LIFE­STYLE – Boat­ing & Bird­ing – “Dark-man­tled Sooty Al­ba­tross”

SA Bass - - Contents - >> Jo Dreyer

O ur fam­ily went on a bird­ing ex­cur­sion, with fel­low bird­ers from all over the world, or­gan­ised by Birdlife South Africa out on the At­lantic Ocean in search of sea birds. This type of ex­cur­sion is known as a pelagic bird­ing trip. As many of you saw on Face­book I posted pho­tos of our trip. Many peo­ple com­mented and said that they are jeal­ous that we went on a cruise. Just to set the story straight; we didn’t go on a cruise per say, we went on a pelagic bird­ing trip and used a cruise ship as our ve­hi­cle. It was by no means a cruise, in my opin­ion, and I am sure ev­ery other birder on board would con­cur. I saw it as the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to use a ho­tel on water to go south of South Africa to see the amaz­ing birdlife the sea has to of­fer. No other coun­try as far as I know has done this sort of thing, even though many a birder has gone on an ac­tual cruise to see pelagic birds. Even the crew could not be­lieve what they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. There were hardly peo­ple sit­ting in the drinks bars, cof­fee bars or even sit­ting for very long for break­fast or lunch in the din­ing ar­eas save for the hand­ful, like Rudi and Abbey, my non-bird­ing daugh­ter, who them­selves found lots do to keep them en­ter­tained. The outer decks on the stern and both sides of the ship were crowded by all the bird­ers and this is where you would find us from the minute the sun came up un­til it set again. In my photo, you can see just about a fifth of the peo­ple on the decks.

I jovially ques­tioned one of the crew mem­bers about their work and said that I couldn’t un­der­stand why his fel­low crew mem­bers both­ered pack­ing out the swim­ming pool deck area’s deck chairs each morn­ing and packed it away each evening with­out a sin­gle per­son us­ing them. He said they packed it out in the hope that a few would give in to the temp­ta­tion of tak­ing a load off, but this was not to be. The crew would beg us to please sit at the bar for a drink dur­ing the day as they were bored. It was just bizarre. Birdlife South Africa de­cided to use a cruise ship to house as many bird­ers as pos­si­ble and go out to waters that are not that eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble with­out it be­ing ei­ther dan­ger­ous or un­pleas­ant or just plainly, too ex­pen­sive. A de­cent-sized cruise ship was per­fect! The MSC Sin­fo­nia did not even think twice when ap­proached by the idea and right­fully so; the trip was a re­sound­ing suc­cess and not ex­pen­sive at all. We were a to­tal of about 1965 bird­ers who braved the cold At­lantic Ocean’s waters and parts of the In­dian Ocean to seek out oth­er­wise rarely seen birdlife. We trav­elled as far as 300 to 400km south of Cape Agul­has and Cape Point to the con­ti­nen­tal shelf trav­el­ling at slow speeds as lit­tle as two knots. We were pleas­antly re­warded with many rar­i­ties as well as com­mon, but un­seen birds, un­less you could hitch a ride on a trawler, this is not a com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence! Words and pho­tos can­not de­scribe what beauty we saw and the feel­ing of be­ing hum­bled by the vast ex­pan­sion of water we have on Earth. Our oceans beam with life and I even got to see a Great White Shark for a very brief mo­ment be­fore it dis­ap­peared into the dark waters. We saw dif­fer­ent large whales that I couldn’t iden­tify as well as a huge pod of pi­lot whales. The Sooty Al­ba­tross, also known as the Dark-man­tled Sooty Al­ba­tross, is a beau­ti­ful spec­i­men of the sea. It is not a very com­monly seen bird so high north of the At­lantic, but is how­ever more com­monly sighted than its fel­low Light­man­tled Al­ba­tross which is a near-threat­ened, rare va­grant to our re­gion. The light-man­tled how­ever was seen by some on the ship, but sadly, I was not that lucky. Oh well, next time. The Sooty Al­ba­tross is how­ever vul­ner­a­ble and is also near-threat­ened but more com­monly found sub-Antarc­tic

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