Friday, 23 August 2013

Keeping up with the Joneses

Earlier this month we spent a week on the Isles of Scilly with our good friends Matt Jones and his partner Jules, on one of their periodic reverse migrations from the southern hemisphere. We knew them in Kent and while our emigration from the Garden of England took us no further than Dorset, theirs reached Stewart Island, New Zealand, a journey of Great Shearwater-like proportions. This large seabird breeds in the south Atlantic before undertaking a great circular migration up the coast of South and North America before crossing the north Atlantic to pass through our waters on the way back 'down'.

We hooked up on St Mary's in accommodation which estate agents would describe as generously proportioned (i.e. big enough for six) with extensive sea views (i.e. a glimpse of Porth Mellon from the balcony) and meeting the highest standards of sustainable waste management (i.e. giving what my 6-year old son described as 'a great view of the massive dump'). Well placed for gull watching, then.

Matt and I had always wanted to try a few Scilly pelagics to look for seabirds, and had booked these almost a year in advance. The ocean-going tours he guides in NZ can almost guarantee at least six species of Albatross, but in UK waters good birds are a bit more hit and miss, so we went with the attitude that we'd just be happy to see Storm Petrels up close and anything else would be a bonus.

Arriving on the Friday with two full day trips on Sapphire ahead of us over the weekend, we thought it best not to push our luck by ditching partners and children to head straight out on a pelagic that evening. A noble but regrettable decision with hindsight, as a Fea's Petrel was seen in the fading light off the back of the boat on which we would spend the next two days. It's fair to say Matt was more sanguine, and uttered substantially fewer expletives, than I about this, having seen the bird which graced the Scillonian III pelagic trip back in 2001.

At least it meant we boarded Sapphire the following morning full of hope as well as Stugeron. We headed out under leaden skies into the grey expanse of ocean east of Scilly, and it wasn't long before a cry of 'Great Shearwater in the wake' caused the first of many gigabytes of memory cards to be filled with photos.

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