PELTIC 2022 - the Cardigan Bay transects part 2
Thursday 16 March
Sadly, the weather forecast is correct and we woke up to a very grey day with low cloud, a constant mist of light rain and the wind blowing southerly force 6 – not ideal surveying conditions! The good news is that as we’re heading more or less northwest the main windscreen is clear of rain so we don’t need to be using the wipers all the time.
It took us just about three hours to cover the 60km transect and we logged just 143 birds, of which 75% were auks – mainly Guillemot and most in breeding plumage (photo 1). A handful of Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, and a single Herring Gull made up the rest of the sightings.
Amazingly, given the sea conditions, we did manage a glimpse of a single Harbour Porpoise, which happened to pop into view as I was looking at an auk on the sea.
By the time we reached the second of the day’s transects the rain had eased off and we actually had a few kilometres of visibility. This made quite a difference to our sightings and we logged 351 birds in the two and a half hours it took to cover the transect. Auks still made up about 78% of the birds seen, a slightly higher proportion of Guillemots this time but there were still only six other species recorded – Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Fulmar (photo 2), Black-tailed Godwit and Lesser Black-backed Gull. The godwits were a bit of a surprise but nice to glimpse as they shot past. I didn’t get a photo of them but here’s one (photo 3) I did get passing Pendennis Head back on Monday (an equally surprising sighting).
As the transects in Cardigan Bay are generally shorter than the others in the Peltic survey we managed to get a third done, a short 34km which ended just out from Strumble Head (photo 4). Unfortunately, the weather had closed in again and visibility was back down to a few hundred metres so there weren’t many sightings. Auks in general only made up about 40% of the birds logged with Manx Shearwater being the most numerous species and Kittiwake (photo 5) second.
Getting three transects completed today leaves just two to do for tomorrow, which is just as well as we’ll need to be heading back towards Swansea by early afternoon.
Friday 17 March
Things started off quite promisingly with reasonable sea conditions and half-decent visibility and despite the first transect being only 30km we logged 276 birds, rather surprisingly a very similar total to the number recorded in October 2021. Guillemots made up over 50% of these and factoring in Razorbill and unidentified auks took that to over 80%. Again species diversity was low with only four other species seen – Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Puffin.
Skomer and Skokholm have seen large numbers of Puffins ashore already this spring, though I think the poor weather has pushed most offshore again as we’ve only seen a handful (photo 6).
In theory the most southerly transect in Cardigan Bay should have been good as it passes Grassholm and ends close to Skomer and Skokholm but today there were few birds to be seen with Razorbill top of the list with a lowly 32 seen (photo 7).
I commented in my first blog about Gannets and HPAI and it’s a little worrying we only saw 59 Gannet during the three days in Cardigan Bay, I really hope that’s just because it’s early in the season. However, several birds were photographed with the dark eyes and on close inspection more showed flecking in the eye (photos 8 & 9), it was interesting to see that one bird had a dark left eye and just flecking in the right (photo 10) – I really hope these are survivors!
As we headed east towards Swansea we ran a 37km section of a transect in the Bristol Channel. The wind had dropped off and with a bit of sun it was almost pleasant – especially as it was behind us – but a three-four metre swell kept us on our toes. Razorbill (photo 11) and Kittiwake (photo 12) were top of the bill on this one.
We ended up having six encounters with cetaceans on the eight transects involving 20 Common Dolphin and one Harbour Porpoise. The encounters are shown in the map below, black dots for Common Dolphin and white dot for Harbour Porpoise. The black lines mark the transects covered.
We docked back in Swansea at 03:00 Saturday morning and were all heading off back to our respective homes by about 09:00. All being well we’ll meet up again in October for PELTIC 2023 which, fingers crossed, will go without issue and we’ll cover all the transects this year. Keep an eye out on social media for updates when we set sail.