26-27/05 : Banco de la Concepción, pelagics off Lanzarote

Although I have dated this 26-27/05, the trip started on the afternoon of 24 when I flew up to Madrid, overnighted and met some fellow excursionistas in Barajas T1 at the ungodly hour of 06.00 on the Friday morning, 25/05, in order to get the Ryanair flight down to Lanzarote, which mean that we were there by 09.30 local time (Peninsular minus 1 hour). I had teamed up with Javier Train and Alberto Bueno and we were to be joined by Maarten Platteuw from Hollland who spends a lot of time up in the north. So, first stop was to pick up the hire car, then go and dump kit at the lodgings and have a day's birding.
 The highlights of this day, leaving to one side bogging down the car in loose sand and having to be dragged out by a kindly farmer with a 4x4, included Hubara Bustards (photo by my old friend Jesús Menendez) when the other three saw 5 but I refused to go staggering across sand and preferred to watch from by the car and saw just 2. On the other hand, I did find the 2 Cream-coloured Coursers. plus a good sighting of an Egyptian Vulture. 
 There were plenty of the inevitable Berthelot's Pipits, the resident Spanish Sparrows (there are no normal House Sparrows there), plenty of the North African race koenigii of the Southern Grey Shrike (or whatever it's being called today). Considerably rarer was the sighting of a Laughing Dove which appeaars to be slowly colonising the eastern islands of the archipelago. A walk, with reluctantly given permission, around the Thias golf course gave Collared Pratincole and a Sedge Warbler, plus some still migrating Sand Martins and a single Plain Swift, while later after a pizza dinner, some saw a nightjar but bed interested more as it was to be a very early start the next morning.

Saturday 26/05 and Sunday 27/05
This trip had been organised by Juan Sagardia and Dani López after a trial run last September had given the second Western Palearctic record of Black-bellied Storm-petrel and 3 South Polar Skuas and this was the first for this year and, as I like self-punishment, I am also going on the mid September trip.
The plan for both days was to leave Arrecife to drive to Orzola at the north end of the island, to be there for 05.30, and from there we were going to venture some 90kms N to the Banco de la Concepción, a seamount which rises from the abyssal depths to within some 230m of the surface and of which the sides are pitted with canyons and the orography means plenty of upwelling, the cold water providing nutrients throughout the whole of the food chain to include cetaceans and seabirds. Thus, on the Saturday with a metcast of NNW winds at around force 3-4 and 6 foot seas, 28 of us plus the crew set off into the night and awaited dawn. It was fairly rough and on the Sunday, with a forecast that was supposed to be better but wasn't with winds of NNW at 5-6 and waves approaching 8-9 feet at times it was uncomfortable and several received unexpected blows, both corporal and to their cameras. The crew were most helpful, helped with the spotting of birds and also gave us a very good seaman's rice on the Saturday and a Russian salad on the Sunday. 
The butting into the waves soon gave a clue as to what the day was going to be like and so did some who had not taken their biodramamine with caffeine the previous night and morning. All this stuff about the British and Spanish being natural sailors is a load of codswallop! But now to the birds.

Below there is a selection of the better photographs and apart from the speciues shown here, we also saw a single Pterodroma sp. which wouldn't play and broke off to starboard whilst still at long range. A single Manx Shearwater showed very briefly on the Saturday and 3 more on the Sunday. 4-5 Wilson's Stormies were seen on the Saturday and 1 on the Sunday. Singles were seen of Bonxie and Pomarine Skua, plus a single Black Tern in full breeding plumage. Therer were plenty of Yellow-legged, the darker Atlantic birds but not atlantis types, and 2 adult Lesser Black-backs shouldn't have been there.

Bulwer's Petrel - all dark, these long-winged petrel swoop and slide across the waves and are  
   very devil to keep an eye on. We saw some 50 the first day and 90+ the second.


Cory's Shearwater - the most common seabird by far, several thousands breed on the nearby islands

    Madeiran or Band-rumped Storm-petrel - this is one of the summer breeders, pleasantly
    numerous but the very devil to photograph, as are all storm-petrels, 
we saw around 5 the first day and 15+ the second.

                  Gannet - immature in plumage type 3, one of 2 birds that dropped in unexpectedly.

European Storm-petrel - This is the only black and white stormie with a white underwing marking 

    White-faced Storm-petrel - this is undoubtedly my favourite seabird, which is saying a lot - and
    I make no apologies for these three photos of these little beauties which bounce from wave to
    wave. Perhaps they should be renamed Kangaroo Storm-petrels.

We did see other marine life over the two days, quite surprising given the conditions, including Pilot Whales, 3 whales of the baleen Fin/Sei group, Risso's Dolphins, a beaked whale of some sort, some Bottle-nosed Dolphins which wanted to bow ride but must have been fed up when the skipper slowed the boat as they rapidly disappeared, and a goodly selection of Loggerhead Turtles which float just under the surface and bear a marked resemblance to somewhat bleached floating cow-pats!

Those who went down to the sea and survived to the Sunday evening, even if they were all totally jiggered at the end of it!

     (Photos of vessel and participants by José Pedro Portillo)

I forgot to insert this last photo, which was taken against the light looking towards the island of Graciosa to the north of Lanzarote and is an added attraction to being at sea.

                                       And would I do it all again? Hell yes! 

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