Interesting to hear the Space-X claims of two deposited passengers for a sling-shot flight around the Moon and back (similar to the Apollo 8 Mission), perhaps as early as next year. Whilst admirably ambitious, it seems even more surprising as this flight will apparently be on a currently un-flown rocket and capsule system and without ‘an astronaut’. The two contenders would appear to be most definitely made of the ‘right stuff’ as well as having plenty of the folding stuff! They may be better off talking to our American partners, Space Adventures, who have been offering to provide the ‘ultimate travel experience’ for a number of years now, but based on flying in proven Soyuz spaceships, and with a professional cosmonaut at the controls. In addition to offering fantastic views of the Moon, the lucky voyagers would also see the entire Earth in Space with their own eyes, just like those first astronauts did back in 1968.
The resulting photographs of course, hugely accelerated the budding environmental movement at the time. We all ‘saw’ our home for the first time too. I would’nt be surprised if at least one of the passengers hasn't flown to the ISS already with Space Adventures, we shall see.
Long-eared Owl, Hungary Nov 2015 - Copyright: Gerard Gorman
We are now only a week away from our historic, ‘world-first’ Mexican Pelagic, which sails from San Diego on the 29th. Led by Chris Collins and our guest leader Steve.N.G.Howell, a mixed group of UK and U.S. seabirders (including Kirk Zufelt whose idea it was) will be heading into the Pacific Ocean in search of tubenoses and much more. A full report will be on site next month, we will run it again in 2016 if enough demand exists.
We continue to support the Oriental Bird Club with our joint WildWings/OBC Annual Conservation Award.
For 2016 we will jointly fund a project in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, an assessment of Rufous-necked Hornbills in Royal Manas National Park, which will be used in conjunction with some similar fieldwork across the border in India.
A number of our recent tours are now back home, smiling faces all around. Regina enthralled our group in Brazil’s Pantanal and Ema’s National Park last month with fantastic Jaguar sightings, Giant Otters and all the usual suspects.
Chas Anderson has just finished his second season of Bali to Komodo wildlife cruises too, Blue, Sperm, False-Killer and Melon-headed Whales were seen, along with plenty of Komodo Dragons with some of the best snorkelling in the world enjoyed all along the way including Giant Mantas. Sounds like paradise indeed. At least two of our clients experienced the underwater world for the first time, and guess what? they loved it!
Closer to home Gerard Gorman took our first Autumn group around some of the best birding sites in his adopted homeland of Hungary, some of the many highlights included Saker and Great Bustards.
Another new voyage has just gone on sale, an extended Ross Sea trip in February 2017 with Chris Collins onboard. This very special one-off includes a number of the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand, the two main avian targets however being Emperor Penguin and Greater Snow Petrel. A true adventure of a lifetime!
This year’s Hula Valley Bird Festival is running this week as I write, and Dick Filby is on the good ship Ioffe, ready for our Antarctic passengers this coming Sunday.
Our next e-newsletter will be in December, and will contain more new tours and voyages.
Where did summer and most of autumn go? It’s seems to have been very busy for us and some of our clients have had some rather amazing experiences, which is what it is all about! Firstly though, Tony Marr did well finding a Second for Britain in his Hebridean’s neighbour’s garden earlier this month. A cracking male Wilson’s Warbler from the US of A. Give him his due, he headed north in August just before Birdfair, determined to find a First for Britain so it was’nt a bad try. Autumn is not over yet either…..
July saw folk enjoying amazing views of Polar Bears in Spitsbergen, whilst in the Russian Far East other WildWings clients enjoyed Spoon-billed Sandpipers on the nest. August provided yet another enjoyable Birdfair, plus more money raised for albatross conservation. We were joined on stand by Becky and David from Hookpod, whilst ‘next door’, the boys from RBA were launching their new ‘super pagers’. September saw our first Amazon River Cruise which seems to be deemed somewhat of a success! The undoubted avian highlight was a Harpy Eagle, watched for an hour down to 60 foot range from the main vessel. We might have a problem repeating that experience, however next year we will certainly try again! The many mammalian encounters included standing waist deep on a wooden platform in the river with Pink Dolphins swimming in to say hello! Our 2015 Brazil Jaguars departure is coming to an end, our unbroken record of successful continues pleasingly. This year’s Bali to Komodo passengers are due home any day now too.
The end of November however sees the big one, our ‘world-first’ Mexican Pelagic, led by Chris Collins and Steve.N.G.Howell (by kind permission of WINGS), not long to go now. We have secured the vessel for a repeat in 2016 as demand seems to be building. The Antarctica season has just started again, Dick will soon be flying south to show this year’s lucky people the wonders of Antarctica and South Georgia.
Our autumn e-newsletter just went out, if you missed a copy please send us an e-mail. You may also want to sign up for future ones, which we currently send out quarterly.
We have more new voyages and two more mammal tours in the works, details will go out in early December in the next newsletter.
The first of our two new short but intense trips to Eastern Turkey seem to have hit the jackpot. Run in conjunction with Birdwatch Magazine the first group have seen 5 Brown Fish Owls plus Caspian Snowcock, Snow Finch, Radde’s and Alpine Accentors, Wallcreeper, Crimson-winged Finch, Finsch’s Wheatear and much more. The second group fly out this weekend and we wish them equal success! We will post a trip report online in due course, meanwhile next spring’s departure/s are now booking. Click here for details
The revised and improved Hula Valley Bird Festival is also now booking for this November, after the first 4 days birding in the north of Israel the group will enjoy 2 full days birding in the Negev Desert.
We are pleased to confirm that the ‘Spirit of Enderby’ has finally sailed in the Russian Far East, after permit issues forced the cancellation of this year’s first two voyages.
Richard Webb is putting the finishing touches to next year’s new South Africa and Indonesia Mammal tours, online soon.
Finally, our summer e-newsletter is about to be sent out in the next few days, sign up if you have not done so already for your copy, using the tab on the right-hand side on any page of this website.
Whilst we have never operated tours to this Himalayan country I visited back in the late 1970s on a private birding trip. Apart from the amazing scenery and birds, it was a ‘life-changing’ trip for me, as like many other visitors I was totally struck by the wonderful people, especially in the mountains. They welcome travellers with smiling faces and open hearts. For the first time I had encountered people who pretty much had nothing in material terms.
The average family seemed to own the clothes they wore and a big cooking pot. That was pretty much it. In spite of this complete lack of personal ‘wealth’ they seemed totally happy and contented with their lives. I remember thinking back then that everyone in the ‘Western World’ should go and visit to put our ‘material world’ into context.
It really doesn’t matter if you have the latest i-phone or 3D TV, it just doesn’t. They truly deserve the outside world’s help. They need massive help in the short term, please do something today and donate whatever money you can.
Ive given a donation to www.dec.org.uk who co-ordinate donations for a number of the bigger UK charities. Thank you.
An update from Simon Cook as the vessel heads northwards, a great narrative for those of us stuck in offices etc, enjoy...
'Here’s an update about St. Helena and Ascension. As we left Tristan we rapidly left behind the majority of the southern tubenoses – albatrosses, petrels etc. On day 2 to St. Helena we saw a Cory’s Shearwater; quite a long way south for this species. An even bigger surprise was a Trindade Petrel, a species not seen on every Atlantic Odyssey. The only marine mammal that we saw en route was a single Dwarf Sperm Whale. The sea was flat calm, which enabled us to see this dolphin-sized species as it logged on the surface.
St. Helena was reached just before lunchtime on the 17th and as we approached we were welcomed by a pod of 20+ Bottlenose Dolphins, including a female and a small calf.
Shortly afterwards but a lot further away there was a pod of 100+ Pantropical Spotted Dolphins. Some of them were making some really high leaps into the air – what a welcoming committee! I then spotted two mating Green Turtles, which everyone was able to see.
The afternoon was free so I and a lot of other birders went up to Deadwood Plain in two vehicles to see the endemic St. Helena Plover. We saw the first ones immediately and eventually got views of about 20 birds.
In the afternoon about 12 of us went out on a local boat for a scenic cruise along the coast in search of seabirds. The nesting season is over but there were still plenty to be seen – boobies, tropicbirds and different terns. Because it was a late-afternoon voyage we saw several hundred Madeiran Storm-petrels around two small rocky islands. They typically come back to their nests late in the day to avoid predators.
Then we saw a big whale shark, although it was small by comparison with others. It was about 15’ long and we had fantastic views of its big, blunt head and pale spots as it cruised below the bow of the boat, just below the surface. It was a pretty impressive sight! But then at nearby Speery Island we had an even bigger surprise. Speery is a rock stack that is covered in birds and flying around among them was an immature Ascension Frigatebird. I have never heard of one being seen here and the books (out of date by some years now) don’t mention the species either. Needless to say, it was the first one that I have ever seen here so it was very exciting!
That evening we had a barbecue and party on the ship but I had a headache (probably due to not drinking enough water) so I had a quick bite to eat and left. I was just about to retire when I was asked to take a turn at driving the shuttle boat from the ship (at anchor) to the shore. If I hadn’t been doing this I would have missed the Madeiran Storm-petrel that landed on the deck at the top of the gangway! It was a great end to the day.
There followed our passage to Ascension, which took three nights and two days. Very little wildlife was seen during our sea time but we had an outstanding encounter with 10-15 Sperm Whales on the first day.
A passenger next to me saw some spouts, which I was able to get onto. Luckily the captain was out with us so he was soon turning the ship while I made an announcement. It was a few minutes before I could see the back and dorsal fins, thus confirming that they were Sperms. We had very good views but the best was when a tiny calf was swimming slowly along beside us, just a few feet away. It was mostly just below the surface so we could see everything of it. All of a sudden it shot off away from us because its mother had just surfaced. The calf was soon beside Ma and another, bigger calf. While all this was going on there were other whales in the vicinity, one of which I saw fluking. The sea was 3,000 metres deep.
That brings me to this morning and Boatswainbird Island, just off Ascension. Although it was too choppy to get into the zodiacs the captain kept us close for quite a while. BI is another seabird-covered rock stack, like Peery island at St. Helena. However, Boatswainbird is bigger and has many more birds, including thousands of Ascension Frigatebirds and Masked Boobies. There are also Red-footed and Brown boobies, Common and Black Noddy, White Tern and White-tailed Tropicbird. We were at the island at first light and saw thousands of frigatebirds in the air. Many of them came very low over the ship and I was able to photograph some of them next to the Ascension flag, which has the Union Jack on it!
On the way around to Georgetown a dolphin or two was seen briefly, as well as a single Green Turtle. On the nearby sandy beaches we could see the tracks of the egg-laying females. That night I was one of the drivers and elected to stay at the ship while everyone went off to the turtle beach. They saw both an egg-laying female and emerging hatchlings so it was very successful. On one of my empty runs to the ship I was accompanied by a Bottlenose Dolphin, which kept leaping out of the water just in front of the boat and landing with a big splash, which soaked me.
Shortly after dinner several dolphins came to the lit area around the gangway and were watched chasing flying fish. Once my shuttling was over I and several others watched them as they continued to chase and catch the fish. It was amazing to see how rapidly the dolphins appeared and twisted and turned after their prey. There were lots of other fish around too and dozens of baby turtles swam by. The biggest surprise was a sea snake, which swam along the side of the ship.
On the following day the highlight for the birders (no room for me on the tour!) was a visit to the large colony of Sooty Terns. I was driving again in the afternoon and on one of my last runs to the ship I got the boat right up to an adult turtle – good views for the people at the front!
Today (Friday) is our first day at sea en route to Cape Verde. Things have been pretty quiet with a few Cory’s, Madeiran & Leach’s stormies, White-tailed Tropicbird, Sooty Terns and Bulwer’s Petrel. The first bird of the day was a close Long-tailed Skua and the last bird of the day was a further-away long-tail.'
We cannot believe how quickly the last 3 months has gone, I guess it is one of busiest times for us in terms of operations and tours and voyages running. All of which so far, have been very successful. Lots of trip reports and species lists have been added to the relevant tour or voyage page.
Chas Anderson’s Sri Lanka was highly rated by our participants and another happy boatload are home from Baja California having touched Gray Whales and enjoyed Blue Whales and many others species just yards away in the clear water. Dick is back in action again in his adopted home of Colorado, working the group around the various species of lekking grouse.
Simon is heading north through the Atlantic on the Odyssey, a Trinidade Petrel being the unexpected bonus so far.
On the other side of the planet Chris Collins and his gang are sailing north through the Pacific on this year’s Western Pacific Odyssey. There are more snippets and news on our Facebook page.
Cabins are now running out on next year’s exclusive Scotland to Spitsbergen voyage, and due to popular demand Tony Marr will stay onboard the vessel for a 7 night Polar Bear Special which will sail on June 1st 2016. This will also be offered as an inclusive Spitsbergen Tour in it’s own right. Full details on this site shortly.
Patricia finally sailed with our first folk onboard, although her main crane is currently out of action. It will be repaired by the end of April however.
Richards new planned programme of mammal tours look mouth-watering, details in the news section. Many more of our tours and voyages for 2016 and beyond will be going on sale soon too. They will include our return to Pitcairn etc in September 2016, again for only 12 lucky passengers, full details shortly. Click here for details
Finally, we just signed up for Birdfair 2015, this year we are donating part of our stand to the Hookpod Team so a double reason to come and see us in August.
We finished 2014 in style, our late November/December group to Antarctica with Dick and Bruce managed an Emperor Penguin and Blue Whale in addition to the more expected species, the species list now online.
WildWings donated a further £3703 to the Save the Albatross Campaign as a result of this departure. The exciting Hookpod project is moving forward, David Agombar called from the RSPB to thank us for the cheque and mentioned full sea trials were currently underway in Australia waters.
Our half-ship charter, Scotland to Spitsbergen in spring 2016 has finally had it’s dates confirmed, 22nd May – 1st June. There is now also a post-voyage option to stay on the ship for a week longer in search of more Polar Bears. We've also added lots of photos to the voyage’s photo gallery too.
We are delighted to confirm that Regina Ribeiro will be joining Chris Collins as our number two guide for our inaugural Amazon Cruise this September, great to have you back Reg!
This year’s Hula Valley Bird Festival will take place 15th – 22nd November, prices and full details due shortly, expected to be similar to last year’s event.
David Agombar (RSPB) sent us this short summary of this year’s highlights from the Albatross Task Force. The final line gives cause for a small smile, good news!
The Albatross Task Force (ATF) has made significant progress over the last year. In particular, the four items below will lead to big reductions in albatross deaths:
Namibia - In mid August, after 12 months of planning and lobbying, we met with the Minister for Fisheries to discuss the introduction of regulations. These will implement the mitigation measures that the ATF have demonstrated can reduce seabird bycatch by between 80-90%. The Namibian hake trawl and longline fisheries kill up to 30,000 seabirds each year. This makes them some of the worst fisheries in the world for bycatch. The Minister has agreed to introduce new permit conditions to make streamer lines mandatory on the trawl and longline fleet and steel weights for the longliners.
There are a few things we need to work on in the interim but with these measures in place, we are confident we can reduce seabird deaths by many thousands annually within the next 18-24 months. There will be on-going monitoring and work with the National Observer programme to ensure that implementation is effective and that the reduction is sustainable. This change is down to several years of accumulated work by the ATF in Namibia. The team will coordinate and support implementation with the ministry, working in ports and at-sea trips plus performing training and debriefings to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Argentina – After much planning and lobbying, Leo Tamini, ATF Argentina, recently presented the ATF work on the effectiveness of streamer lines in the hake trawl fishery to the National Fisheries Council. They have agreed to an official 6-month test period for streamer lines on the industrial trawl fleet as a lead up to regulations. This is big news for the 14,000 Black-browed albatross killed each year in the fishery.
Brazil – After regulations were introduced in 2012, following ATF mitigation research, we now have 100% compliance with line weighting in the pelagic longline fishery and all vessels have streamer lines onboard. There is some way to go to ensure that streamer lines are used on all vessels. The compliance with line weighting in itself is a huge step for this fishery, which is responsible for the death of thousands of albatrosses and petrels. Many of these are from the UKOTs of Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
Hookpods - Progress is being made with development of the Hookpod. Currently sea trials are taking place in South Africa and in Australia with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. We have made some design changes to make the pod stronger and are now about to undertake three months of use at sea to establish reliability and to build significant data about the pods effectiveness in eliminating seabirds deaths.
When these have been completed, we hope to convince the Australian Government to recognise Hookpods as an official mitigation measure that can be used in licensed fisheries, where they could be used in place of streamer lines, light sticks and weights. We are also close to getting them trialled in New Zealand.
2015 could be the year that we see the beginning of the end of the majority of albatross deaths in global pelagic longline fisheries.