Sunday, August 31, 2014

Heading Out to Sea

For the past couple of years I have chartered a fishing boat, the 'Discovery' based in Liverpool, and taken a few photographers and bird watchers out into Liverpool Bay to see what sea birds we could find on a pelagic chumming trip. We had a trip blown off at the end of last year and so the boat deposit was transferred across to a booking in mid-July. Previously we have headed out mid-week and at first light but this booking was a more relaxed affair with a midday sailing on the weekend for a 10 hour trip. So I met up with the other five photographers, Brian, Steve, Mike, Dave and Paul and Tony the bird watcher at Liverpool Marina and we were soon settled on the boat and heading out through the lock gates into the swirling brown waters of River Mersey.

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.
The pod stayed with the boat for around 35 minutes before peeling off and heading off on their way leaving a boat of smiling people behind.

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.
We docked around 9:45 pm. It had been an interesting day out and everyone seemed to have really enjoyed themselves, despite it being a relatively quiet with the birds. A big thank you to Gary and the crew for all the hard work to make it such a great trip. On each of these trips I learn a little more and hopefully will try arrange a series of trips out during July and August next year. If you would be interested on joining me on this high seas adventure then please drop me a line.


The happy wanderer. said...

Pelagics are great! I especially like the first Gannet and first gull images. It seems odd not to have albatross coming to the boat, but that's probably more of a southern hemisphere phenomenon.

Dave Williams said...

Some excellent shots and some excellent memories.Thanks Rich.

Ready for the next trip now!

ruma said...


Great photographing. Very sweet atmosphere.

Greetings and hugs.
From Japan, ruma❃

Paul Foster said...

Just want to echo what Dave said Rich...memorable!!!!!

Coppertop said...

Enjoyed your post, photos are awesome! Thank you for sharing.

Brian Rafferty said...

Rich.Thanks again for arranging such a memorable trip.My very first but definitely not my last pelagic.Can't wait till next year.

miken said...

An excellent day out Rich - Cheers, I still chuckle at the the skippers description of the Gannets whereabouts, worth the entrance fee on it's own!


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