1st Pelagic of the season

 The 7th and 8th of July were one of our busiest weekends so far for wildlife trips. On top of the usual trips to the Minnack and “seal cove”, we began our pelagic season on Saturday morning. I have been asked not to keep moaning about the weather lately, but we really are beginning to have too much of a “good thing”! The hot, settled days and almost constant north-easterly wind have made it increasingly difficult to reach the seabirds offshore, so I was not expecting too much at 6.30! We did “chum”, knowing that at least the (sadly very light) wind was blowing the smell of our slick in the right direction and did eventually attract double figures of Storm Petrels and a raft of feeding gulls which included our first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the year. Other highlights included 4+ Harbour Porpoise, 5 Ocean Sunfish, tuna sp. , 4 Sooty Shearwaters, 2-300 Manx and one Balearic Shearwater, one or two Bonxie (Great Skua), and 50-60 Gannet, though the latter were attending 2 pods of Common Dolphins totalling about 100 animals. Many of these dolphins came to serenade us under the boat! The almost flat calm meant we could turn off the engine as the slick was barely moving, so groups of dolphins frequently peeled off from those feeding and came to “play” (or even enjoy the shade) under the hull where our microphone picked up their chatter.

     The remaining trips on Saturday found seabirds quite scarce as they moved further out to sea. The only species seeming to be increasing in the Bay being Mediterranean Gulls (over 20) a few Sandwich terns and 5 Common Scoter, with waders such as Turnstone and Common Sandpiper returning south. The bay is producing a thick algal bloom which is certainly attracting jellyfish – mostly Blue and Moon with a few huge Barrel jellies, and in turn these are presumably bringing in the increasing numbers of Sunfish, but until this weekend we were seeing very little else. However, the “local” pod of Bottlenosed Dolphins have returned to the bay east of the Mount for the last 3 days now, and on Saturday we were lucky enough to find a pod of 8-9 Risso’s Dolphins feeding intently off Mousehole. The distinctive scar patterns on this species make individuals easy to identify. These proved to be – all except one “immature” adults and possibly pairs, un-mated females and males, that were originally part of the same larger pod, to which the females and youngsters that visited us earlier belonged. A pod of about 150 Common Dolphin were seen from one of our fishing trips on Sunday, so it does look like the seas here are finally warming up in a good way!
Martin Elliot
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Risso’s Dolphins in Mounts Bay

At long last our weather has broken with several days of westerly winds and a couple of weak fronts which- as predicted- have brought the wildlife back within sight of land! More reassuring- but harder to explain-  has been the return to St Clements of our local Grey Seals – though “Sammy”/”Silverback” was not on his usual “sofa” (low rock) today we saw 3 females, 3 of last years pups and a young bull, and even “Nervous Nigel” (a young male) was on the Greeb  where he spent most of last summer! Seabirds have been inshore in good numbers though the weather meant we had to watch from headlands; Wilson’s Petrels off Porthgwarra and Black Head, Storm Petrels, Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters, Skuas and good numbers of Manx Shearwaters and Puffins- the last 2 making it into the bay with 1,400 and 9 respectively passing Mousehole on Sunday evening. Today’s highlights included Sandwich Terns, a few Manx, the seals mentioned above, and, best of all 10-12 Risso’s Dolphins feeding off Penlee. These dolphins have highly variable pale scarring which makes many individuals easily identifiable so it was nice to see that at least 3 (females?) were animals we have seen in the last 2 years and which calved in the area in 2016. In fact all of the dolphins today appeared to be presumed females with 1-2 year old young!

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First Trips of 2018

 Our first trips of 2018 had unusually calm weather. There were good numbers of Razorbills and Guillemots, plenty of Grey Seals on St Clement’s Island (including at least 15 pups from last year), a young Glaucous Gull, a single Manx Shearwater, the “mixed-up” male Eider, relatively few Gannets, Kittiwakes and Fulmars, and 2-4 small pods of Harbour Porpoise. The highlight (for me at least!) however, was the long-staying/returning Pacific Diver we saw resting with 3 Great Northern Divers about a mile offshore. It was seen briefly as we came in from the fishing trip, but obligingly remained in roughly the same area when we returned on the cruise. As the name suggests this species should only occur in the Pacific, but in the last 10-12 years there have been several Atlantic records – mostly around the UK – presumably taking advantage of retreating Arctic sea-ice. This particular bird has been returning to Mount’s Bay for  years but can be very elusive, either due to conditions or it’s habit of feeding miles offshore on shoaling bait-fish. It is usually wary of boats, and is frequently misidentified due to it’s similarity to the commoner Black-throated Divers that also winter here. A good start to the new season!
 Cheers, Martin

Marine Wildlife Highlights this weekend

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The weekend’s wildlife highlights were; Minke whale, many Common Dolphin and 20++ Harbour Porpoise mostly feeding a mile or so offshore with an attendant “frenzy” of seabirds! Oddly this frenzy is mostly Shearwaters – over 2000 Manx, up to 100 Great (counted from Gwennap Head), c.200 Cory’s , 50++ Sooty, and increasing numbers of Balearic Shearwaters – 5 from our Minack trip on Sunday evening. There are relatively few Gannets associating with this frenzy which implies the birds are feeding on small prey such as sand-eel or fry, fine for the Minke Whales but unusual for dolphins. A few presumed Blue-fin Tuna have been feeding in the same area and, although still not numerous, Ocean Sunfish are increasing again with 4 on Sunday.

    Seabird numbers continue to be impressive! Out of the totals mentioned above we have managed to see 3 Cory’s, 2 Great, 5 Sooty, and 5 Balearic Shearwaters amongst the 100s of Manx on the Minack trip, a few Storm Petrels are still appearing well inshore  and we saw over 20 following a returning “day-boat” on our 3pm cruise. Although not many are off towards Land’s End 100s of Gannets are still in the Bay area though lately further east off the Lizard. Auk numbers have dropped sharply as the adults are now taking newly fledged young to safety offshore. Skuas are still scarce with only a couple of Bonxies (Great Skua) harassing the shearwater flocks, and although a few Sandwich Terns and Kittiwakes are in the bay there has been little movement so far. Great Northern Divers and the mad/sad Eider drake are still with us, and small flocks of Common Scoter are still passing with over 30 this weekend. A couple of Yellow-legged Gulls are still arriving , but since the strong westerlies have set in there have been fewer Mediterranean gulls.
    The Grey Seals are slowly building in numbers on St Clement’s Island again, but we still see too many kayakers getting too close and disturbing them- 2 people even had to be taken off the island by the lifeboat apparently! Wader numbers are already building with Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin, an early Purple Sandpiper and Common Sandpipers all roosting on the island so this disturbance is even less welcome!
     All in all it has been excellent for so early in the season and we even had a report of a Basking Shark from one lucky observer on the 1pm fishing trip! So even though the weather isn’t exactly scorching, the marine wildlife is certainly heating up!
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Wilson’s Petrel Sightings!

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There’s much excitement at Mermaid Pleasure Trips, Penzance at the moment!  The Wilson’s Petrel has blessed us with its presence on not one, but two of our Mini Pelagic trips. After seeing The Wilson’s Petrel on one of our Marine Wildlife Cruises, we decided to arrange a Mini Pelagic Trip on Wednesday evening. Many keen local birders came along and were delighted to see 2 Wilson’s Petrel even though the sea conditions were not particularly kind! We also saw 35+ Strom Petrel’s, 2 Great Shearwater, 2 Cory’s Shearwater, 2 Sooty Shearwater, 200+ Max Shearwater, Bonxie, Arctic Skua, Juvenile Yellow-Legged Gull, and even some common dolphins! Yesterday evening we set off again with more keen birders in terribly wet conditions and were delighted to encounter 4 Wilson’s Petrels along with Great Shearwaters.

We are running another Mini Pelagic Trip on Tuesday evening at 5pm and a Pelagic Trip on Saturday at 6.30am. Please call to book on 07901731201.

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Wilson’s Petrel seen on Saturday’s Pelagic Trip

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Well it had to happen eventually! Our first pelagic of 2017 looked like it was going to be a shaky start; 2 people never showed, the seas were much higher than expected and comfortable!! As a result the rafts of shearwaters etc feeding on the growing “slicks” were scattered and gone. In fact we could not get out to where we prefer to “chum” and had to turn back east to get the swell behind us before finally trying a bottle of cod-liver oil.

     There were plenty of Gannets, Fulmars  and Manx Shearwaters ranging widely, a single Arctic Skua and just 2 Storm Petrels before we stopped. As soon as the chum hit the water “Stormies” began to appear, and by the time we had a dozen the long longed for Holy Grail arrived – a cracking u n-moulted (presumably juvenile) Wilson’s Storm Petrel, one of the most sought -after sea birds on the British list! It “bounced” in among the British/European Storm Petrels along the slicks and returned 2-3 times before we had to head back, allowing good, if brief, comparative views and even reasonable photographic opportunities (if I hadn’t set my camera up wrong!).
       Wilson’s is actually one of the commonest of all sea-birds but is a bird of the southern hemisphere. Like most petrels it wanders, and is regular in good numbers in the Western North Atlantic off the States, and even in much smaller numbers off the South West of Britain with most off Scilly. It is notoriously hard to see from shore though and has to be forced in by strong winds in most cases. It might not look much; a little bigger than Stormie, with longer legs, a pale band on the upperwing, and lacking stormies bright white stripe on the underwing, but this bird was pure gold! May it be the first of many!!
 Also saw ocean sunfish, 15-20 Common Dolphin, Yellow-legged and Mediterranean gulls. Cheers for now!!
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Wilson’s Petrel on Saturday’s Pelagic Trip

15.7.5Well it had to happen eventually! Our first pelagic of 2017 looked like it was going to be a shaky start; 2 people never showed, the seas were much higher than expected and comfortable!! As a result the rafts of shearwaters etc feeding on the growing “slicks” were scattered and gone. In fact we could not get out to where we prefer to “chum” and had to turn back east to get the swell behind us before finally trying a bottle of cod-liver oil.

     There were plenty of Gannets, Fulmars  and Manx Shearwaters ranging widely, a single Arctic Skua and just 2 Storm Petrels before we stopped. As soon as the chum hit the water “Stormies” began to appear, and by the time we had a dozen the long longed for Holy Grail arrived – a cracking u n-moulted (presumably juvenile) Wilson’s Storm Petrel, one of the most sought -after sea birds on the British list! It “bounced” in among the British/European Storm Petrels along the slicks and returned 2-3 times before we had to head back, allowing good, if brief, comparative views and even reasonable photographic opportunities (if I hadn’t set my camera up wrong!).
       Wilson’s is actually one of the commonest of all sea-birds but is a bird of the southern hemisphere. Like most petrels it wanders, and is regular in good numbers in the Western North Atlantic off the States, and even in much smaller numbers off the South West of Britain with most off Scilly. It is notoriously hard to see from shore though and has to be forced in by strong winds in most cases. It might not look much; a little bigger than Stormie, with longer legs, a pale band on the upperwing, and lacking stormies bright white stripe on the underwing, but this bird was pure gold! May it be the first of many!!
 Also saw ocean sunfish, 15-20 Common Dolphin, Yellow-legged and Mediterranean gulls. Cheers for now!!
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Wildlife and bird sightings so far this year.

Spring continues to be a bit of a mixed-bag in the Bay. We have had worse weather lately than we saw for much of the winter and sea temperatures are lower than this time last year. As a result we have not managed to get out as much as we’d like and there are major differences in what we are managing to find! The lack of jellyfish and sunfish is presumably due to the colder water and less extensive plankton blooms, but on the upside we have seen several Basking Sharks – probably for the same reason- which is a vast improvement on the last two years. Common Dolphins have remained offshore, now in smaller pods, and the less predictable group of Bottlenosed Dolphins have put in welcome performances off the Mount in the eel-grass, hunting cuttlefish. Risso’s Dolphins haven’t done that this May, and Porpoise have only been further west out of the bay. It is tempting to think the latter may be avoiding the Bottlenoses , but choppy weather always makes Porpoises harder to see.

    Sea-birds have been more predictable with the usual resident Fulmars, non-breeding Gannets, auks and Manx Shearwaters regularly feeding in the Bay, though we have yet to see Storm Petrel. Puffins have been scarce. Recent strong winds pushed in a few migrating skuas and an early – or late – Balearic Shearwater! There were fewer sea-birds generally as the winds were more easterly – even producing more Swifts and Swallows arriving on migration than the hoped for skuas and terns. As last year, there are still many “winter visitors” lingering in the bay notably Great Northern Divers, one or two Black-throated Divers and Common Scoter. Our wintering Turnstones have mostly left but a few in stunning summer plumage are still delaying departure for the Arctic as well as over 30 Purple Sandpipers a couple of 100 yards from the Mermaid shop around Battery Rocks, occasionally joined by other waders such as Whimbrel, Dunlin, Sanderling and Common Sandpipers all pushing north.
     Then there is the Eider….! “Frankie” as some people are calling him (after Frankie Howard “OOOOOaaw!” etc) is still sexually harassing the local black-backed gulls,  Greater mostly but he has tried it on with Lessers too! When not eating crabs off the harbour mouth Frankie seems to like nothing better than chasing Great Black-baked Gulls to St Clement’s Island where he serenades and displays to them, and he has even taken to trying to soar over the quarry with the Lesser Black-backed. He has managed to get a response from some of them! Disturbing, sad, or sweet depending on your point of view!
      Things can only get better……!
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