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Before the trip report starts I want to put over the frustration that I, and others, felt at the end of the trip regarding strange decisions made.
Anyone would have enjoyed most of the Pelagic but there were some strange decisions made regarding chumming around nearby fishing boats. They chummed when there were hardly any birds around a boat then when we came close to boats that had masses of birds they would chum, spend a few minutes there, then move on without working the area. It got a lot of birders backs up, especially when they didn't visit areas they promised to (such as the Wilson's Triangle).
We missed so many golden opportunities over the few days we were out and yet they chased anything and everything that blew. They also called every Whale and Dolphin sighting over the Tannoy system whereas they missed calling out numerous bird sightings (some important ones at that).
We sailed at around 18:00 but within a short while we had a row with them as they made us do the safety drill as we were leaving the harbour then told us we had to have dinner at 7pm otherwise we wouldn't have anything to eat. That meant no birding in British waters on the way out. There were major ructions about that and thankfully they didn't repeat that problem for the remainder of the cruise and told us we could come into the restaurant a lot later if we wanted to. They also went through the itinerary and it meant that a lot of areas we were expecting to visit were being left out. We couldn't get them to change their mind about that even though we pointed out that they were advertising these places in their write ups.
There are going to be a lot of angry protests about that to Ultimate Pelagics Ltd. I know my mate has already formulated a page and a half of complaints.
It's a shame as the boat was great, the staff brilliant and the food superb. The cabins were also excellent, but the organisation was geared to a Whale a Dolphin survey and birders were well second best, and it showed.
Hopefully they will learn from the criticism for next year and put birders on a par with the Cetacean watchers. The damage may already have been done as they had similar protests from last year and don't appear to have learnt from it, but if they don't pay attention to possibly over 50% of the passengers needs then Ultimate Pelagics will pay the ultimate price.
The trip report
At last the day had arrived when I was about to do something I had never done before. A five night, six day Pelagic. We were sailing from Falmouth to the Bay of Biscay, spending a couple of days in that area before moving across to the South Western area of Ireland and finally coming back via to near the Scillies. I had booked this trip with a mate.
We were sailing at 17:30 on the Saturday. Steve went down a couple of days early but I decided to drive down on the Friday night. This allowed me a few hours birding in Cornwall prior to catching the boat. This turned out to be a good decision as I managed to find myself a lifer and also a good year bird.
I started off at Copperhouse Creek, Hayle, but unfortunately a heavy mist was descending rapidly but thankfully I managed to find a Wood Sandpiper, which was a new year bird for me, before the mist obliterated everything.
I moved onto Caersnws Pool in the hope of finding the reported Baird’s and Semipalmated Sandpiper but unfortunately they were not there so I decided to walk on to the far end of the pool and search the Estuary. In front of me must have been 200+ Ringed Plovers, mainly young birds, as well as good numbers of Dunlin Curlew and Turnstone. Whilst I scanned through the Plovers I became aware of a wader that was walking through them. It had yellowish legs that shone bright in the early morning sun. It looked like a small Ruff in appearance and I knew I was onto a lifer straight away. It was a Buff-breasted sandpiper and an excellent start to my holiday.
I drove around to Ryans field then to the Old Quay but apart from a Common Sandpiper and a Kingfisher there wasn’t too much to look at so I was off to Marazion Marsh. By now the day was getting extremely warm but the walk to the Kingfisher hide at Marazion became a very pleasurable and relaxing one. Very little in the way of birds but plenty in the way of Dragonflys and Damselfies. I managed to photograph Southern and Migrant Hawker, Golden Ringed Dragonfly, Common Darter and male & female Beautiful Damesoille. There were hundreds of Speckled Wood’s around also.
Male & Female Beautiful Demesoille
Common Darter & Golden Ringed Dragonfly
Southern & Migrant Hawker
There wasn’t that much time left so I decided to call into Stithians Lake, which was on the way to Falmouth. Luckily my mate Steve rang me to say that he was going there also so it was decided that we should meet up there before proceeding to the boat. Stithians Lake was a big disappointment. There was very little on the water, probably due to it being at a very high level for this time of the year, and there were no exposed muddy areas for the waders. Both Steve & I decided to relax here for a while before setting off for Falmouth.
By 16:00 we were on the ship (the MV Athena).
Sailing time was 17:30 which hopefully would give us at least an hour to pick up some British ticks, such as Storm Petrels etc but we were in for a shock. First the ship didn’t set sail until 18:00 then when we went to book the Restaurant table we found out they had brought forward the dinner by an hour to 19:00, slap bang into the good seawatching time (we were both very hungry so we weren’t going to miss that) then the next shock was the compulsory safety talk. That was being done straight away so we didn’t have a chance to do any birding on the outward trip.
After the meal was a talk about our itinerary and what we were likely to see and it was then that we realised that the whole trip was totally Cetacean based and that birding wasn’t really getting much of a look in. Also we were informed that Falmouth had to told the ship’s Captain that they wanted them to dock on our arrival back at Falmouth at 7am instead of the allotted 9am slot. This meant that the only time we were in UK waters would be at night, so missing out altogether on any British ticks throughout the whole trip. A few angry exchanges were had at the end of the talk and the first thing that happened was that dinner was put back to 20:00 the next night. What will become of the birding will unfold as the days go by.
Into the Bay of Biscay but birdwise the day was slow with very few sea birds seen. The main birds being seen were Passerines that were dropping onto the ship for a well earned rest after their long journey over the ocean. Yellow Wagtails, a White Wagtail, a few Reed Warblers’ Chiffchaffs and Spotted Flycatchers were part of the haul with the most amazing resting place for one of the Reed Warblers which was right in the middle of the Brandy and Whisky bottles at the back of the bar. No doubt it fancied a stiff one before proceeding on its onward journey.
Reed Warbler in the bar
Some branches had been brought on board and tied to a mast. The area was called the Oasis and it certainly did us proud with a Reed Warbler and a Leisler's bat taking up residence in there. The Leisler's bat liked it so much it stayed for two days. It was thought best to take it down to the next deck and put it out of harms way. It was left hanging from a small branch that had been tied to some panelling in the bar area. It stayed there for hours but eventually flew off, many hundreds of miles from land.
Main highlight of the day was a Fin Whale that broke surface suddenly by the side of the ship followed by a fairly close Sperm Whale, a few Pilot Whales that were also close by and a distant Sei Whale plus a Sun Fish.
Sperm Whale & Pilot Whale
Birds seen out at sea where few and far between but those that we did catch up with were Fulmar, Gannet, Sooty Shearwater, Bonxie, Sabine’s Gull, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls.
Birds missed that were called over the tannoy were Wilsons & Storm Petrel and a Grey Phalarope.
A moth trap had been run on the night but apparently had been blown over and had lost most of the trapped moths. Some of them were on the deck and the others had been potted up ready to be looked at later in the day. On ,y walk around the decks I came across half a dozen female & 4 male Four-spotted Footman.
Male & female Four-spotted Footman
Around lunch time they showed off the moths they had caught. They included a new moth for me, a Delicate, plus a Scarce Silver-lines, a Silver Y plus a surprise Red-veined Darter.
The Delicate & the Red-veined Darter
Today was even slower bird wise and it was a struggle to see any birds at all’ but my main disappointment of the day was when Steve & I were at lunch. A Little Shearwater was called (my target bird of the trip) and an immediate exodus took place from the restaurant. Steve managed to get onto it but I didn’t.
Birds seen were, a four Sooty Shearwaters, about four Sabine Gulls, Storm Petrel, Gannet, Black-headed Gull, Yellow Legged Gull, Grey Heron & Swift. These were all out at sea. Back on the boat we had a few visiting Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatchers again, a lone Melodious Warbler plus the odd Wheatear, one of which was feeding along the deck oblivious to all those that were photographing it. At times it trotted to within a metre of us affording great opportunities for good photos of the bird.
Spotted Flycatcher & Reed Warbler
The Highlight of the day by far was the Cuviers Beaked Whale that broke the surface by the side of the ship. The only other sighting I had was of a party of Risso’s Dolphins that were fairly close but I couldn’t get in a position to photograph them.
Cuviers Beaked Whale
Unfortunately there was also a low point to the day when I slipped and fell backwards badly banging my head through my own stupid fault. I had been standing on one of those wooden deckchairs that fold down flat, and looks like a mini board-walk. I hadn't realised how close to the corner I was and it tipped up. As I struggled to put my foot on the floor for balance I stood on another corner of another flat deckchair and that tipped up as well and I went backwards at some force onto the side of the ship. Within minutes I was surrounded by a fair number of the ships crew then the doctor. I had a very bad headache which thankfully abated but later in the night I developed a stiff neck and pains around the right side of my chest. Thankfully it had almost cleared up by the next morning. The doctor was excellent giving me some sound advice and the tablet he gave me in the morning worked wonders.
A very windy day today with the boat rocking a bit more than we had been used to. First Surprise was when a Leisler’s Bat was brought down and placed in a n area of safety out of the wind. It was on a dead branch and they stuck it on some panelling out of the wind.
I was told that a moth trap had been running but that no moths had been trapped but I still decided to check the areas nearby and what a good decision that turned out to be. I found a lone moth and my first reaction was of a moth I hadn’t seen before. A Wainscot came to mind but after taking a few photos of it I tried identifying it but found it difficult.
I knew somebody from the Wild About Britain Forum (Adam Cheesman) that was a bit up on moths and consulted him for his opinion. After a bit of deliberation we decided upon Porters Rustic, a Red data species and a rare migrant. It was impor6tant enough to pass onto the trip organisers and they arranged for a showing to anyone that wanted to see it. Quite a few turned up to look at it and debate that ID but in the end Porters Rustic was agreed upon.
The birds picked up throughout the day and at around 2pm we came across a fishing boat with a few birds around it. One was a cracker of a bird. A Sabine’s Gull. A few Bonxies and a Sooty Shearwater could be seen. Three Storm Petrels were found (all though I didn’t get on any) as well as plenty of Fulmar and Gannet. Then I got onto the bird of the trip as a dark underwinged Petrel came across the bow. A few birders and a couple of the ships spotters got onto it and it was confirmed as a Wilson’s Petrel.
Other birds I had seen prior to that were seven Cory Shearwaters, a couple of Sooty Shearwater, a Med Gull and an Arctic Tern. We did have fairly close views of about seven Bottle-nosed Dolphins plus a White Wagtail made a brief visit to the boat.
For virtually all of the afternoon bird wise it was quiet and uneventful then things changed as it approached 18:30, when we approached another fishing boat. A few minutes prior to that a few Storm Petrels were found as well as a Juv Kittiwake and a dark phase Arctic Skua but at the fishing boat everything changed as there were birds everywhere. Storm & Wilson’s Petrels (although I didn’t pick up on the latter) Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Sabine’s Gull, Bonxies, Fulmar & Gannet. That was a great end to the day, which could have been even better, if the ship had stayed longer and worked the area, but unaccountably the decision was made to leave the area, something that angered quite a few birders. The best birding spot of the whole trip and we left it. Amazing.
A distant shot of a Great Shearwater.
Today we started the day in Irish waters so everything was going to go on a new list whilst we were in those waters..
We were hoping for an excellent start of the day as they had been chumming since 05:30am, but by 7am it was obvious it hadn’t worked as all we had pulled in were a couple of Fulmar and Gannet. From then on it was very quiet although I did see my first Cory’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Lesser Black-backed Gull in that early period. Around 10:40am we came across a couple of fishing boats and there were masses of birds with them so we started chumming again to try and draw them into our wake, and it worked. Hundreds of Fulmar and Gannet were joined by a fair number of Storm Petrel. A Wilson’s Petrel put in a brief appearance (I think I got onto it but it disappeared before I could confirm it). Approx 150+ Sooty Shearwater plus lone Cory’s Shearwater, Sabine’s Gull, Pomarine Skua and a Great Shearwater (which I couldn’t find). A surprise Whimbrel flew near the ship and also there were plenty of Herring & Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well as a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls and Great Skuas. Strangely the decision to leave the area was made again so we left this busy scene without working it properly. Yet again another golden opportunity missed as there must have been quite a few birds that hadn’t been checked thoroughly, plus more were arriving as we were leaving.
Fulmar & Gannet
Lesser Black-backed gull in tandem with a Gannet plus two gannets flying together.
From then on it all went very quiet again, so much so that I went downstairs to my cabin to edit the photos I had taken today and bring the trip report up to date.
A bit later on a few Common Dolphins (in small pods) came past the ship and I managed to get a few shots of them.
At 18:30 we came up on another fishing boat and this time spent some time with (basically because it was so late and there was nowhere else to go). It was a relatively busy scene, with a couple of reported Wilson’s Petrels amongst them, one of which I managed to get onto but not a lot else. That was the end of the last days sea watching.
Upon arrival at Falmouth one of the spotters brought a moth over to me that had been found on one of the lower deck passageways the day before. I had tried to photograph it the day before but it was too lively to do that. After a night in the fridge it was far more co-operative so I managed a couple of photos of it and I have now sent them to the experts to try and get a firm ID on it. It is not a moth that comes to Britain by the look of it as it isn’t represented in the Field guide that covers Britain so it is an interesting find. (Since I have been home I have found out that the moth's name is Callopistria latreillei)
The final tally for the boat was 31 species of birds seen by me, 7 types of Whale (5 photographed), Common Dolphin, Sunfish, Red-veined Darter and 7 species of Moth (1 still to be identified).plus a Leisler’s Bat.
To add to the list coming to, and going from the boat were a few more birds including Buff-breasted Sandpiper (a lifer, Wood sandpiper and Cirl Bunting, which were new birds for the year for me.
A thoroughly enjoyable six days, slightly spoilt by the strange decisions mentioned at the start of the report. Still I got some excellent photos I wasn’t expecting to get and good sightings of some good birds and some excellent close ups of Whales so I can’t complain too much. I just wish they had taken the birders more seriously and worked some of those boats better.