Saturday, December 14, 2013

Going Pelagic

I had plans this year to organise 2 or 3 pelagics trips out into Liverpool Bay, after the reasonable success of the exploratory sailing last year. However, the weather conspired against my efforts and in the end only one trip was made in mid-July. With these pelagic trips you are at the mercy of the elements with the main constraining factor being the wind and its affects on offshore waters. This saw two of the trips in August and September 'blown-off'.

The day the boat managed to get out into the bay was not ideal for a couple of reasons. Harsh sunlight was beaming through the clear skies which is not ideal for predominately black and white birds. More importantly the wind was gently blowing in from the north, the wrong direction, and which would see the birds coming in and taking off facing away from the boat.

Prior to the trip I had spent a couple of days mixing up some chum and filling the kitchen (I was not too popular) with some fishy aromas. Chum is a concoction of mashed up fish and oils used to attract the birds to the boat. Since my trip last year I had done some trawling of the Internet looking for suitable chum additives and found some interesting products such as krill meal and shellfish extract (I wouldn't recommend opening that one indoors or near cats). I even made up a bucket of liquidised seaweed off the local beach mix with some cod liver oil hoping that it might attract some storm petrels that can be found out in the bay during July.

With an early departure we headed out of Liverpool marina on the 'Discovery', down the Mersey and out into the Bay. We soon passed the Burbo Bank Wind Farm and after about an hour and 15 minutes sailing were around 25 miles offshore. The chum line was started and appeared as a snaking flat patch of oil and floating particles extending way out behind the boat on the calm sea. The birds soon started to arrive with the a Fulmar appearing first.

It was not too long before one of several gannets started to show along with  numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull that started building up behind the boat. The Gannets would circle overhead before plunge diving, often very close to the boat, to whole mackerel that were being dropped over the side. We had regular visits from Gannets throughout the trip all accompanied by some amusing commentary from the skipper on the progress of the birds towards the mackerel.
A young bird circling the boat
Offshore gas platform and trawler in the background
With the wind in the wrong direction the birds were usually hitting the water facing away from us.
Surfacing after a dive. The birds still facing slightly away from the boat to take advantage of the wind direction to lift them back off the sea.
The Gull numbers continued to build until we had a good number sat on the sea behind the boat.
A solitary tiny storm petrel appeared in the chum line approximately 100m back from the boat but too far for any photography. However, the bird watchers on the trip enjoyed the view of the small black bird as it 'danced' around in the chum for about 10 minutes. I suspect the petrel was put off from following the oil line back to the boat by the large numbers of big gulls.

During the day we saw several  'pirates of the high seas', the Great Skua. The large powerful birds cut a menacing presence through the air and certainly seem to put fear into the similar sized Lesser Black-backed gulls which would take to the air every time one came close in to the boat.

Most of the time the gulls were happily feeding off the chum line picking up the small floating particles whilst on the wing.

We saw good numbers of Manx Shearwater while we were out there and had the occasional one coming in close but never stopping on the chum. I did end up with one nice frame filling shearwater photograph which somehow an annoyingly I have managed to delete!! So only have this one to show which is a big crop but have included to show you one of the birds speeding low across the surface.

Overall despite the conditions it was a very enjoyable 10 hours out at sea and all aboard seemed to enjoy themselves. Importantly I learnt some lessons on chumming which hopefully I can try out on the next trip out into the blue yonder next summer.


Dave Williams said...

Great memories, great shots Rich ! Looking forward to having another go... if I'm invited ! A really good fun day out with some excellent company.

Paul Foster said...

Just backing up what David said Richard,an excellent and very amusing day at sea!

The happy wanderer. said...

Pelagics are a special form of birding. It does sound as if all your efforts with the chum were worth while. Good luck with future ones.

Eduard Kooij said...

You have capture really superb photographs .A common misconception among amateur photographers is that you must venture far from home in order to effectively capture visually arresting photographs.

Safari Joe said...

Wow, that is serious dedication and the photos are some of the best that I have ever seen. We would love to tak you to some of the best wildlife areas on an east african safari


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