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PELTIC 2021 update 10 - 22 October

21 October

We departed Fowey at about 08:00, getting down the river and out past the town takes a while but it’s always fun to look at some of the riverside houses or the work going on in the boatyards. We had a short transit east to start our first transect of the day in relatively benign conditions with a sea state between four and five with 20 or so knots of wind blowing from the north. Unfortunately, the cloud decided to break up and we were left facing the glare as this was a south-bound transect.

We managed five encounters with around 30 Common Dolphin but none were particularly showy, so no photos from this morning’s showing.

Birds coming through our recording ‘box’ – an imaginary 300m box from a line following the ship’s course to 300m out to port or starboard, depending on which side we survey from – were a bit thin on the ground but there was plenty of activity further afield (but still within our two km limit for recording). We passed several quite large feeding aggregations, mainly Gannet but also Kittiwake and other large gulls. The largest had around 300 Gannet and 50 Kittiwake feeding but despite looking very hard, we couldn’t find any cetaceans beneath them.

Photo 1: Great Skua

We broke off for a trawl mid-morning but despite the number of birds in the area very few came to investigate the trawl. The highlight was four Great Skuas (photo 1) that circled around for a few minutes seeing if any of the Gannet (photo 2) that had come in could be robbed of their catch. As we didn’t catch much in the trawl the answer was no, so interest was short-lived.

Photo 2: Gannet

We had an hour’s transit to the next line, which apart from being able to admire the colour of the sea under the clear blue skies provided no avian or cetacean interest. We need to head west this evening towards the Isles of Scilly so this transect was cut a little short and we had just two hours on it before the sea got so dark ahead that we had to call it day, though we did get a nice sunset (photo 3).

Photo 3: sunset

Sadly, this was a cetacean-free transect, one of only a handful so far. Birds were also fairly quiet apart from when we passed a few hundred metres astern of a trawler processing its catch. There were about 300 birds behind it, mainly young Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls but also 90 Gannet and 12 Great Black-backed Gull.

Tomorrow will see us off Land’s End for a couple of long transects.

22 October

There was a slight break in the cloud on the eastern horizon this morning which allowed for a bit of a Land’s End sunrise (photo 4) and them some nice crepuscular rays behind another of the iconic lighthouses on the south coast – Wolf Rock (photo 5).

We were also graced with some lighter winds again, which made spotting cetaceans a little easier. Has to be said though, most of the Common Dolphins we saw helped considerably by launching themselves on spectacular high leaps way above the surface (sadly way too far away for any photos). In all we had 11 encounters with a minimum of 76 animals. We also had a bit of variety with a group of eight Bottlenose Dolphin (photo 6), our fourth sighting of the species.

Photo 6: Bottlenose Dolphin

Birds were a little on the quiet side, although we did record a commendable 12 species, best of which were four Sooty Shearwater and four Storm Petrels and as we headed further offshore we ran into a few Puffins with 16 recorded this morning – this year is shaping up to be a very good year for them.

During the transit to the second line running back north we had two Common Dolphin come alongside us, one of which was another melanistic animal (photo 7), lacking the yellow panel of a normal Common Dolphin (photo 8). This is at least the third melanistic one we’ve seen so far.

The sea remained relatively calm for the run north and we managed a further 12 sightings of around 90 Common Dolphin. The best was near the end though when a small freighter passed us at about 1000m and amazingly it had several Common Dolphin bowriding. Although a little distant I did manage a couple of photos (9 & 10) – the first time I’ve managed to – though a little closer would be nicer.

Bird, or rather birds, of the day was a flock of 10 Stock Dove which shot past the bridge when we were still 20 or more miles south of the Isles of Scilly. This is still the most common species of pigeon I’ve seen on the PELTIC surveys. Also of note was another 21 Puffin, I’m going to have to do some sums and see how many we’ve seen now, the highest total since 2017 is 48 and we’re well past that for this year.

Tomorrow will be our last day along the south coast, the forecast isn’t great but we have seen some good birds and cetaceans on these last three transects in the past.

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