South Africa to the Antarctic Pack Ice
30 October to 18 November 2002
A personal account by John Brodie-Good
with photos by Angus Wilson

Part 9 - Petrel Fever

15 November

The suggested cure for stopping rolling in your bunk seemed to work, wedge your life jacket between you and the wooden rail, a much better night’s sleep. So much for the forecast, bad weather again, and very few birds. We were still heading in the right direction but expecting to turn west again to ride out yet another storm. Arrival in Cape Town had now been put back to Monday morning, a fax sent off requesting re-booking of flights. Enthusiasm was waning a bit, there was a general sense of wanting to get off the boat, strengthened by the lack of birds I’m sure. A few Soft-plumageds and Black-bellied Stormies wizzed by, a young Long-tailed Skua was seen sitting on the sea by a few observers. Pete Fraser called another bird on the water which on reflection was quite probably a White-faced Storm Petrel, slightly east of it’s range but given the current weather system…

After lunch a snooze and back on the monke island after 16.00. The wind and sea had calmed down more than expected and more old friends appeared as the wate temperature was now over 10 degrees again. A Grey Phalarope had been seen mid-afternoon. A Shy Albatross flew by, followed by an Atlantic Yellow-nosed and two Grey-headed Albatross’s. A few Great-winged Petrels wheeled over the waves as a pair of Arctic Terns flew south. Just before dinner a bird came into the wake from on high, premature calls of Atlantic Petrel from the deck above us, whilst we finally realised it was a Long-tailed Skua in winter plumage, its gull like flight and barring on the flanks being two big giveaways. I was struck how slender they are again, no bulk at all compared to their larger cousins.

Another excellent talk from Peter Ryan about his time in the Tristan Islands group, and mention of our group observations in April going to be followed up with some ornithologists going to visit the SE parts of main island where we had noticed a number of the critically threatened Spectacled Petrels seemingly flying up high onto the slopes of the volcano. A second known nesting site for this species would be good news indeed. Some funs  ‘awards’ after the talk (Angus winning his third ‘prize’ of the trip!) and a big thank you to our captain and crew for doing such a good job, getting us to where we hoped to go, in often appalling conditions. Maybe I had just been very lucky on my two previous southern ocean voyages with the weather, it seems on this trip we have had storms on every  other day. Our arrival in Cape Town now definitely seems to be on Monday morning, just over 12 hours late.

Although one of the most numerous southern albatrosses, the numbers of Black-browed Albatross encountered on this trip were modest. Perhaps the majority of breeding condition adults had returned to the major colonies in the Falklands and South Georgia?

16 November

Another rolly night, forgot the lifevest. Atlantic Petrel day with probably the same bird seen four times before breakfast and three or four more during the day. A stormy morning easing during the day. No cetaceans though. Some amazing skies, a small blue sky patch leading to a light bolt from heaven mid-morning, from where the Atlantics came according to Angus. A nice intense half rainbow midafternoon, coming down on distant whitecaps. The ship did a few big rolls again, 35 degrees the record for the trip. The afternoon got quieter birdwise. The dining room put on a special four course extravagansa for dinner tonight, huge amounts of wine consumed. Strong rumours we will now be in port tomorrow night, not Monday. Pete Fraser losing at darts to an American lady who had never played before. Time for bed I think.

The bill plates of the great albatrosses are semi-translucent, and the underlying blood capillaries contribute to the variable pink flush. Notice the conspicuous pink crescent just behind the concealed ear opennings. These are common in Wandering Albatrosses, although somewhat variable in strength but are absent in the royal albatrosses. In general, the color is more vivid in males, however, the function and origins of these patches are unknown.

Although we have no way to be sure, it is likely that most of the adult wanders we observed on the expedition are from the large breeding colonies on the Prince Edward Islands. The Snowy Wandering Albatrosses nest on both Marion and Prince Edwards Islands. On Marion, nesting sites are confined to the flat coastal areas, generally 100 m above sea level. On Prince Edward, Wandering Albatrosses are most common in 'Albatross Valley', where nests may be at an altitude of 200 m.

Part 01 - (30-31 October)   Pre-Cruise
Part 02 -(01-02 November) Embarkation
Part 03 - (03-04 November) The Roaring Forties
Part 04 - (05-06 November) Marion
Part 05 - (07-08 November) Marion & Prince Edward Island
Part 06 - (09-10 November) Iceberg!!
Part 07 - (11-12 November) Into the pack ice
Part 08 - (13-14 November) Recrossing the Antarctic Convergence
Part 09 - (15-16 November) Petrel Fever
Part 10 - (17-18 November) Landfall

Click here for the Trip List (seabirds and mammals)

Page layout and photos copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002 All rights reserved.
Text copyright of John Brodie-Good© 2002 All rights reserved.
List of the world's best pelagic locations
To the annotated list of the World's Seabirds
To the annotated list of the World's Marine Mammals
Back to the Index Page