Thursday, 19 September 2013

Magic Pelagic- far out dude

Arriving in Arrecife airport, Lanzarote, we were greeted by Jose Pedro Portillo there for the same reason as us, to head out that night on the first of three 48hr pelagics from the small village of Orzola at the north of the island.  Martin, Marc, Jose and myself jumped into the hire car and headed west soon connecting with Houbara Bustard, Great/Southern Grey Shrike, Laughing Dove and then the biggest ‘jam’ were 6 Cream-c-Courser, 5 of which within 10m of the car on the edge of Playa Blanca.  I had visited the area a few times 3 years ago whilst on holiday and didn't connect until the final day and we rock-up and see 6 within 10 mins.  Job done; off to Orzola to meet the others.  Lunch followed a tapas starter of ‘lapas’ and ‘papas’ (grilled limpets and salted new potatoes). Afterwards we took the opportunity to head out on a zodiac to try for the Red-billed Tropicbirds which had bred on the cliffs nearby but unfortunately the last sighting was just three days prior to our arrival and we soon concluded that the chick must have fledged and the birds gone out into the Atlantic.  A 2 metre Hammerhead Shark was a welcome ‘padder’.  Jose also had an added reason to be there as he was doing a ‘Big Year’ for Spain and was in the lead so any oceanic birds in Spanish waters were a bonus and we were all willing something mega, other than the swell.  The logistics for the trip were organised by Dani and Juan at Lanzarote Pelagics.
Flying fish-snuffed it after headbutting the boat!
Hammerhead Shark




 Loggerhead Turtle eating the chum!

After dinner on the harbour in Graciosa we set off to the NW through the night into the Atlantic with two teams on two boats.  Five minutes below deck was enough for me to decide that I might be better above deck.  Trying to ignore the motion I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and hoped for the best.  Luigi the skipper was on duty most of the night.  There was a crash 

gainst the awning next to where I was pretending to sleep and I didn’t have the energy to see what it was.  Luigi came over with his head torch and said “see, flying fish”.  I craned my neck over to see lying it lying on the outer deck.

Morning couldn’t come soon enough and with coffee and cakes for breakfast we were ready to ‘drop the chum’.  The swell was fairly big by my standards but was pretty calm to the regulars.  Cory’s and Bulwer’s passed the boat and several Maderian Storm-Petrel.  Martin was onto something way ahead of the boat……Dani was straight onto it…“PTERODROMA”!! They got everyone on it, and contacted the other boat.  We initially leant towards it being a Zino’s but remarkably Tony Blunden, on the other boat, 50m or so behind us rattled off a few shots which revealed it to be more Fea’s/Dessertas-type. Wow!
Fea's/Dessertas type Pterodroma by Tony Blunden
Pics by Tony Blunden
Next up were a couple of White-faced Petrels came into the chum; what magnificent birds and flight action.  More Madierian followed allowing comparison of moults; the method used to determine F.grants from F.madieria of which there were both.  Sailing in a triangle we covered more ground around El Banco de la Concepcion, an underwater ridge against which nutrients swell-up and the oceanic species gather.  For the second night we just drifted NW into the Atlantic with the sails open.  Moving with the swell, rather than through it as per the previous night, was even more like being in a washing machine and I didn’t venture below deck again resolving for a night on deck again.  Cory’s passed through the faint glow of the boat lights at night and some bioluminescent was visible around the boat.  What with this, the flying fish the night before, it was looking like ‘The Life of Pi’; and I wondered if there was a tiger on board.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t go down there.
Maderian Petrel
Dawn revealed itself once more and I, despite never being sick, was riding the crest that this evening my feet will be on land but before that there was a whole day soaking up more seabirds.  It was a slower start but we picked up better views of Maderian SP and a Wilson’s SP came into the slick.  A Great Shearwater flew into view followed by an adult Sabine’s Gull, remarkably only the 2nd for the Canaries and another find for Mr G!  We clocked a distant fishing boat (an obvious draw for pelagic birds) so we sailed over in unison.  The boat was fishing in an area of water we gathered it shouldn’t have been and with frightening efficiency pole fishing for Tuna.  There were many terns around the boat with flocks siting on the open sea, a behaviour which I hadn’t seen before.  Another Great Shearwater was sat on the sea but was still difficult to photograph!  A couple of Long-tailed Skuas also kept us entertained visiting each boat for whitebait.  That was pretty much it before heading back to land, apart from the 8 hours or so left to sail so there was still hope.  Cory’s gave amazing views and plenty more Bulwer’s zipped past.  We also saw a few more Loggerhead Turtles  
Ad Sabs
Comics on the sea!
The other boat had gained a good 30 minutes on us but still in sight.  We kept watching, in between the odd siesta in the blazing sunshine.  Now it was Marc’s turn; I heard “Get on this small shearwater”…(admittedly I may have been mid-siesta).  I was on my feet, bins-to-eyes to see a wing disappear into a trough and then emerge in all its Little Shearwater glory.  A nanosecond passed before Dani outburst with “BAROLO..BAROLO…get pictures!”.  It all happened extremely quickly, from a moving boat, getting onto a flying bird but all the features were pretty obvious even the little beady eye in a white face.  It seem to come in to check the boat, looked at it, then turned on its heels and motored away at almost right-angles in its very individual fluttery flight action on bowed wings.  The icing on the cake was that Jonnanes actually got some pictures.  What a finale.  Unfortunately the boat ahead missed out but they did see two Spm Whales at close range.  Looking out for those in its path we did see a Curvier’s Beaked Whale breaching a couple of times.  An Eleanora’s Falcon 10 miles out at sea chasing a Grey Phalarope was also new behavioural action for me; extreme survival.

We arrived back in Graciosa, then got the zodiac back to Orzola, then drove to the south of the island to find our apartment for the night exhausted but buzzing.  The next day allowed for connecting with other land birds still needed.  Marc was characteristically out before anyone else and had found a colour-marked Sanderling on the beach so we headed down to get a picture.  See its story here:
We then tried the rocky coastal area around the NE of the island where a Spotted Sandpiper had been seen during the few days before.  We didn’t find it but it was great exploring the volcanic coast in search of waders, in hot sunshine.  A bit different to home. We went out to a goat farm to see Trumpeter Finch, Hoopoe and showy Berthelot’s Pipits, which were wide-spread.  Heading into the hills we saw the African race of Blue Tit, Stone Curlew and Monarch butterfly.  Following that it was down to the coast at Orzola for a seawatch.  We ended up back at the apartment at about 9:30 and Jose said “we meet in 15 minutes to go out for dinner”!  Us Brits used to going to bed around then; we politely and defiantly accepted as you do and had a great meal in great company.  A couple of hours the next morning saw us at Teguise golf course spending an enjoyable morning looking for migrants picking up a flava Yelllow Wagtail, Melodious Warbler and a couple of Pied Flycatcher before our flight home

A huge thanks to Martin, Dani, Jose and Juan for making it such a great experience.  Hope to meet up again next year! 


  1. Cracking stuff Rob. Now time to find any of these crackers off our waters. Not like Marc to be first up in the morning!

  2. Quick question re: "More Madierian followed allowing comparison of moults; the method used to determine F.grants from F.madieria of which there were both."

    1. How were you differentiating fresh adult Grant's from newly fledged Madeiran on moult? Or was the assumption juvenile Madeiran had yet to fledge?

  3. Great read Rob, sounds like a marvellous trip.

    I've seen terns sitting on the water way out in the Irish Sea, also picked them up resting on floating logs.

    I'm sure that Little Shear is the same individual I once glimpsed one evening from a Biscay pelagic - sadly I couldn't photograph/confirm it!

    All the best



  4. Great report, made me think twice about discounting Lanzarote as a birding holiday venue particularly when I need somewhere for non birding Claire too !