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PELTIC 2021 update 9 - 20 October

19 October

We started the day just offshore from Porth Curno in Cornwall and, normally, get views of the Minack open air theatre, sadly not today. Visibility was barely two kilometres and we could only just discern the nearest cliffs let alone any further. We waited until 08:00 to start the survey but it made little difference, there was very little light getting through the heavy overcast. Even after just a couple of mornings the days of force three or less winds and calm seas seemed a distant memory. Matters weren’t helped by heading into a force six southwesterly wind and sea, the rain held off, at least for a while, but the wipers were in almost constant use again.

Photo 1: Sooty Shearwater

Despite the conditions we managed to get on to the fourth sheet of bird records, that in itself felt like an achievement and, although most were Gannets, we did manage a handful of other species. Highlight of which were another four Sooty Shearwaters, including a couple that did very close fly-bys offering very good views (photo 1 is of a bird taken on 20th). Amazing to think that the birds we’re seeing are heading back down to the South Atlantic to breed in the Falkland Islands and islands off southern Chile. We also managed Arctic and Great Skua, Manx Shearwater and a few Kittiwakes and auks.

Unfortunately, conditions were far from ideal for spotting cetaceans and we only had one sighting – so brief that we could only say they were a dolphin sp. The sea conditions also meant it took five and a half hours to complete the transect, under normal conditions it would have been around four.

For our second transect of the day we were heading north about 18km east from the first one, unfortunately, due to the time taken with the other transect, there wouldn’t be enough daylight to finish it today meaning we would need to return to finish just a few miles another day. Conditions had worsened (!) too, visibility was now below one km and there was heavy rain – fortunately with the wind behind us the rain wasn’t hitting the windscreen.

Despite the worse conditions we did actually manage a few cetacean sightings during the afternoon, with 11 encounters with approximately 350 Common Dolphin. One pod alone consisted of at least 300 animals, an impressive sight as they powered by through the two metre waves.

In contrast bird sightings really suffered and we saw few birds other than Gannets.

For a second day neither of us got to use our cameras – if this continues I’ll be forced to dig out some archive shots from previous PELTICS.

Photo 2: sunrise on the 20th

20 October

We started the day about 55km south of the Lizard heading north with 25 knots of wind behind us and a bit of a sunrise after a shower (photo 2) which then gave way to blue skies! Sea state may still have been five but at least we could see a bit further than two km. Despite being able to see further, Gannet (photos 3 & 4) was still the most numerous bird to be seen, including one feeding flock of about 400 birds, there must have been some dolphins beneath them somewhere but we couldn’t see any. We also managed another three Balearic Shearwaters along with a single Manx and another two Sooty Shearwaters.

Despite the improved visibility the number of cetacean sightings was low with just three encounters with Common Dolphins – although one of those was a pod of around 70 animals, some of which made a great effort to come in from almost a kilometre away to bow ride (photos 5-7). I thought the photos looked quite atmospheric as although backlit by the sun there was also a little rain falling.

These PELTIC surveys are normally very good for rainbows but we had to wait until today to see our first one this year (photo 8), always love seeing them at sea when there isn’t anything else in the way.

We thought the strong southwest wind would have pushed seabirds close inshore around the Lizard but this wasn’t the case and the last hour or so was very quiet. Having completed the first transect we then had to plough 18km back through some quite lumpy seas just to spend 50 minutes finishing yesterday’s transect.

Photo 8: first rainbow of the 2021 survey

The upside of this was that we got to see some Cornish sights, including St Michael’s Mount (photo 9), the remains of a tin mine at Trewavas Head (photo 10) and Porthleven (photo 11). We timed it well because by the time we were heading back past the Lizard visibility was back down to about a kilometre and it was raining again.

Tonight, will be spent alongside in Fowey as one of the CEFAS scientists is getting off and two are getting on. The forecast is also pretty poor overnight so it made sense to be safely alongside rather than riding it out offshore.

Falmouth Bay transects await tomorrow.

Photo 9: St Michael's Mount
Photo 10: Tin mine at Trewavas Head
Photo 11: Porthleven

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