Flock to Marion – The Cruise

Thank you everybody for your lovely comments on my introductory blog post about Flock to Marion. I know many of you are hoping to see lots of photographs of the amazing birds that we saw. We did indeed see the amazing pelagic birds of the Southern Ocean. But – I am not going to post many photographs. Pelagic Birding is next level – Higher Grade for the Big Bird Nerds. And in the Southern Ocean, it is Extreme Birding. Even the experts say they can’t be sure of what they are looking at until they check their photographs. Their photography is also at a much higher level than mine. Those guys have ultra-amazing cameras with lenses that have super-vision and can snap photographs at the speed of light. As much as I love my camera it is just not equipped to deal with this kind of photography.

So let me just tell you about the cruise. Most of the passengers were of course there to bird and did very little else. Some serious birding took place and these guys and gals were out on the decks from sunrise till after sunset. I am not quite in that league but when I was out there I tried to be as close to a guide as possible. The guides had radio contact with each other and there were often alerts like – “Sooty albatross – port side coming from the stern. ” I listened carefully and saw a variety of birds but only knew what they were because the guide told me! There was one awesome day when we were close to Marion and the birds just didn’t stop coming. We just enjoyed watching them fly over the choppy sea and come right in close to the ship. My favourite of them all was the Wandering Albatross which is the largest flying bird in the world. Is it any wonder that the Ancient Mariner suffered such guilt after killing one!

I am posting some poor photos just to give an impression of what it was like out at sea. Remember, these pelagic birds fly many miles away from land and are at sea for months at a time. Sometimes they settle on the surface of the sea but otherwise, they are constantly flying. This is also why they are so difficult to photograph! After a few feeble attempts, I gave up and just enjoyed watching them with my eyes. I am not even going to attempt to name them in case I get them wrong!

On Deck, while the weather was still fine – this is a small group – mostly there were just too many people and getting a spot was difficult.
After a while standing becomes a bit tiring – best to get used to sitting cross-legged on the deck. This one also taken before we got neat to Marion
The stern is a good place to be as sometimes the birds follow the wake
The bow with BLSA flag flying proudly
Sunsets at sea are amazing
Life out at sea is just too stunning for words

The bird watching was fun and we were really lucky with the weather. The first three days were sunny but the closer we got to the Prince Edward Islands the colder it became. However, it was not as cold as expected and I was comfortable on deck in jeans, boots, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a puffer jacket. It rained a bit but not continuously and when it did the Earl and I watched the birds from our cabin. We even sat out on the balcony when it was dry. The sea was quite rough at times and walking in a straight line was difficult! The roaring forties were not as scary as I expected.

Every day there were lectures to attend and they were all excellent. We particularly enjoyed Peter Harrison the author of Seabirds – An Identification Guide and Seabirds – The New Identification Guide. He spoke eloquently about his travels to see and paint seabirds for identification purposes.

Marion Island and Prince Edward Island are sub-antarctic islands and belong to South Africa. They are 2300 km southeast of Cape Town in the southern Indian Ocean. There is a huge mice problem on Marion and these mice are eating baby chicks alive.

Marion Island has an amazing array of endemic species and almost pristine marine fauna but ships over the years have brought cats and mice to the island.

In the early 1990s, the cats were eradicated but mice were left and they had a huge impact on invertebrates like flightless moths and weevils. When this source of food was used up the mice started attacking the chicks. BLSA is now working hard to raise money so that the mice population can be eradicated. We learned in the lectures that they plan to use helicopters to fly in straight lines at narrow intervals to drop poison all over the island. It is extremely expensive and a great deal of skill is needed by the pilots to get this right.

It was awesome to see how many people on Flock to Marion pledged their support and contributed to the various fundraising initiatives. We really need to save our seabirds. We also heard how penguins and other seabirds are at risk too.

One of the ways to help is to sponsor a hectare on Marion Island. Click the link if you wish to contribute. Or if you would like to support BirdLife South Africa in any of their projects click here.

Here are just a few more photos of some fun times we had on board.

Cape Bird Club members connected on Day 2 and Chairperson, Priscilla welcomed us aboard
It was great to catch up with Marilyn and Duke
The Earl on Bird Party Night
Me on Bird Party night
Candace our hostess in the restaurant

This was not a regular cruise as it was dedicated to serious birding. It was a wonderful experience as I love both cruising and birding. The MSC Orchestra is a great ship and if you feel the urge to cruise I can highly recommend booking a passage on her. The food is good, there is wonderful entertainment, the pool deck is great and they offer plenty of activities all through the day. It is also a great way to meet people. Of course, we were already acquainted with a lot of the other passengers but we also met lots of new folks. Friends who knew we were coming told us to look out for others they knew would be on board. Some we did bump into, others we didn’t. After all, there were 1700 of us. However, we did have one interesting encounter. While birding on deck I found myself next to a woman about my age. We chatted about the birds we were seeing and then I said, “Where are you from.”

“Durban,” she replied and I told her that we loved KZN and had relatives in Kokstad. She replied that she too had relatives in Kokstad and we chatted about nearly everybody in Kokstad being dairy farmers. Her relatives, she said, were dairy farmers and I told her mine were too.

“Who are your relatives?” I asked thinking I might know them as I have met many of the locals.

“The MacKenzies,” she replied.

“But the MacKenzies are my relatives,” I exclaimed.

“But I said so first,” she laughed.

We then told each other our names and realized that we knew each other but had not seen each other for over 20 years. Glenda is the first cousin to Barbara MacKenzie who is the Earl’s late first wife Colleen’s sister so her first cousin too. We keep up with Colleen’s family and so once she identified herself I knew exactly where she fitted in.

So that is cruising – you just never know what will happen or who you might meet. Give it a go!

12 thoughts on “Flock to Marion – The Cruise

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