Monday, July 29, 2013

Cardigan Bay by Sea (5th July, 2013)

I didn't imagine that I'd get on a boat any time during my stay here, since pelagics tend to be quite booked up in advance and not many places in the UK offer them to begin with. Yet, that prediction was quite false. The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre offered survey trips for Cetacea out in Cardigan Bay. Originally I wasn't really enthusiastic since I sought volunteer work and experience rather than sitting in the sidelines, though in the end the former was also achieved.

There was a 8-hour survey trip for the "determined" people. Though some people on the boat were the sort of people that wanted guaranteed sightings of dolphins and nothing more, but its probably unfair to judge that. I still sought a few birds, namely kittiwake, puffin and manx shearwater which occurred off shore. I was informed that it was a possibility to see any or all of those birds, but it was by no means guaranteed. I was also told it went quite a bit off-shore into fairly deep water so that was also promising.

As we drove into New Quay I found a pale tussock moth on the window of a cafe (yes, while the car was in motion). As soon as the car parked I rushed off down the road to relocate it. It was indeed a pale tussock moth, and not a species I had seen before though they are supposedly fairly common.

Their caterpillars are quite often seen though.
The boat left at around 9am and there were bottlenose dolphins in the harbour before anyone even got on the boat.  It was not the closest of encounters and though it would be amusing to think that some people regretted spending money on an 8 hour trip for them when they were just here, I imagine it only inspired them to stay on board. The captain struggled to get in the health and safety lecture as people were far too absorbed with other things.

A few cormorants lingered in the waters here, but they would undoubtedly be replaced later on by shags, or at least I thought so. Alcids started making appearances. You could just about make out some of them from shore if you squinted hard, but out here they were hard to miss. Both razorbill and guillemot were present.

Within only minutes of the harbour was this funny gull called a kittiwake. (It turns out that some of the shots I took of gulls well off-shore a few days ago were kittiwake, but at the time I could not see enough details in the photos to confirm the ID then). 

Some of you may be wondering "What? It's just a seagull. What's the difference?".
It is the only small gull (i.e. black-headed gull) with a white head. Its the only
UK gull with a short all yellow-bill. And its the only gull that has these two
features along with black legs and a wingtip dipped in black without
any white spots.
Nearly all the gulls out here were kittiwake, save the odd herring or great black-backed. Alcids continued, and the manx shearwaters were soon all over the place. A "possibility", they said. They were flying everywhere. (In a similar fashion to the kittiwake, I had images of one shearwater in my multiple "photograph dark specks far out to sea on the horizon and pray you can identify them" shots from up on the cliffs a few days ago, so this is not my first sighting of the bird).

Eh. I have better pictures. You'll see them later.
Not many minutes after that a dark bird flew across the front of the boat, and that was an Atlantic puffin. Apparently no one else was aware of it, since the survey team (the people who wrote down sightings) gave a confused look and demanded to see photos as proof. After that I was uncertain how much I could trust the completeness of the sightings they wrote down, but to be fair birds were not the main focus of their surveys.

From afar its easy to mistake them for razor/mot.
So far this blog is looking rushed. There is a flurry of photos, information about where they were found on the trip, and without the (meaningless) backstory/story I tend to compose in blogs. But it was true that these birds came very fast. I don't think I have had that rate of new birds/minute before. If you payed attention earlier on you would have noticed that I had seen all my target birds within half an hour of leaving the shore, which I must say was quite impressive. And by noting how I had not included a backstory/story, I have. There.

Since there was a long long time of nothing but two things beginning with "s", I'm going to skip between encounters that should have photos included. First up is this gannet, one of many, but it was very close to the boat.

Close gannet is close.

Next up was this European storm-petrel  Well I say this storm-petrel, but I have no photos so you'll have to imagine it instead. (Hint: Its small, and dark.   AKA almost impossible to see when the water isn't perfectly smooth because the reflections of the wave are also dark and it blends in)

In fact I didn't even see the bird. I considered the possibility of a storm-petrel, and after about an hour of scanning the sea I just kind of sat down and waited for the next exciting event to happen. The "expert birder" on board just casually said, "Oh, there was a storm-petrel about 30 seconds ago." about 30 seconds too late and no one else ended up seeing it. Again, since birds were not the focus I suppose all can be forgiven, but still. There were a lot of jellyfish, mostly moon, across the passage.

But I did manage to find another one. The water was thankfully calm, so there was no need to strain one's eyes trying to pick out a small dark bird that was most likely very far away from the boat. A bit late though cause I already had spent the past hour (plus the past past hour) searching until my eyes were sore. But at least now I could finally sit down and stop scanning. It was highly highly unlikely there would be any other seabird to locate here, since Ireland blocked the open sea (and with it any super rare mega birds).

I quite nearly missed it, since I was looking for a tiny dark bird and this bird looked
a bit too big. I can't remember what made me change my mind, but I'm glad I did.
You can see the white rump and short bill in this image.
Since there was nothing of interest between this point and the next 3 hours except the giant bomber plane I will skip to the next point. Giant bomber plane? Oh yeah, that. Supposedly they do missile testing around the coastline here, and this giant bomber plane was the only visual evidence we saw of it. The captain told of stories when they were out and sea and the missiles would fly over the boat.

Ok, even I'm not that clueless. It probably isn't a bomber plane, but it sounds
dramatic so let's go with that.
PS: its a RAF Hercules C-130J, thanks Ryan.


Right, now I can commence the 3 hour skip. The out-to-sea part of the trip was now over, so the boat passed along the immediate coastline now. Cardigan Island had a lot of life resting on its shores, ranging from grey seals to shags. The boat also passed by Bird Rock, a location where a mini-rookery of Alcids can be seen. A pair of shelducks with ducklings in tow was not exactly expected here at sea. It was almost comical how the captain said "There's a duck with ducklings over there."  The rest of the journey was back across the coastline, past Llangrannog, and back.  A few pictures from here:

There aren't too many places where you can be in close
proximity to shags.
Grey seal.

Shelduck with shelducklings...or something.

I only recently (as of this posting, about 20 days after the actual
boat trip) learned how to disable mirror lock-up on my camera.
If I knew that at the time I'd have more photos that looked like the above.
Mirror lock up means it only takes one photo when the shutter is held down,
as opposed to many.
Bird rock rookery.
Pomarine skua off Llangrannog! A hard bird to find in the UK, though
apparently a few individuals are regular in the summer off the west.
The birder on board said it was an Arctic skua, but the differences
are clearly seen in the above image.
And that commences the Cardigan Bay trip report.

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