As 8.45 arrived, our very welcoming host Nigel Smallbones collected our payment and allowed us onto the boat. Nigel had apparently been given a lot of counterfeit notes recently, so our notes had to be checked too! We then met the skipper, Nigel Lihou (our second of three Nigels' that day) and sat down, waiting to set off. Just after ten to we set off around the Breakwater and out past Berry Head. Here we saw Shags and Cormorants, along with other common gull species. Just past the head itself, we saw small numbers of both Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin; their fins occasionally seen above the crests of the waves. Also, a single Kittiwake sat on the water along with Herring Gulls. Afterwards, we went out into Lyme Bay; I was told at the end that at our furthest point, we had been 7 miles off the coast! Just this distance from the coast improved the amount of birds seen. Gannets regulary soared overhead; small parties of Guillemots were seen on the water along with the ever present Fulmar.
When we were this far out and the engine was stopped, I was shocked at how strong the waves were. Even though there was practically nothing but a slight breeze on the shore, out to sea, the boat was rocked side to side; once the boat seemed to go parallel to the waves. This of course made any photography difficult so I apologise in advance for the quality of my images! We also saw small numbers of Manx Shearwater sitting on the water, but try as we might, we couldnt make any of them into a Balearic.
|2 Manx Shearwater|
|Manx Shearwater 'yawning'!|
However, we were all soon alerted when the shout of 'Bonxie' went up and soon enough a large burly Great Skua could be seen mobbing the larger gulls off the front of the boat, but still quite a distance away. I was hoping to see this species as any skua species would have been a lifer. Now well out to sea, Nigel donned his plastic gloves and began to throw out the chum with the aid of a plastic jug. Unfortunately, we were situated downwind from the chum, so we smelt the full unpleasant odour of it! At first, only one gull sat out next to the boat. But as if by magic, what seemed to be all the gulls in the area were suddenly alerted to the fact that food was on offer and soo there was a mass exodus of gulls circling overhead. Although, apart from attracting gulls, this was not successful in brining in any shearwaters. We then went further our and tried again but alas to no avail. It just so happened that on our way back we saw a small flock of shearwaters on the surface of the water, so stopped to scan them. And to our delight, one of the birds was a lot more brown in colour than the rest- a Balearic Shearwater!
|Manx Shearwater (L) with Balearic (R)|
After around a minute the whole group flew off but we were all pleased with the sighting. It does not seem a good year for this ever declinging species as not many have been seen on prior trips either. I think perhaps the most majical part of the trip happened when we got close to Berry Head once more. A pod of Common Dolphin were seen off the boat so Nigel turned the boat straight into their present course. Almost immediately, the dolphins satrted following the boat, leaping out of the water just metres behind us!
|A pod of Common Dolphin|
It was a truly wonderful sight and lasted for around 10 minutes before they left us and moved further out to sea. We arrived back at around 12.15 and I had enjoyed the days trip immensely. Though he is booked for the rest of the season now, I would throughly recommend this trip to anybody, as it provides both birds and cetaceans. To contact Nigel Smallbones you can visit his website at http://www.optimistcharters.co.uk.