Dolphins and seabirds seen on 1st Wildlife trip of 2017

Mermaid ll’s first trip of the year set out on a January day that put a lot of the previous summer to shame! The sun shone and the sea was flat and a few birders down to start their New Year lists in Cornwall joined us mostly in the hope of finding the returning Pacific Diver. This proved just as elusive from a boat as it usually is from shore as we only had one or two glimpses. Despite heading back to where the bird had been, it had already gone further offshore in search of bait-fish. There was no lack of other wildlife however; 40+ Common Dolphin showed well, “Sammy” the dominant Grey Seal bull and some of his harem and pups were relaxing on St Clement’s Isle, and there were good numbers of seabirds; 15+ Great Northern Diver, Gannets, 5 Eider including the resident drake, 3 Velvet Scoter, 16 +Common Scoter, Guillemots and 1 Razorbill, and we even managed distant views of the Eastern Black Redstart currently resident under the Rockpool Café at Mousehole.

If you would like to book one of our trips for 2017, please call 07901731201 or enquire at www.cornwallboattrips.co.uk/enquiry and we will get back to you.

The first pictures are of the Common Dolphin and “Sammy”. The bird pictures are as follows:- Great Northern Diver, Gannet, Eider male and female in flight, Velvet Scoter, flock of Common Scoter, Guillemot, Kingfisher in Newlyn harbour, Shag with a wrasse. Photos and text by Martin Elliot.

 

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Basking Sharks

We are glad to report sightings of Basking Sharks today. They were few and far between last year, but they have definitely arrived now. The Bay has been full of fantastic wildlife so far this year. The Bowhead Whale, Humpback Whales, Basking Sharks, Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises, Barrel Jellyfish and Grey Seals and its still only May!  Hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the season.

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Bowhead Whale in Mounts Bay

What an incredible sight here in Cornish waters. A bowhead whale! These beautiful whales are usually found in Arctic or sub-Arctic waters, so you can imagine how dumbfounded we were to see one off Long Rock Beach! We watched in wonderment as this graceful creature surfaced and dived right in front of us, too stunned to even reach for the camera. As it started to move southwards, blowing as it went, we eventually regained our wits and tried to capture the moment. Unfortunately the photos aren’t great and most definitely do not do the moment justice, but they do prove that you never know what you might see here in Cornwall. The marine environment is changing every year and it is more than evident in the variety of species we are seeing here now.

 

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A few facts on the Bowhead whale and why this sighting is so special:-

The bowhead whale got its name from its bow-shaped skull.  It’s body is black with a whitish chin patch broken by what resembles a necklace of black spots. The bowhead is also identified by its lack of dorsal fin and two bumps which are usually visible above the water corresponding to the head and the back. The whale produces a V shaped blow from paired blowholes situated at the highest point of the head, often reaching 7m in height. We did see a few fantastic blows in the bay. The bowheads baleen is the longest of any whale at over 3m and is used to strain tiny prey from the water. The whale’s blubber is the thickest of any animal!

 

Bowhead WhaleImage From SuperCentenarian.com

The reason for the thickness of the blubber is due to it’s natural habitat of Arctic waters. They are often found close to the edge of the Arctic ice shelf.  Now we all complain of the cold in Cornwall, but the waters are definitely not Arctic! Their bow shaped head is used to break through ice up to 60cm thick. Now that’s some ice! Bowheads migrate north and south of the Arctic as the ice retreats and expands. The whales prefer bays, straits and estuaries, and are seldom found far from ice floes. That is why this was truly was a spectacular sight.

 

Bowhead-Whale_Tim-Melling-3Image by Tim Melling http://hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/bowhead-whale.html

 

 

Dalmatian Pelican seen by our Wildlife Expert Martin Elliot

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The Dalmation Pelican was first seen over Gwithian on Saturday, but was mis-identified as a White Pelican. It was correctly identified as Dalmatian Pelican from photographs taken on Sunday (8th) when the bird was seen on the sea off St Ives and later Cape Cornwall and Land’s End. For the last 2 days the bird has been moving between the scattered small pools between Sennen and St Levan. The bird was seen in Poland in early April, then crossed Germany and France before reaching Cornwall. Dalmatian Pelican used to breed in Britain in the Bronze Age and currently breeds from eastern Europe- particularly northern Greece, across the former Soviet Union, through Mongolia into China and south east Asia where it’s populations have declined drastically through persecution by fishermen and habitat loss. The World population is estimated at less than 15,000 birds and, despite conservation measures resulting in increasing or stable populations in eastern Europe and Turkey, the species’ IUCN classification is “Vulnerable”.

     The “fuss” about this particular individual is that it may constitute the first acceptable record of this species since it’s extinction as a breeding bird in the U.K. There have been previous sightings, but these are presumed to refer to escapes from captivity ( though this species is relatively rare in collections and zoos compared to White or Pink-backed Pelicans). However, given this bird’s known movement from Poland thanks to easterly weather patterns, it’s lack of leg-rings or tags, and obviously good condition (captive birds are often stained and/or show damaged wing feathering) it would appear to be a good candidate for our first genuinely wild bird for centuries! The European breeders are not strongly migratory but “dispersive” and given to wandering, whereas the populations east of the Black Sea are migratory and move north to their colonies in early Spring. Dalmatian Pelican has a huge wingspan of over 10 feet and like most large birds relies on thermals or strong head-winds to gain enough height to travel long distances on migration. This can encourage birds to “over-shoot” or move in un-favourable directions to avoid bad weather. The local weather – moderate easterlies with low cloud, rain and fog- is probably the only reason this bird has spent the last few days in West Cornwall as it is unable to soar, and has been forced to use often ridiculously small pools, where local birders have been concerned about the bird’s ability to feed.
     Whatever the bird’s status, it is an impressive sight, dwarfing local herons and looming across the fields and valleys of West Penwith, and an increasing number of birders from all over the country are hoping it will remain for a while longer before it resumes it’s wandering! MTE_1123 MTE_1127 MTE_1145-001 MTE_1298 MTE_1306

New season on its way!

Well a new season is on its way! The Mermaid II is currently out of the water having her annual maintenance work done, and a freshen up! The engine has had a good over haul and now Adrian is praying every day for fine weather so he can paint her up! So far the hull has had a good sand down and a fresh lick of anti-fouling, new anodes and a smart new white line!

Lets hope the weather this year is better than last. We suffered with strong winds last summer which did not make for very pleasurable sea conditions on many occasions. However, our sightings of dolphins, porpoises and whales were extremely good, and hopefully made up for the bumpy rides!

Easter is early this year, so Mermaid II will be back in the water and ready to go at the end of March.

Please note our new prices. We have always tried to keep our prices low so everyone can enjoy the beauty of our seas. Unfortunately, extra expenses have been put on to our business, so we have had to make these increases this year.

We hope you are coming to see us this season and look forward to lovely sunshine, clear seas, plentiful marine life and tight lines!

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TROPICBIRD ON ST CLEMENT’S ISLAND, MOUSEHOLE

STOP PRESS!!

At around 4pm yesterday the Mermaid II cruised into the small bay on the lea-ward side of St Clement’s Island looking to show the 20 or so passengers on the 3pm “Seal Cove” trip the resident Grey Seal bull “Sammy”. I have no idea if they saw him because Adrian and crew were amazed to see a large white bird with a long, pointed, slightly down-curved orange bill, and long white tail-streamers sitting above Sammy’s usual spot. It almost immediately took flight over the island. I would probably have heard no more about it had Adrian and Billy not already kindly sent me down-loaded photos of a Red-billed Tropicbird they claimed to have seen as a wind-up a week ago when I was stuck on the Scillonian III, the same day as a genuine bird had been seen from Porthgwarra! Remembering this however, Adrian immediately recognised this as the real thing, and they steamed around to the eastern side of the island hoping it had landed again. There was some confusion as an orange-billed bird took off and was snapped by one of the passengers, but this was an Oystercatcher, and sadly it seems the initial sighting took everyone by surprise and the Tropicbird was already out over the bay! Readers may well wonder a) what all the fuss is about, and b) how on Earth we can be sure this is the same bird as that seen last week!? The answer is the same – this is an incredibly rare bird in British terms with only 3-4 previous records; Red-billed Tropicbird breeds all around the tropics with the nearest to us in the Cape Verdes or Caribbean. As there have been virtually nothing but north-north-easterly winds since the Porthgwarra sighting it is highly unlikely a second bird has arrived! And how do I know this is a definite second sighting? Because I am sitting writing this in North- blooming – Oxfordshire – that’s why!! Today’s 3pm trip was the first wild-life trip I have not been able to do since the tropicbird sighting a week last Friday, and if readers are wondering what that distant crunching noise is it is the sound of me grinding my teeth down to the gum-line!! Of course- I am really pleased for all the lucky folks on the trip (AM I HELL!!!), and I hope the bird is seen again, as the Mermaid II is probably the best place to start! Here’s hoping!

Disgruntled of Banbury/ Martin Elliott

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Photo:http://uniquewildlife.blogspot.com/2011/03/tropicbirds.html

Meet Kingsley Thomas, the nine year old who’s (almost) always on Mermaid II

We thought it’d be a good idea to run some Q&As with the people who make up the Mermaid team. The idea is that you’ll get a better idea of who’s taking you to sea. First up, it’s nine-year-old Kingsley Thomas, son of skipper Adrian.  

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Kingsley Thomas

Kingsley, what’s it like working with your Dad?

Fun, exciting and easy.

How often do you go out on Mermaid II?

About seven times a week.

And what’s the best thing about it?

Catching fish and seeing wildlife. 

And what’s the highlight of your time at sea so far?

All of it. I never get bored. 

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The common dolphin

You see dolphins, seals, seabirds, sunfish, basking sharks, even whales. Do you have a favourite marine animal?

I find the wrasse the weirdest and coolest of them all. 

We hear that you like writing. Is that right?

Yep. I like it because I can look back and remember things. It’s nice. 

When you grow up, will you follow in Dad’s footsteps?

Yes! Definitely. 

So Dad better watch out?!

He sure should!

Thanks Kingsley!

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Mermaid II

Next in this series will be 16-year-old Billy Bampforth, apprentice to Adrian Thomas.

Pelagic Trip 15th August

Our 3rd pelagic of the season began in better conditions than the previous week’s, with good cloud cover and some light rain. Again we had to contend with an onshore wind, and the big swell from the previous day’s strong north westerlies meant we were unable to head north past Longships to look for the main Manx Shearwater flocks.

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Things got off to a good start with a small group of Risso’s Dolphins heading into Mount’s Bay as we steamed out! We began chumming between Wolf Rock and the Epsom Shoal and had our first Storm Petrels within minutes. Good numbers of gulls, Gannets and Fulmars gathered which pulled in a brief fly-by by a Sooty Shearwater, but after nearly two hours the wind had dropped and the sun had come out bringing an early end to the session. As mentioned above we tried to head north but the sea was too rough so our best option looked like heading back to Epsom Shoal via the Runnel Stone. We baited all the way with chopped fish and bread to keep the gulls and Gannets with us in the hope of attracting large shearwaters. This produced 4 juvenile-1st winter Yellow-legged gulls, another Sooty and a few passes from Great Skuas, but the highlight- and also most frustrating part of the trip came as we approached the shoal.

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Adrian (our skipper) saw a Minke Whale breach about half a mile in front of the boat, but as we made for the spot a few of us glimpsed a whale surfacing briefly off the starboard bow. However, although we assumed it was the Minke it looked far better for Humpback!! We waited for as long as we could hoping for another sighting but nothing appeared and the large concentration of birds which had attracted us to the spot in the first place dispersed, leaving us wondering if we had missed the best chance we have had so far at recording this rare visitor to our waters, particularly as one had been seen in the same area a few days previously!

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Despite this frustrating ending we managed to log a good selection of both seabirds and marine wildlife; over 500 Manx Shearwaters, around 10 Balearic Shearwaters, 15-20 Storm Petrels, 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 4 Great Skuas, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, and our first Common Scoters of the season were nicely complemented by the Risso’s, a pod of about 12 Common Dolphins, a few Harbour Porpoise, 2 Ocean Sunfish and the Minke and “mystery” whale. Thanks again to all those who attended, and let’s hope we can do even better next time- the one time in life it would actually be nice to get the Hump!

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