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PELTIC 2021 update 13 - October 28

27 October

The inner Bristol Channel today with our first transect starting just west of the Mumbles in Swansea. We’re certainly back to normal service with the weather now with southwest winds still at 25-30 knots – those first 12 days of light winds are a very distant memory. A small break in the cloud a way off over the side of the Channel allowed a little ethereal sunlight through (photo 1)

Photo 1: ethereal light through the overcast

Birds were reasonably numerous to start with Guillemot and Kittiwake the most common. It can be amusing watching Guillemots (and Razorbills) as the ship approaches, they will do one of three things. Some take flight (sometimes way ahead of us), some will dive at the last minute and then there are some that seem to be caught in two minds and end up flapping off across the waves, not getting into the air so bouncing from wave top to wave top (photos 2 & 3).

As always seems to be the case in the Bristol Channel the number of birds dwindled as we headed south towards Foreland Point on the north Devon coast, thankfully this first transect is short so we didn’t have to watch empty sea for too long. Sadly this also turned out to be a cetacean-free transect, only the sixth so to be so, though three of those have occurred in the past three days.

As we were nearing the end of the transect we could see a vessel directly ahead of us, it turned out to be the Lundy Island supply ship Oldenburg. She was out from Ilfracombe on engine trials and headed off across a section of sunlit sea as we approached (photo 4).

Photo 4: the Oldenburg

We watched the scenic north Devon coast go by as we made our way to the next transect, the stretch from Porlock to Ilfracombe really is rugged and isolated.

Our next transect headed off from north Devon to the northwest to finish in Carmarthen Bay a little east of Tenby. Conditions, if anything, had deteriorated and there was a pretty serious 3m swell by the time we were nearing Worms Head.

Birds were more of the same – but at least there were decent numbers to see despite the poor conditions. Bird of the day was undoubtedly an adult and first winter Little Gull seen well into Carmarthen Bay and a little more diversity was added right at the end when caused a flock of eight Common Scoter to take to the air.

We were saved from having a cetacean-free day by a single pod of eight or so animals feeding, their position handily flagged by an attendant flock of 20 Gannet.

28 October

Yet another grey day with 35 knot winds, this morning we were just off St Govan’s Head, Pembrokeshire, lined up to run back in towards north Devon. Weather conditions prevented me from getting any photos of birds today so I’ll use some from Cardigan Bay to illustrate – they’re very obviously not taken today as they’re nice and sunlit.

There were a good number of birds around, especially offshore, and we notched up six sheets of records, despite the conditions. It would be interesting to know what we might have seen had it been calm. There was little in the way of diversity in the species, however, with the now familiar foursome being the only species recorded for most of the transect – Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Kittiwake (photos 5-8).

Despite the rough seas we managed two brief sightings of Common Dolphin as they headed in towards the bow.

The transit to the next transect took us along the north Devon coast again and a break in the showers gave a clear view of Ilfracombe (photo 9) as we sailed past. We headed off on the next transect off of Baggy Point and into the gloom that had now descended as the cloud base had lowered and it was raining. Fortunately, the wind was on our beam so the windscreen kept clear of rain, we really don’t like having to have the wipers on that much – they’re very noisy when you’re stood right next to them.

Photo 9: Ilfracombe

This transect is just over 50 miles long so we were going to be standing on the bridge for five hours and the lack of wildlife for the first three made it seem much longer. Things did slowly come to life with a few more birds appearing, including a Storm Petrel but the bird of the day wasn’t a seabird but a terrestrial one which fluttered down onto the foredeck in front of us – Snow Bunting, sadly it alighted for 10 seconds or so then was gone and not seen again but it certainly brightened the day up.

We were getting towards the last 30 minutes of the transect and we still hadn’t seen a cetacean, so were starting to get concerned that this might be our seventh cetacean-free one. We needn’t have worried though, we finished the last 20 minutes with a flurry of three encounters involving 12 animals, phew.

The transect lined up for tomorrow is another long one that runs south of Lundy Island, usually good for Common Dolphin and seabirds, so we’re hoping the winds aren’t too strong.

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