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October 22-23 calm seas - but they don't last

22 October

We haven’t had many clear eastern skies at sunrise this survey, so it was nice to see some orange hues just as we started the transect (photo 1). We were just east of Roscoff on the north coast of Brittany heading and heading NW back out into the Channel, which meant the sun would be behind us (thankfully).

Sightings got off to a good start with Balearic Shearwaters almost from the off (photo 2), as was the case with the transects further west. The fisheries scientists on board have been finding lots of baby Anchovy along the coast here so perhaps no surprise that there are lots of shearwaters. In fact, Anchovy have been abundant throughout the Channel so far this survey, far more than usual.

As we were about to restart the transect after a trawl a couple of first winter Little Gulls drifted past (photo 3), they could have left it a few minutes so we got them on survey, although we did manage an adult just as we restarted (photo 4). Such smart gulls, whether in juvenile or adult plumage, one of my favourites. The shearwaters continued with Balearic and Manx in good numbers (photos 5 & 6) and towards the end of the transect Greats appeared in force with a flock of over 1000 birds covering the sea for hundreds of metres about 900m east of us, a closer flock alone had 190 along with 25 Sooties, 25 Manx and 6 Balearic. They were okay to count while sat on the water, but things got a little tricky when they all took flight as we went past.

One thing that was missing from the morning were cetaceans, they left it until the last 20 minutes to put in an appearance, although when they did the pod contained more animals than we’d seen on days with tens of encounters, over 75 animals were feeding and most showed no interest in the Endeavour as we ploughed right through the middle of their activities.

The weather forecast for the next few days lead to a rethink of the survey plan, and we found ourselves heading east to go and do the transects in Lyme Bay rather than stay on the French side. Conditions have been fantastic today with a sea state 2-3 and the sun behind us (photo 7) so it was a little annoying that in the two-hour transit between transects there wasn’t a little more wildlife to see. There were still plenty of Manx Shearwaters (photo 8) with the odd Balearic and some Common Dolphins paid us a visit (photo 9), but is asking for little variety being greedy?

We turned on to the north-bound transect heading towards Start Point, Devon at 16:30, although with sunset at 18:10 we won’t get very far. There were few sightings, although what there was added a little variety to the day. A Great Northern Diver heading east low over the sea was the first for the survey this year (photo 10) and a close in juvenile Common Tern feeding with some Kittiwake was lovely to see (photo 11). Perhaps best of all, however, was a Blue-finned Tuna that put in enough leaps that I was able to get a half-decent shot of it (photo 12). Perhaps fittingly, given the weather during the day, we had some nice colours in the sky at sunset too (photo 13) and looking in the other direction a lovely clear half-moon (photo 14).

We’ll resume this transect tomorrow morning, let’s hope the weather conditions remain as favourable.

23 October

Sadly, the weather conditions were not as favourable, the wind was now 20-25 knots from the SE pushing up a sea state 5. There were, however, birds to be seen and we had a reasonable run of Common Dolphin sightings, including some sizeable groups.

Start Point lighthouse

A group of three skuas past were, annoyingly, too far and the sighting too brief to identify with certainty, especially as they had the look of Pomarine Skua. Fortunately, 25 minutes later, we had another skua which showed well enough to identify it with certainty as a Pomarine Skua, a new species for the 2023 survey. We ended the transect having seen 106 Common Dolphins in nine encounters, with one group of 45, a good showing given the conditions.

The transit to the next transect took us past Start Point lighthouse (photo 15), an area usually good for birds. Today was no exception with plenty of Razorbills around to look at on the way (photos 16 & 17) and a Common Gull (photo 18), a species we’ve only seen a few of so far on this year’s survey.

The next transect started well enough with a steady stream of Guillemots and Razorbills (photos 19 & 20) and Herring Gulls (photos 21 & 22) to record. However, after an hour or so the birds dried up, and apart from a few Great Skuas (photo 23), actually very nice to see given their low numbers this year, there was little to record for the next three hours. We had nine encounters with Common Dolphins but only in twos and threes, totalling 39 animals. Hopefully the next transect would offer a bit more.

Great Skua

By the time we got to the next transect it was already getting very gloomy and we only managed 50 minutes before calling it a day. It may not have been long, but it was enough to add another species to the list for the year – a Brent Goose – and also see another three adult Little Gulls. More of the same tomorrow please.

It feels like we’ve had a lot of grey skies on the survey this year, with little in the way of dramatic skyscapes, so I was quite pleased to see a little more in the sky as a heavy shower developed to the south of us (photo 24).

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