BLPN 70th Anniversary Celebrate Seabirds Pelagic

28th September 2019

Report by Nicolette Forbes

Of Albatrosses, Petrels & lots of Waves

A Durban pelagic with the theme “Celebrating our Seabirds” was planned for the 7th September 2019.

This was an event which was themed as part of the club’s celebration of its 70th Anniversary such an amazing milestone it was decided at the beginning of 2019 to celebrate all year.

Not that we need reasons to celebrate our birds…

All aboard 🛥

As the weather and sea gods would have it, the trip had to be postponed on the week leading up to the 7th September, but we launched successfully into the blue on the 28th September in search of our pelagic species. A total of twelve BLPN members had taken the ‘plunge’ to join the pelagic and at least ten of these were ‘pelagic virgins’ so there was much excitement as we set off.

We met before sunrise at Wilson’s Marina.

Durban pelagics are not to be missed…

The pelagic trips off Durban have established themselves as a must-do-at-least-once trip for birders. These trips have been organised by Niall Perrins, who is usually joined by David Allan, for almost a decade now with any profits from the trips donated to the Albatross Task Force. Unfortunately Niall was away and could not join the BLPN group on the 28th but our thanks to him for setting it all up for us. However, David Allan, BLPNs Honorary President and the resident ornithologist at the Durban Natural Science Museum who had assisted with getting the trip together as a special club event was there to guide us through the difficulties of seabird identification.

…with lovely views of Durban in the golden light.

David’s 100th pelagic trip off Durban!

This was also a milestone trip for David, as it marked his 100th pelagic off Durban. A bottle of champagne was given to him by Nicolette and Ticky Forbes and with a hearty round of congratulations from the twelve eager birders we set off into the Big Blue.

The Big Blue Rollercoaster

We set out in perfect weather conditions with beautiful light and still waters in the harbour. At that point I think most of the participants who had not been out on a pelagic before were wondering why we had made such a fuss about ensuring people took their tablets to offset mal-de-mer. A couple of ticks on the harbour sandbanks got us off to a good start with some people chalking up lifers early with species like Ruddy turnstone and Grey Plover amongst the usual waders and seabirds.

Beautiful light, no wind and smooth conditions in the harbour
Oh I do like to be upon the sea

Conditions as we left the harbour changed abruptly and with a fairly rough sea we spent the next hour or two getting our sea legs and honing our photography skills as we got out into deeper water where the seabirds roam.

Then those wonderful birds started to turn up…

The birds seemed to know we needed an adjustment time so it was a slow start for the first hour and a half but around 07h30 and about 15 km offshore the first birds started to arrive. Shy albatross, Indian Yellow-nosed albatross and White-chinned petrel gave us some flypasts as we continued our way south-eastwards from Durban.

Shy albatross
White-chinned petrel
Indian yellow-nosed albatross

Then it really got exciting…

After quite a few “are we there yet ?” tongue-in- cheek questions to David he finally decided we had reached the spot and he started to put out the carefully prepared chum.

The birds which had already become more numerous really responded well and we had numbers of White-chinned petrel, followed by Indian Yellow-nosed albatross adults and Yellow-nosed juveniles (Indian most likely on distribution and abundance).

Yellow-nosed albatross vocalised noisily as they scrambled for scraps from the chum block and Great-winged, White-chinned and Soft-plumaged petrels stayed close to the boat trying to pick up food and giving everyone really good views.

There was lots of excitement from the boat as people watched the birds coming and going and got IDs sorted out. Camera clicking was the main noise on board and this quickly escalated when a Soft-plumaged petrel put in an appearance. This was followed by a second bird soon after.

Indian-yellow nosed albatross
Yellow-nosed albatross juvenile
Great-winged petrel
Soft-plumaged petrel

Excitement levels escalated again when Zach Simpson yelled “those are storm-petrels” and David quickly identified them as black-bellied. These birds are attracted to the chum and we eventually had a group of twenty birds. David indicated this was the biggest group they had ever had of Black-bellied storm petrels and that this species was usually the rarer of the possibilities with Wilson’s storm petrel usually more common and abundant.

Black-bellied storm petrel

As the excitement levels from this lovely little wave hopper started to subside a shout of “Grey petrel” from David had everybody scrambling for a look. The urgency to Davids shout made everyone realise we should quickly get on to this bird. It turned out that this was only the fifth record of this species in KZN waters. As it turned out the bird decided to have a one to one with his cousins and landed in the water close to the boat giving people amazing views.

Grey petrel
A quick chat with the cousins and to give the admiring BLPNers a good look

It was a great last sighting to have before the skipper said we needed to head back to harbour. The grey petrel signed off ….and we turned the boat back towards Durban.

Grey petrel signing off…

Fairly quickly the city skyline was visible again and within sight of the harbour breakwaters a Subantarctic skua came to ask David for some sardines – he obliged and it posed nicely for everyones cameras. A quick appearance by a Parasitic jaeger brought the lifer count up for some on the boat who managed to see it.

Rocky enjoyed showing a terrified Stryder the ocean realm

A great trip which was enjoyed by everyone on board. Our thanks to David for the great sightings, identifications and information provided during the trip and to Niall for accommodating and facilitating a special trip for BLPN.

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