Here is the latest update from Bardsey Island. Project leader Pine Eisfeld reporting.
Being on Bardsey has the strangest effect, as time seems only to exist in terms of meal times, but events that people think have happened days ago, actually happened just that same morning or the day before.
I call this phenomenon BOT - Bardsey Other Time.
So, every day, lots of stuff happens here on this little island.
Last week, Wednesday, we suddenly had a spell of calm weather after all the ex-hurricanes and there was a quick changeover on the island. Mark, Vicki and Rob got off and Roger and a car load of food that could feed an army came on. I got moved with all the kit from the Bardsey Island Trust house, Nant, in to the Bird Observatory where Roger joined me.
I quickly trained him up in our protocol to spot whales and dolphins from our site on the North End, explaining why and how we do 10 min. scans with special binoculars, how to record the data, etc. We even saw a couple of Risso's in the distance!
On Thursday morning we rose bright and early to a flat sea and while we were just getting our gear ready, Steve, the Bird Obs warden, shouted "Rissos!". He had spotted them through his scope from the terrace in front of the Bird Obs. We radioed farmer Steve to see if he could take us out in his boat and about 1 hour later, myself, warden Steve and assistant warden Richard were on our way towards the dolphins guided by Roger and Giselle from the terrace.
The first group we met was made up of five adults and a tiny calf. They were very elusive and hard to photograph, but we tried our best and then moved on to another group of three juveniles who were frolicking around the boat. Looking around, there were more Risso's in in the distance leaping out of the water and when we got closer to them, we were met by a group of about ten older adults, all with really white heads surfacing in two by two in perfect synchronicity! This was a stunning sight and everyone on the boat was oohing and aahing and shooting lots of pictures.
The dolphins didn't seem to be going in a particular direction as we saw them constantly changing direction, doubling back on themselves, zig zaging back and forth between the horizon and our boat. We observed some surface rushes and breaching and fast swimming which indicates they were foraging and feeding. Following them, we were about half way to Anglesey and realised we would need to get back as otherwise we would run out of fuel. All in all, we met four subgroups of at least 25 Risso's, but the photo-identification pictures we have taken still need to be analysed to confirm this estimate.
I couldn't stop grinning for the rest of the day!
Roger got to see Risso's in the afternoon from our observation platform at North End. Again they were zig zaging back and forth, going off towards Ireland, then coming back in our direction, but always staying at least 500m off the coast of Bardsey. As we realised this, we stopped our scans, as we were recording the same animals over and over again and just kept watching them and directed the Pedryn, the Countryside Council for Wales' boat which was on the water to get some ID photographs, towards the dolphins.
What a fantastic day!
Here is the latest update from Bardsey Island. Project leader Pine Eisfeld reporting.
This blog is reporting from the Isle of Lewis! In our efforts to find out where these pesky UK Risso’s dolphins are hanging out, we are currently running projects (and so blogging) simultaneously on Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland and Bardsey Island in North Wales...
It’s been a stormy field season with few opportunities to get out on the water. But when we have made it out in the boat, we have always been pleased with the variety of species that we’ve encountered in the Minch. And today was no exception!
The conditions were promising for a full day out and we were anxious to make the most of what currently seems like a rare opportunity! We’d seen Risso’s and common dolphins during our land-based surveys yesterday and the day before, and so we were doubly hopeful! Once out of the harbour, our survey began with the increasingly familiar groups of surface active porpoises racing and foraging in the mouth of Loch Erisort. Porpoises rock!
We ventured out into the north Minch, and into the long and lolloping swell - a remnant of the storms we’ve just experienced. It wasn’t long before we were joined by a pod of common dolphins. They always seem keen for a ride on the bow and in the wake, and this small family of six animals, including a mother and her calf, didn’t disappoint! Our only problem was photographing them as they were rushing through the waves so quickly!
They followed alongside us for quite a while, jumping and peering up at us (what are they thinking when they do that..?), before getting back to their usual business. We moved on and a basking grey seal looked up at us from his watery home (disapprovingly, I might add).
And as we travelled on, it wasn’t too much longer before we came across two more common dolphins – big animals this time (or at least big for common dolphins!). They checked us out briefly before disappearing into the deep swell.
Suddenly there was a lot of disturbance and young and older gannet activity as we passed Tiumpan Head. So we turned in to more coastal waters and into the entrance of Broad Bay, where the swell was much gentler. Before long we were part of a mammoth feeding frenzy – with puffing harbour porpoises all around, a small (3 metre) basking shark heading our way and diving gannets all feasting on a shimmering shoal of herring sprats! The herring were like raindrops on the surface of the water, all around us.
It was great to be a part of a feast that we have now seen several times in this part of Broad Bay whilst watching from our land-based observation site at Tiumpan Head! What a sight – which you can enjoy in the video – again, the wonky camera footage is due to the swell. I promise!
After collecting all the data we needed, we turned around. On our way home we collected one of our six acoustic devices (called a C-POD) - after a bit of a search! We can’t wait to download the data (ok, I’m a bit nervous…) to see whether we have lots of porpoise and dolphin recordings! No Risso’s but a great day out on the water..
We grabbed some mackerel (although it took a few dips of the fishing rod it has to be said!) and shared them with the last of the ‘bonxies’ or great skuas (it’s amazing to see them eat a fish of such a size!) - before they headed to Africa and we headed for home!!
The weather has allowed us out on the sea only briefly but there is plenty of wildlife around. These clips feature basking sharks, herring shoaling at the surface and harbour porpoises and gannets feeding on the herring.
Bardsey Blog 01 – 11 September 2011
Here starts the report from the other UK field work ongoing this year by the WDCS team – the study of cetaceans around Bardsey Island off the North Coast of Wales.
After a 24 hour delay due to stormy seas, the notorious Bardsey Sound fell calm for a few hours and allowed us to cross over to our home for the next month, Bardsey or Ynys Enlli - the Island of the Currents! We quickly settled into our cottage, Ty Nant, or Brook House amid reports that another storm was brewing out in the Atlantic. Ty Nant occupies a stunning position on the north of the island with views across the hay meadows and then west out across the Irish Sea.
There are about forty people on the island at the moment; WDCS Science Team, an environmental Christian group on a pilgrimage, the island’s resident farming family and the staff at the Bird Observatory.
Living on an island, especially one as sparsely populated and as small (just 3 km long) as Bardsey, comes with its own challenges. Our cottage has no electricity just gas to power the heating, stove, refrigerator and lighting. Luckily, our vast array of electronic equipment can be charged at the Observatory just down the track or by our latest very exciting piece of kit, the Power Gorilla!
Safety here is paramount as the island is regularly cut off from the rest of the world for days, sometimes weeks, when the weather turns in. If, however, you were injured and needed helicopter assistance, there’s a very good chance that the future King of England, aka HRH Prince William, would come to your rescue, as he’s stationed nearby on Anglesey.
The resident Bird Observatory warden gives all visitors a presentation early on during their stay highlighting the amazing variety of birds that come through Bardsey underlining its important location as a prime migration route. It’s not just the birds that the Observatory collects data on. It also records moths, butterflies and marine mammals – primarily the Grey seals and dolphins that frequent its waters. There are an estimated 400 Grey seals here at the moment and now, in early September, we are starting to see the first of the seal pups with a current count of four.
By the end of the season about 30 seal pups will have been born on the rocky beaches and sheltered coves of Bardsey. Link here to see what the WDCS Director of Science has to say about his encounter with the seals.
The weather is particularly challenging at the moment with wind speeds of 50+ mph screaming across the sea. The weather has no obvious effect on the reason we are here on this island paradise – the Risso’s dolphin. This mysterious and elusive dolphin is frequently encountered around the island and the neighbouring mainland peninsular. They are often spotted with young and Sunday was no exception, as we witnessed a group of six adults with two calves breaching and surfing in high seas just a hundred metres offshore at the north end of the island. This appears to be a typical travel pattern, as from our previous land-based surveys we observed the dolphins arriving from the north east coming very close along the north west shore before heading west back out to sea again. Even with hurricanes Jack, Irene and Katia turning the waters around Bardsey to a bubble bath of froth, the Risso’s have still been spotted frolicking in the waves on six out of the last eight days.
Hopefully, as this current weather systems blows through we’ll be able to establish our two land based viewing platforms and set a schedule for our boat surveys……..
Patience is proving to be our virtue out here on the Isle of Lewis. The old Scottish saying "if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes" is proving to be very true and even looking ahead at the various forecasts doesn't really help as it's hardly ever what they say it's going to be, so we've got to be ready to go at a moments notice! And also be prepared to just sit and wait … for a weather window to appear! However … we can now report on 2 of the best days that we've had since coming to the "Rainbow Isle" - the almost constant mix of rain and sunshine delivers these colourful and magical sights on an almost daily basis.
Day 1; from our land-based watching site at Tiumpan Head.
Over a few hours we were treated to sightings of harbour porpoises foraging close to shore, a minke whale slicing through the calm waters, a basking shark "basking" in the sunshine and two Risso's dolphins patrolling the northern half of our survey area. Again, it was the dreaded midge that eventually drove us off the cliff. There's a very fine balance to be found when it comes to marine wildlife watching in these parts - when the wind is too strong the white-caps on the water prevent us seeing anything, and when the wind drops too much, the midges appear on mass and make a beeline for any exposed piece of skin!
Day 2; from the relative safety (from midges that is) of our research vessel.
We started early, shortly after sun-up, and were hoping for a long-awaited great day at sea! And we were not to be disappointed. A mere 15 minutes from harbour, and not even out the Loch, we came across more porpoises than you could shake a stick at! Everywhere you looked there were little black bodies surfacing - behind, in front, to the right, to the left - it was a virtual porpoise soup! Cutting the engine we sat and listened, and counted, and tried to photograph the normally shy and elusive little porpoises. In stark contrast to their "usual" behaviour, these little guys (and girls) were actively interested in us and made several close swim-by's (cetacean equivalent of a fly-by), surfacing sideways to eyeball us and then diving under the boat at the last minute, only to surface on the other side with their characteristic little "pfff's". One individual appeared to be particularly interested in us and spent most of his/her time just doing circuits around the boat; from a very distinctive scar behind its blow-hole we recognised it as the same individual that we'd seen on 3 previous occasions in the same general vicinity - seems like this is an important or at least favoured, habitat for this chap!
After determining that we had approximately 35 porpoises within 500m of the boat, we decided to move on towards the mouth of the loch, however we didn't get very far before we came across yet another group of porpoises, this time actively engaged in foraging and not the least bit interested in what we were up to. This pod of 15 animals, including a young calf or two, were likely chasing mackerel and indulging in some fishy treats. There was a lot of activity (and lots of white water in their wake), with some animals "racing" at the surface and coming completely out the water as they hunted down their breakfast. Another stark contrast to what the porpoises we'd encountered only 15 minutes earlier were up to!
Soon we were leaving the porpoises behind and heading out into the oily calm waters of the Minch. In parts, not even the slightest gust of wind was present with hardly a ripple in sight - not a day to have been on land - but certainly one to have been on the water! It wasn't long before the cry of "Risso's" went up and the excitement was palpable … this was the first time in our 4 weeks here that we'd come across Risso's when out on the boat! One animal became two, two soon became five and the challenge was on to get shots of all the various dorsal fins before we left them in peace. They headed south, we headed north! But not too far north as we soon spied a wall of rain slowly approaching over land from the north-west, threatening to call an early end to our watery adventure and to avoid finding ourselves in the middle of it, turned tail and headed south, in the direction of home!
And what did we find? More Risso's … this time approaching us from the south. Some of the animals were the same as the ones we'd seen earlier but some of them were "newbies" … including a mother, whom we quickly nicknamed "Stumpy" due to the distinct lack of a dorsal fin (she'd obviously previously suffered at the wrong end of a propellor) and her calf - whose dorsal fin was bigger than hers! The calf was very young, between 1 and 3 months old, which we were able to determine because of the presence of foetal folds - a result of the calf spending its months in the womb, curled up, nose to tail. These folds disappear at different rates in different species; bottlenose dolphins can keep them for 1+ year, while southern right whales lose them within 2 weeks.
One of the most exciting things to come of the day, and our encounter with the Risso's, was that we recognised a few individuals as animals we'd identified last year - showing beyond reasonable doubt that this is an area to which animals are returning year on year … therefore it's important to them, or at least favoured!
As the rain chased us home, to top off a magical day, we spotted a sunfish - the first in our 3 years of surveying the Minch! There is some evidence that these giant circular fish (with elongated fins) are becoming a more regular visitor to Scottish waters - a sign of warming seas?