Thursday, 28 March 2013

white-faced storm petrel

With breaking news of the black-throated thrush in Aberdeenshire I was in a fairly miserable mood this morning as another target bird for my British life list is sure to flit before I get home and have a chance to twitch it. I consoled myself with arctic skuas and sandwich terns and then enjoyed a few common dolphins as they did a fairly close pass. After lunch the sun came out and it quickly became unbearably hot. Squinting into the sun I saw a small distant splash, a hint of a light grey shape, another splash and I thought I was watching a flying fish. Seconds later what looked like a tiny kangaroo bounced down the side of the ship and I realised I was watching a white-faced storm petrel! They really are the most delightful birds- probably one of my favourite seabirds and I never tire of watching them as they use their incredibly long legs and feet to spring off the sea surface as they search for tiny food items. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with such encounters, the bird stayed out at 100+ metres from my ship so my photos. are very heavily cropped although they just show enough detail to confirm the ID. A very nice consolation bird!!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Vis mig update

Things have been quiet over the last week with persistent NW Beaufort f4/5 winds. This morning it was all change with a light (f2) easterly, occasionally veering to the south-east. In two hours I had 3 swallows, 2 sand martins, a redstart sp. and a phyllosc. sp. fly past the ship. On the deck were 3 pied wagtails including a splendid 'Moroccan wagtail- subpersonata' (note the damaged feet/missing toes). Flitting about the deck were also at least 4 subalpine warblers. Everything on the deck resumed northward flight after briefly feeding on the numerous flies and moths that had been buzzing about. Later I saw a couple of lark sp. and 4 swifts did a very fast pass!

pied wagtail- ssp. subpersonata

subalpine warbler

Monday, 11 March 2013

a very tasty sandwich

Not much to report on the migration front with stiff NW winds currently halting the passage of passerines, with the exception of a solo swallow. A few pom skuas and several arctic skuas have been noted pushing north but unfortunately they have all been rather ship-shy and not been close enough for photo. attempts. Sandwich tern passage remains fairly steady with a dozen or so recorded most days. One individual did a wonderful close pass and allowed me to get some decent flight shots- a very nice bird! The real highlight however was a raft of grey phalaropes- I watched them resting and apparently feeding on a surface slick for 5 minutes or so before they resumed their northward flight- cracking birds! Aside from that I have been treated to a good number of common dolphins swimming around the vessel.

distant raft of grey (red) phalaropes

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


I have been very fortunate to see a good number of Fin whales over my years at sea, however today I was very lucky to see a true leviathan- an adult specimen that was probably approaching the maximum overall length of 27 metres that is generally accepted as about the upper limit for this species and second only to the mighty Blue whale in the size stakes!  The whale came within 400 metres of our vessel during our slow passage north in 6 metre swell and put on a bit of a show as it cruised past- simply magnificent!

post tempest

It has been a tough few days, slowly recovering the equipment whilst steaming south to get away from the really dangerous conditions. We escaped the worst of the weather although even the 5 metre seas were uncomfortable as can be seen by the motion of one of our support vessels below. 

now you see me
now you don't
We eventually found ourselves 120 nm south of our survey area, hiding in the eastern lee of Lanzarote. Although the wind was generally Beaufort F7 with lots of white-capped waves the lee gave us shelter from the huge Atlantic swell. Things got mixed up nicely with common tern, little tern, bonxies, gannets and scores of Cory's shearwaters putting in an appearance. I also had bonus views of a Leach's petrel and an Atlantic spotted dolphin- a spotless juvenile as it happens. 

common tern

little tern
Atlantic spotted dolphin (juvenile)
Cory's shearwater
Leach's storm petrel

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Tern and run....

Started the day with a couple of swallows flashing past the ship. This was followed by a meeting where it was decided to start pulling in the survey equipment- all of it! This will take approximately 48 hours and this is because of a forecast blow that is due to deliver 8-10 metre seas that as well as possibly wrecking the equipment could also be a tad dangerous for a ship this size. We need to be able to manoeuvre freely in such seas, without the drag of the cables behind the vessel. If the waves do become that significant I could be trying to sleep wedged in a corner somewhere as bunks are next to useless in such conditions. Anyway, forecasts have been wrong before, but we have to prepare for the worse case scenario. On a lighter note I saw another very nice loggerhead turtle late morning, and this afternoons' highlight was a flock of nine sandwich terns heading north. Strangely, as is often the case before a significant blow the gulls have literally vanished into thin air- I think they know what is coming!!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Ring-legged gulls

Have slowly managed to build up a small catalogue of half-decent shots of the Audouin's gulls in the general area. It was a pleasant surprise to find that some of the birds are carrying leg rings. Hopefully when I get home to a decent broadband width I will be able to submit the sightings to the relevant ringing authority- I really like coming across bird research under field conditions-exciting stuff! Visible migration has stalled somewhat, with the wind swinging around to a brisk nor-westerly.