Pelagic Outing September 2011

On September 17, 2011, thanks to the efforts of Colin Poole and Geoff Davison we convened again at ONE°15 Marina Club and boarded our boat shortly after 6am.  The dawn light promised a good start to the day with partly cloudy skies.  Some time passed while waiting to clear immigration formalities, finally getting underway past 7am.  The plan was to proceed along our usual track but go a bit further East towards Horsburg hoping to see another frigatebird.  It wasn’t long before we rounded St. John’s island and started picking up Swinhoe’s Storm Petrels, not knowing that it would be a bumper crop!

We continued getting petrels all the way to Changi and a bit beyond.  All the petrels were heading West to their wintering grounds in the Indian Ocean.  There were lots of them.  For the most part, the petrels were traveling in small groups of a few birds each, but there were also several long thin ribbons of birds passing as distant specks.  But we did come across one bird that was in the water scavenging what appeared to be a dead fish.  We were able to make a reasonably close approach to snap a few pictures.

I guess it is more common for Swinhoe’s to feed while hovering or paddling over the surface of the water, so it was interesting to see this behavior.  Also we noticed that some of the petrels had quite worn plumage, probably the result of having already travelled a long way on migration.  We hadn’t seen any petrels on our August trip, nor had another boat seen any petrels on Sept 4th, so it appears the migration comes as suddenly and with as much volume as opening a faucet!  Altogether just over five hundred petrels were counted!

In addtion to petrels, there were Bridled Terns, and they were all heading East to the South China Sea.  Apparently coming from their breeding grounds to the West and heading to wintering grounds to the East, apparently their migration is not well understood.  Some of the Bridled Terns were plunge diving for food, and a few were taking a break on a some flotsam, but most were moving East.  Compared with our trip to Horsburgh in August, I don’t recall seeing any in juvenile or breeding plumage.  The number of Bridled Terns was suprising.  While we had seen nearly two hundred Bridled Terns in August, half those were in the colony at Horsburgh.  Today we saw almost six hundred on migration, and we never even got out to Horsburgh.

The other star bird was the Aleutian Tern  Having seen just a couple in August, at least twenty were seen today, the highest count of a never very common bird.  Many were perching on flotsam.


Also seen were a few Common Terns, Lesser Crested and Swift Terns.  But once we got much beyond Changi, expecting to see even more great pelagics like skuas, frigatebirds and maybe even a booby, we saw almost nothing!  It’s amazing how the sea life can change.  So around 1pm, not having seen anything for quite awhile, we decided to head back.  And as we did the weather changed and we were dodging scattered showers for much of the way.  Once we got back in the Changi area we started picking up more Bridled Terns and some more petrels as well.  It seems that on this particular day the petrels were mainly seen in the light blue area, we saw many more on our outbound Southerly leg than on the return journey.

Reaching Sentosa Cove finally around 3pm, we stopped for our usual group photo.  The August 2011 outing had been the highest bird count of the series but that recorded was shattered today!  Still there were more boats than birds!



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