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PELTIC 2021 update 4 - 10 October

9 October

Our second day in Lyme Bay and another day with winds force 3 or less for the whole day – long may this continue! We picked up where we finished, mid-transect, the previous evening and had two hours of the transect left to run. Things were fairly quiet until we hit a feeding flock of 140 or so gulls and were mildly surprised to find the commonest species was Mediterranean Gull. We saw more in this flock, 72, than we had recorded in total on any previous PELTIC survey and with the birds seen the previous day pushes to the total well over 100 – so far. The other star species in this feeding aggregation were seven Balearic Shearwater, a target species for the survey.

Photo 1: Lyme Bay fog

Bird numbers dropped off after passing the flock, although a further five Balearic Shearwater was nice to see. Dolphins were thin on the ground with only a single sighting of a small group of Commons. The Lyme Bay coastline is glorious and it looked rather ethereal this morning wreathed in patches of mist and fog (photo 1). In fact, just as we got to the end of the transect we ran into some really dense banks of fog (photo 2).

Photo 2: Endeavour approaching fog banks

The clear skies that we had enjoyed travelling north now came back to bite us as we headed south on the next transect with strong glare to port at first to staring straight into it for a good chunk of the transect. Dolphins were more in evidence on this transect with five encounters with just over 100 animals. Unfortunately, all the groups stayed well away from us, none venturing any closer than 500 or so metres.

Photo 3: Guillemot

Birds got off to a good start with 8 Balearic Shearwater passing across the bow right at the start of the transect but otherwise Guillemot was one of the more numerous species we logged (photo 3). A short transit took us to the final transect for the day, although we wouldn’t actually be able to finish it before the light failed. Conditions by this time were wonderful with mirror-calm seas – although it was a little hazy.

For the first time today, we finally recorded more Harbour Porpoise, with 14 seen, three of which had young calves with them. We had a further four encounters with 50 Common Dolphin but once again, somewhat unusually, they stayed well away from us. Birds were numerous but scattered with Gannet and Guillemot the most common, highlight were five Storm Petrels. We were treated to a lovely pastel Lyme Bay sunset this evening as it set behind a thin veil of high cloud (photo 4).

Photo 4: Lyme Bay sunset

10 October

The day started overcast and with only 30 minutes left to finish off the last transect from yesterday we were hoping it might stay that way as we headed south on the next. Instead, as we headed south the clouds headed the same way with the light northerly breeze and dispersed – leaving us staring into the glare again. We managed five encounters with cetaceans three with Harbour Porpoise and two with Common Dolphin. At least some of these were close though and during a break for a trawl we were treated to some fantastic views in beautiful light (photos 5-7).

We also notched up another three Balearic Shearwater, most of the birds we saw last year were on the French side of the Channel so it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out this survey. Other birds of note included a Song Thrush which stopped off briefly and seemed very relaxed in the warm sun – even if it was sat on one of the winches (photo 8).

Photo 8: Song Thrush

We turned north for the final transect in Lyme Bay and were once again treated to some wonderful conditions with sea state down to zero again at times. Excellent conditions for spotting cetaceans but we had to work hard for them with only nine encounters in the two hours 40 minutes we were on transect. White-beaked Dolphin had been seen off Berryhead several times during the past couple of weeks and we had been hoping we might luck in with them. As it turned out we likely did but our views were frustratingly distant so we could only record them as probable based on shape and motion.

If anyone followed my blogs last year you might recall I occasionally include the odd ship (as has already been the case). This evening we happened to see two container ships ahead of us, the NYK Rumina 10 years old, 294m and can carry c.2400 containers. You might think that’s quite large but the HMM Copenhagen, the ship behind, dwarfs it she’s 400m (1300’) long and can carry c.11900 containers, of which you can see approx. 5900 above deck in these photos (photos 9 and 10).

Photo 9: NYK Rumina and HMM Copenhagen
Photo 10: HMM Copenhagen

We often see good numbers of seabirds near Berryhead and today was no exception. Today it was Kittiwake which were in super-abundance as we passed through a flock of about 800 resting on the water, quite a sight as they took flight, though obviously wanted to rest as they landed back on the water almost immediately. I had the wrong lens on and photo 11 doesn’t do the scene justice. There were a further 200 or so birds too but they were outside our 2km recording range. We ended the day with a record count for PELTIC surveys – 229 Wigeon in three flocks – we rarely encounter large numbers of wildfowl so can only assume these had been forced out to sea by human disturbance on the saltmarshes on the River Exe or Dawlish Warren (photo 12).

Fittingly, for our last day in Lyme Bay, we were treated to another wonderful sunset (photo 13).

Photo 11: small part of the Kittiwake flock
Photo 12: Part of a flock of 140 Wigeon taking off
Photo 13: Lyme Bay sunset

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