After yesterday’s rather light seabird showing, the plan was rather different today. Chumming was thought likely to be a waste of time, given the almost total lack of any wind to carry the smell over waves, so Bob and Joe decided to head NW towards a small French trawler fleet. We hoped that these boats would already have an attendant collection of birds, feeding as the fishermen hauled in nets and threw out bycatch. The weather was gloriously sunny, so the lengthy cruise out of St Marys was really pleasant.
As we closed in on the first couple of trawlers, anticipation was high – a big cloud of gulls were milling around, and we could see reasonable number of Stormies flicking about over the waves. Surely there had to be something good in the mix? We quickly located a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, and Bonxies hurtled straight over our heads, but nothing unusual could be found…
Having sifted through every bird we could find, it was time to move on again, and steamed on again towards another trawler or two. This time there were less birds, though, and ultimately we ended up returning to the original boats, drifting along slowly behind one as it hauled nets. Storm Petrel numbers were looking reasonable, with at least 50 in the trawler’s wake and more at greater distance. I can’t think of a harder photographic subject, though – a tiny bird with unpredictable flight; flying over an ever-moving surface to confuse auto-focus; black and white colouring offering ample opportunity to screw up the exposure; and to cap it all you’re attempting to stand steady on a rocking boat. Great fun! Here’s the best I managed over the weekend – plenty of room for improvement here.
Finally, after some time searching, a joyful shout went up from the bow of the boat: “Great Shearwater, right behind the trawler!” After a brief flurry of activity to make sure everyone saw the bird, we settled down to enjoy grandstand views – it would shear in behind the trawler, drop into the melee and fight gulls and Fulmars for food, drift away in the wake, and then shear up past us again. No apologies for posting a few more shots of this superb bird!
By now, it was mid afternoon, and time to steam back to Hugh Town. Higgo was throwing the remaining mackerel off the back of the boat to pull in gulls, Fulmars and Gannets, and in superb light, all the photographers had ample opportunity to practise their birds in flight technique. (Evidence to follow in a future post!) A Minke Whale surfaced briefly some distance away from the boat, adding more cetacean interest.
So, would I go again? It’s not a cheap trip by the time you’ve factored in travel to/from Scilly, accommodation and food, and as this weekend illustrated, you’re not guaranteed a glut of rarities. And if you don’t go out on all the trips, you risk ending up totally gutted at missing something good.
But despite all that, I’d definitely repeat the exercise! Several reasons:
- there is no more likely means of seeing Wilson’s Petrel (or rarer seabirds) in the UK… and the locals leading the pelagics have so much experience and knowledge to maximise the chances of picking one out
- even if you could see most of the same birds off a Cornish headland, the views from a boat are just streets ahead
- and, as a result of this, the photographic opportunities are second to none. How else would I photograph Great Shear this well in the UK?
- the Scillies are undeniably a lovely place to stay, whether birding or not. Several people had travelled over with non-birding family to combine the pelagics with a longer holiday.
Anyone for 2011?!