PELAGIC TRIPS OFF THE ISLES OF SCILLY
There is a widespread and expanding interest in seabirds and cetaceans that is fuelled by a growth in pelagic trips from many ports in many parts of the world. Pelagic trips provide the chance to watch seabirds and cetaceans close-up and to video and photograph them.
The Isles of Scilly, positioned in the far southwest of Britain, are ideally located for pelagic trips in search of Northeast Atlantic seabirds. Every year a wide variety of breeding and passage seabirds are recorded, along with cetaceans, turtles and other pelagic creatures.
Scilly’s breeding seabirds include British Storm-petrels, Manx Shearwaters and Puffins. The first two are virtually guaranteed on pelagic trips during their breeding seasons.
Southern Hemisphere breeders on a huge clockwise Atlantic tour pass by Scilly. Great and Sooty Shearwaters are seen mainly September and October. Another long-distance migrant from the south is the much sought after Wilson’s Storm-petrel, a species predominantly seen off Scilly in July and August.
Dispersal of non-breeding and post-breeding seabirds northwards from the Canary and Mediterranean regions brings respectively Cory´s and Balearic Shearwaters into Scillonian waters. These species occasionally are seen on pelagic trips from July to October.
North-south migration in spring and autumn brings two more waves of seabirds to the islands. For example, northern breeders including skuas funnel through the English Channel into the North Sea on the way to their breeding grounds. They return in the autumn months followed by their young. Other species that tend to move to the west of Britain also are recorded, especially in autumn, including Sabine’s Gulls, Grey Phalaropes and Leach’s Storm-petrels.
Rarities turn-up too! Madeiran Storm-petrel (2007), Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel (2005), Fea’s Petrel (7 sightings), and Red-billed Tropicbird (2001, 2002).
Other rarities will be seen off Scilly given the large number of pelagic trips run each year. Perhaps Little Shearwater or Black-browed Albatross? Dream birds include White-faced Storm-petrel, Bulwer´s Petrel, and Black-capped Petrel. Time will tell.
Cetaceans Various dolphins and whales occasionally are seen across the pelagic season. Leatherback Turtles may be encountered in August and September. Blue Sharks frequently are caught, tagged and released in July and August. These creatures add variety and additional interest, especially on evenings when birding is quiet.
Trips Pelagic trips are run on MV Sapphire with skipper Joe Pender. They are in full swing June to early September, running at least four times a week, centred on weekends. This is the main shark-fishing season when ‘chum’ is used to attract Blue Sharks and plays the duel role of enticing in petrels along with other seabirds. Trips normally depart at 17.00 and return about 22.00. The skipper usually steams about six miles out and then drifts using the ‘chum’ to create an oily slick on which petrels feed.
New birders only pelagic trips are offered in August at weekends and last eight or 12 hours. These trips offer a great way to maximise your chances of seeing Scilly’s range pelagic seabirds and catching up with a rarity. They are very popular and it is best to book early. Contact Bob Flood on firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.scillypelagics.com for more information.
Further information Boards advertising forthcoming pelagic trips are located on St Mary’s Quay. This information is also posted on the Isles of Scilly Bird Group’s Bird Information Board outside the Pilot’s Gig Restaurant, opposite the Mermaid Inn. Or ‘phone Joe Pender skipper of Sapphire 07776204631. You may contact Bob Flood with general inquiries on email@example.com
All pelagic trips are weather dependent.
WHEN TO SEE MORE SOUGHT AFTER SEABIRDS:
Great Shearwater: Numbers vary significantly from year to year. In a good year they are common in September and October (sometimes 100s). Otherwise, they are occasional to frequent in August, and rare in July.
Cory’s Shearwater: Like Great Shearwater, numbers vary significantly from year to year. In a good year non-breeders surge into Scillonian waters in July, perhaps for three or four days when 40 or 50 might be seen. Post- and failed breeders appear August and September (on and off). Records in June are rare.
Sooty Shearwater: In June there are normally one or two records. Frequency of sightings picks-up slowly in July and August. They are fairly regular in September and October.
Manx Shearwater: Present in reasonable numbers from April to August. Seen on every pelagic trip in this period. Frequently seen September and October. Alternatively, the Boatman’s Association with guide Will Wagstaff run regular ‘Shearwater Specials’ in the evenings during the breeding season to see the Manx’s as they return to their burrows.
Mediterranean Shearwater: Surprisingly rare with a few sightings on pelagic trips July to October.
Fea’s Petrel: Scilly has a good track record for this highly sought after Pterodroma. The total to date is seven, all since 1996. There is one early July record, with four in late August and two in early September.
British Storm-petrel: Present from mid-May well into October. Seen on every pelagic trip in this period to date.
Wilson’s Storm-petrel: Scilly is the place to see this magical little seabird. Sightings are regular in July and August, but most reliable in the last ten days of July and the first few days of August. Rarely seen in June and early September.
Leach’s Storm-petrel: Rare and unpredictable in September and October.
Pomarine Skua: Rare in May and July. Scarce August to October.
Arctic Skua: Occasional May to July. Fairly regular August to October.
Long-tailed Skua: Very rare September to mid-October.
Sabine’s Gull: Occasional late August to mid-October.
Grey Phalarope: Occasional in September and October, but can be common.
Puffin: Breeding on Annet mid-May to the end of August. Occasionally seen on pelagic trips in this period and to mid-October. During the breeding season and in good weather the Boatman’s Association on St Mary’s runs trips during the day to see the Puffins.
CETACEANS SEEN IN RECENT YEARS:
Harbour Porpoise (common)
Common Dolphin (often common)
Risso’s Dolphin (annual but scarce)
Bottle-nosed Dolphin (annual but scarce)
White-sided Dolphin (not annual)
Pilot Whale (annual but scarce)
Fin Whale: (not annual)
Minke Whale (not annual)
Sei Whale (not annual)
Killer Whale (not annual)