Thursday, 31 August 2017

Scilly Pelagics

Well, having had my operation in March, I did not think for one minute that it would be the middle of August before I got discharged by the hospital!  In between time, however, I did manage to get to few county twitches (with the help of some good friends) in the shape of Black-winged Stilts, Great Reed Warbler and the European Bee-eaters, and did manage to get over to Brascote GP, my local patch, on the odd occasion. If I had any hair, I would have pulled it out towards the end of my 'recovery' but slowly and surely, I am finally up and running again!  I did have something to look forward to though, in the shape of a few pelagics from The Scilly Isles, a small archipelago of islands off the south-west coast of the UK. This trip was with my good mate Steve James and was booked in the September of 2016 with Bob Flood and Ash Fisher who run 'Scilly Pelagics', as these trips are extremely popular, and sell out very quickly; what I hadn't realised however - the dates coincided with the 2017 Bird Fair at Rutland Water - this would be the first one I've missed in more than 25 years! - and this year, the LROS stand (Leics & Rutland Ornithological Society) were basing their display on the work I've been involved in, helping another very good friend, Paul Riddle (Owls About That Then), in making and siting nesting boxes for owls in south Leics, so I was a bit gutted, to say the least! Apparently, it all went off very well though!
After staying overnight in Penzance, we boarded the 'Scillonian III' for the three hour crossing to St Mary's, Scilly Isles. The crossing was uneventful but we did see hundreds of Manx Shearwaters as we crossed, and Steve picked out Cory's Shearwater too.

The Scillonian III


Our first Pelagic was the same afternoon so we boarded The Sapphire - one of the inter-island boats skippered by Joe Pender - and headed back out to sea, to the east of The Scillies. It wasn't a trip for the faint-hearted with swells up to 4.5 meters - but fortunately, everyone on board seemed to have good sea legs! Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were soon on the scene feeding on the bread being thrown overboard by one of the crew, which soon attracted Greater Black-backed Gulls along with Gannets and Fulmars. These birds were plentiful on all three pelagic trips we did. Steve and I did have a target bird for the trip, which was Wilson's Petrel, and we also hoped for good views of Great Shearwaters and Cory's Shearwaters. We did get a view of a Wilson's Petrel, but the bird flew towards the boat and went away again as quickly as it had appeared so we were both hoping for better views tomorrow. Good views of Cory's; Great and Manx Shearwaters were all seen, along with lots of European Storm Petrels - a good evenings' pelagic, arriving back into port in darkness!



Great Black-backed Gull

Day two dawned bright and sunny, and after a hearty breakfast, we joined the Sapphire again at about 11.00 for an all-day pelagic. Today, we headed south of The Scillies; the winds had died down by 10 knots and the swell was only 1.5 meters, so a much calmer day. The crew started feeding the gulls again with bread and they also put out the 'chum'  in a netted sack which allows the oil from the fish to cause a slick on the water. Once this is put out, we didn't have to wait very long before it bought in the Storm Petrels, Cory's and Great Shearwaters along with Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, These birds always get the attention of Great Skuas (Bonxie).  A Mediterranean Gull and half a dozen Arctic Terns were also seen.
The skipper, Joe Pender, is involved in a project catching and tagging Blue Sharks, and we were lucky enough today to see one caught, (weighing about 130lb) tagged and released back into the ocean - what a stunning fish! My only regret was not having my 50mm lens with me, so I wasn't able to get any images. 
We also saw a massive pod of Common Dolphin too - it was really funny to watch the skippers' dog Belle, who got very excited by their presence and I'm surprised she didn't finish up in the ocean with them! Today was really good, giving both Steve and I brilliant views of Wilson's Storm Petrel, with at least four being seen. 

Herring Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Our third and final day saw us sailing off at 08.00 to the north-east of The Scillies in cold, dank drizzle but moderate seas. Again, the crew started with the bread and 'chumming' which attracted the gulls again. We were heading for Seven Stone Reef, and once there, the crew began fishing for Pollock and Ling which they then clean, using the innards as chum for the 'tubenoses' (Petrels, Shearwaters etc) who find the smell irresistible - it's absolutely amazing to see the Storm Petrels coming in from down-wind to feed. again, all three Shearwaters were seen, along with Great Skuas and an adult Sabine's Gull - but the icing on the cake for me was seeing up to seven Wilson's Petrels. The crew caught and tagged another Blue Shark today - it weighed around 80lb.  We also saw an Ocean Sunfish! Apart from the miserable weather, we had another great day.
If you are ever considering doing a Scillies pelagic, I can certainly recommend Joe Pender, Bob Flood, Ash Fisher and their crew. Joe Pender is not only a really good skipper, he is also an excellent photographer! www.scillypelagics.com or www.sapphirepelagics.blogspot.com
Here are a few images of some of the birds we saw.

Fulmar

Fulmar

Gannet

Great Skua (Bonxie)

European Storm Petrel

European Storm Petrel

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Sabine's Gull

Sabine's Gull

Wilson's Petrel (greatly cropped)

Wilson's Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

Wilson's Petrel

We caught 'The Scillonian III'  back to the mainland and on our journey, saw European Storm Petrels, hundreds of Manx Shearwater, Great Shearwater and also more Common Dolphin. All in all, Steve and I had a great few days and I can certainly recommend it!
I'm really pleased to be out and about and 'blogging' again. 
As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed reading about my latest exploits!

2 comments:

  1. It's good to see your ankle is good enough to help you find your sea legs. Great photos Col. I will be trying to get some images as good as your Wilson's photos down in Portugal in early October.

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  2. Im sure you will Carl, i'm no photographer just a birder with a camera. hope you have a great trip to Portugal mate.

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