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

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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