We decided we would head further out on this trip and went around 30 miles out to an area near one of the gas platforms. The sea was like the proverbial mill pond, in fact I have never seen it so flat. The light was pretty flat too with the forecast for rain later. After only a short distance out and away from the influence of the River Mersey, the sea turned clear and a that wonderful blue-green shade.
For creating our chum trail we used an oil drip of salmon oil supplemented with regular dosing of mixed floating particles and fresh mackerel caught during the trip to attract the birds. We headed past Burbo Bank wind farm, which is approximately 3 miles offshore from the Wirral Pennisula, and onwards out to the horizon seeing various birds including Gannet, Guillemots, Gulls, Manx Shearwater, together with a couple of Arctic Skua and Harbour Porpoise whilst in transit.
The powerful twin engines on the 'Discovery' quickly got us out to our destination and we immediately got the chum slick going off the back of the boat, and one of the crew started catching mackerel. As with all the previous trips the first bird to arrive was a Fulmar which with effortless flight circled the boat a few times before coming to rest on the water.
It was not long before a few Lesser Black-backed gulls started to accumulate in the chum trail and this activity attracted our main target bird the gannet. We soon had several birds ranging from adult to immature circling the boat. Freshly caught whole mackerel were thrown out for the birds to dive to accompanied by a hilarious running commentary from the skipper on the progress of the birds towards each fish. The birds seemed in a fairly indifferent mood with only the occasional one diving which I think was partly due to conditions an also it being the middle of the day but we still managed to get a few photographs.
The moment of impact.
Then it went dead, a mid-afternoon lull with no bird in sight in any direction for quite a while but some freshly cooked sausage barms dosed with tomato sauce and a mug of piping hot tea was well received all round. With everyones' agreement, I suggested we try a different area and move back in around 5 miles as we had passed quite a lot of birds on the way out. On the move we had a small flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls following the boat allowing us to get a few frame filling images of the birds in flight.
On arrival at the new location, just by the wind farm off the North Wales coasts, we had the first Gannet appearing when we saw a group of dorsal fins cutting through the still waters. A large pod of Bottle-nose Dolphins, estimated between to be between 30 and 50 animals, were passing a couple of hundred metres from the boat. We immediately pulled the anchour and the skipper took the boat towards them. The dolphins gathered around the boat as we cruised along at around 8 knots, riding under the bow. An incredible sight to see these big marine mammals up so close. At one point it looked that they were stacked 5 deep under the boat. Photographing them was not easy with them tending to ride along just in front of the boat. In the end the skipper suggested I get up on the roof of the cabin to get a better view. I managed a couple of photographs I was happy with.
My favourite moment of this amazing encounter was when one swam alongside right next to the boat and turned on its side to watch the amazed photographs gazing down over the gunnels. A brief moment of intimate contact with a completely different world.
It then started to rain and everyone took shelter for the 40 minutes or so until it stopped and when carried on with the birds. We were well into the evening now and not much time before we had to return and the Gannets were obviously hungry and going into evening feeding mode. The problem we had was that we had run out of fish and despite our efforts struggled to catch any. We managed a few more photographs before it was time to raise the anchour once more and head back to the marina.