Sunday, 20 July 2014

Part 2. Cape Verde to the Amazon

We arrived in Mindelo on the island of Sao Vincente,Cape Verde just as dawn was breaking. It was certainly different from our previous ports of call, the landscape rugged and volcanic.
Cape Verde  dawn arrival 2014-01-15
What was puzzling was the total lack of  sea birds as we approached the port and this was a fishing port too. Most strange. This lack of avian activity had been with us virtually all the way, in fact with hindsight, there was more activity in the English Channel than anywhere else we had been.
How would we fare on dry land we wondered ?
Fortunately one of our birding number had visited previously, in fact he'd been on the very same cruise a couple of years previously so he was able to point me in the right direction and together we decided to take a taxi. Heading up the breakwater from our dock we had our first good bird.. an Osprey sat on top of a pole
Osprey Cape Verde 2014-01-15
For some reason I decided to take my 70-200mm lens and not my 500mm. A decision I was to regret deeply when we arrived at our chosen destination, the local sewerage works !
In fairness, they are nice , well as nice as sewerage works can get. Compared to the state of much of the island they were very modern and well maintained too ! We were made welcome there when we asked if it was OK to wander around what was quite a vast area.
Soon we were on to some interesting birds with several "lifers" for me. Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs plus Blue Winged Teal suggested they had arrived from the Americas. Vagrants blown in by the December storms perhaps.
Blue Winged Teal 2014-01-15
My birding companion was excited by the prospect that we had just recorded the second ever sighting of Blue Winged Teal on the island. I do wonder how many birders have actually visited though !
As well as those mentioned we also had Brown necked Raven,
Brown Necked Raven 2014-01-15
and Iago Sparrow, an endemic to the island which were again "lifers" for me.

Iago Sparrow 2014-01-15

As well as these welcome additions to my life list, the sewerage pools had a good selection of waders from Sanderling to Spoonbill and Gt White Egret in size. However, even with a 2x converter my 200mm lens was lacking in reach to capture any worthwhile shots. With a total lack of cover it was impossible to get very close to the birds but Locusts were a different matter.
Desert Locust 2014-01-15
Having had a few hours at the ponds we then took a taxi tour of the island, which was revealing in as much as it certainly convinced me it was somewhere I wouldn't want to spend much time in. The scenery is quite spectacular but bird life was certainly lacking  the exception being a few Cattle Egrets and a Common Kestrel. The tourist industry just hasn't developed, there are signs of abandoned projects in several places and I think anyone who bought holiday property here would have come to regret it very quickly.
Our tour over, we returned to the capital Mindelo and had a wander around. As you walk out of the port area there are large murals on the walls advertising the attractions available to tourists.
Cape Verde  tourist attraction 2014-01-15
The fact the sewerage works is up there with the best it has to offer says it all really !
Anyway, it had been an interesting and successful visit. Some proper birding at last and 5 lifers in one day isn't to be scoffed at.
Time to sail on soon arrived but as we were stood on the deck waiting to depart we were to witness a very lucky escape.
A concrete section of the sea wall suddenly collapsed without warning, bringing with it a lamp post which hit the ground at the very spot where a coach had unloaded the last of it's passengers just a minute or two previously.
Cape Verde  dock collapse 2014-01-15
The consequences could have been horrific. We had been greeted on arrival by the sight of an ambulance waiting to take off a stricken passenger... it's to be expected , particularly with the age demographic on our boat, but accidents are something you don't expect. Unfortunately, this wasn't to be the last incident either. Not everyone on the boat was going to get home safely but we didn't know that at the time. As the concrete had also shattered a fuel supply line, oil was being discharged on to the dockside and in to the water. It seemed the dock side workers didn't have much clue as to what to do. We just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible and fortunately we were able to do just that. However, how much oil was pumped in to the sea as a result of the accident we were never to know but as we sailed away the air was highly contaminated by the smell of diesel oil.
Mindelo  2014-01-15
Our next port of call would be in Brazil but to get there was to take several days. Hopefully, bird laden ones !
The weather was getting distinctly better, in fact it was glorious sitting out on the decks now. Flying fish were seen in large numbers, scattering in all directions as the bow of the ship appeared as a huge predator to them. Many passengers thought they were birds, one even entered on the ships sightings board that they had seen lots of blue butterflies. Maybe they should have gone to Specsavers !
Still, the Flying Fish made an interesting project to capture on camera, well for a while anyway.
Flying Fish 2014-01-16
They move quite quickly and cover as much as 50 metres in flight but as they are also quite small, you need a big lens to try and get a half decent snap when you are some distance above the water.
Flying Fish 2014-01-16
However, the scattering fish were also a target for a marauding sea bird. To the delight of the bird watchers, and virtually all the other passengers for that matter, we were entertained for around an hour by a hunting Red Footed Booby.
Red Footed Booby 22014-01-16
What an absolutely glorious bird ! Simply stunning, and another first for me.
Red Footed Booby 2014-01-16 (2)
Things had certainly improved today, as well as the Booby sighting several Leach's Petrels were seen as well as more distant Cory's Shearwater.
Leach's Petrel 2014-01-16
Dolphins also appeared several times but top of the mammal sightings were a very distant pair of Fin Whales, identified by their size and "blow".
Sadly the anticipation soon faded and as we got further away from land there was less and less to see. By the time we reached the middle of the Atlantic Ocean even the Flying Fish has been left behind. On one particular day the only other living creature to be spotted was a solitary fly, and that had no doubt stowed away at the last port of call. You really do start to appreciate they the oceans are a gigantic maritime wilderness. No wildlife, no other ships, no vapour trails in the sky. It must be very lonely if you are single handed yachtsman particularly knowing that if anything goes wrong you are on your own. Even a large ship takes 5 days to cross.
Eventually, signs of life started to reappear. There were few birds as we approached Brazil but the Flying Fish returned albeit in much smaller numbers. We crossed the Equator line and the first signs of nearing land was the change in colour of the Ocean. From a stunning blue the water started to get muddy. We are still a long , long way from land but the mighty Amazon carries it's discharge 200 miles in to the Atlantic. At it's mouth, it's 80 miles across. It's navigable for 1000 miles by large ships.
It's an extraordinary sight, and we were going to witness it ! I had conjured up visions of steamy jungle, Parrots and Macaws flying overhead, howling monkeys in the trees. How would it all measure up to expectations ? All will be revealed in due course !

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