14 Aug 2012

Owen Foley's Pelagic 2012

Storm Petrel feeding
The fingers were crossed the previous years pelagic had been cancelled due to poor weather. This time the weather was looking good but my main worry was that I was in Kent in England for a 50th birthday party and my flight to Belfast wasn't until nine in the evening on Easyjet. My two previous late evening flights with Easyjet had been cancelled. Not to mention the fact that the pelagic was due to leave Kilbaha in Co.Clare at 5.00am three hundred miles away from Belfast.

The Easyjet flight arrived on time and I was picked up by Anthony McGeehan and we drove through the night and reached Kilbaha with forty five minutes to spare. I set the alarm for five had a quick kip before meeting up with Owen and the guys, some who were Twitter friends and Facebook friends that I hadn't previously met, who were all heading out on the pelagic.
Owen Foley's Pelagic Summer 2012
We left Kilbaha just as dawn was arriving. As we passed Loop Head a very bright shooting star came down and I took it for a good omen. Over the next hour the light of dawn was absolutely spectacular and there were many birds out on the water. Storm Petrels, Fulmars and Manx Shearwaters could be seen all over the place. There was little to no wind and the sea was remarkably calm even ten miles offshore. At the beginning there wasn't enough light to take a reasonable shot but as the sun came up over the horizon it was fab.

Lone Manx Shearwater at dawn

Common Dolphins in early morning light.
Somebody shouted Minke Whales ahead of us and we steamed on out towards them. As we headed towards the sighting we passed a number of rafts of Manx Shearwaters some of which contained one or two Sooty Shearwaters. As we neared where the whale was seen we started to see Common Dolphins and before long we were in a massive pod which stretched hundreds of yards. It was so exciting as they jumped all around us.
A pod of Common Dolphins with Loop Head Co.Clare  in the background
Common Dolphin beside the boat
We put out some frozen chum that I had brought with me and the skipper put out a vile smelling liquid version and very quickly it attracted Fulmars and Storm Petrels and a couple of Great Skuas.


Great Skua
Juvenile Gannet and Great Skua
Storm Petrel

There were quite a few Manx Shearwater flying past but whenever we approached a raft of birds they were very quick to disappear and they weren't really attracted to the chum. In each raft there appeared to be one or two Sooty Shearwaters some of whom came quite close to the boat.
Manx Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
It wasn't too long before Owen shouted "Wilson's" and at quite a distance it could be seen just marginally bigger than the surrounding Storm Petrels and the pale band on it's upper wing coverts and it's feet protruding beyond it's tail.. Sadly it never really came close into the boat.
Wilson's Petrel
After a while we decided to motor to another location and the moment the engines went on I called a Skua that was approaching. I definitely wasn't sure about it's id as I haven't seen young skuas. It was a juvenile Arctic Skua. It showed characteristics of being a Long Tailed Skua and at first we thought it might be. Immature Arctic Skua and Long Tailed Skua can be quite problematic. The quantity of white-shafted primary feathers are supposed to be diagnostic. Five on an Arctic and two on a Long Tailed. In Kenn Kaufman's Advanced Bird ID book it says that you can get a good idea from bill proportions. Essentially, in LTS, the upper half of the bill is comprised of about 40% 'distal arch' and 60% 'level base'. The bill's plates account for the two entities. On AS, the distal arch  is about 20-30%, leaving a longer, flat-topped base. However it's pretty difficult to determine the bill method in the field on a flying bird whereas it becomes marginally easier in front of a computer screen looking at photographs. I posted one of these photos and a few people have called it LTS even though it is an Arctic.
Juvenile Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua harassing a Kittiwake
Juvenile Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua
We then headed back to where the frozen block of chum was being devoured by twenty to thirty fulmars. As we approached so did two Sabine's Gulls both landing on the water close by followed by one doing a close circumnavigation of the boat.

Sabine's Gull
Owen then called a second summer Pomarine Skua which never really came close to the boat. It spent it's time harassing rafts of Manx Shearwater at some distance.

2nd Summer Pomarine Skua
We had been out on the water for seven hours and the skipper called it a day and as we headed back to Kilbaha we saw another Minke Whale. We were accompanied most of the way in by a few Fulmars. We passed the cliffs of Loop Head which in daylight were spectacular and made from sedimentary rock a geologists dream. It had been an absolutely wonderful day worth the sleepless night and the upcoming 300 mile journey home. Click on photos for larger version

The "DEVA"


Andrew said...

One of the most enjoyable and highest quality blog posts i have read in ages. Great stuff, Craig.

Peregrine's Bird Blog said...

Thank you Andrew

JL Copner said...

I really enjoyed the read and the photos..Im off to Loop in the morning and this article has inspired me at the right time. TA

Linda Rockwell said...

Love the post and the photos! Looks as if it was a wonderful trip.

Eric Hughes said...

Incredible photos! They made me feel as if I was on the trip with you all! Great post.

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