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October 27-28 Little Gull or Balearic Shearwater anyone?

27 October

We restarted the transect with the lights of Portland twinkling in the dawn light astern, ahead were some very ominous dark grey clouds. These produced a short, sharp shower but then passed and the skies slowly brightened, unfortunately, as they did so the wind increased and after two hours, we were in the worst viewing conditions we’ve had so far on the survey. Sun glare took up all the port side view and to starboard we were looking into a sea state 7 with spray peppering the bridge windows every few minutes (annoyingly the controls for the wipers are on the port side of the bridge!).

Photo 1: Little Gull flock

Despite the conditions we actually managed some good sightings, best being 41 Little Gulls, small flocks (photo 1) passing us heading to the southwest, and 15 Balearic Shearwaters (photo 2). A steady stream of first-year Kittiwakes (photo 3), obviously a good year for some colonies, Manx Shearwaters, and Storm Petrels kept us occupied.

Photo 2: Balearic Shearwaters

It wasn’t such good news on the cetacean front though, this was the first transect in quite a while that we didn’t see a single cetacean, conditions were far from ideal, but we’ve managed to see Common Dolphin in worse conditions in the past.

Photo 3: Juvenile Kittiwake

It was a relief to get to the end of the transect and move on to the next which runs to the southeast, so no glare, but there might be a bit of rolling in the three-metre swell. We sailed along the west coast of Guernsey, about 10 nautical miles offshore to pick up the transect that would take us towards the French coast near Ile de Bréhat, a possible anchorage for the night should the weather deteriorate any further.

Photo 4: Roches Douvres lighthouse

The passage of Little Gulls continued on this transect with another 33 recorded and we also logged a further four Balearic Shearwaters. As a target species for the survey, it’s been good to see so many this survey, now second only to 2021. We finished for the day near the Roches Douvres lighthouse (photo 4) to go for a trawl. There weren’t many birds around as the net went out, but it was a bit of a surprise to see that one was a juvenile Sabine’s Gull, the second to come to a trawl this survey and the third we’ve seen, not the best photo (5) as the light was really poor by that time.

Photo 5: Sabine's Gull

The forecast for the next few days is not great but we’re hoping we can get the last couple of transects complete before heading back to Lowestoft.

One of the key parts of this survey, along with the fisheries acoustics, is plankton sampling. There are over 150 stations visited during the survey, with most transects having at least two. Unfortunately, for the plankton scientists these samples are collected overnight, which means there are two teams, one on days, the other drawing the short straw and working nights.

Here are a few photos to illustrate the enormous variety of life that exists in the zooplankton, all courtesy of Nevena Almeida/CEFAS:

6: Goby larva 7: Salp jelly 8: Shrimp 9: possible annelid/Phoronida larva

28 October

We started the day off Les Sept Iles with some colour in the pre-dawn clouds and, wonder of wonders, a photographable sunrise, the first of the survey – it’s been that cloudy (photos 10 & 11). The sky didn’t stay clear for very long but fortunately, the wind was no where near as strong as forecast – yet – although there was a large four-five metre swell. We were running the transect out to sea, so the wind was largely behind us and the swell off the port bow, so, apart from the odd roll, it was reasonably comfortable.

Balearic Shearwaters put in an early appearance and in decent numbers, a total of 29 seen during the morning (photo 12), along with over 50 Manx Shearwaters (photo 13). The passage of Little Gulls continued again today (photo 14) with 15 seen this morning, adding to an already record Peltic total for the species. Unfortunately, this was another cetacean-free transect, although we did have a marine mammal in the shape of a Grey Seal, perhaps surprisingly only the second we’ve seen on this year’s survey.

As we headed towards the second transect heavy showers began moving across the line of the transect and, by the time we started, it was raining heavily and did so for the first 30 minutes. As we were now heading more or less into the wind it meant the wipers were on and visibility was very poor. Mind you, the rain was so heavy that it was unlikely many birds were flying anyway.

When the showers cleared it was mainly Razorbills and Guillemots to be seen (photos 15 & 16) and yet more Little Gulls with another 19 logged. Sadly, this proved to be another cetacean-free transect, meaning two days running without seeing one – very unusual.

We have two short bits of transect to run tomorrow before heading back north to run the final transect on Monday, the end is in sight.

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