Tuesday 3 September 2013


Millions of Egyptians concluded recently that democracy is not all it's cracked up to be. After the low turnout in my recent poll, it's tempting to agree with them. But then who am I to resist the will of the people who voted in their drove (singular) for more tales of seasickness and seabirds from my recent Scilly Pelagics out of St Mary's. So at the risk of subjecting the rest of you to the tyranny of the majority, here goes. Other posts to follow as promised.

Species of the trip has to be the Wilson's Petrel seen on Sunday 11th August. Bird of the trip though was probably this Great Shearwater which flew around the boat in good light and allowed a close approach thanks to some careful skippering by Joe Pender.
Difficult to get a sharp flight shot from a moving boat despite plenty of opportunity
This shot shows how the wing does actually shear the water
Shearwaters are meant to be seen in flight, but it was still good to get close to one sat on the sea
Note the pink legs which can be seen under the water
A close up of the elegant tubenose: shearwaters drink saltwater and therefore need to excrete excess salt, doing this via a salt gland which produces a saline solution that drips out of the nostrils, sometimes giving them a 'snotty-nosed' look. Not this one though, he'd just wiped.
I spent about 25 hours in total at sea on Sapphire, but it wasn't all snapping close-ups of Great Shearwaters. Long periods were spent steaming to likely locations or drifting and chumming while not much happened. As the boat sloshed around in the swell and the sun bore down I had a barely suppressible urge to start singing Farewell and Adieu to you Fair Spanish Ladies as per Robert Shaw in 'Jaws'...Next in the photo round-up, the three other species of Shearwater which were also seen.
Manx Shearwater - by far the commonest Shearwater encountered...
...Sooty Shearwaters were seen in small numbers, this one banking to reveal the silvery underwing...
...and Balearic Shearwater, taking off to reveal the typical pot-bellied profile
During one lengthy period of inactivity, I thought I must have imbibed too much seawater myself as I was sure I could hear the theme tune to 'Pirates of the Carribean' coming from the bows. Then someone punctured to hallucination: 'Phone's ringing, Joe'.
This Balearic was with a raft of Manxies just off St Mary's one evening
Balearic Shearwater
A Manx taking off from the same raft
And a Sooty in amongst the Manxies
Speaking of pirates, piratical is a word often used to describe members of the Skua family, two species of which were seen - Great and Pomarine. Only one Pom, but Greats often turned up when there were large flocks of Gulls to be harassed.
Great Skuas - a.k.a. 'Bonxies' - were seen fairly regularly
A bulky presence
Unfortunately this much rarer Pomarine Skua was almost past us before I got the camera on it - the 'spoon' on the tail can just be seen though
All told I thoroughly enjoyed the pelagics, and more than I thought I would. I'm an impatient seawatcher, but there's not much else to do when you're out there, so I was a captive audience for once.
Gannets often followed the Sapphire, especially when we dragged a bag of fish guts along behind
They would typically announce their arrival with a raucous call before stalling and plunge diving into the wake
Gannets of all ages and plumages were seen
We didn't see everything we had hoped to see - Cory's Shearwater being the main gap in the trip list - but we saw everything else very well and at least I have a good excuse to go again some time. The family also enjoyed being on St Mary's with all the shops, cafes and bars open - it's all got a bit 'ghost town' during our normal half-term holiday in October.
Fulmar - another tubenose, this one sporting the snot-nosed look to good effect
Fulmars were often alongside or following the boat
As these pictures suggests, we enjoyed a variety of light conditions, and I found a slightly flatter light better for many of the birds with contrasting dark and white plumages which might otherwise have been over-exposed by my sloppy technical abilities with the camera.
Great Black-backed Gulls were usually present among the larger flocks, although...
Lesser Black-backed Gulls were the commonest gull following the boat
Kittiwakes often followed the boat, most showing signs of moult and not at their usual smart best
I should close with a big thank you to tour leaders Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher, skipper Joe Pender, Higgo and other regulars whose names I didn't know but who helped out with chumming, bird-finding and all round general entertainment. These trips may not be for the faint hearted, but still come highly recommended.
Storm Petrels are closely related to Shearwaters...
..but much harder to photograph due to their small size and rapid, bat-like flight.


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