The weather gods were looking down on us this morning and smiling…..time for us to test out the sea-legs again and get back out on the water. With only a few changes to the crew (Kirsty from the centre and Hywel from RSPB) we headed off into the outer Moray Firth following a transect line that took us out to the Beatrice oil platform and back home in a rather large “figure of eight” – a trip that lasted approximately 12 hours. Thankfully the sea-state was constant somewhere between 1 and 2 and the swell was less than half a metre so no fish-feeding today!
The day began fairly uneventfully with few sightings, even of birds, but once we got out into deeper waters things started to pick up and we were soon logging sighting after sighting. Rafting birds were a-plenty, from the compact little kittiwakes to the highly visible gannets, and from the straight-winged fulmars to the everyday run of the mill herring gulls. Even the fairly elusive skuas were out in force and both the “great” and the “arctic” varieties treated us to a fly-by.
Although we only had the occasional sighting of the cryptic harbour porpoises the hydrophone picked up a fair few clicks emitted from these little critters and was reinstating the value of towing this acoustic device behind the boat – you may not see them but it doesn’t mean they’re not there! We had 4 really nice minke whale sightings (well some of us saw them at least - I believe I was at an advantage here as I’ve just spent a month scouring the Minch for them so was “tuned” in) all of them lone individuals sedately looking for what food the Moray Firth had to offer.
The late afternoon brought an unexpected visitor to the boat in the form of an RAF Rescue helicopter! Requesting permission to land, they dropped one of their crew onto the moving fore-deck as part of a practice drill, only to airlift him back up from the aft-deck. The whole event took over half an hour….and although happy to help when it comes to rescue practice (who knows when one may need it) we were wondering whether or not we could ask for reimbursement for lost survey time!! After my month of military spotting in the Minch, this as you can imagine was a rather surreal encounter!
And so a very successful day at sea came to an end and we all ambled back to the cottage in time for a quick dinner, some data downloading and a well deserved sleep! The weather isn’t looking great for tomorrow but we’re holding out for Friday!