Friday, 31 August 2012

A Pelagic sea trip from Lima, Peru

At Tarapoto airport there was a group of foreign travellers in the queue ahead of us.  I wondered what they had been doing in the area, but decided from their walking boots and well dressed manner that they must have been visiting the Amazon or hiking.

Then as we were waiting to get off the plane, one of their group walked past with a Birds of Peru field guide.   I suddenly remembered that Gunnar had told us that there was a French speaking Belgium group on the Pelagic with us the next day and were on the same flight from Tarapoto.  That must be the group. In the baggage area I approached the man with the field guide and said “Bonjour, are you Belgium?”  My french accent must have been terrible; as he responded in Spanish saying he didn’t speak Spanish.  At this point we had a confused conversation until he realised that I was English and managed to understand that we were on the same pelagic together.  I then had to explain how I knew he was on the pelagic and that we had been on a tour with Gunnar.

We were then introduced to the rest of their group of six, of whom two were French, one from Luxemburg (the man I had first been talking to) and three from Belgium.  At this stage our bags arrived and we said goodbye until the next morning.  There was a car waiting for us at the airport that took us to our hotel, where we arrived at 12.30 am.  We were being picked up at 5.15am and so were going to be exhausted tomorrow, poor Birdgirl.

When we were picked up the next morning by Gunnar driving the “Hippy Van”, the other group were already onboard.  As we sat down in the back, I caught an awful smell.  “What is that smell?”.  Chris responded, “Where are you going and what do you think it is?  OMG, chum!  It is basically fish bits and leftovers, left for a day or two and mixed with fish oil to entice sea birds from miles away to come to the boat area, where we can see them.  We had another half an hour in the vehicle with the vomit inducing smell.  I felt sick and we hadn’t even got on the boat yet.  I think next time, I’ll get a taxi.

I get very, very seasick even in calm water and now have a prescription only anti-sickness drug on prescription from my GP to take for boat trips.  I have used it before for a couple of Isles of Scilly pelagic and so know they work, but they do cause drowsiness.

The sea has been very stormy recently with a pelagic three days earlier being cancelled.  We had only had confirmation the day before that our pelagic was still going out as it had looked as though it would have to be cancelled as well, due to high wave height and wind.  The proviso from the captain was that we could not go out very far, as he did not want to take any risks.  This meant that we had little chance of seeing any albatrosses, which was disappointing.  However, at least we were still going out at all.  Also this kind of weather is not optimal for pelagic, as the waves and the wind break up the slick caused by the chum and so attracts fewer birds.

As we left the harbour, our small boat started hitting the waves, making my stomach jump with each bump.  I held on and tried to move with the boat.  It was too rough to go out far yet, so we went around some nearby islands getting good views of Humboldt Penguins, surfbirds and the endemic Surf Cinclodes.

As we went out further, it was hard to stand as we were thrown around as the boat hit the waves.  I spent the first three hours feeling very drowsy from my tablet (and probably also lack of sleep), which was good for sea sickness but not so good for birding.  I somehow managed to be woken up to see each of the special birds.  Birdgirl was very excited for the first few hours of the trip before being flat out for the remainder, waking only briefly for any new birds.

Véronique was unfortunately unwell for most of the trip, unable to do or see anything.  I really felt for her, as when you suffer from bad sickness, all you want to do is get off the boat or die.

Despite the windy conditions, we had an excellent pelagic, the other highlights being Cape and White-Chinned Petrel, Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Elliot’s and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Chilean and South Polar Skuars, Swallow-Tailed, Gray and Belcher’s Gull and Peruvian Tern.

It was great to have David, from Sheffield, on board as he had been on a few pelagic before and was quick at calling things.  David is married to a Peruvian lady and so comes to Peru every summer with his family, hence making the regular pelagic possible.
With us on the pelagic were Gunnar Engblom (Kolibiri Expeditions running the trip), Guy Mirgain, Benoit Maire, Alain Nathurin, Jacques Franchimont, Hughes, Dufourney, Véronique Buchet and David Wood.


Photo taken by and copyright Benoit Maire


Photo taken by and copyright Benoit Maire
 We were on our way back when the Captain suddenly slowed down and told us that he had seen a large animal in the water.  We all jumped up and looked, waiting to see something.  Then we were rewarded with a whale breaching the surface not far away.  It looked like a hump back whale.  Birdgirl managed to lift her head up and see the whale as it was on its way down.   We then had two more views of the whale pretty close and Gunnar suggested that there was a chance that it might be Pygmy Blue.  It was a great finish to an enjoyable pelagic but being a person who is never happy, I can't but help think about the albatrosses that we didn't see...

On the way back to our hotels, we stopped for closer views of Surf Cinclodes along the coast and then a few of us went to look for two parrot species in local parks.  We were successful with Red-Masked Parrot but not with the Canary-Winged Parakeet, which will have to wait for our next Peru trip.  We said our goodbyes to Gunnar, who had organised our long trip for us and guided us for a section. 

After a quick Pizza, it was time for an early night (for  Birdgirl at least).

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