BirdLife South Africa’s Flock to Marion


24th to 31st January 2022

Wandering Albatross

BirdLife South Africa (BLSA) organised a special bird trip to Marion Island on the MSC Orchestra. There were 1700 birders on board – from all over the world. BLSA found 40 seabird guides to help guests positively identify the many different seabird species seen.

The purpose of this trip was to raise funds to eradicate mice on Marion Island. It has a large breeding colony of over quarter of a million seabirds especially Albatrosses. Marion Island is plagued by mice. The mice are eating the young Albatrosses alive and depleting Albatross numbers significantly – in particular the unique Wandering Albatross – with its 3.6 metres wingspan.

We urgently need your support. Please help if you can…. please. Visit the website: to learn how to support this valuable initiative.

Most of the world’s best known seabirders were on board. In particular we were privileged again to have the distinguished Peter Harrison MBE (considered as the David Attenborough of Seabirds). His new book was published in time for this event and is considered as the definitive guide to Seabirds worldwide. “Seabirds. The New Identification Guide” supercedes his first Seabird book published in 1983 which until now has been considered as The definitive book on Seabirds worldwide.

Sally and I booked our place on the trip as soon as the MSC Cruises started taking bookings. That was three years ago. Covid played havoc with the timetable and the cruise was delayed a year as a consequence.

Map of the route:

The cruise started in Cape Town and ended in Durban. For us, we left our car at King Shaka airport and flew to Cape Town a day before the cruise’s departure. That night was spent with Sally’s brother Robin and his wife Annmaree in Somerset West.

The time of departure was brought forward on the evening before due to potentially heavy winds forecast. We needed to exit the harbour by midday. And that we did. However, as many people were unable to change their travel times the ship anchored outside the harbour and sent several lifeboats to fetch the remaining guests. Looked like they experienced a rough ride to the ship.

A sunny day in Cape Town gave us good views of Table Mountain and some of its aerial acrobatics.

While we waited for everyone to board, we had a look around the MSC Orchestra to get our bearings and to see what was where. However this did not stop us getting lost inside the ship – going to the front when we though we were heading for our room at the stern!!

Some more shots of the ship.

Sally took a video:

Time to leave – casting off as the tugs prepare to take us through the harbour entrance.

And then we were on our way – calm seas and gloriously sunny weather.

We are away.

With the combination of wind, rough sea and drizzle we even had a sea rainbow.

Sea Rainbow

Sunset on the night before arrival at Marion Island.


Three days birding slowly cruising to get to Marion Island. We had glorious sunshine until we approached Marion Island.

Approaching Marion

Clouds descended covering the island. However birds and sea mammals abounded especially as we got closer to the island.

Meanwhile there were lectures throughout each day everyday. We attended all three of Peter Harrison MBE’s lectures – Seven Years and Seven Continents; The Penguins: Ocean Nomads- the Albatrosses.

The first, Seven Years and Seven Continents, was a fascinating account of his life during those seven years that he spent with a view to produce a definitive Field Guide of the world’s sea birds. His presentation, anecdotes, animation and enthusiasm captured the audience. What a great speaker.

Peter Harrison MBE

This cruise was about fundraising for the Mouse Free Marion project. There were many ways funds were raised. From going on the cruise, sponsoring a Hectare of Marion Island, becoming a BirdLife Custodian, Donations, auctions at lectures (seabird plates from his new book donated by Peter Harrison MBE), Silent Auction for a special edition of Peter Harrison MBE’s new book and more. Altogether over 3 million rand was raised. More is needed and I hope many of you reading this will feel the need to sponsor at least one hectare.

In celebration all passengers gathered on the top deck to show their support.

Mouse Free Marion

Many marine mammals were seen on the cruise – thanks to the Guides and their ability to identify often fleeting moments that the mammals shared with us. To share how fleeting some of these mammals were here are a few photos I managed to take.

Although we did not get many photos we did see the plumes from a number of different sea mammals. The most exciting that of a Blue Whale – the largest of all mammals this earth has seen.

Our Guides:

Specialist guides from all over the world.

And the local South African Guides which we sponsored to come on the cruise.

Local South African bird guides.

And of course the cruise was about birds. Here are some of their photos which I took. I bear full responsibility for the quality.

But where is the Giant of them all – the Wandering Albatross with its 3.6 metres wingspan. Here are some of my shots.

We were fortunate to see two different species of Penguin (apart from the African seen near Cape Town). The first was a pod of Macaroni Penguins close to the ship side. They were porpoising at speed – a sight which brought Sally to tears. Then we had a view of King Penguins and their colourful beaks again close to the ship.

After our short time near Prince Edward Island we turned north and headed for Durban. Short because that the storm the captain feared was breathing down our coattails. A storm with 12 metre waves which settled over Marion Island as we sailed home.

Directly over Marion Island

And so the cruise ends. We awake to see the sun rise behind as Durban appeared in the distance ahead. And before we knew it, we were ashore.

Last Sunrise

Here is a link to the bird and mammal species identified on the cruise. Unfortunately Sally and I only managed about a half of those listed.

Sally and I thoroughly enjoyed our week on board – excellent and well planned. Thank you Mark Anderson and your team for putting this together.

Paul and Sally Bartho