11 Aug 2008

Shear exhaustion.

What a trip! Leaving Cheshire around 10.00 pm the team of Mark Powell, Jase Atkinson, Al Orton & me arrived in a dark Penzance in the wee small hours and sorted our kit out before joining the queue to board the old flat bottomed puke bucket known as the Scillonian III for a 14 hour seabird bonanza. We were prepared for the worst - high winds had raised the swell and the forecast was at 4 -5 m! We met up with Mike & Rob Stokes from Shrewsbury and Dan Pointon (from anywhere he can cadge a lift!) on the quay before settling down on alongside one of the lifeboats!

Unfortunately the swell caused numerous cases of seasickness and one guy fell and smashed his face against the deck meaning we had to divert to the Scilly's to get him to hospital. Another poor wretch left the boat here suffering from a panic attack brought on the sheer terror of being surrounded by 200+ honking birders.
Sitting peacefully minding my own business I was aware of something whistling past my head - someone had puked up just along the rail and the wind had whipped it down the side narrowly missing me. A lady behind us just sat and puked between her feet and didn't bother moving. This was going to be a fun trip! With so many people on board getting to see all the birds was going to be difficult and within a short space of time we realised extra height was going to be a distinct advantage so clambered up to a position just in front of the funnel. The motion here was even worse but we were sheltered from the flying diced carrots and worst of the spray. Although further from the birds we had a better view than the majority on deck.

A Wilson's Petrel was spotted by the bridge based spotting team and in the ensuing rush fifty birders were almost crushed. This bird didn't linger - probably put off by the overpowering stench of vomit, obviously not as attractive to a discerning Petrel as rancid chum, and was seen by only a few. Plenty of Storm Petrels were gathering to gorge themselves on this feast and combined with the swell & diesel fumes from the funnel (a major disadvantage of our eeyrie) even us stalwarts began to feel ever so slighly queasy.

Big Al getting some shut-eye

Fatigue setting in after no sleep, no food and carbon monoxide posoining from the funnel behind!
Here's a video taken from our lofty perch. It ends rather suddenly as we crashed into an almighty trough that nearly had me over the side!

A couple of Cory's Shearwaters and a single Sooty Shearwater broke the monotony of 800+ Storm Petrels and good views were had of two Great Skua's and two Arctic Skua's in the melee of churned up water and feeding birds in our wake.

Our drowsy state was broken by an announcement over the tannoy 'Great Shearwater in the wake'. Instantly, like the fully trained Special Forces we are, the team grabbed binoculars and got straight on this mythical Southern Hemisphere bird. Awesome. For the next hour it casually cruised in and out of our wake. A lifer for Mike!

This was one bird I really wanted to see again and I wasn't disappointed!
Climbing down from our perch only when land was in sight again we retired to the bar for a swift drink before staggering ashore and driving to our accomodation in nearby Hayle. A few beers followed by a swift curry and at long last we were able to sleep.

Today dawned and we spent a short while, on the recommendation of a local birder, seawatching off Godrevy Point were 3 Balearic Shearwaters were picked in the strong westerly passage of Manx Shearwaters.

Planning our route home via Chew Valley lake were we found the unringed male Ferruginous Duck we arrived back in Cheshire at 17.00. A very tiring trip. Some good birds but a bit disappointing in the numbers apart from Storm Petrels, Fulmars & Gannets!

As a foot note a big thanks to John and his merry band of chum(mer)s. A great job and after seeing him at work on the Joe Penders Sapphire I still don't know how he manages to munch sandwiches whilst chumming.............................

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