A palette of white darkening to slate-grey painted the storm clouds around the ship as we steamed in the direction of Yalta, Ukraine. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones caught out in the driving rain and wind on this particular day in the Black Sea. Some migrant land birds, on their way to wintering grounds far to the south, had found themselves in a bit of a predicament.
It wasn’t clear if they had made a decision to risk a flight directly across the Black Sea on their way south, or if they had rather overshot land on their travels the previous night. But either way, the Clipper Odyssey, a ship of steel that would normally be completely uninteresting to any bird, had overnight become an emergency landing-pad oasis surrounded by hundreds of square miles of an otherwise hostile environment.
The fallout began with a lone pipit perched on a wire near the ship’s stern during breakfast. Within a few hours, roving bands of chiffchaffs and wagtails flitted around the outer decks, taking shelter in any nooks and crannies they could find, only sallying out to attempt to snatch hawk moths, which were quite abundant in number themselves.
Robins, blackcaps, and even a nightjar rounded out the menagerie of 30+ birds, which was beginning to feel a bit like something out of Noah’s Ark. By tomorrow, the ship will pull into Yalta, and the birds will no doubt make a B-line for the green forested hillsides for a real meal. Once their energy is restored, they’ll have to come up with a new and better plan for how to safely get past the Black Sea on their journey south.