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The Intrepid Beauty of Africa and the Indian Ocean

I have just finished my second trip with the Ocean Wildlife Encounters team, travelling on Fred Olsen's MS Bolette from Safage in Egypt to Kochi in Kerala, India. On this leg of the trip, the team comprised friends Jeff Clarke and Laura Dennis, ably assisted by Martin Kitching.


Laura, Jeff, Me and Martin - the Tilley Crewe!!


MS BOLETTE


During the course of the next two weeks, we sailed from Safage, down the Red Sea to Jeddah, exited the Red Sea and then sailed through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea with a port day at Salalah in Oman, before continuing to Mumbai for a day. Night sailing followed with port days in Mormugao (Goa), Mangalore (Karnakta) and Kochi (Kerala).


Most of the sea days were spent on either Deck 6, giving views ahead and with a good height to look for cetaceans, or on Deck 3, which offered shelter from the wind, and also better opportuntites for photography. Cetaceans were quite thin on the ground (or in the sea), but included the tropicalis subspecies of Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, Gray's Spinner Dolphin, Pantropical spotted dolphin, Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphin, False Killer Whale and Long-finned Pilot Whale. A single beaked whale escaped identification as did a baleen whale. The Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphins were mainly seen as we cruised into the ports in India.


Indian Humpback Dolphin


Seabirds featured most days at sea and when anchored. Whilst at sea we saw Persian Shearwater, Flesh-footed Shearwater and Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Jouanin’s Petrel were seen on several days and a single Trindade Petrel was seen. Masked Booby often accompanied the ship, diving after the Flyingfish disturbed by the MS Bolette; several Red-billed Tropicbirds were seen, often to far off to photograph. Bridled Tern were occasionally seen at sea or inshore. Lesser and Greater Crested Terns were seen in most of the ports, those around the Red and Arabian Seas also provided us with views of Sooty Gull and White-eyed Gull, whilst close examination of the Lesser Black-backed type gulls produced Heuglin's Gull and Steppe Gull; ports around India held Brown-headed Gulls. Red-necked Phalaropes were quite a feature in the Arabian Sea with several hundred seen each day we were in the area.



Masked Booby "Surfing"


Near adult Masked Booby


Immature Masked Booby


Man's impact on our sealife - Masked Booby with bill entangled with nylon.



Sooty Gull



Brown-headed Gull


Birds of prey also featured when were docked in port. Black Kite, Black-eared Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea-eagle were all seen from the MS Bollete when we were docked.



Black Kite


Black-eared Kite


Yellow-billed Kite


Black Kite


Brahminy Kite


White-bellied Sea-eagle


The morning of 9 December saw us docking in Salalah on the coast of Oman.  Viewing from the ship before breakfast, our ship was surrounded by Red-necked Phalaropes with an estimated 500 in the port, Socotra Cormorant was added to our list, whilst Lesser Crested and Greater Crested Terns fished in the harbour. After breakfast we disembarked, went through immigration and met our guide for the day. We had hired a private guide/driver to take us to some of the birding sites within easy reach of the port.  Our first stop was at a local land-fill site.  In the UK we would have been scanning through flocks of gulls, but here we were looking at White Stork and Abdim’s Stork.



White Stork


Abdim's Stork


A short drive and we arrived at another less than picturesque site – the water treatments works.  Our driver arranged for us to gain entry and we were soon looking at more storks and variety of waders; Common, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Black-winged Stilts.  Two Whiskered Terns hawked for insects over the water and a Citrine Wagtail searched for insects around the settling beds.


Whiskered Tern


Wood Sandpiper


Namaqua Dove


Glossy Ibis


Black-winged Stilt


Our next stop was at another land-fill site, but instead of Storks, we were surrounded by large eagles – Greater Spotted, Eastern Imperial and Steppe Eagle – with a single sweep of the binoculars we could easily see a hundred eagles, mostly Steppe, and birds were kettling directly overhead.



Steppe Eagle


Steppe Eagle


Great-spotted Eagle


Steppe Eagle


Eastern Imperial Eagle


As we started to return towards Salalah, the occasional Desert Wheatear and Desert Lark were seen beside the road.  Our next stop was lower down in the desert at the Frankincense Tree National Park.  Here we saw our first Tristram’s Grackles and Blackstarts of the trip - the latter like a pale Black Redstart but with a black tail.



Tristram's Grackle - adult (left) and juvenile


Blackstart


Continuing to lose altitude we came to a Wadi which had a freshwater spring.  This was the only natural water for quite some distance and was attracting lots of passerines to drink and bathe.  Tristram’s Grackle dominated, but White-spectacled Bulbuls were also putting in regular appearances with Citrine Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and African Silverbills joining the party.



Citrine Wagtail


Cinnamon-breasted Bunting


White-spectacled Bulbul


On 12 December we docked in Mumbai and waited for clearance to go ashore.  Jeff, Laura and I ventured ashore and endured the sights and smells of the busy Mumbai streets as we headed for an ATM and eventually a ferry across the estuary.  Lesser Crested, Greater Crested and Gull-billed Terns fished beside the ferry with Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls for company.  On reaching the opposite shore (almost two hours after we’d disembarked), Western Reef Egrets were present along the pier.   As we walked along the streets a White-throated Kingfisher sat on overhead wires, a couple of Alexandrine Parakeets flew overhead calling noisily and an Indian Pond Heron was present in the Mangroves.  We arrived back at the Bolette in time for some birding from the ship and to catch up with Martin.  A single Indian Hump-backed Dolphin had been seen from the Bolette along with most of the terns and gulls we had seen from the shore trip.  In fact, the species list from the ship competed with what had been seen on the shore!  Great, Intermediate and Little Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Grey Heron and Flamingo sp. were all seen from the ship.  Black and Brahminy Kites flew overhead and around the Bolette, one of the latter had a duck in its talons.


Our next port of call was Mormugao in Goa. We had arranged for a guide for the day, and this was to be one of the best day's birding of the trip. We were met as arranged by Savio from Avocet and Peregrine.  Our first destination was to the banks of the Zuari River, where we boarded a small boat for a trip into the Mangroves and egrets and herons galore waiting to feed amongst the fishing nets as the tide dropped!!


Zuari River


Western Reef Egret


Striated Heron (Juvenile)


Striated Heron (Adult)


Little Egret


Purple Heron


Indian Pond Heron


Little Cormorant


Great Egret


Osprey


Our main target for the trip along the Mangroves was the Collared Kingfisher.  The sub-species found in Goa could soon be elevated to a full species, but it has very restricted range in India, with less than 40 pairs in Goa.  Slowly drifting through the Mangroves, with Mugger (Marsh Crocodiles) watching from the muddy edges, we eventually sighted our target.  There then followed much manoeuvring of the boat and changing seats so that we could all get a view (and photographs) of this rare kingfisher.


Mugger


After a thirst-quenching beer (Kingfisher no less) we then headed to an area of mudflats.  Amongst the lines of rubbish washed up the beach we soon found a mixed flock of around 500 Plovers – Kentish, Greater Sand and Tibetan (formerly Lesser Sand) Plover. Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew were also present in smaller numbers.


Kentish Plover


Greater Sandplover - left


Tibetan Plover (left)


Tibetan Plover


A Green Bee-eater hunted for insects close by where we had parked the car.


Green Bee-eater


The following day we docked at Mangalore, and after much negotiating with taxi-drivers we secured a driver to take us to Jakotta for 1,500 Rupees - one driver had quoted 8,000 Rupees. We spent a couple of hours exploring some typical agricultural land.


Farmland at Jakotta


Scaly-breasted Munia


White-rumped Sandpiper


Green Bee-eater


Pied Buschat


Lesser Adjutant


White-throated Kingfisher


Woolly-necked Stork


My final was spent on deck in Kochi, before heading to the airport and the flight home. Birding from the ship though produced Brahminy Kite, Black Kite, Glossy and Black-headed Ibis, Great, Little, Intermediate Egrets, Indian Pond Heron, Indian, Great and Little Cormorants and Indian Darter.


Once again an enjoyable cruise, showing passengers birds and cetaceans. I'm away again in a few weeks, cruising from Mauritius to South Africa.

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