Monday, 1 May 2017

Flock at Sea: 2017

This trip is organised by Bird Life South Africa every few years. I must admit when Derrick suggested going on this jaunt I was a little skeptical! A huge boat, with masses of people, birds miles away etc. It didn't appeal. But I signed up & was so surprised. It was great!

Looking across to Table Mountain.

Cape Wheel at night.

A beautiful morning in Cape Town!

Cape Cormorant

Kelp Gull

Hartlaub's Gull

Swift Tern

Southern African Fur Seal.

I flew down to Cape Town & stayed in the Commodore Hotel, right on the V&A Waterfront. It proved to be a great choice. I enjoyed two nights here, just chilling out & met up with Glyn Taylor & his son, Richard. I knew them from Yorkshire, a long time ago & it was great to see them again; they proved to be great birding companions.

This is by far the largest ship I have ever been on!

Just huge!

It takes your breath away really.

Leaving land behind.

A couple of inspired diners!

We boarded the ship on the 24th April & that proved to be a bit of a mission! I was there around five hours waiting to get on board. But then we were off & we saw lots of Cape Cormorants; a handful of both Sooty & Cory's Shearwaters & best of all two Heaviesides Dolphins! A local endemic. But it was dark all too soon & we awaited the morrow with anticipation.

Just a tiny fraction of the 1,900 birders on board!

Photo courtesy of David Woodhouse.

Wandering Albatross

I just can't get enough of these amazing birds!


Sooty Albatross

A tick for me!

Light mantled Sooty Albatross

This is a major rarity in South African waters.

Salvin's Albatross

White capped Albatross

Indian Yellow nosed Albatross

Northern Giant Petrel

Great Winged Petrel

Great Shearwater

Salvin's Prion

This was a tick for nearly everyone on board.

I was up before dawn on the 25th & on deck just as the sun was rising. It proved to be a terrific days birding, especially for all the South Africans on board, as we saw lots of local rarities. The sea bird list was pretty amazing!

European Storm Petrel c 20; Wilson's Storm Petrel 1; Black bellied Storm Petrel 1; Wandering Albatross 130+; Sooty Albatross 8; Light mantled Sooty Albatross 1; Shy Albatross 45+; White capped Albatross 1; Salvin's Albatross 1; Indian Yellow nosed Albatross 3; Southern Giant Petrel 1; Northern Giant Petrel 5; Salvin's Prion 1+; Antarctic Prion 4; Prion sp. 10; Great winged Petrel 150+; White headed Petrel 3; Soft plumaged Petrel 180+; Grey Petrel 1; White chinned Petrel 35; Cory's Shearwater 2; Great Shearwater 4 & Sooty Shearwater 3.

Please note these totals are just what I saw. On a ship this size you cannot be everywhere!

Wandering Albatross

Tristan Albatross
Photo courtesy of  Jodi Osgood

Photo courtesy of Jodi Osgood

Photo courtesy of Jodi Osgood

White chinned Petrel

Great winged Petrel

Soft plumaged Petrel

Part of a pod of 80+ Striped Dolphins

The 26th was a bit of an anticlimax: it proved to be a slow day, but with a few good birds scattered throughout the day.

Wandering Albatross 23; Tristan Albatross 1; Shy Albatross 15+; Indian Yellow nosed Albatross 2; Southern Giant Petrel 1; Northern Giant Petrel 4; Great winged Petrel 45+; Soft plumaged Petrel 1; White chinned Petrel 9 & Arctic Tern 4.

Indian Yellow nosed Albatross

Saw at least 20  of these today.

Southern Giant Petrel

White chinned Petrel, with unusual
 facial markings.

One of the many trawlers in this area of sea.

Sub -antarctic Skua

Up to three birds were following the ship.

Sub-antarctic Shearwater

In comparison with Great Shearwater

Little Shearwater.

Great Shearwater

Small flocks of Great Shearwaters
were dotted over the sea.

Wilson's Petrel & White chinned Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

Notice the pale under-wing bar on this individual.
I think it is just a combination of the light & wear.

Pilot Whales

The 27th was much better but with long periods without birds. The afternoon was particularly impressive as we steamed towards trawling grounds & saw literally many thousands of seabirds. However regulations means that one can't go too close & most remained unidentified.

Wilson's Storm Petrel 18; Leach's Storm Petrel 2; Wandering Albatross 75+; Tristan Albatross 1; Black browed Albatross 500+; Shy Albatross 70+; Atlantic Yellow nosed Albatross 1; Indian Yellow nosed Albatross 20+; Northern Giant Petrel 2; Great winged Petrel 16; Soft plumaged Petrel 9; White chinned Petrel 65+; Cory's Shearwater 3; Great Shearwater 230+; Sooty Shearwater 1; Sub-antarctic Shearwater 1; Little Shearwater 1 & 4 Sub-antarctic Skua.

We docked just before dawn on the 28th & no birding was done. I disembarked & spent the rest of the day mouching around the V&A Waterfront. I flew back to Nelspruit early on the 29th. But what a great trip: meeting lots of great people & seeing some fantastic birds. 30 species of sea birds were noted! Amazing!


  1. Hi Steve, great blog and some smashing photo's. Really enjoyed your company on the Sifonia but can I make just one small correction...our surname is Taylor and not Sellers!Hope this note finds you well and in good spirits, good luck with all future journeys,
    Rich Taylor.

    1. Hi guys,

      Good to hear from you. Great having you along on board the ship. Hope to see you both at Spurn towards the end of May. I have made the correction.


  2. Hey Steve - your Sabie Park connection here - we met on the Sinfonia's Penguin evening. I want to find out about your Papua new guinea trip so will be following your blog with interest. Regards, Nadine

    1. Hi Nadine,
      Nice to hear from you. I go to PNG in late July. I will keep you posted. It should be an awesome trip.
      Hope to see you in Sabie Park sometime.
      Best wishes

    2. Hi
      When are you in Sabie Park again? I think we are only going in October. Do you have a Facebook page or is this the on;ly place where you blog ?

    3. Hi Nadine,

      I am in the UK at the moment. Hoping to be back in SP in July, but not sure as yet. But I will be there in November/December this year. I don't do Facebook, this is the only place I blog.
      Best wishes