After a logistical delay, we ended up boarding the ship fairly late on Monday afternoon, and we had a relatively uneventful cruise out of the harbour and south along the Cape Peninsula. So I’m not counting that as the first hour – but overnight, we progressed far into the ocean, and woke up on prime birding waters.
Is there anything more exciting than the first hour of the first morning of a birding trip? You know the feeling. Setting the alarm a little bit too early, thinking that you’re going to struggle to get out of bed; but then waking up feeling refreshed and energized despite your over-excited, fitful sleep. So now you’re awake a full hour before it even begins to get light. Then comes the pre-dawn toothbrushing routine. Then the foraging mission, with the main target a strong cup of coffee. Finally you take up position outside, but it’s still too dark to really make out anything. There are tantalizing teasers though – nothing more than moving shapes – but your mind can (and will try to) morph them into almost anything you fancy.
And then it begins! One of the greatest blessings in birding, is if the first day exceeds your expectations. On the Sinfonia, the first hour of the first day did exactly that. To the extreme. In fact, several experienced seabirders on board said that the morning of Tuesday, 25 April, was the best pelagic birding they had ever experienced in a lifetime of birding at sea. I got four lifers on the trip, and all of them were within the first hour or two of that morning. Wandering was the most common albatross, and according to global albatross fundi, Peter Harrison, at least one or two of the “great albatrosses” we saw were identifiable as the rare Tristan Albatross. It wasn’t long before a Black-bellied Storm Petrel appeared in the wake, giving extended views, and kicking up small trails of spray as it skied across the water. Then a Grey Petrel cruised down the port side of the ship, before the first call of “Sooty Albatross” went up. We couldn’t believe the quality of the birding! But there was more to come. “White-headed Petrel!” was next…one of several birds we saw during the trip. And lastly, the mega of the cruise: the exquisite Light-mantled Albatross! A huge dinosaurian bird, all angles and sleek lines, with an attractive light grey mantle contrasting with a sooty grey-brown body, finished off with a white crescent around the eye and blue stripe along the bill.
Not a bad start to the morning, I would say.