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PELTIC 2021 update 2 - 6 October

PELTIC 2021 Update 2 - 6 October

Finally got underway from Lowestoft at 11:30 on Tuesday 5th – just over a day later than was planned. We’ll have to hope that there are no storm delays later in the survey to rob us of any more days as it will be tight to get all the transects done in the time available now.

We left Lowestoft and, with the tide against us, chugged at a rather sedate 9 knots down the east coast and across the mouth of the Thames estuary. There was little to be seen in the way of wildlife, with very few birds seen, the highlight being a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver. On the way south we threaded our way through the mass of wind farms in the outer Thames estuary, Gabbard, London array and Thanet being the closest. Clouds and the late afternoon sun made for some dramatic skies behind the Thanet wind farm (photo 1).

Photo 1: Thanet wind farm

By dawn on the 6th we were south of Selsey Bill, with another six or seven hours sailing before we made Weymouth Bay where we hoped to be able to calibrate the sonars used for the fish acoustics. This can be a lengthy process as it involves suspending a metal sphere with an accurately known density beneath the ship, locating it in the sonar beam (only 30cm or so across) and calibrating for the different frequencies used for the survey. Sometimes it only takes a few hours others a day.

Photo 2: Meadow Pipit low over the waves

The journey along the south coast was a bit lumpy, with frequent spray over the bow as we butted into a force 5-6 westerly breeze. It was quiet for seabirds, with only the odd flock of Razorbill, the odd Gannet and the odd Mediterranean Gull to entertain us. There was evidence of visible passerine migration though, with a steady trickle of Meadow Pipit (photo 2), Swallow, House Martin and Pied Wagtail passing the ship. When you see these small birds flying just above the waves it really is amazing that they can cross oceans.

Further entertainment was provided by the Coastguard when they requested permission to use the Endeavour for some practice. This time they didn’t drop anyone down to the ship but there were plenty of pilot skills on show as the helicopter hovered metres above the ship for 15-20 minutes (photos 3-5).

Photo 6: Condor Liberation

Passage to the south of Poole timed with the departure of the Condor Liberation – hopefully it won’t be too long before MARINElife can get wildlife officers and survey crews back on board (photo 6). We also passed Greenpeace’s sailing ship Rainbow Warrior pottering about off the Dorset coast (photo 7).

Photo 7: Rainbow Warrior

We made Weymouth Bay by about 14:00 but with the wind still blowing a force 5 from the west-northwest it was considered too windy to attempt calibration so backtracked slightly and went off to run our first transect. This is easternmost transect and runs from just west of St Alban’s Head south to within a few miles of Alderney.

A sea state of 5 and sun glare to starboard didn’t make for the best viewing conditions but we did manage a couple of Storm Petrels and there was a trickle of Lesser Black-backed Gulls making their way south and the odd Gannet passing but it was a quiet start to this year’s survey.

Tomorrow will see us back in Weymouth Bay for calibration before heading west into Lyme Bay for more transects.

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