Peltic 2023 - 9-10 October Cory's, Cory's everywhere
A definition of frustration – looking at an oily calm sea from the bridge but being unable to survey because the fog is so thick you can’t see beyond the bow – and it stayed that way until midday. The transect was being run as normal as the acoustic data, the primary reason for the survey, isn’t impacted by fog. Fortunately, a trawl held up our progress and when the transect resumed at 13:15 the visibility was good enough to survey and as the breeze picked up slightly we were soon surveying in sunshine.
One of the first bird sightings was two Grey Herons (photo 1) heading at first SW then back E towards the mainland, looking like they may have got a bit disorientated in the fog. It wasn’t long before we were back getting regular sightings Cory’s Shearwaters (photos 2 & 3) along with a few Greats. A Great Skua performed a close fly-by in some lovely light (photo 4), really showing up the rich colours and patterns of the plumage. These have been noticeably scarce so far this trip – perhaps not surprising as they are arguably the species worst impacted by bird flu in the UK.
So far, the Celtic Sea transects have given us an exciting bird each day and amazingly, today was no different. I spotted a small pale bird bobbing around on the sea close to the line of the Endeavour – Grey Phalarope – only the third I’ve seen on the Peltic surveys and, as it passed by 40-50m off the beam, by far the best view I’ve had of one (photos 5 & 6). We ended the transect with a feeding flock off the port beam, amongst which were at least 100 Gannet, 40 Cory’s Shearwaters and dozens of auks.
The Cornish cliffs looked spectacular in the autumn sun, Pendeen lighthouse (photo 7) standing out bright white against the green and the remnants of the Cornish mining industry, like the abandoned Crown mine pumping houses (photo 8) littered the landscape.
We moved on to the next transect and were greeted with half a dozen energetic Harbour Porpoise splashing around – a species we’ve seen very few of so far. Otherwise, the wildlife was much the same as this morning, with Cory’s Shearwater the most numerous species seen (we ended the day having recorded 216 on survey).
As the afternoon progressed the wind dropped away, and the last hour of survey was on a millpond sea. Unfortunately, there were very no cetaceans breaking the surface, just the odd tuna. A gorgeous sunset was a beautiful and serene way to end the day (photos 9 & 10).
It was a grey start to the day, the visibility just good enough to survey and with the low cloud threatening to envelope us at any moment. Fortunately, the cloud lifted, and the skies brightened to make for good surveying conditions, although the wind had freshened, and the sea was now at the top end of sea state four. Species of the day was Cory’s Shearwater; they were ever-present and by far the most numerous of the ten species seen during the day. Flocks of 20-40 birds rafting on the sea were a frequent sight (photo 11) and very few minutes went by without recording one.
Other species of note were Common and Arctic Tern, species not often encountered on the survey given the time of year, and a few Storm Petrels. Common Dolphin also put in frequent appearances, but only in small groups, none of them were very showy today for some reason.
Landbirds on board have been notable by their absence so far this survey but the overcast conditions produced two birds today, one was a Chiffchaff, the other something slightly more unusual and, for a moment, had me unsure as to its identity. It was a Lesser Whitethroat but much darker than the birds we normally see breeding in the UK and one of the races from much further east in Asia (photos 12 & 13). Sadly, the only way they can be identified with certainty is by DNA analysis, even a bit of poo is enough, but despite looking around where it had been I couldn’t find any.
Without doubt Cory’s Shearwater has been the standout bird so far and we still have dozens of transects to go on which they could be recorded, but I keep wondering how much longer they’ll be this far north, they could go at any time. We ended the day having logged 562 on survey, along with 62 Great Shearwaters, at times it felt more like we were surveying around the Azores than the UK! Here’s a little gallery of Cory’s to finish with (photos 14-16).
This is our last day before we head into Falmouth for the mid-survey crew change and the target had been to complete all the transects to the north of the Isles of Scilly, achieving that by 16:00 we headed off towards Falmouth for a meeting with the pilot at 06:30 tomorrow