In the beginning

I am rather adrift with what I’m trying to do with my brand new website. The big thing about sharing my African experiences must start somewhere. So, I guess my latest adventure must be my departure point.

I have always been intrigued by the potential to get really special bird sightings by doing a pelagic trip off the small coastal town Saint Lucia . The warm tropical waters of the north-east coast of kwaZulu Natal hold some special birds available nowhere else in the South African sub-region. Reasonably regular pelagic trips (on average 10 per year) are being undertaken from Durban harbour. It has been my vision to test St Lucia as a base for pelagic trips for a while now to see if the extra distance (about 200 km closer to Mozambique) would make a difference. The biggest difficulty in the past has been finding trawlers (The Bird Magnet!) off Saint Lucia. Being a marine reserve kind of precludes the trawlers operating close enough to the launching point in densities sufficient to easily locate them.

Then recently a successful method to attract pelagic birds to a small vessel was developed and proven off Durban. The secret is to deploy a 25-kg frozen chum made up of minced sardines, cod liver oil, anchovy oil and minced up shark liver in water at the continental shelve drop-off with the vessel staying in close proximity. The chum melts and creates a slick that is detected by the pelagic birds in the surrounding area by smell and their resultant feeding activity serves to start up a pelagic bird party with upwards of 300 birds consisting of more than 15 species.

Using this method now makes a pelagic trip out of Saint Lucia viable.

So, why Saint Lucia? Having a holiday home there means I get there often.  My thinking is that we are 250 km further north than the pelagic birding start out of Durban harbour and that much closer to warm tropical waters that may bring us in contact with bird species not seen further south. A few that comes to mind are Tropical shearwater, Wedge-tailed shearwater, White-faced storm-petrel, Red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds, red-footed booby and maybe even a Frigatebird! None of these can be guaranteed, but WOW! If we do encounter one or more of these, the South African birding community will be abuzz!

All the arrangements have been made to make this pioneering pelagic trip happen: the boat has been booked for this weekend and Dr David Allen will supply the chums as well as accompany us as the pelagic expert on board. Some of the “guests” already booked on the trailblazer are super pelagic specialists themselves!

The weather forecast for Saturday is for a clear day with fresh NNE winds and a choppy sea; a little uncomfortable for birders, but very good for pelagic birds.

I’ll get the skippers official go-ahead this evening (dependant on his take of the expected surf conditions, considering that this trip involves a beach launch!) We have a full compliment of birders. With some pelagic birding boffins sharing my optimism and scrambling to get a berth, already I had to turn some patrons away… all good for filling up the boat for the next outing!