Saturday, 8 July 2017

Safe Lookout

From my usual lookout on the top of the cliffs I can sometimes see a few harbour porpoises at this time of year. The telltale sign of large numbers of gulls feeding offshore will often announce their presence. This evening I catch sight of four just a few hundred yards offshore. It’s always difficult to be certain how many there are, they seldom breach and most of the time all I see are small triangular dorsal fins as they break the surface of the sea. They’ve become much more common in these waters in recent years; maybe more people are watching, but it’s more likely another indication of climate change, and we see them more frequently in winter now. There are other cetaceans out there too; common, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, and even minke whales, but I’ve never seen them.

It’s a good evening for Manx shearwaters, and groups of ten or twenty at a time move steadily west towards the Pembrokeshire islands. Manx shearwater might seem an odd choice for may favourite bird; it’s not colourful, and only coming ashore at night makes it difficult to see well. It’s the romance, its lifestyle, and association with islands that attracts me to this bird. Also the wonderful books of Ronald Lockley made a huge impression on me when I was first discovering the islands off the west coast of Wales. A night on Skomer in midsummer, with the calls of thousands of shearwaters flying around, ranks as one of the world’s greatest wildlife experiences. 

There are good numbers of gannets as well this evening. They come up the Bristol Channel from Grassholm Island about 70 miles to the west. We don’t get many, but they’re here each evening now, and watching them dive as I sit perched on my safe lookout transports me my beloved islands to the west.


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