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Exciting new pelagic birding venture

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Johan van Rensburg
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Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Wed Apr 26, 2017 4:07 pm

I have always been intrigued by the potential to get really special sightings by doing a pelagic trip off Saint Lucia. The warm tropical waters of the north-east coast hold some special birds available nowhere else in the region. Reasonably regular pelagic trips (on average 10 per year) are being undertaken from Durban harbour. It has been my vision to test St Lucia as a base for pelagic trips for a while now to see if the extra distance closer to Moz would make a difference. The biggest difficulty in the past has been finding trawlers (The Bird Magnet!) off St Lucia. Being a marine reserve kind of precludes the trawlers operating close enough to base in densities sufficient to easily locate them.

Then recently a successful method to attract pelagic birds to a small vessel was developed and proven off Durban. The secret is to deploy a 25-kg frozen chum made up of minced sardines, cod liver oil, anchovy oil and minced up shark liver in the water at the continental shelve drop-off with the vessel staying in close proximity. The chum melts and creates a slick that is detected by the pelagic birds in the surrounding area by smell and so their resultant feeding activity serves to start up a pelagic bird party with upwards of 300 birds consisting of more than 15 species.

Using this method now makes a pelagic trip out of St Lucia viable.

So, why St Lucia? Well, the thinking is that we are 250 km further north and closer to warm tropical waters that may bring us in contact with bird species not seen further south. A few that comes to mind are Tropical shearwater, Wedge-tailed shearwater, White-faced storm-petrel, Red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, red-footed booby and maybe even a Frigatebird! None of these can be guaranteed, but WOW! If we do encounter one or more of these, the SA birding community will be abuzz!

All the arrangements have been made to make this pioneering pelagic trip happen: the boat has been booked for the weekend of 13/14 May. Dr David Allen will supply the chums as well as accompany us as the pelagic expert on board. Some of the “guests” already booked on the trip are super pelagic specialists themselves!

There are a few berths left and I thought to give our forumites the heads-up…

Send me a PM if you are keen to join in on this trailblazer.
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by hilda » Thu Apr 27, 2017 3:02 pm

Wow Johan, this sounds very exciting! It would have been wonderful if we could join the group on this trip, but unfortunately it will not be possible. :(

Holding thumbs that you find some or even all of those birds you have mentioned above! Can't wait for your report back! Enjoy the planning! :dance: :dance:
"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela.

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Johan van Rensburg
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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Mon May 08, 2017 7:08 pm

This outing is in jeopardy... Really foul weather is forecast for this weekend. The skipper will make a final call on Wednesday, but it's not looking good.

If weather scuttled, I will rearrange for another weekend after consultation with our experts and chum supplier. Those birders that booked for this weekend will have first dibs on the alternative weekend. Any vacant spots will be offered to 'mites on this thread.
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Thu May 11, 2017 8:00 am

This trip is officially off as a result of the rough seas forecast for this weekend.

I'm already working on securing alternative weekends...
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Mon May 22, 2017 3:00 pm

OK! The new date is 29 July. Anyone interested please send a PM
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:04 am

This very special outing is just about to take place! The weather forecast for Saturday is for a clear day with fresh NNE winds and a choppy sea; a little uncomfortable for birders, but very good for pelagic birds. :dance: :dance: :dance:

I'll get the skippers official go-ahead this evening (dependant on his take of the expected surf conditions, considering that this trip involves a beach launch!) We have a full compliment of birders. With some pelagic birding boffins sharing my optimism and scrambling to get a berth, already I had to turn some patrons away… all good for filling up the boat for the next outing!

Only one other 'mite (sky) has signed up for this Pelagic. I hope we will get some feedback from him, this being his first deep water excursion...

I will post some feedback next week. Any 'mites who would like to join us on the next outing that is planned for the weekend of 23 September, don’t hesitate to do the PM-thingy NOW!
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Wed Jul 26, 2017 2:55 pm

The skipper has just confirmed: It is a GO!

:dance: :dance: :dance:
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by hilda » Wed Jul 26, 2017 3:12 pm

Wonderful Johan! Can't wait for the feedback about this pelagic birding venture! :dance: :dance:

Definitely interested in such a trip, but unfortunately not a possibility for us at this stage. :(
"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Sky » Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:01 am

I was fortunate enough to go with Johan on the trip as well as go birding with him at St Lucia on the Friday.
Both were amazing experiences as usual with a trip organized by Johan.
We were at the charter company's offices by 5:30 am and then transported to the boat.
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After a lenghty wait at the entrance to the beach we were off to the beach

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Last edited by Sky on Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
25 December - Lower Sabie
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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by hilda » Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:16 am

Must have been an awesome experience Sky! :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

To go birding with Johan is a very special experience. :dance: :dance:
"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Sat Aug 05, 2017 5:08 pm

It was one of the most exciting moments in my birding “career” to have solicited a full crew for the first ever pelagic birding trip launching from Saint Lucia. While we were still manoeuvring along the beach towards the launch position, some of our birders got their first lifer: the resident sooty tern was doing early morning exercise laps!

Image

We eventually got underway and to the Safe Zone behind the breaker line without much hang time or major bumps and only a single breach!. It was a quite remarkable feat considering the choppy nature of the surf at the launching site off the sand bar isolating the estuary at Saint Lucia from the ocean. Once in the “Safe Zone” our skipper closed throttles and allowed us to get out of the restricting life jackets. Just as we got underway again to our deep-water destination when I spotted a soft-plumaged petrel! We were 500m from shore and here we had a bird reputed to forage only over deep water beyond the continental shelf; a bird that are rarely seen close to land! :shock:

Image

For me a lifer to boot. On the way to our deep water chumming waypoint we must have seen another ten of these birds. Once the chumming started in +1000m deep water off the continental shelf I estimated that we attracted a further 30-odd SWPs, continuously swooping around our vessel and investigating the chum slick.

En route we recorded a juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross, some common terns and a few Antarctic prions.
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Sat Aug 05, 2017 6:14 pm

We set out our first chum at our deep water waypoint (+1000m) and it immediately started to attract birds.

Image

Dozens of Antarctic prions alighted on the water, looking for smaller bits coming off the chum to feed on.

A few Wilson’s storm-petrels showed up, doing much the same as the prions. White-chinned petrels zoomed over the slick from all directions and took some of the larger bits coming off the chum.

After travelling up-and-down the length of the slick for about an hour, we refreshed it with another chum.

Arctic terns showed up a few times and a great-winged petrel also put in a few fly-bys.

Image

At 11:00 we put down out last chum. By this time it had become blustery and our skipper phoned in to request permission to head for Richards Bay harbour as the trip back to Saint Lucia had become risky; it would have meant heading directly into that chop as well as the now very strong wind.
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by hilda » Sun Aug 06, 2017 11:22 am

Thank you for the great report back of this awesome pelagic birding venture Johan! So glad it was such a huge success! :clap: :clap:
"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:28 am

We recorded the following sightings during the trip: Sooty tern (1), soft-plumaged petrel (40), Indian yellow-nosed albatross (3), Antarctic prion (60), Arctic tern (3), Swift tern (15), Common tern (5), great-winged petrel (2), Wilson's storm-petrel (3), white-chinned petrel (50). The number in brackets is an estimate of how many of each bird we saw.

The run towards land was done perpendicular to the choppy swell and the wind and we all got soaked by the spray. We soon got into the lee of the land and the wind and chop became noticeably less. In the shallower waters humpback whales abounded. We saw a few distant breaches and came quite close to some whales...

Image

This is a mother and calf (the calf is the lighter patch on the left and toward the front of the mom).

Image

...diving... (waving goodbye)

We soon reached Richards Bay harbour mounth where we were entertained by a small pod of bottlenose dolphins. The fierce wind and choppy sea was replaced by a serene slow chug to our moorings. Our tour operator organised three cars to transport us back to Saint Lucia. Our pelagic adventure was over.

I already have some bookings for the next planned pelagic (23 Spetember) and hope to fill the remaining spots with some ‘mites. PM me if you are interested to join.
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Re: Exciting new pelagic birding venture

Unread post by hilda » Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:43 pm

A very impressive list of sightings during this trip Johan! Quite a lot of Antarctic Prion and White-chinned Petrel! :clap: :clap:

Great Whale sighting too! :clap: :clap:

Thank you so much for sharing this great experience with us! :dance: :dance:
"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela.


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