Monday 2 November 2009

29 to 30 October – A pelagic bonanza!

We got up at 04:30 and had a quick breakfast. Our 4WD’s were packed with food, camping equipments and life jackets. Yes, we were going to undertake a two-day pelagic trip! We drove to Qalancia, which is located 65 kilometres west of Hadibo. We arrived and two boats were ready to be boarded by eight happy birders. The expectations were high. Yousuf, Ahmed and the skippers arranged with all equipments and soon we were offshore enjoying a calm sea. The sea was full of small crabs, which attracted numerous seabirds. Soon we found ourselves in the centre of a huge flock of Socotra Cormorants while three Red-billed Tropicbirds circled over us high up in the sky. We headed towards southwest and the rocky islet Sabuniah, which is located 35 kilometres from Qalancia. Brown Noddy, Persian Shearwater and Sooty Gulls were numerous. Singles of Jouanin’s Petrel, Brown and Masked Booby were seen now and then. It was a hectic time for the photographers onboard!
Ulf, Skipper, Ahmed and Alf. Photo: Niklas
One of thousands of Persian Shearwaters. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
An elegant Jouanin's Petrel. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

After two joyful hours we approached Sabuniah, which is the home of 2000 pairs of Masked Booby and 3000 pairs of Socotra Cormorant! Brown and Masked Boobies checked us up and suddenly a swarm of Masked took off from the islet. What a sight! We landed on the islet for an hour. At least two pairs of Red-billed Tropicbirds were present in the air and were seen displaying several times. Some of us climbed to the top to get close-ups on Masked Booby, adults and their chicks. The whole scenario was dreamlike!
The rocky islet Sabuniah. Photo: Niklas
Masked Booby surrounded by two Brown Boobies. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Searching for a place to land on Subuniah. Photo: Niklas.
Red-billed Tropicbird. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Masked Booby. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Juvenile Socotra Cormorants. Photo: Niklas

We left Sabuniah and headed slowly towards a remote beach on western Socotra. Jouanin’s Petrels and Persian Shearwaters crossed our way now and then. We landed on the beach, which is located close to the breeding site of the Jouanin’s Petrel. It was very hot and all of us took a swim. We found shade in a fishermen’s (so called) hut. Imagine that we felt the shade cooling, when it in fact was 31 degree in the shade. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of fishes caught by one of the skippers.
The breeding site for Jouanin's Petrel. Photo: Niklas
Having fun further up from the beach. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

One hour of seawatching from the beach in the afternoon was very productive. It was impossible to count all seabirds, but during 10 minutes we counted every bird that passed by: 105 Persian Shearwaters and 316 Brown Noddies! All of them close to the shore!

We put the tents up on the beach and awaited the dusk and then climbed upwards to the cave where the Jouanin’s Petrels breed. Unfortunately, the hillside was to steep and the path too narrow for most of us, but Yousuf, Ahmed and Ulf continued up to the entrance of the cave. They heard a few calls and saw several birds entering the cave. The rest of us sat on the beach in the moonlight in company with the fishermen. It was magical!
Everyone slept well and dreamed happy dreams. Photo: Niklas

We woke up just in time to enjoy the sunrise at this lovely and remote beach. Some of us took a refreshing swim while a seabird addict started to seawatch. What a sight when about 3000 Socotra Cormorants arrived to the bay and gathered in a dense foraging flock. Persian Shearwaters passed close to the shore in a seemingly endless stream, along with noddies, boobies, gulls and terns. A big surprise was an adult Indian Pond Heron, which was the first on our trip.
View on our way to Qalancia. Photo: Niklas

After a nice breakfast on the beach we entered the boats and took off for Qalancia. We travelled slowly along the coastline. We spotted four Red-billed Tropicbirds circling overhead while heavy numbers of Persian Shearwater and Brown Noddy where seen around the boat! Add to this good numbers of Brown and Masked Booby, Sooty Gull, Lesser Crested and Swift Tern as well as a single Bridled Tern. We also saw Bottlenose Dolphins and a small group of Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins. What a magnificent boat tour, which lasted for more than two hours.
Part of a huge flock of Brown Noddies. Photo: Niklas
Brown Noddy. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.
Heidi and Kjell-Åke enjoy the sight of a Persian Shearwater. Photo: Niklas

Back in Qalancia we saw two vagrant Collared Pratincoles. On the road back to Hadibo we stopped for two lovely chameleons, which slowly crossed the road in their characteristic walk. We made a quick stop at our hotel and then continued to Suq, which is a palm tree area that hold several pairs of Socotra Scops Owl. We heard one in broad daylight and Ahmed found one perched in a palm tree just two metres away from us! We made a short stop for seawatching and then returned to Suq in the dusk. We heard about ten owls and twenty Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses flew overhead.

These two unforgettable days will be a memory for life!

A golden beach at Qalancia. Photo: Niklas

One of the nice chameleons crossing the road. Photo: Niklas

Socotra Scops Owl. So small and beautiful. Photo: Ulf Ståhle.

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