This photo of an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri) gives a real flavour of the Pelagic Boat trip that I was lucky enough to take during my recent visit to South Africa. It was a real adventure made all the more exciting by the near extreme conditions. which admitedly abated a little as the day went on and this was taken when the weather had eased. however with some experience of the sea and an understanding of the dangers, I was somewhat surprised when we cruised out of Simons Town Harbour and the swell was large and frankly scary! We were given a short safety brief which was basically, if we're sinking this is how you put your life jacket on. Having done sea survival training in the Royal Marines and 10 years plus of sea time as well as owning my own boat and also having some experience of ocean going sailing as well, I was surprised that we were not clipped on and wearing life jackets, particularly when I knew that some of the passengers were at sea for the first time. Thankfully no one fell overboard but if they had we would have been talking of different things!
As far as birds were concerned, it was extremely exciting when we cleared Cape Point and started to head out to sea and a Shearwater hoved in to sight. There was discussion as to whether it was a Manx but it circled around and showed itself more clearly as a Cory's, not my first, but the first time I have managed a photograph of. Such a handsome bird.
I had decided right from the start that the 500 lens was going to be useless because of the huge swell and thankfully I had a smaller lens with me but the birds were close enough to easily photograph with it. This is about as close to a Cory's Shearwater that you can get, wow!
As we moved further south, more birds started to appear. The next was a lone Giant Petrel sitting on the surface. I had seen them before in the Falklands and also I remember them following us when at sea on the Royal Yacht Britannia...... I served on there for 10 years...... so I was familiar with this species as well. Unfortunately it's hard to get an impression of size but for comparrison, imagine a bird twice the size of a Great Black-backed Gull, huge in other words. Also, notice the tube-nose, salt is excreted through this "tube".
Other birds included a raft of Cory's and a Sooty Shearwater which again was a first for me although I may have seen them previously without putting a name to them.
We continued south and crossed the tanker lane and the skipper spotted some long-liners. When we reached them there was a real buzz and by now the weather was quite pleasant. There were birds everywhere, but no Albatross yet. I impressed myself when I caught sight of a Storm Petrel, I called out "Wilson's" and I was proved right, no idea why I was so accurate, but never the less it pleased me.
It was extremely difficult to get anything like a decent photo of this species, they are tiny, smaller than a Blackbird or Thrush and they never land on the surface but dance and skip around amongst the waves. If you look really carefully at the bird you can see the feet protruding beyond the tail which is diagnostic of this species.
Eventually we had our first Albatross, exciting to say the least. It was a Shy Albatross, at this time of the year, the one species you are most likely to encounter I believe. We finished up having great views of this species and I managed some almost acceptable photographs, particularly when they came down to settle on the surface.
I may have the ID of this incorrect, is it a juvenile "Shy" or a juvenile "Indian Yellow Nosed"? Perhaps the Cape Pelagic team can let me know? But for comparison, the one below is a Yellow Nosed, the beak is darker and longer so it makes me think my ID is correct.
Here's an Indian Yellow-nosed with the diagnostic yellow beak markings showing reasonably well.
All in all it was a great trip and I really enjoyed it. It was exciting not to know what you would see next, we saw three species of Albatross with a fleeting view of a Black Browed Albatross a real bonus.
It was a surprise to see Cape Fur Seals this far out at sea, about 20 miles, they were feeding on the fish hanging from the long lines and it must have been annoying for the fishermen to see their catch being plundered by the seals who obviously made a habbit of robbing the lines.
White-chinned Petrels are a large species, they were very commonly seen and I managed some nice shots of this species.
It was a shame to miss out on a few species that were apparently seen including Manx Shearwater, Arctic Tern and and two species of Jaegers, cant think why they were not pointed out to me and my only criticsm of the trip but never the less this was 5 species that I can't add to me trip list which is a mystery to me.
The Great Shearwater was a species that I did see and photograph, a bird that from pictures, I have always liked so it was great to see one. It lived up to my expectations as a beautifully marked bird.
We were lucky to see Sabine's Gull the first time that I have seen adults of this species a nice little gull as you can see.
On the way back in to Simons Town we passed a colony of Bank Cormorants and fleetingly I had the chance to get some pictures. We should have lingered longer because this was quite a spectacle as the photo proves. I actuallu used my 500 lens to get this shot.
As far as photography was concerned it was quite a challenge to get any photographs at all. I chose a my Pentax 200 lens which allowed me to focus quickly but I could have done with a 300 (I don't own one after being robbed last year in Spain). I relied in the fact that we were close,very close to most birds and waited for the opportunity to shoot when they were at their nearest. It was bright as you would expect at sea but this is not always a help because of the harsh lighting. Using apperture priority I set the camera at a f9 knowing that it was going to be hard to lock on to the subject and this extra depth of field would help me get some sharp images. I adjusted the ISO constantly, sometimes even up to 1600 to ensure that I was achieving at least 1/2000 of a second, usually it was faster. I constantly changed between under-stopping or over-stopping depending whether the subject was on the surface or in the sky. This worked reasonably well most of the time with my best pictures being taken at the start of the trip rather than at the end when the light was very harsh as always in very bright sunlight.
Oh, and I was sunburnt to a frazzle inspite of suncream and a hat!