Saturday, December 17, 2022

2022-12-11 Pelagic Alibaug

A long pending wish (like many others :-) ) to do a Pelagic trip came true in Dec 2022, thanks to the initiative taken by veteran birder from Alibaug Dr. Vaibhav Deshmukh. 

Also thanks to Sushant Jadhav who pinged as soon as the message was posted else I might have missed the message 🙂

Dr. Vaibhav along with many other expert birders had done the very first Pelagic trip off the coast of Alibaug in 2013.

I had one opportunity to do a trip in 2016 but due to demonetization in Nov 2016 it had to be unfortunately cancelled.

Anyway coming back to present as soon as a confirmation message was received the preparation started in terms of
- what to carry
- what precautions need to be taken
- and most important which birds to look for

3 sources I found most helpful in gathering info.
Write-up by Adesh Shivkar about their 2013 trip

Recorded Session by Deepu K who is a pioneer in Pelagic trips in India and regularly does pelagic trips

Recorded session by Amey Ketkar about pelagic birds and their behavior

Route based on various GPS location tracked by me is as follows

Firstly there was a fear about the sea sickness which is quite talked about. Fortunately none of us on boat felt anything. And none of us had taken anti vomiting as it causes lot of dizziness.

The trip started with a dinner the earlier day i.e. 10th Dec at Dr. Vaibhav's place where we met some of the particilants. An amazing feast with Modak.

Next day 11th Dec at 5.30am we all met at Thal fata and proceeded to Thal jetty.
We started off on the boat at 6.30am when the sun was just starting to rise. Everyone was quite excited.

The boat was big enought to accomodate 25-30 people with benches to sit on.

Pic Courtesy: Sushant Jadhav

First we passed the uninhabited Undheri island which is about 1.5km off shore. Saw the resident nesting White Bellied Sea Eagle flying around. More about Undheri later.

Pic Courtesy: Sushant Jadhav

Next was the Khanderi island. This one has a nice jetty with a old light house and a newly constructed Naval radar tower. This is where later in the day we had lunch and some interesting bird sightings.

Very near this island were a set of rocks where lot of lesser black backed gulls were sitting.

Lesser crested terns which are generally less seen on shore or not in huge numbers was seen almost all along the boat ride in good numbers.

Also saw some individuals of Greater Crested terns.

But quickly it was clear that photographing from a boat is not an easy task.

At one moment you have the bird in the frame
And the next moment you have the sky in the frame 😀

We approached a fishing troller and it was surrounded by a lot of gulls and terns. Mainly brown headed gulls and that started the discussion of how to distinguish a black headed from brown headed. Bigger size, white mirror in flight, white iris. But thats good for adult, what about juv or 1st winter? White trailing edges are seen on the upper or underwings of Black Headed Gulls and so on :-)

Pradnyavant Mane an expert birder was continuous on lookout for any activity as were some others.

Quite soon at around 7.15am past Khanderi island Mane shouted look in the front and we saw a Skua chasing a tern at distance.

It was quite co-operative and gave us very close views and pics.

And this was the first sighting of many Skuas that we saw.

The next was sitting on a floating thermocol. But as we approached it flew away.

As we progressed through the day it started to get hot. In between we had Poha for breakfast followed by tea which our boatman had arranged and carried on the boat in the morning. It was a nice break.

Pic Courtesy: Sushant Jadhav

Post breakfast we started again looking for pelagic birds. Once a while a gull or tern would pass by causing a bit of flurry on the boat. We also saw to our surprise a flock gulls chasing away a skua.

Some more pics of the skuas seen at different times.

Soon as we went deeper into the sea around 15-16km inside activity reduced a lot and sun taking a bit of toll, i took a nice nap :-)

But soon it was broken with Akshay shouting 'Dolphins dolphins'. And there were a pair of dolphins on the left side of boat and they were seen for a few minutes by everyone.

Deep in the sea we also saw some Lesser Black backed Gull.

In the initial part of the ride but still past khanderi which is 5km off coast we also saw some barn and red rumped swallows. But also a swift with white rump so possibly a little Swift alone. And some butterflies. Not sure what these were doing at sea but maybe they are common.

By around 12pm we turned back. Our lunch was to be picked up from Thal jetty so the boatman dropped us at Undheri island where we could explore it a bit.

It had a fort built and remains of the gate  and walls are very much intact. 

There are also some canons on the island fort.

There is no jetty on this island, so we had to just jump on the rocks but it was not difficult. On the far side of the island we had seen earlier a huge flock of sea birds. So we started the trek to the other end. It's quite small island and we reached in 10-15min.

Here we got a flock of 70-80 terns mainly lesser crested and gull billed terns, around 80+ lesser sand plovers, few ruddy turnstones, sanderling and curlew sandpiper. Barn swallows were flying around. At a distance we saw a flock of 30+ birds flying and to our surprise they were Northern pintails and they were flying away from land into the sea. Not sure where they were heading.

The resident nesting White bellied sea eagle was not there but we observed the nest that it had built. Another surprise was a pair of black naped monarch on an island 1.5km away from coast.

In the meantime our boat was back and we proceeded to khanderi island for lunch.

Here we placed ourselves under a wonderful gazebo, which was not very old, overlooking the jetty and  below the light house. Food was arranged we had a tasty buffet lunch.

From here we observed a common Kestrel on radar tower, a few black drongos and a blue rockthrush.

 Just as we were having lunch a booted eagle dark morph was seen soaring just above a forest patch on the east side of the island. And not only that it was being chased by a Eurasian sparrowhawk. For some reason the booted eagle kept flying in the same area for long and many got good pictures of it. 

Later 2 braminy kites were seen chasing it and we came to know that just above the ridge was their nest.

This island is also uninhabited except for the 7-8 staff members who take care of the light house and radar system 24x7 for the whole year. And we started thinking how difficult it would be during the rains but also how many pelagic birds they must be seeing :-)

By the time we had lunch it was already 3.30pm. We did a short trip in the sea but nothing much different and we returned back to thal jetty by 5.30pm.


On the jetty we took some group pics and discussed about doing another trip in a different season and started towards car park.

Pic Courtesy: Akshay Shinde

Just when we thought the birding had ended we saw a beautiful golden plover individual nearby and all the kits were out again :-)

This was a cherry on the cake to end a beautiful day with a unique experience of a pelagic trip.

No comments: