarctic Prions! Wow! Three species of Prion in one day! A couple of Black-bellied Storm Petrels made an appearance & under the prow of the ship  a Common Diving Petrel was flushed.

Atlantic Petrel - what a fantastic bird!

Soft-plumaged Petrel

However, best of all, were the fantastic Atlantic & Soft-plumaged Petrels (18 of the former & nine of the latter species). They were very quick & never followed the boat, but I managed to get good views of both species. I went to bed very happy over what I had seen.

The next morning was cold, very cold! The wind cut through you & gradually increased in force throughout the day. As we sailed towards South Georgia, the skies got greyer & greyer, the wind stronger & the temperature plummeted. It was difficult to stay outside on the fly bridge for more than an hour at a time. But I managed to put in a good twelve hours throughout a long day. 
 Wandering Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Ten Wandering Albatross; 2 Southern Royals, plenty of Black-browed Albatross; 2 Grey-headed & a fine Light mantled Sooty Albatross all showed well. As the day progressed, the Fairy Prions at first declined & then disappeared, to be replaced by the abundant Antarctic Prion. By the end of the day I had logged 350+ birds. 15 Black-bellied & 250+ Wilson's Storm Petrels were also seen well. A large bull elephant seal also broke the surface. These animals can dive to incredible depths!

Elephant Seal

In the evening we passed the famous Shag Rocks, but the visibility was poor & few birds were seen. Shag Rocks are the highest point of another submerged continental landmass, about 260 kilometres north-west of South Georgia. It was another rough night at sea, but I was getting excited, as on the morrow, South Georgia beckoned!


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