A Blast to the Past – Flock 2017

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

24 to 28 April 2017

Paul and Sally on Sinfonia

Flock 2017 was an outstanding birding experience which I know many people would relish doing again. It is incredible that BirdLife South Africa managed to virtually fill all the cabins with birders on MSC Sinfonia. As everyone said, this must be a world record for the largest flock of birders gathered together in one place.

MSC Sinfonia

Almost 2000 birders from all over the world were on board including many of the seabird experts worldwide.

The BLSA organisation of the trip was highly professional. The AGM was well organised, there were interesting talks, prizes and entertainment and the guiding on board was exceptional for us novices.

We left Cape Town on a lovely clear day and were escorted out to sea by a number of seals and dolphins.

The route was planned by the very willing captain according to BLSA wishes.

Our first day of birding started at dawn and lasted to dusk (as did every day) with quick dashes away for food etc. It was also one of those days when numerous different exciting and rare birds appeared. Sometimes we were unable to keep up with a special bird appearing on one side of the boat and another rare bird on the opposite side.

And from our height above the sea we were lucky if we got a few decent photos of any of the birds. For me, virtually every bird was a lifer having never been on a pelagic trip before.


A quiet moment at the back of the ship – normally each level was teeming with birders. Also at the front too.

The ship’s entertainment areas were virtually empty during the day, however the bars at night were quite popular. I think the staff were mystified by all us birders as they tried to talk us into the large empty casino and away from the birding.

That first morning there were seven different species of Albatross seen – Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed, Light-mantled, Shy, Sooty, Tristan and Wandering. The Light-mantled Albatross had all the guides screaming as this was most unexpected.

For our Bird List click here. Of the 21 species shown 17 were lifers for me, and 7 for Sally. There were numerous other lifers called out which unfortunately we were not at the right place at the right time.

A Ghostly Albatross

Here are some photos of birds I did managed to connect with. I hope I have correctly identified most of the birds in the pictures. Do let me know my mistakes. Note the Tristan Albatross was identified by Peter Harrison. I am aware that there is not full consensus on its ID as there is not enough published about the bird to clearly identify it beyond doubt. However Peter Harrison has done a huge amount of research on the bird and I will happily accept his opinion.

Some birds I have struggled to identify from my photos include this Giant Petrel:

And these two birds:

Mystery UFOs

There was fascinating birding along the sides of the ship each night. The lights from the ship enabled us to see the birds as they bobbed on the water alongside. It was interesting to watch as the Great Shearwaters diappeared behind the boat only to returne to the front and bob alongside again catching squid and other delicious morcels.

We understand that the bewildered captain was so impressed with the BLSA organisation and nature of our trip that he suggested we do it again but for a week or more next time.

Another memorable moment was the sunset and double rainbow at the end of the four nights at sea.

Intense golden double rainbow taken from our cabin

This was a wonderful trip that Sally and I will always fondly remember.

Hope you enjoy the memories.

Paul and Sally Bartho

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