Penguins Albatrosses And Seasickness To Celebrate National Penguin Awareness Day





As today is Penguin Awareness Day a blog that features penguins had to be posted so back to The Biggest Twitch...

Betty’s Bay near Cape Town, South Africa arriving late afternoon. Here we enjoyed the bizarre spectacle of penguins on an African beach. Ruth was loving this, hundreds of African Penguins waddling around just feet away in the warm sunshine. Birds in tuxedos were always going to be fun to watch and these guys were just brilliant. A whole soap-opera of penguin life was being played out right in front of us. It had the lot: squabbling neighbours, marital strife, mating, misbehaving youngsters, and meal-time disputes. Just to add to the scene, huge Southern Right Whales breached just offshore as Shy Albatross passed. Only in Africa.




Watching African Penguins and Southern Right Whales from dry land - heaven if you are seasick!



Just time for one more stop as the sun sank over False Bay near Cape Town and we finally added Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Siskin to the list, species we really should have seen by now. We finished a very long but rewarding day on 3,280 species.

Christian had some very bad news for me when we reached his house. Despite being given strict instructions not to, he had gone ahead and booked us on a pelagic trip the next morning. As you know by now, I do not do boats and the thought of a trip on the mountainous seas off South Africa sent shivers down my spine. I felt ill already and we were still on dry land. The news got even worse. Bad weather was forecast for later the following day. The poor forecast meant that the departure of the boat had been brought forward to try and beat the approaching storm. Great! Not only a horrendous day at sea in prospect but hardly any sleep before it. It was a 4am start and we debated whether we could chicken out and not go right up to the moment we stepped on board the rather small and frail-looking boat.

No going back now, the boat slipped its moorings and we chugged into the dark on a deceptively calm sea, we knew that would not last. Our companions on this trip to hell were a cheerful bunch and fired questions about our big year. I left Ruth to field most of these; I was in no mood for chit-chat, I just wanted to head back to shore. I slid down into my corner of the boat and pulled my hat down over my eyes and pretended I was somewhere else. Ruth was having a fine time looking at the spectacular coastal scenery as dawn came creeping across the ocean. She enjoyed watching the Southern Right Whales and Fur Seals right alongside the boat. I lifted my hat for a second, saw them, then retreated back beneath the wool. Queasiness was beginning to grow in the pit of my stomach. Here we go again.

As we got further and further away from the coast the swell increased. It was by no means rough, but it was enough for me and over the side went my breakfast, yuck. I felt awful, but Ruth was still busy enjoying the sunshine, whales, seals, chatting and scanning for the first Albatross. “Fishing boats ahead!” went up the cry.

I risked a sneaky look and way off on the horizon were boats reeling in their long lines. Even at this long range, a cloud of birds could be seen swarming around the boats. Ill though I was, even I felt a tiny bit of excitement. This was soon replaced by more dry retching. Nothing was left to throw up and we were only a few hours into the voyage. Please let me die.


Black-browed Albatrosses were just one of thosands of seabirds "enjoyed".



The Zest II, our trusty boat, reached the trawlers and the seabird fest began! Birds were all around the trawlers trying to grab a free meal. Ruth and the others were whooping with excitement and elation at this mind-blowing spectacle. It was all I could manage to briefly open my eyes whenever a new bird for the year was spotted amongst the masses. A quick look to tick it off, and then I slumped back for more stomach-wrenching, feeling like death. Yellow-nosed Albatrosses were here in their hundreds and both Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses were all around us. Ruth was now squealing with delight, grabbing me and insisting that I look at the next wonder on offer. I just wanted to slit my wrists and end this hell.

Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels were feeding in a frenzy around the trawlers and looked a swarm of angry flies over the water. Then a shout that even I had to respond to.

“Wanderer!”

I struggled to lift my sorry sick-smelling carcase up and lifted my hat and even raised my bins for the first time of the day. It was sitting on the sea looking enormous amongst a gang of Black-browed Albatrosses. A wonderful, huge Wandering Albatross! Oh my god! This was truly a mega bird in all senses of the word. It was vast. As we watched this monster bird, it unfolded its gigantic wings like some pterodactyl and began to beat the air. Somehow these very long, thin wings managed to find enough lift and the bird lumbered into the air. At once it became a very different creature. Gone was the lumbering hulk; it was now a majestic master of the air and we gazed in awe. Another truly magical moment on The Biggest Twitch. It was undoubtedly bird of the day, and certainly one of the many highlights of our amazing adventure. Even I managed to feel a buzz of satisfaction and slipped back down into my corner, pulling my hat down firmly, job done! The weather had held so the skipper was able to stay out for thirteen hours in total but it felt a lot longer to me!

Back on dry land, I felt well enough to thank the guys and Ruth for looking after me and ensuring I did not miss any species we needed for the year. We would also like to thank Trevor Hardaker who organised the “Biggest Twitch Pelagic” but sadly was not able to join in the “fun” himself due to family commitments!

Then it was back to Christian’s house and time to pack our bags for our whistle stop tour of Namibia, though we had a day to recover and catch up on admin before we flew north, which was much appreciated.



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