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PELTIC 2021 update 7 - 16 October

15 October

We started the day about 25km offshore, roughly south of Plymouth, working our way inshore. Although the winds were still light it was cloudy and rather gloomy with haze reducing visibility. There was little to be seen either, with an Arctic Skua close in across the bow being the highlight as far the birds went.

There have been quite a few warships in this area over the last few days but we were a little surprised to hear a Dutch submarine on the radio talking to a helicopter about dropping someone on board. Shortly after we realised we were going to see all this taking place as the conning tower of the sub appeared on the horizon. Watching the helicopter do numerous passes and going in to drop someone off on the sub kept us entertained for a while. The helicopter even did a low pass (not deliberate) across in front of us as it headed off – it had a very apt callsign, Tiger 66, given its paint job (photos below).

As we headed inshore the sea state dropped off to 0 again and today we actually saw some Harbour Porpoise, in this case two mothers with attendant calves (photo below).

As we tracked across Plymouth sound the clouds started to break and, as has oft been the case over the last few days, we were going to be staring into the glare on our way south down the next transect. Fortunately, as has also been the case in the last couple of days, we broke off for a trawl shortly after starting, sparing us a couple of hours staring at the glare. As it happened, this trawl took us within a kilometre or so of Eddystone lighthouse (photo below), the survey line runs further west, so we had closer views than normal of this brilliant feat of engineering (as all rock lighthouses are).

The trawl brought in a few birds but not as many as we thought it might, best of all was getting a nice view of an adult Mediterranean Gull, looking even whiter than normal against the blue sea (photo below).

Re-joining the transect we continued on our way south, birds were sadly lacking, with 17 Storm Petrels the highlight. However, cetaceans more than made up for the lack of birds, with five species recorded during the afternoon – probably a record for a single transect on the PELTIC surveys. One species was also an addition to our list for this survey – and a species we don’t see every year – Pilot Whale (first and second photos below). Moments after the Pilot Whale had passed two Risso’s Dolphin popped up, one of them the whitest Risso’s I think I’ve seen (third photo below).

Feeling pleased with ourselves for having seen the Pilot Whales and Risso’s we then added to the list with a decent sighting of Bottlenose Dolphin (the first sighting off Guernsey being just a single roll). What next? Minke Whale, that’s what, with a lovely clear view of one 800m off. This was followed a short time after by a second animal.

We had just enough time after completing the second transect to move on to the third – back over to French waters. We even picked up three sightings of Common Dolphin in the 40 minutes we were surveying and treated to yet another lovely sunset over smooth, glassy seas (photos below). The moon is waxing at the moment and today was just bright enough to cast light onto the sea (photo below).

16 October

Starting position for today was tucked in close to the coast near Roscoff and we’d be heading northwest until we get to the point where we finished last night. The day started well with 21 Balearic Shearwaters logged but soon went very quiet, apart from four encounters with 20 Common Dolphin and for three hours we were staring at a fairly calm but empty sea, counting the occasional passing Gannet.

However, if we thought the outer part of that transect was bad the next was even worse, it was 40 minutes before we logged our first bird and in the first two hours only recorded 11 birds. I’m not sure I’ve had such a quiet period as this on any of my PELTIC surveys.

Bird records did improve, with the odd Puffin, including a group of four (photo above), and Gannet and highlight of two adult Little Gulls but otherwise was very unremarkable – until the last 30 minutes. We could see dolphin and Gannet feeding up ahead but it soon became apparent that there was a lot more there. In that last half-hour we recorded 97 Balearic Shearwaters (photo 13) with a further 41 a few minutes after we finished the transect plus 10 Puffin and a few flocks of Razorbill and Guillemot.

We finished the transect at 17:23 with the intention of fishing again just on sunset. This gave us an hour to slowly motor to the area selected for the trawl (still near the end of the transect) and to enjoy the company of an endless stream of Common Dolphin coming in to bowride (photos gallery). It seemed that as soon as one group tired another would come in to take their place. The sea was like glass again and it was magical watching them in the clear water. Add to that another lovely sunset (photo at bottom) and it was a beautiful end to what had been quite a long and tiring day.

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