Tuesday, 10 August 2021

South-west Odyssey Part Two: Scilly Pelagic #1

The following day, we took the mighty Scillonian across to the Scillies. Plenty of Manx Shearwaters seen from the boat and a solitary Sooty Shear sitting with a raft of Manx. A couple of pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphins seen too, which was brilliant and caused a lot of excitement among the other passengers - aswell as me and the kids!

Note how in the top pic, the usually black and white Manx appear quite brown in the strong light, unlike in the bottom pic, with the Sooty Shearwater.


Arriving at St Mary's, it became apparent that the immature male Walrus had done a bunk. We kept our fingers crossed he would return...

The following day dawned calm and clear, after a restful night in the fab Garrison Campsite. I met up with Team Birdo mates, Dunc and Mark, and headed to the quay for our first Scilly Pelagic. We met Bob Flood and skipper Joe Pender before heading out on the infamous Sapphire southwest of St Mary's to Pol Bank. Pol Bank was where last year these guys found the UK's first Zino's Petrel! So fingers crossed...

On the way out, we picked up a Minke Whale, an Ocean Sunfish and several pods of Common Dolphins, among rafts of Manx Shearwaters. A good start. Eventually, we arrived at Pol Bank (which looked like every other bit of sea), stopped steaming and fish oil was poured in to the sea along with dried mealworms and bread, in order to pull in seabirds. For a while nothing happened, and then from nowhere a couple of Fulmars appeared and started to patrol the fishy slick. Shortly, I picked up a large shearwater, which on closer inspection was a spanking Great Shear. It hung around the boat for a while, sometimes coming in rediculously close. Such amazing birds, they spend their winter doing a big circuit of the North Atlantic, before heading back to South Atlantic islands to breed in our winter. 

Someone suddenly called Wilson's Petrel! I got on the bird quickly, but it was against the light and flew straight past without stopping to check out the slick. We all waited with baited breath, hoping the food would bring the bird in, but it didn't. I felt hollow and cheated - so close to a mythical bird I had really hoped to see but just not good enough to clinch. A bit of wing shape was apparent, but the bird had remained in silhouette the whole time, so I couldn't really see any plumage. Close, but no cigar.

Later on, we started steaming again and we hit on a feeding frenzy. A big raft of Manx Shears were present plus lots of Gannets and Common Dolphins. At least two Great Shears were present, one of which was diving down from the surface seeking fish. A Sooty Shearwater flew past, our sole sighting of the day. Sadly, nothing else new was added to the trip. It had been a cracking day, but I was left wanting more. Fortunately, Team Birdo were booked on the next trip, the following evening.

Great Shear snorkelling, with Common Dolphin, Gannet and Lesser Black-back.

Nice comparison between Manx (top) and Great Shears.


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