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Peltic 5-6 October

5 October

Another grey morning greeted us for the final day in Cardigan Bay, at least the wind had decreased a little – at least to begin with – sea state to start was four rising to five as we moved offshore a little then with the wind freshening from the SSW up to six for the second transect. The first transect, starting just north of Ramsey Island, was probably the quietest so far, there were very few birds to be seen. Just a handful of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Gannet were recorded.

Grassholm

The next transect running past Grassholm and ending close to Skomer was not that much better, despite the presence of around 20,000 Gannets on Grassholm (photo 1) there was little to be seen near the island. Despite the time of year, the impact bird flu has had on the Gannet population was very evident, the island was only sparsely covered with birds, the RSPB estimates that the population has been halved between 2021 and 2023 (from c28,000 pairs to 15,000). Wherever the birds were feeding it wasn’t around here! In 2020 and 2021 there were good numbers of auks and Kittiwakes on these southern transects, but not this year.

Typical feeding flock

We headed south to pick up the transect started on the 2nd, the area west of Lundy has been good in the past, so I was hoping for more of the same this year. First, we had a two-hour, 20 nautical mile steam ahead of us – into a sea state seven and 30-35 knots of wind. The light was good though, so I spent it on a sheltered bridge wing with camera ready. It wasn’t long before I started seeing lots of birds, mainly auks, with large flocks of Razorbills flying around along with Kittiwakes and Gannet and the odd Sooty Shearwater and Manx Shearwater – no wonder there hadn’t been any birds further north, they were all down here. Photo 2 shows a feeding group of most of these species, but doesn’t do the spectacle justice.

Photos 3 & 4 Common Dolphin

Along with the birds were quite a few Common Dolphin and in the space of 30 minutes or so 50 or 60 must have come in towards the Endeavour. Amongst them was possibly the most athletic calf I have ever seen, for several leaps in a row it covered at least 10-15m, arcing high above the wave troughs (Photos 3 & 4).


We left the birds behind as we headed south and the next transect started very quietly, although I did add Puffin and Arctic Skua to the survey list. After an hour and a half, we started coming across flocs of birds, mainly auks and Kittiwake, feeding and for the next 45 minutes there was much frantic scribbling of counts and recording data for eight encounters with about 60 Common Dolphin.


I was counting the birds in one feeding flock when Tim, out on the bridge wing, shouted ‘whale’, peering at the sea I saw a puff and a brief glimpse of grey back, then another lunge, brief glimpse of back and fin and an impression of white on the side of the head underwater and it was gone. It looked most like a small Fin Whale but on the brief views I couldn’t be certain – frustrating! After that the feeding ended quite abruptly and the remaining time on transect was quiet.


6 October

We started the day some 50 nautical miles offshore to run the next transect in towards the land, on this occasion the cloudy skies were much appreciated otherwise I’d have been staring into the sun for the next few hours. Not that I need have worried, as no sooner had we started then we stopped to trawl, which meant two hours seeing if anything interesting flew or swam past. Sooty Shearwater (photo 5) coming into the trawl was the most interesting bird.

Sooty Shearwater

Back on transect there was three hours of gentle surveying with regular sightings of Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake (photos 6-9) and the occasional visit from small groups of Common Dolphins (photos 10 & 11) before things went a bit mad again as we entered a feeding area. There were large flocks of auks scattered around along with flocks of Kittiwakes. On this occasion the bulk of the auks were Razorbills but in such numbers that it wasn’t possible to identify the all the birds and for a period most went down as auk sp. The appearance of four groups of Common Dolphin in this period only complicated matters in terms of data recording! Best birds were another Puffin and three Arctic Skuas, two of them chasing Kittiwakes just ahead of the Endeavour (photo 12).

Arctic Skua

Things eventually quietened down and almost as soon as they did we broke off transect to go for another trawl, as, not surprisingly there’d been a lot of fish seen on the sounder where all the birds had been seen. As we turned onto the heading for trawling, I spotted a group of five Sooty Shearwaters on the water, unusually they stayed put until we were almost on top of them, a rare event (photos 13 & 14).

Photo 13: Sooty Shearwaters
Photo 14: Sooty Shearwater

We finished the transect close into the north Devon coast and then went off to a start on the overnight plankton and water stations catching another lovely sunset (photo 15).


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