Goodness gracious – baitballs of fire!

It’s always a great sign when you discover you’re floating above a pile of sandeels. Slowing the boat down, my colleague and I glanced to the echosounder and saw a large shoal of fish on the screen, taking shape as a thick cloud of red pixels.

Sandeels shoal in the surface waters or down in the sand on the sea bed, and form the staple diet for countless marine birds and mammals.

Luckily for me, that means that I can hang around with the sandeels until the wildlife comes along for lunch. But today the birds had beaten me to it, squawking loudly as they took advantage of the huge shoal underneath us.

In the heat of the afternoon sun, flaps of wings and flurries of feathers surrounded the boat. Black backed gulls dived head first into the water and surfaced with beaks full of wriggling sandeels. I’d never seen a baitball this big before! It was a calm sunny day, and through the turquoise water I could make out the black shadow of the sandeel shoal as they swarmed, panicked by the birds.

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Bottoms up!!

The guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes looked almost overwhelmed, not knowing where to put their beaks first – but it didn’t matter. Regardless of where they dived they came back up with beaks teaming full of fish. Some wriggled furiously and managed to drop back into the water, but for most, it was their last glimpse of sunlight before disappearing into a dark gullet.

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Black backed gulls with beak fulls of sandeels

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A lone puffin having a wing stretch

Over the cries of the seabirds I heard a “Pff!” and glanced down to see the footprint of a porpoise splash, slowly fading back into waves.

“Pff!” another surfaced behind me. One after another they jumped around the boat, startling seabirds as they burst out of the water for breaths in between catching sandeels. I counted at least 20 porpoise as their shapes appeared and disappeared through the turquoise waters. What a fantastic day!

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Mrs Sea Eagle near the nest, looking a little bit raggy!

We also visited the sea eagle nest – the chick is now huge and on the verge of fledging – I’m sure it’ll be gone in a few days. I last saw it standing on the edge of the nest, looking to its surroundings and clumsily flapping its wings. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a safe fledging and hoping to see it take to the skies soon! I’m sure the local ravens will object as usual and try to mob it – but hopefully the youngster will hold its own. I’ll keep you posted.

For now, the activity (both in and out of water) continues to get busier for the summer and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be – happy days!

Sara

 

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