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October 29-31 - the end of another Peltic survey

29 October

A very short day for us today as there was only 20 nautical miles or two hours of transect left to survey on the French side of the Channel. The 20 miles was split between two transects with 12 miles on one and eight miles on the other, both left from the previous couple of days when we ran out of time to complete the transects. There may only have been two hours surveying, but there were some good sightings packed in. Best of all were 117 Little Gulls (photos 1-4), with a steady westwards passage on both sections. We also managed another nine Balearic Shearwaters (photos 5 & 6) with Razorbill and Guillemot (photos 7 & 8) making up the bulk of the rest of the sightings.

We passed close to the Roches Douvres lighthouse again in somewhat brighter conditions than a couple of days ago (photo 9). After the surveying we sat off the Ile de Bréhat for the afternoon (photo 10) and even managed a flock of feeding Balearic Shearwater drifting past on the tide (photo 11) before heading off overnight to pick up the start of the final transect just north of Alderney just before sunset (photo 12).

30 October

We were greeted with a fantastic nearly full moon (photo 13), a sea state 3, and a two-metre swell when we started the transect this morning, unfortunately the light was horribly low contrast making birds even as big as Gannets quite difficult to pick up, let alone small birds like Little Gulls – of which there were quite a few, with another 29 logged. We weren’t sure whether there’d be any Balearic Shearwaters this far east, but we needn’t have worried as another 17 were recorded on transect (photo 14). More amazingly, during a break for a trawl we came across a flock of about 70 a few nautical miles southeast of Portland Bill (photo 15). The transect also turned into a bit of a skua-fest, with seven Great, three Arctic, and one Long-tailed Skua seen – shame a Pomarine hadn’t shown up. Otherwise, Razorbill and Guillemot made up most of the other birds seen (photo 16).

We’d seen quite a few Great Black-backed Gulls sat on the sea feeding and were wondering what they were eating. It turns out for many it may well have been cuttlefish as I finally caught one carrying its food in flight (photo 17). We finished the transect just before 14:00 and that was it another Peltic survey concluded, now just the 20-hour, 230 nautical mile sail back to Lowestoft. As we sailed east with the sun setting astern, we had a good view of Anvil Point, Dorset (photo 18) and some nicely backlit clouds (photo 19).

31 October

We were well east of Dover by morning and, after a stop at the Gabbard (one of CEFAS’s long-standing water sampling stations) we were forced to slow down in order to make our date of 21:00 with the pilot at Lowestoft. There was quite a bit to be seen early on with a few Little Gulls in evidence along with a Great Skua (photo 20), Common Scoter, Gannet, Kittiwake, and lots of auks. Being in the North Sea at this time of year also gives the chance of seeing northern Herring Gulls (the race argentatus rather the usual argenteus seen in the UK), averaging bigger, slightly darker grey, and with more white in the wing tips, they are impressive beasts (photo 21).

However, I think seeing a tuna leaping in the southern North Sea (photo 22) must rank as the most surprising sighting of the morning. I had heard of some being seen in the Channel as far east as Newhaven but to actually see one in the North Sea was a surprise.

There were some heavy showers working their way up from the south behind us, including some thunderstorms, which produced some interesting light before they overtook us (photos 23 & 24. When they did it was no surprise to find a couple of Redwing land on board the Endeavour to escape the rain (photo 25). The rain really brought an end to observations, even when it cleared there seemed to be less around than earlier on making for a quiet afternoon.

There’ll be a wrap up blog in a few days’ time with some totals from our observations and some of the more interesting sighting.

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