PELTIC 2021 update 11 - 24 October
We were greeted with a grey and overcast morning, a 20-25 knot breeze blowing from the south-southwest and a sea state of five – not exactly ideal for surveying but at least we were running with the wind and sea.
It took almost an hour until our first Common Dolphin sighting but we then had four in rapid succession, as with yesterday there was some enthusiastic leaping (photos 1 & 2), culminating in a pod of a minimum of 200 animals. It was an amazing sight seeing dolphins leaping towards the Endeavour from hundreds of metres ahead and from port and starboard. Unfortunately, the CEFAS scientists chose that moment to break off transect for a trawl so we’ll never know how many dolphins were in that pod, they were certainly still charging in as we broke off but as we turned around and slowed we lost sight of them.
By the time we resumed the transect two hours later the dolphins were, of course, long gone. We did manage a further three sightings but only of small pods.
There were few birds about too, the only exception being Puffin, with another 25 logged on this transect. The light was too poor for a photo today so here’s a photo of one from the 12th when we were off the French coast (photo 3). Fulmar seem to have been very scarce this survey and the six we recorded on this leg were the first we’d seen for quite a few days.
The overcast weather was also the likely reason we had visits from some migrating landbirds, with two Chiffchaff being the first photographable birds onboard for what seems like ages (photos 4 & 5). They spent 15-20 minutes flitting around before seeming to depart to the northeast.
There was a short hour-long transect to take us to the next southbound transect, which was entirely unremarkable with just 17 birds recorded and no cetaceans – in stark contrast to last year when we had Minke Whale, tuna, and lots of birds. This transect does, however, take us quite close to another of the southwest’s iconic rock lighthouses, this time the 47m tall Bishop Rock (photo 6).
By the time we turned south for the final transect of the day the wind had freshened to 25-30 knots and the cloud had broken a little so the light, combined with the sea conditions made conditions even worse.
We managed four sightings of Common Dolphin, albeit all of them throwing themselves out of the water at close range to come into the bow.
Birds were equally quiet with only 47 birds seen in two and half hours, although 17 of those were Puffin! That took our total for the day to 42.
This marks the end of the south coast transects, with all the remaining ones in the Celtic Sea and Cardigan Bay – which is where we’re off to next.
I had been hoping that we might have clear conditions to see the Pembrokeshire islands of Skomer and Skokholm on our first day in Cardigan Bay. Sadly, it was overcast with low cloud and drizzle, such that we could barely make out Skomer let alone Skokholm. By the time we started the transect we could at least see the waves breaking on the western cliffs of Skomer (photo 7).
As we found last year Cardigan Bay is home to a large number of Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot and it looks like the same will be true this year – particularly if the number of birds we saw in the first couple of hours is replicated in the transects going north. It was hectic with birds zipping about in all directions, making counting tricky.
We had one sighting of Common Dolphin, a pod of 70 put on a good show powering through the sizable waves to get into the bow.
We broke off the second transect shortly after starting for a trawl which gave me a good chance to get some photos in bright sunny (though still pretty windy) conditions – the first time for quite a few days. When we resumed the transect there were still quite a few birds around but far fewer than earlier. There were still plenty of Guillemot drifting past close by (photo 8) and flocks of Razorbills going past, standing out starkly against the dark blue sea (photo 9).
The transit to our third and final transect of the day took us along the Welsh coast from St David’s to Strumble Head. As with much of the west coast of Wales looking very rugged and green in the afternoon light (photo 10). Sadly, there was no sign of the Risso’s Dolphins that are sometimes seen from Strumble Head, though we did get a good view of the lighthouse (photo 11).
The last transect was much quieter than the other two, though we did manage one sighting of six Common Dolphin. Even the auks had thinned out a bit, though still more on this short transect than we’d seen in many parts of the English Channel.
The transects in Cardigan Bay are short, so it’ll only take us three days to complete them. Tomorrow will see us towards the middle of the bay between Cardigan and New Quay.