Last Wednesday morning, a small party of excited birders set off from Ngor on a much anticipated Pelagic Trip. (Yes that’s right, a PELAGIC! One of those crazy things us birdwatchers will do just to see a few special birds…)
Destination: the Kayar Canyon, some 30km ENE off the Pointe des Almadies. This area is known to hold a good diversity of seabirds, attracted by trawlers that roam this part of the ocean and by the abundant food that they provide to shearwaters, skuas and terns. This is also where last year’s PAOC excursion was headed, and where we intended to go at the end of November 2016 at the tail end of a two-week trip by my Swiss friends but which had to be aborted (too much wind…). Approximate coordinates are in the bottom right corner of the Google Earth image below:
Why a pelagic? Well, first of all there’s the opportunity to do a different kind of birding, and mostly there’s the chance of seeing 1) birds that you won’t see from the shore (or only miles away as distant dots against the waves that you can barely identify), and 2) finding oneself amidst a raft of shearwaters or a flock of hundreds of seabirds feeding behind a trawler is a really unique experience. And 3) I was particularly keen to figure out what exactly those Calonectris shearwaters that have been migrating past Ngor in recent weeks are: Cory’s or Scopoli’s?
If you still need to be convinced that such a trip is worth the effort, despite the possibility of being horribly seasick and stuck on a boat for an entire day, here’s a good read: Birdist Rule #55: Go on a Pelagic Birding Trip. Then again, some on the other hand will argue that one should not go on pelagic trips, ever: highly entertaining article from the 10,000 birds blog.
So what did we see? For the first two hours, nothing much really… a few dozen Calonectris shearwaters which proved to be mostly Scopoli’s, with 2-3 Cory’s, a probable Grey Phalarope followed by a second bird that was flushed by the boat and of which we got much better views, allowing us to confirm its ID; just a few skuas (1+1 Arctic, 1 Long-tailed, 1 Pomarine), three Black and a few Arctic Terns. Oh and lots of flying fish! And finally a few European Storm Petrels and two Sooty Shearwaters as we approached our target area. Species diversity was building up a bit by that time, and as we neared the first trawler this is what we saw:
Birds everywhere – hundreds of shearwaters!! Skuas! Terns! More Storm Petrels, including a few more European but now also several Wilson’s.
We realised that there were several Cape Verde Shearwaters flying around and resting on the surface – as it turned out this ended up being the most numerous species of the trip, with several hundreds of birds.
Also these two adult Sabine’s Gulls…
…soon to be followed by our first Great Shearwater:
The spectacle of seeing so many seabirds in a feeding frenzy was truly amazing, and much worth the time and effort to get out here. It somehow felt as if we arrived in some oasis after a long desert crossing…
A few more pictures can be found on our facebook page.
And these are the totals for the day:
- At least 6-800 Cape Verde Shearwaters (a conservative estimate… probably lots more)
- +100 Scopoli’s and 20-25 Cory’s at a minimum – good views are needed to distinguish these two species (things were easier back in the days when both were “just” Cory’s!)
- 3-4 Great Shearwaters (three single birds sitting on the water, and I found one bird photo-bombing one of my pictures),
- 2 Manx Shearwaters
- 2 Sooty Shearwaters
- +10 Wilson’s Storm Petrels
- 5-10 European Storm Petrels
- Just one Gannet
- 1 ad. Long-tailed Skua by the trawlers, plus two young birds en route.
- At least 4 Arctic and ca. 10 Pomarine Skuas
- Two adult Sabine’s Gulls, plus a 1st year on the way back to Ngor
- A few Sandwich, lots of Arctic, and probably also some Common Terns
- 1-2 Grey Phalaropes
Finally, a word of thanks for Julien and Mame from Nautilus Diving!