Wednesday 29 May 2019

Antarctica to Mexico 2019

I am recently back from a 7-week Polar-to-tropical journey on RCGS Resolute, thanks to One Ocean Expeditions. Beginning in Ushuaia on 21 March and heading first to the Antarctic Peninsula, the emphasis for our first group of passengers was on whales. Humpbacks especially! We had a group of scientists aboard from California Ocean Alliance who tagged many animals and shared their research with us. Having often covered Antarctica in my blogs, I will pass quickly on to the second voyage....

The Chilean Fjords took us, along with a new group of passengers, from Ushuaia to Valparaiso. Spectacular scenery of Andean peaks and glaciers were the backdrop to our explorations by ship and by zodiac. Whether in polar, temperate or tropical regions, the Resolute made a very comfortable floating home!

 Here is a group of Silvery Grebes, on the sea near Chiloe Island. I could equally have featured the abundant Magellanic Penguins, Black-browed Albatross, Imperial Cormorants or Kelp Geese, which kept us company during the first week of the voyage. The second week included a day at sea in the southern part of the Humboldt Current, a wonderfully productive ecosystem. Salvin's Albatross and Masatierra Petrels were special highlights.

At Amalia Fjord, my staff colleague Franco took photos of an otter from a zodiac: but which species is it? The area has small numbers of both Marine Otter and South American River Otter - they are very similar in appearance, and both are classified as endangered. We have circulated the photos in the hopes of a professional diagnosis.

 In Valparaiso we said farewell to our passengers and most of the staff too. Chile's main port is a bustling centre, both for shipping and for the seabirds of the Humboldt Current. Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, Humboldt Penguins and Inca Terns can be seen in the harbour area. 

 For the next ten days we sailed north without passengers, re-positioning to Costa Rica. One of my less usual roles was helping to sort out new stock for the onboard gift shop (including sea otter, sloth and macaw!) 

I kept a daily log of our sightings as we sailed north through the Humboldt Current. As we approached the equator, flying fish began to appear, and occasional schools of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins.  

Brown Booby - sometimes accompanied by Masked and Red-footed Boobies - accompanied us and dived down on the flying fish. Often they would catch them before they fell back into the water. Many other seabirds crossed our path, most commonly Juan Fernandez Petrels. At night Swallow-tailed Gulls followed us for a week and fed on small prey stirred up in our wake. We rarely saw them by day.

On 23 April, we picked up our third group of passengers at Caldera, a small port on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. The next day we began our zodiac excursions to a remote beach at Curu Wildlife Refuge, where the dry tropical forest comes down to the beach. 

Northern Raccoons looked for crabs and fallen fruit on the beach. The reserve also revealed White-faced Capuchin and Howler Monkeys, but the forest here is too dry for sloths. Costa Rica is famous for having no army, and for putting extra funding into the environment, education and health. 

We admired the coastal rainforest on the edge of the Corcovado National Park in the remote south-west of Costa Rica. Here we split into small groups and explored. Some saw a Tamandua (a tree-climbing anteater), but we all enjoyed views of Tayras (a large tree-climbing weasel), Scarlet Macaws and Yellow-throated Toucans. 

On May 1st, after a day exploring Soberania National Park and  Panama City, we made our way through the Panama Canal from Pacific to Caribbean. Here we are entering Miraflores Lock, while on the left, a huge container ship passes along the new, wider channel that now allows even larger ships through. 

Many of us - including those passengers on board for back-to-back voyages - visited a village of the indigenous Embera people. They come originally from the remote Darien area of Eastern Panama. This involved a dugout canoe trip from Colon, Panama. The villagers showed us their school and various fine artefacts they had made - for sale of course! 

They also gave us a great lunch - freshly caught fish, fried plantains, and trays of tropical fruits. Meanwhile, our third group of passengers left us in Colon, and we welcomed a fourth group for the last voyage up to Mexico. 

 We all enjoyed a visit to the old city of Cartagena in Colombia, a world heritage site. Unlike sadly neglected Colon, Cartagena has been beautifully conserved. It felt relaxing - and very safe - wandering the old streets. And it made a change from looking for wildlife in remote forests! 

Back to work! We came across this Rufous-tailed Jacamar in dry scrub near the National Aviary, just outside Cartagena. Jacamars (of Central and South America) fill the same ecological niche as bee-eaters in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, though they are not closely related. 

On the island of Guanaja, Honduras, our crew from the Philippines came ashore with us and prepared a spectacular picnic. The snorkellers found a magnificent variety of fish and coral, while others enjoyed kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sunbathing or just keeping cool in the crystal-clear water. 

On the first voyage Dave Brosha and I enjoyed playing tunes together, but he and his guitar left us in Ushuaia. After Valparaiso, my old cunbus (Turkish banjo-mandolin) was the only instrument among the staff. Sometimes we'd go into the crew mess and join in the Filipino karaoke!

A visit to Lamanai Mayan site near Belize city was a highlight both for the history and the birdlife. Like most of the Mayan ruins in Guatamala and Mexico, Lamanai is surrounded by a bird-rich forest. Brightly plumaged trogons, aracaris, orioles and honeycreepers delighted the birders among us. 
Finally, on 11 May, we reached Cozumel, Mexico and began our homeward journeys. My journey stretched 85 degrees of latitude - from 65 south to 20 north - and lasted 52 days. Some of the photos here are mine, but also many thanks to various photographers who contributed, especially to Amanda Guercio for the booby, flying fish and jacamar portraits.  


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