Five Reasons to go on a Pelagic Birding Trip

Much is said and/or perceived about Pelagic birding and how intimidating it can be for most land-loving birders. Well, hopefully by the end of this list you'll be a little closer to taking the plunge into the amazing world of Pelagic birding. No matter which coastal country you live or intend on travelling to, pelagic birding stretches across the globe.

Barau's Petrel | Calvin Harris

1. Guaranteed Lifers

Whether you consider yourself a lister, birder, bird-watcher, naturalist or any of the other titles floating out there. The fact remains, you will see birds you have never seen before. Many keen birders have still not added the species that pelagic birding trips offer barring an Albatross or a Petrel blown slightly closer inshore due to a storm. There are a host of species that one can only find on the edge of the continental shelf where the ocean floor drops to around 200m. This is approximately 30 nautical miles offshore (Durban) where birds have a adapted to a life at sea. If you're someone on the hunt for a rarity, well this is arguably the best opportunity to come across birds seldom seen if at all off our coastline. David Allan told me once that if you are hoping to find that Mega or Giga species (names assigned to rarities that will make your heart palpitate because of their magnitude), then go on a Pelagic. Well on that very same trip in November 2018, we saw just that, a Tahiti Petrel. If you'd like to keep track of the rarities not only out at sea but on land too, then send Trevor Hardaker an email to add you to the Rare Bird Alert using hardaker@mweb.co.za.

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross | Zach Simpson

2. You'll learn about a group of birds that are absolutely amazing

Pelagic birds live in extremely harsh conditions and are seemingly on a never ending quest for food. Expert guides are on hand not only to point out and identify but to tell you about each species and their story. Whether it be an Albatross that hasn't set foot on land for more than 5 years until it has reached breeding maturity or how a species is expanding its range due to declining fish stocks in its usual waters, each species has a unique life story to learn. Birds the size of Swallows called Storm Petrels seem to dance and walk on water collecting food items before flitting off at great speed. The first time you see a Storm Petrel you will not believe that such a small bird lives far out at sea and is able to cover vast distances in search of food.


3. Much more than just birds

If its not only birds you're after, then a Pelagic trip is still definitely worth considering. From Bottlenose Dolphins, Humpbacked Whales or even Orcas. The mammals often seen on Pelagics are incredible. Many guides will chum (attracting birds using cut up fish meat) to attract birds which in so doing can often attract the attention of sharks. You will also get to know other birders quickly as you share amazing sightings and the 'downtime' when coming back towards the harbour.

White-chinned Petrel | Zach Simpson

4. Photographic opportunities

Bird photography equals the appeal of finding new species as the birds quite literally come to you, as opposed to spending vast amounts of time searching for them. They whiz all around the boat, so no matter where you position yourself, you will have ample opportunity to take many many photographs. Juggling between a moving boat, fast flying birds and trying to find them in your viewfinder - you will gain a newfound respect high quality images taken out at sea. Your photographic skills will improve immensely in trying to not 'blow out the whites' or show detail in black feathers. The constantly changing light conditions will stretch both you and your equipment to the limit in trying to capture a great image.


5. A renewed drive to protect our Oceans

Lastly, and most importantly, going on a Pelagic birding trip will remind you of what we stand to lose if we continue along our un-sustainable path. Our fisheries are in decline across the world and the oceans are suffering from pollution on a biblical scale. Both the aforementioned points are not new revelations, we have been dealing with these issue for years. Its only when you get offshore and understand the struggle these creatures face, will you then feel the issue is a lot 'closer' to home than you might think. Ask any birder who has been on a Pelagic offshore from Durban, they will tell you that the White-chinned Petrel can be ticked off without a shadow of doubt. However, this species is in global decline - "An overall decline in population is inferred by a drop in burrow occupancy rates of 28% at Bird Island, and an 86% reduction in population at Prydz Bay. Also, monitoring on Marion Island has shown of 14.5% reduction, and a 37% reduction on the Crozet Islands" - Wikipedia. This means that a somewhat abundant species off our waters will one day be a rarity or possibly even worse. By going out on a Pelagic you're not only supporting the local tourism market, but you are playing your part in conservation. By this I mean you are helping to show the economic and not only environmental significance of our pelagic species.

If you can see past the chance of feeling a little ill (there is medication to assist with this), then a whole new birding world is just offshore waiting for you to enjoy it. I have now been on 4 Pelagic trips and I don't think I'm anywhere near close to being finished!

If you want to book a Pelagic birding trip off Durban, two of our Birding Directory Members run these trips:

1) Bustard's Birding Tours https://www.thebirdinglife.com/bustards-birding-tours

2) Rockjumper Birding Tours https://www.thebirdinglife.com/rockjumper

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