I awoke all snug in my cosy sleeping bag this morning to snatch a phrase of comedy gold. From the pitch next to me I heard Stevie pouring his heart out to Mike. There had been a shower of rain during the early hours and whilst Mike and I were well protected in our Blacks 'double skin' tents it was a completely different story for the unprepared Mr Dunn in his Happy Shopper special. Everything inside his tent was as soaked as his tear stained cheeks. He even ranted that he had already had enough and was going to forget the pelagic and head back to Cornwall later that day. Kids hey?
HMS Sapphire - the favoured mode of transport for our pelagic trip off the Scilly Isles.
The comfortable surroundings on board the Sapphire.
With a WILSON'S PETREL being seen from last night's pelagic we were all pretty positive about our trip out to Poll Bank on this fine Saturday morning. Salty seaman Bob Flood gave us the itinerary for the day and it was then full steam ahead out of Hugh Town harbour. From St Mary's we took a route north of St Agnes and then slipped south between 'Aggie' and the island of Annet. It was here that we enjoyed our first highlight of the trip as a Basking Shark fed unconcerned around the boat for a while (see below). It was great to see the look on the face of self-confessed 'jawsaphile' Stevie Dunn as he added a lifer to his 'fish list'. in the same area a number of Atlantic Grey Seals loafed around on the rocky islets.
What lurks beneath...... the dorsal fin of a magnificent Basking Shark breaks the surface of the Atlantic Ocean just yards from our boat.
Once away from the islands we continued at pace through the choppy waters towards Poll Bank. At this stage I had a quick chat with one of our 'chummers' for the day, former Staffordshire birder and Belvide regular John 'Higgo' Higginson. Whilst discussing the love life of fellow ASBO birder Ian Moore and the recent FRANKLIN'S GULL at Chasewater I received the shock of my life as a medium sized Whale species breached well out the water just ahead of the boat. Unfortunately only a few of us on board caught a glimpse of the huge beast and the identification was not clinched. It was during this period of rough seas that I made the mistake of standing up to see if I could relocate the mystery cetacean. This coincided with the crest of a huge wave hitting the underside of the boat and knocking me off my feet. For the rest of the journey I was in pain with a suspected twisted ankle.... but I didn't complain too much.
As we arrived in position it was time for the part of the pelagic experience that every birder dreads, the 'chumfest'. The fishy mixture that was thrown off the back of the vessel for the seabirds was not too bad, however the festering concoction that was bagged up to attract the Sharks was an entirely different story. Imagine opening a hundred tins of Whiskers cat food, throwing it into a bucket, then leaving it out in the sun for a month... well that is nowhere near as bad as this stuff whiffed. It is what I imagine hell to smell like. To make matters worse guess what loser opted to buy a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich from the Co-op before we boarded?
As the stench increased so did the number of birds flocking around the Sapphire. Joining the usual Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a few Gannets as well as a small group of Fulmar. Soon afterwards our first charismatic European Storm-petrels were attracted to the bait, doing their walking on water trick close by. It is just one of a million types of different bird behaviour that is always awesome to witness. Despite the Petrel numbers increasing there was still no sign of a WILSON'S PETREL amongst them. Our attention however was soon drawn to a rather bent looking fishing rod and an angler struggling to prevent himself from being pulled overboard. After about ten minutes of hard graft a gorgeous Blue Shark was finally hauled out of the sea and slammed down on deck. The writhing, streamline of pure muscle fought back hard at it's two burly handlers but after a short while it was measured , tagged and released back into the Ocean completely unharmed. At the same time a Sooty Shearwater drifted by, our one and only of the whole trip.
This beast measured 72 inches in length and was estimated to have weighed around 48 pounds.
As we drifted along we at last picked up our first year tick of the trip as an adult Grey Phalarope flew in. The bird fed on the chum slick for a short while before continuing its journey south. The only other species of note were a couple of Great Skua, the odd Kittiwake and a few Manx Shearwater but another highlight from beneath the water suddenly appeared. It lifted my spitits no end as a trio of Common Dolphin played with us for a good forty minutes, 'bow riding'. It was an amazing sight to witness and no video footage or photographs can ever convey the feeling of privilege you receive when such a beautiful wild creature decides to interact with you in this way. As we headed back to St Mary's our second Basking Shark of the trip was encountered just outside Porthcressa Bay. So all in all a pretty disappointing trip aviform wise but when you get to experience some of the other natural delights Britain has to offer then who cares? Not me!
STOP PRESS: My stumble onboard the Sapphire resulted in a four hour stint in the A&E department at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton on Wednesday night. The diagnosis is torn ankle ligaments and I will be out of 'birding action' for around THREE weeks. How will I cope?