Saturday, 21 June 2008

Flamin' June

Well the National Whale and Dolphin Watch week started. At the appointed hour I was at the Mirror Ball on Blackpool's south promenade ready to fend off the hordes of eager whale watchers. No such luck! It was more like flamin' March than flamin' June. Freezing cold, bucketing rain and less than 1000 yards visibility - a long four hours lay ahead.

A few hardy fishermen already had bait in the water as the tide was rising. They were out in this weather for fun! At least I had the excuse I was there for science.

A safari conjures up images of tropical heat, dry dusty tracks and big game. Nothing could be further from this idyll. Nonetheless 'big game' there was; a Grey Seal was 'bottling' less than a hundred yards out. Things looked promising; the sea was flat calm, the rain clouds cast no shadows so any Harbour Porpoises would be easy to pick up. They are the main target off Blackpool; although I have seen Bottle-nosed Dolphin (1) and Minke Whale (2) from where I was stood in the last couple of years.

The Grey Seal hardly moved for two hours, but stopped bottling and started fishing; surfacing every so often with an audible snort. A few Sandwich Terns moved along the coast but I only saw one of them dive for a fish. One later came past with a fish in its beak, trying to catch up with the missus to show her what a brilliant fisherman he is. They are named after the town in Kent not the snack! There was a little southerly passage of Curlews, in groups of 2, 6, 5, 7, 10 and 2, = 32 altogether. A young Gannet had a two or three dives from no great height, but a little later on a dazzling white adult came to the same patch of sea and gave a good display of what Gannets do best - diving from height! getting as high as about 50 feet this one plunged leaving a plume of spray about 4 feet high - it did this four times - spectacular.

After a comfort stop at half time the watch resumed. A second Grey Seal was off the beach at the sand dunes. (Potential venue for a future safari as there are some superb wildflowers at this time if year). Now three further Gannets appeared, again in roughly the same area and started diving. Still no sign of any Porpoises though. About 30 Knot in a tight flock shot past a full speed and a Great Black Backed Gull dunked in for a quick wash. He was huge. His black back contrasting strongly against the grey murk, his white chest as broad as a heavy weight boxer's and a beak like Erik the Viking's axe with attitude to ma
tch. Shame about the baby pink legs really.

A group of about 10 Common Scoters went north in the distance and my best count of Sandwich Terns was 9 together and after the tide had turned a few of them were close enough to see the little yellow spot at the end of their bill.

So four hours was up and the nearest I had got to a cetacean was either the Grey Seals, which at least are marine mammals, or the House Martins which were flying up and down in the lee of the sea wall - well they do look like mini flying Killer Whales!

Between them the fishermen had caught a Flounder, a Dab and a Bass. The latter was going home for tea - and not as a guest! They hadn't seen the seal but as soon as I pointed it out they blamed it for their lack of success. Ah Humans - always quick to point the finger somewhere else.

Even if I had a camera there wouldn't have been any pictures with this post as my hands were too cold to get the lid of my flask and the weather that murky there's not much point in a totally grey photo.

Where to next? Easy this time - back at the Mirror Ball for an hours watching on Monday lunchtime - see you there?

1 comment:

babooshka said...

Well this is jam packed with info. Still not seen any dolphins off Ramsey, but me and my camera live in hope. Countryfile have just announced it's Dolphin watch too ans more info on their website.

The viking stuff is proving a nightnmare. So much contradicts itself.