Saturday, October 13, 2012

Beyond the Horizon

Living on the coast, I often look out to sea and wonder what birds life can be found out in the ocean swell of Liverpool Bay beyond the horizon. We get glimpses of these pelagic birds occasionally, after storms and gales, as birds struggle along the shoreline against the pummeling winds. So for a couple of years I have been thinking about getting out there to find out and finally got round to doing so at the end of August.

There are a couple of cruises that go out there with the Mersey Ferry but my view was they never went far enough and more importantly did not use chum.  Chum is a mixture of mashed up fish and fish oil that creates a trail behind the boat for the birds to home in on. Many seabirds use scent to find food.

So for a couple days prior to trip my friend Steve and I had the fun task of making up some chum for the trip. We made up fresh chum and also frozen some down into large blocks. The recipe for our 'pelagic potion' was based on a lot of Internet research I had undertaken  It was a smelly task as we  and the house quickly took on the odour of a fish market on a hot summer's day as we blended fish and fish oil.

The boat was booked and passengers assemble comprising 3 photographers and 4 birdwatchers. This was an exploratory voyage as noone had really done this before. What we would find was unknown but anticipation was high for our 10 hour trip as we headed out of Liverpool Marina in the darkness before first light.

It was fairly rough as we headed out the Mersey and muddy estuary waters quickly gave way to clear green blue of the offshore. I must confess my sea legs used to be fairly wobbly until I discovered Avomine which seems to combat any motion nausea with great effect. We headed outwards, past the Burbo Bank Wind Farm and end up about 25 miles out into Liverpool Bay. The Wirral peninsula where I live became a small speck on the horizon. The chum bags were placed over the back of the boat and we waited to see what would arrive. An oily slick of fish particles could be seen extending far out the back of the boat and flattening the waves.

First to arrive was a particularly favourite seabird of mine the Fulmar which came arcing low across the waves and pattered across the surface in typical petrel style just behind the boat.

While we waited for next bird, numerous Manx Shearwater could be seen skirting across the waves but just slightly out of distance for photography. The next bird that came in was a Gannet. The bird came diving in literally within a few feet of the boat to the sound of whirring camera shutters. Several gannets visited the boat while we were out there. I never thought I would be photographing Gannets off the Wirral coast!
A Gannet and Fulmar battle it out over a small mackerel.
A flock of gulls had started to assemble along the chum line consisting of Lesser Black Backed Gulls with their bright yellow legs.

Also amongst them was one of my favourite gulls, and the world's largest, the Greater Black Back. These are such impressive birds.
The gull activity attracted the attention of two Great Skuas, pirates of the seas, which briefly circled around the boat looking for scraps.

Time seemed to pass all to quickly and we started making our way back to port. En route we spotted some bird activity and found a large raft of Manx Shearwater. I must admit I did not fair very well with my photos of these birds, although they are my first images of this species, but there is always next time.

During our trip out there we also spotted Arctic Skua, Guillemots and a young Mediterranean Gull as well as groups of Scoter flying at distance. We did not find any Storm petrels but I think that was really about timing as we were probably too late for Storm Petrels and too early for Leach's Petrel. Overall, a great day was had by all. I learnt a great deal from our maiden voyage and would adopt a slightly different approach in the future.

I cannot wait to get back out there and we are hoping to run a series of pelagic trips out into Liverpool Bay next summer between July and September. If you would be interested in joining me on this unique photography / bird watching adventure then please drop me a line through the contact form and I will send you the details as they become available in the near future. 


Paul Foster said...

Seems like you had an interesting trip Richard,particularly like the Fulmar images.I would be very interested in any forthcoming trips you may plan!!

Gary Jones said...

Some superb images Rich.

Rich Steel said...

Thanks for the replies. Hopefully I can organise some trips out next year and will post details here.



Henry Mitchel said...

Cool stories and cool shots! Total coolness!

clippingimages said...

Wonderful images, thanks Richard.... you are a fantastic photographer....
I like your all images.....


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