Sunday 14 August
Another day, another pelagic trip! This time, we headed out past St Agnes and Annet, and continued about 10 miles south. Once again, the sea state had improved, and in increasingly sunny conditions, it was really pleasant out on the Sapphire. We spotted another trawler in the distance, and opted to take a look through the masses of gulls around it before starting to put out chum of our own.
Single Great and Sooty Shearwaters were quickly picked out, and to everyone’s delight this time the Great Shear hung around for photos… no apologies for several images of this brilliant bird!
The Sooty also showed very well though inevitably took something of a back seat, given its companion!
After a while, we reluctantly headed away from the trawler, and put out a bag of the infamous ‘rubby-dubby’ (basically mashed fish, bread and cod-liver oil) to slowly disintegrate and build up an oily chum slick behind the boat. However, we only pulled in a surprisingly low number of Storm Petrels. Despite this, the chum produced another highlight of the trip – a couple of Blue Sharks were attracted in and got hooked, landed and tagged.
The first was relatively small, but the second (pictured above) was a bit of a beast – at least five feet long, and probably weighing in at about 140lb! It took 25 minutes and several failed attempts to land it, and even then was quite a handful to keep under control on the deck.
After a struggle, the shark vented its frustrations by sinking its teeth into a wooden bench (!), giving Joe and Paul the opportunity to tag it, before releasing it back into the ocean. Check out the teeth!
In the absence of many petrels, we headed back to the trawler for seconds on the Great Shear, and then the return trip to St Mary’s was enlivened with a pod of around 50 Common Dolphins feeding on a shoal of fish, and bow-riding beneath the Sapphire.
Monday 15 August
With the whole day to spare before the late afternoon sailing on the Scillonian, we set out for a walking tour of St Marys, initially heading around Old Town Bay and then along the coast path below the airfield towards Porth Hellick. Just past Giant’s Castle, and mid-conversation, a familiar sound caused me to break off… a faint “prrruuuk, prrruuuk” could only be a Bee-eater! About 30 seconds of frantic sky-scanning, and then we found it, hawking lazily above the pine plantation, then heading around over the airstrip towards Old Town and out of view. We put the news out, and soon heard that many of the other birders had picked up the same bird from Old Town Cafe as they
wolfed down fried breakfasts diligently scanned the skies for migrants.
The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, with no other birds of real note on Scilly. The Scillonian crossing yielded 2 Balearic and 1 Sooty Shearwater, half a dozen Storm Petrels, a Basking Shark (or at least, its nose), a couple of Sunfish… and, possibly, a distant Orca! Several of us spotted a very tall black fin to the north as we approached Porthgwarra – it was far too brief a view to be certain, but no-one could think what else it could’ve been, given that the fin appeared basically vertical, rather than curved as in e.g. Risso’s Dolphin. Definitely in the “one that got away” camp…