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.  

Kingsley Thomas

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.

balearic shearwater and gannet

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.

storm petrel2

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!

bird

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!

dolphin