September sojourn on board Island Sky: Part 1 - Northern coast of Spain

I was very happy to be on board Island Sky again as birding companion for the Australian travel company APT’s Small Ships Cruises programme in Europe.

And once again, I want to acknowledge APT for their invitation to the cruise, the Expedition Team on board Island Sky for their support, the crew for their exceptional service and eternal smiling, and the guests for their warm welcome to the tour.

This part of the cruise went from Bilbao to La Coruña.

My tour started with a night in Getxo, in Hotel Artaza, a classical styled hotel, very good “pinchos” in the bar, and very friendly atmosphere. Before getting on boar on the 18th, I walked around the beautiful parks surrounding the hotel following a little river downstream, where I could spot my first Chiffchaff of the season, as well as Firecrests and Short-toed Treecreepers amongst which I eagerly but unsuccessfully tried to find Goldcrests and Common (though not in Andalusia!) Treecreepers.

I was very happy to meet old friends again on board Island Sky. From the ship, before we set sail, we saw Sandwich Tern, Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls, Cormorant, a wonderful flock of Spoonbills arriving to the coast and heading upstream the estuary, and even a Common Sandpiper and a Kingfisher.

The crossing between Bilbao and La Coruña was going to be one of the most exciting experiences I have never lived with birds. While already sailing out of the harbour, we saw a big flock of ducks that I could not identify in the distance plus five more individuals that, according to the size difference, could very well be geese.

The first Gannets and Manx Shearwaters showed up, as well as a likeable Spotted Flycatcher stowing away on board more than 4 miles off the coast. When it seemed as if it was going to leave the ship to the coast, it suddenly hovered for a second, showing there is insects over the sea, and happily flew back to the ship. I was fascinated with my little friend when Phil came to tell me there was a bird in another deck. I could not believe it, it was a petrel! I could not find any petrels during the July sojourn and there it was, in my hands, just after we set sail. It was a Leach’s Storm Petrel that seemed to be tired, but we left it by the banisters from which it jumped to the sea and flew off later on.

I then came back with my little flycatcher. The evening was chilly and a bit rainy. Suddenly, a Robin joined the flycatcher, and then a flock of White Wagtails and pipits, and Willow Warblers (one of them even sat on my coat for a moment!), Melodious Warbler, Reed Warbler and Northern Wheatear. It was unbelievable, they were exhausted, using the ship as an island after flying across the Bay of Biscay who knows where from. To round off this magic moment, and make it even harder for the little birds, a Sparrowhawk flew over the ship, causing big consternation among the wagtails on board.

The following morning I spotted the first Cory’s Shearwaters and was notified about another stowaway on board. It was a Whitethroat whose primaries and rectrices showed very damaged, as if burnt on a white hot bulb at night. We let it go on the deck and I do not know what became of it.

During our cycling tour in La Coruña around the Hercule’s Tower I could take nice pictures (always a very relative concept...) of a young Shag.

The crossing towards Porto, until dusk, was also very interesting. We could enjoy one of those beautiful groups of dolphins, gannets and shearwaters all together. There was big presence of seagulls, skuas (I identified a Long-tailed among the Great ones), little white seagulls among which I could recognize the typical black vertex of young Kittiwakes and lots of petrels, though they flew very far from the ship.

We could even see the blast of a whale, it was fantastic!

Last modified onFriday, 29 September 2017 15:50

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