The ‘Flock at Sea’ – Birding in the Southern Ocean

Birdlife South Africa (BLSA) certainly pulled off a major coup with the 2017 Flock at Sea. Around 1950 lucky birders took part in what must have been the most spectacular birding event ever held in the Southern African region. We had four nights at sea and three full days of birding, ending this morning when we returned to Cape Town and docked at 7:00 am.

Map
Our approximate route

Our vessel was the MSC ‘Sinfonia’ and, because there were sufficient birders on board, BLSA had control over where we went.  This enabled us to seek out ocean eddies and up-welling currents (not that we always found them) and, thereby, find good concentrations of foraging seabirds.  For me it was really exciting as I managed to see a total of 25 seabirds, 12 of which were lifers!  The bird of the cruise was undoubtedly the Light-mantled Albatross, previously only seen by 2 birders in the region!  This trip enabled hundreds to see it and my only regret is that I did not get a photo of this very rare bird.

Apart from the birds, the trip provided an opportunity to renew old friendships and make new ones, as well as enjoy the chance to get off land and see something of the Southern Ocean.  We had winds of up to 75 kph with quite heavy chop, but luckily the swells were not too heavy.  Birding was not easy as the birds seldom came within 100 metres of the ship and many had to be identified at greater distances, but there were many experts on board.  They readily shared there knowledge and guided those of us not so well-versed in seabird identification.

In addition to spending time on deck with binoculars and cameras on hand, there were also many talks on birds, the most enthralling of which were the two presentations by the world’s great seabird expert, Peter Harrison.  His passion for albatrosses brought tears to the eyes of many who were present.  It certainly was a memorable event and a vast improvement on the first Flock at Sea which took place in 2013.

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