Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Hello Sailor

I've been avoiding pelagics for years, convinced that I was a seasicky wuss, but after my fifth in just over a week, I think I may have finally found my sea legs. The first four were on the Isles of Scilly last week - more of which later - but yesterday's was closer to home in Lyme Bay. There are several species of seabird which I have seen but never photographed, and I hadn't even gone digital the last time I went on one of the infamous Scillonian III pelagics in the early noughties. So it was time to man up, put away the sick bags, take a deep breath to fill my lungs with the smell of rotting fish.

Our main target in Lyme Bay was White-beaked Dolphin, a pod of which has been seen regularly in recent summers, but not so far this year it seems. Matt Jones, visiting from New Zealand, came along for the ride as this would have been a tick for both of us. We gave it a good thrashing but the closest we came to a seeing a cetacean was the one on my Octonauts lunchbag, which I shamefully suppressed from the others on board. Thanks for the loan, kids.

Still a brilliant trip though with perfect light and some excellent seabirds which made up for the absent dolphins. Most of these were hanging around some trawler by-catch off Berry Head for which we took a detour - Sooty, Balearic and Manx Shearwaters, Great and Arctic Skua and even a tiny Storm Petrel all joined a melee of several thousand gulls, gannets and fulmars. A bonus Grey Phalarope on the way back just as we were all nodding off capped a good day.

Now I have (i) sunburn and (ii) 8 gig of photos to sort through. A few of the early highlights below.
Sooty Shearwaters breed in New Zealand and thereabouts in their thousands. Matt normally can't get excited about them as there are so many down his way, but we had to marvel at the possibility that this was one of 'his' birds from Stewart Island 
Sooty Shearwater with Herring Gull
A beautiful bird which allowed a close approach by the boat
A more familiar view of Sooty Shearwater - banking to reveal the silvery underwing
Balearic Shearwater - globally a very rare bird but seen regularly off our shores at this time of year
This was one of four or five Balearics seen
Manx was by far the commonest Shearwater encountered in Lyme Bay
Good numbers passed by in a variety of directions
This one the closest to the boat...
...and this one trying its luck in amongst the melee of gulls which were feeding around the trawler.
A 'Cantona' moment in Lyme Bay
The feeding frenzy also pulled in this piratical dark phase Arctic Skua...
...and this even more menacing Great Skua
A solitary Storm Petrel stayed on the fringes of the scrum to avoid the attentions of gulls and skuas

Fulmar: plenty of these in Lyme Bay
This juvenile Kittiwake was colour-ringed - details to follow
Guillemot was the only Auk we encountered
Gannet plunge-diving
Talk about a needle in a haystack - we were fortunate that our course took us past this diminutive Grey Phalarope in the broad sweep of Lyme Bay
Female Common Scoter gave a flypast as we headed back to West Bay
It was flat calm leaving West Bay where this was a reminder of one of the many perils facing our seabirds - but has marine litter ever looked so serene?

I liked the way the hedgerow shadows the cliff edge at Burton Bradstock
People on the beach give some perspective on these mighty cliffs


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