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October 24 - feeding frenzies

Unfortunately, there wasn’t more of the same, at least not for the first two and a half hours, where we only logged 76 birds. Excitement provided by a solitary Stock Dove hurtling past (photo 1 - from earlier in the survey), a Balearic Shearwater, an Arctic Skua, and a couple of Great Skuas.

Stock Dove)

Things then went mad for 10 minutes with two feeding flocks very close together, mainly Kittiwake but with good numbers of shearwaters (Great, Sooty, Manx and Balearic), and lots of auks. Throw into the mix Common Dolphins coming into the bow and a burst of tuna feeding activity 100m off the side of the ship and it was a bit of mayhem.

Just after passing the flocks, we broke off transect for a trawl and shortly after we had done so a Pomarine Skua flew across the bow, a bit distant but very nice to see (photos 2 & 3). In amongst all the Kittiwakes (photos 4 & 5) two Little Gulls appeared, an adult (photo 6) and first winter, adding to the array of birds around us.

Sooty and Great Shearwaters close to the ship provided a lovely photo opportunity (photos 7-10), but feeding tuna stayed annoyingly on the surface (photo 11). Common Dolphins continued to come in towards us and one mother and juvenile surfaced just below us (photo 12). Rather surprisingly, there weren’t that many birds attracted to the trawl, despite there being a decent catch, just 30 or so Kittiwakes and a few Herring Gulls. The fisheries scientists on board had thought the huge shoals of fish we had been seeing on the echo sounder should have been mainly Spratt, which turned out to be the case, along with yet more Anchovy.

We rejoined the transect after a couple of hours by which time the birds had dispersed, although we did come across further smaller groups of feeding birds, mainly Kittiwake and auks, with the occasional Mediterranean Gull thrown in (photo 13 – from during the trawl). Just before the transect finished we lucked in on another Great Northern Diver, this time sat on the sea, with a flock of 14 Common Scoter nearby.

Mediterranean Gull

It took an hour and a half to get to the next transect, but despite the sea state 2 and considerable searching we couldn’t find any Harbour Porpoise. They really have been hard to come by this survey, even on the rare occasions that the sea state has been favourable for spotting them. Having had a dearth of moody skies to photograph up until yesterday, there was another opportunity late afternoon with some heavy showers moving in over south Devon (photo 14).

Things didn’t look too good when we turned on to the next transect either, with some heavy dark clouds to the south – where we were heading. However, there was a bit of excitement five minutes after we started. A group of small waders flew across the bow, on looking at them I thought they were a flock of Dunlin until I realised that three were slightly larger and had white rumps – Curlew Sandpipers – a turn up for the books, and in fact both species hadn’t been seen on a Peltic survey before. They were closely followed by three Brent Geese, again giving good views close in across the bow.

Rain showers over south Devon

Things went downhill from there though, with very few birds to see, apart from a distant feeding flock of Gannet. The weather deteriorated, with rain setting in and the light failing 40 minutes before sunset, and there was frustration when a skua flew close in front of us which looked very much like a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, especially when I got a size comparison as it chased a Kittiwake, but the view was too brief and light so poor that I couldn’t quite be certain. It would have been nice to have had a four skua day (even if they wouldn’t have all been on transect).

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