Weekend wildlife cruise

The last two days have seen the return of classic Cornish winter weather conditions, characterised by strong winds, mild air temperatures and misty, drizzly conditions. That said, I think we’ve generally been rather lucky with the weather this winter! I was fortunate to make the most of a stunning day on Saturday, heading out to sea aboard Free Spirit on the first AK Wildlife Cruise of 2017. And what a brilliant start to the year it was!

We commenced the day’s cruise by trundling along to the west, taking in the stunning coastline along from Gylly Beach to Maenporth, and then on past the Heleford passage to the Lizard Peninsula. With it being low tide, the littoral rock zone was awash with some good roosts of large gulls, including a surprising number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (most of which should really be in the Mediterranean now!). We also came across several large flocks of Shags peppering the kelp-covered rocks, with heads bobbing to and fro and adult birds gleaming a gorgeous green colour and showing off their punk-style quiffs that are just developing in preparation for the breeding season.

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There were some impressive rain showers passing overhead – huge, towering cumulonimbus clouds in a dramatic palette of greys, blacks, blues and white
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the flocks of Shags along the shoreline contained almost equal numbers of juvenile birds (the brown and paler birds) as they did adult (green-black in colour). Young shags can succumb rather easily to rough winter conditions, with high mortality in years where stormy periods predominate. Hopefully it’s been a better year for them

 

Whilst motoring along the Lizard coastline, we came across some fantastic work-ups of Gannets – some 120 in a single flock, all diving in like black-tipped arrows. Interestingly, many of the gannet feeding frenzies weren’t associated with cetaceans (so far as we could see), and lasted for short periods before moving on. The large numbers hopefully points towards a healthy mass of bait fish in the area at the moment.

As we neared the waters surrounding the MCZ Manacle’s Reef area, we came across our first cetaceans in the form of a lovely pod of Harbour Porpoise – rotund, black backs and small, stubby dorsal fins glinting in the mid-winter light. Through the recording efforts of AK Wildlife Cruises, we’ve shown that the Manacle’s Reef is a very important area for these rather shy mammals, feeding in the strong tidal currents and amongst the jumble of rock and reef systems. Unfortunately, there is plans to open up a monstrous quarry immediately adjacent the reef on the Lizard, where the company Shire Oaks would carry out 24-hour/day blasting to supply rock for the controversial Severn Barrage…something of a double whammy! There are various local groups which are mobilising opposition from the South-west in the hope of putting a stop to these potentially devastating plans.

As we headed due south from the Manacles, we came across a superb pod of Common Dolphins…

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Common Dolphins

We spent a good half hour watching these fantastic animals, which were displaying an interesting hunting behaviour I’ve not seen before. Usually these playful cetaceans come straight over to the boat when nearby, playing and dancing beneath the bow. On Saturday, however, the pod of around 45 animals (including several gorgeous calves) seemed to be exclusively focussed on feeding: they travelled in a long line, ranked side-by-side and seemed to be exhibiting herding behaviour, perhaps collectively rounding up a shoal of fish beneath the water. It was a brilliant sight!

After leaving the main Common Dolphin pod, we did in fact come across several more small pods and even Porpoises too, as we left the Manacle’s Reef and headed seaward. We zig-zagged our way east, over the Old Wall reef and into Gerran’s Bay over the proceeding hour. Small numbers of Razorbills and Guillemots powered past of manic flight paths, whilst several huge aggregations of gulls clustered around fishing vessels hauling in and processing their catches. Several hundred Herring Gulls were peppered with Medietarrean Gulls, Lesser and Greater Black-backed Gulls, over 40 Common Gulls and good numbers of Kittiwakes too.

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a smart adult Mediterranean Gull
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Adult winter kittiwake
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Gulls clustering around a fishing boat

We ended our trip working back east from Gerrans Bay, where we saw some seven Great Northern Divers and a handful of Cormorants. It was a fresh and golden light to finish the cruise on as we meandered back past the stunning Roseland Heritage coastline. A fantastic haul-out of some 27 Grey Seals were lounging around on the usual beach, and a superb female Peregrine took up its usual perch on the cliff face near St Anthony’s lighthouse. A brilliant end to a great cruise. Looking forward to getting out soon and seeing some more of the great marine wildlife we’re endowed with here in the south-west!

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St Anthony’s Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

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