Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Scilly Pelagics - 7th-9th August 2015

I spent a few days on St Mary's in early August, specifically to go on Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher's Scilly Pelagics, on Joe Pender's MV Sapphire.

I was hoping for Wilson's Storm-petrel, plus good views of any Shearwaters, particularly Cory's Shearwater (which would have been a lifer for me) and Great Shearwater. Of course, there was always the hope of something really rare, like a Fea's Petrel.

As it was, the target birds didn't show, apart from up to five Great Shearwaters. Cory's Shearwaters were being seen regularly before I arrived and again the week after, but not on my three trips. The first Wilson's Petrel of the year was seen a week later too, the latest Scilly record. And of course, a very showy Fea's Petrel appeared seven days after my trip.

But, despite all that, I had a fabulous time. European Storm-petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, all four UK Skua species, Blue Sharks, Ocean Sunfish, etc. Plus the opportunity to improve my seabird knowledge, to make some new friends, and to enjoy the delights of the beautiful Isles of Scilly.

Friday 7th August

The seawatching started on the Scillonian III crossing from Penzance to St Mary's. Good numbers of Manx Shaerwaters, one each of Balearic Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater, one Bonxie, two Common Buzzards, and at least six European Storm-petrels were my best sightings. A distant, probable Cory's Shearwater was seen by others, but like most on board I didn't get on it.

It was a bit wet when I arrived on St Mary's, and only got worse with a very heavy mid-afternoon downpour. The rain wouldn't have been so bad if there was some wind to help bring in the pelagic birds, but this was just vertical.

Harbour, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly - Friday 7th August 2015

Porthcressa beach, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly - Friday 7th August 2015

The weather improved by time the MV Sapphire left the harbour for my first trip at 17:00. I had  high hopes of seeing a Cory's Shearwater on one of the three days, because two were seen the previous night's trio and several had been called off Corwall in the week. Two Peregrines on rocks off the island of Annet were a nice start.

There were scores of Manx Shearwaters within the islands' inshore waters, perhaps having sheltered there from the earlier bad weather. We had some great close views. Further out, heading southwest, we saw many more Manxies, one Sooty Shearwater, and around 30 European Storm-petrels. We had four Arctic Terns (I think), at least three Great Skuas, and lots of nice close up views of Fulmars.

European Storm-petrel, southwest of the Isles of Scilly - Friday 7th August 2015

Great Skua, southwest of the Isles of Scilly - Friday 7th August 2015

My favourite sight of the trip - and possibly the whole weekend - were the Common Dolphins riding the bow waves of our boat. There were an absolute joy to watch. Well before we spotted any dolphins, the skipper's dog, Bella, would rush out of the wheelhouse and stand on the prow, whining and mewling. Clearly she could hear the dolphins' high-pitched calls.

One interesting aspect of the trips was the satellite tagging of Blue Sharks. A couple of the guys of the boat were catching fish as we went along, and were using the catch as chum for the sea birds. After a while one angler changed to a different line, but I didn't expect him to catch a Blue Shark with it!

This Blue Shark came as a surprise to me!

Blue Sharks are epipelagic, found worldwide in deep temperate and tropical waters from the surface to about 350 meters. They prefer cooler waters, generally between 50° N and 20° S, but do spread further and can migrate long distances. Blue Sharks in the Atlantic live as far north as Norway and as far south as Chile.

Two sharks were caught on the Friday trip, and both were tagged.

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) southwest of the Isles of Scilly - Friday 7th August 2015

Not a bad first trip. In fact, I'd already decided it wouldn't matter if we didn't see any of the target birds while I was there; the whole experience was fantastic all the same.

Fabulous sunset at the end of the trip - - Friday 7th August 2015

Saturday 8th August

The previous night's red sky promise a beautiful morning, and Saturday turned out to be a lovely day. Perhaps not great for sea birds (storms bring birds into more sheltered inshore waters, and wind helps carry the smell of the chum to attract tubenoses), but nice all the same.

Town beach, Hugh Town, St Mary's - Saturday 8th August 2015

MV Sapphire, St Mary's Harbour - Saturday 8th August 2015

It wasn't long before Bella was excitedly running around the boat, and sure sure enough we were soon joined by a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins. Not easy to photograph from a speeding, swaying boat...

Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Isles of Scilly - Saturday 8th August 2015

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola), Isles of Scilly - Saturday 8th August 2015

We spent most of the day following the French trawler Azur, which had a large number of birds following it. Highlights were four Sooty Shearwaters, 100+ European Storm-petrels, all four Skua species (Great, Arctic, Pomerine and a showy 1st summer Long-tailed Skua), and a Great Shearwater (that I missed). Another mammal highlight was an encounter with a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins.

French trawler Azur - Saturday 8th August 2015

Great Skua, Isles of Scilly - Saturday 8th August 2015

Long-tailed Skua, Isles of Scilly - Saturday 8th August 2015

Fulmar, Isles of Scilly - Saturday 8th August 2015
Sooty Shearwater, Isles of Scilly - Saturday 8th August 2015

Sunday 9th August

Sunday 9th August was Hen Harrier Day, part of the campaign to stop grouse moor owners and gamekeepers in the UK illegally killing Hen Harriers. Beyond the killing of this protected species, the so-called "sport" of grouse shooting has many unsavory aspects, not least the massive damage it does to the environment. I am totally against grouse shooting, and have been all my life, mainly because the killing of wildlife for entertainment is simply wrong; but I couldn't be at the rallies on the mainland, so the least I could do was wear my Hen Harrier Day t-shirt and tweet my support.

Sunday started with some fog, but a decent breeze meant it would soon clear.

Setting off from St Mary's

Preparing the chum

This was definitely the best of the three trips for birds. The highlights were three separate Great Shearwaters, each coming quite close to the boat. There were loads of Manx Shearwaters close to the islands again, and one Sooty Shearwater tagged along with us for a while. We had another (the same?) 1st summer Long-tailed Skua, at least five Great Skuas, and 150+ European Storm-petrels feeding close in to the boat.

Great Shearwater, southwest of Isles of Scilly - Sunday 9th August 2015

European Storm-petrel, southwest of Isles of Scilly - Sunday 9th August 2015

Four Blue Sharks were caught on the Sunday too, including a particularly large female. It took an age to get it on board. You can see the red GPS tag in the sharks' dorsal fins in the images below.

Blue Shark, southwest of Isles of Scilly - Sunday 9th August 2015

Here's a video of the larger Blue Shark being tagged and measured, plus some footage of Common Dolphins riding the bow waves of the Sapphire, and slow-motion footage of feeding European Storm-petrels.


Later on Sunday, I caught the Scillonian III back to Penzance, seeing plenty more Manxies, Stormies, and the odd Bonxie. A great trip, well worth the effort. I'm already planning my next visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment