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ATLANTIC ODYSSEY

Monday 16th March - Sunday 26th April 2009

Derek Scott

From Adelie Penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula to Bar-tailed Desert Larks in the Cape Verde Islands, from Lesser Snow Petrels around icebergs to White Terns around palm trees, and from Leopard Seals and Killer Whales in the Antarctic Sound to Spinner Dolphins and flying fishes on the equator, our Atlantic Odyssey was truly a voyage of extremes. Our journey of 7,070 nautical miles from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands, via the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena and Ascension, gave us an unparalleled opportunity to observe the multitude of sea-birds and cetaceans in the Southern Ocean and Atlantic, and took us to some of the remotest islands on the planet. The Professor Molchanov, with her sturdy build and superb Russian crew, was the ideal ship for our journey, and the competent Oceanwide Expeditions team made every effort to ensure that we saw as many of the splendours and as much of the wildlife as possible in our 36 days on board. A deep depression in the Scotia Sea caused us to abandon our plans to visit the South Orkneys, and we did not get the calm conditions required for landings on Inaccessible and Nightingale in the Tristan group, but on the whole the weather was kind to us and there were seldom more than a couple of empty seats at mealtimes. For the birders and cetacean enthusiasts, ‘sea-watching’ from the deck of the Professor Molchanov provided endless enjoyment as we passed through an ever-changing panoply of sea-birds and encountered an amazing diversity of whales and dolphins. The long hours spent on the upper deck and bridge were rewarded with sightings of over 65 species of sea-birds, including several that were unexpected, and no less than 24 species of cetaceans, not to mention countless flying fishes, flying squids and other marine creatures. For many of us, however, it was the excursions ashore that provided the highlights of the trip. These included landings on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula at Brown Bluff and on nearby Paulet Island, six great landings in South Georgia, a wonderful day on Tristan da Cunha, three full days in St Helena, a morning on Ascension, and a day on Fogo in the Cape Verdes. Our total bird list of 171 species was surprisingly high, given that we spent most of our time at sea, and included such cracking birds as Andean Condor and Magellanic Woodpecker in Tierra del Fuego, White-headed Petrel, Mottled Petrel and Westland Petrel in the Drake Passage, Adelie Penguin, Chinstrap Penguin and Lesser Snow Petrel in the Antarctic Peninsula, King Penguin, Macaroni Penguin, Wandering Albatross (at the nest) and South Georgia Pipit in South Georgia, Northern Rockhopper Penguin, Gough Moorhen and Gough Bunting on Gough Island, Tristan Thrush and Tristan Bunting in the Tristan group, St Helena Plover on St Helena, Ascension Frigatebird on Ascension, and Cape Verde Swift, Cape Verde Cane Warbler and Iago Sparrow in the Cape Verdes. Cetacean highlights included a school of playful Hourglass Dolphins in the Drake Passage, lots of Humpback Whales, about 20 Killer Whales and two Southern Right Whales in the Antarctic Sound, two Blue Whales, a school of Southern Right Whale Dolphins and a pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Scotia Sea, a group of seven Sperm Whales en route to St Helena, a huge school of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins during our ‘dolphin cruise’ off St Helena, and several schools of acrobatic Spinner Dolphins and a pod of very obliging Short-finned Pilot Whales between Ascension and the Cape Verdes.