5, 6 & 7 September : all at sea

I thought that the title might make for some comments but I really was at sea, this time off Bilbao at the bottom end of the Bay of Biscay, sailing out of Santurtzi (which is on the west bank end of the river from Bilbao. The trips are organised by my old friend Gorka Ocio, see www.verballenas.com and the boat is limited to 10 pax plus the skipper, Roberto, at weekends his wife Rosa, and Gorka. I flew down from Málaga Thursday morning, then out the following three days from 07.30 through to around 17.30, then home on Monday. We went out in a generally NE direction as far as the big, deep (like one which is about 2.500m deep!) canyons which should give upwelling and the big whales, dolphins and, which was my raison d'être for going, seabirds!! (Bet that surprised you!).
As for the photos, the ones of cetaceans which are copyrighted and not for any other use are those of Gorka, who knows his cetaceans, and the seabirds are mine. So, here goes.  
First the cetaceans. Much to my regret we did not get amongst the really big whales, the biggest and also the most common was the Cuvier's Beaked Whale, of which we saw plenty, including the one that jumped (above) and which was about 7m long  and made a hell of splash visible at kms range, as well as an extremely old male (they turn white with age, some of us know how they will feel) and this poor old chap which virtually scraped the paint off the boat and had lost his two protruding front teeth (some of us will also know about that too).
Bottle-nosed Dolphins
 Below: 3 photos of Striped Dolphins, the last from the bow

Sunfish jumping (in Spanish they are pez luna, or moon fish)
I was more interested in the seabirds but at the south eastern end of the Bay of Biscay much depends upon the prevailing wind direction, and wasn't doing much prevailing. However, we saw a single juvenile Long-tailed Skua each day - the two photos are of the bird seen on the first morning, the bird on the last day being a dark phase which had me spooked for a few seconds. On the other hand, we saw only one Arctic Skua.

European Storm-petrels
We saw very few terns, one or two Sandwich Terns at the mouth of the river and a single Common Tern out at sea. A juv. Sabine's Gull which flew over us on the last morning was nice to see but it could have stayed around and given us really good views. Neither were Gannets very common, although we saw them each day it was only on the last day that we saw an adult, the rest being this year's juveniles and a bird moulting to plumage 2. Most of the European Storm-petrels we saw were quite distant and simply buzzing back and forth.We saw a few Sooty Shearwaters, none of which hung around for long, but their cousins the very attractive Great Shearwater, now making their vway back down to Tristan da Cunha, did hang around and one or two offered some very good views, one of which was fascinated by the boat and didn't move.
Great Shearwater
I was rather caught out by the amount of non-seabird migration we saw, although I remember reading about it several decades since. Passerines migrate across the southern part of the Bay of Biscay, sort of cutting the corner between the jumping off point which, if the memory serves, is somewhere around Bordeaux and then hoping to make it across to Euskadi-Cantabria-Asturias, but so much depends upon the weather and the condition of the bird. Seems to me that evolution has messed things up a bit there because it can be a deadly decision as head winds can and do play havoc and the number of deaths at sea is incalcuable.
We saw Chiffchaff (which probably wouldn't have made it as it still had 30 nautical miles to go) and other warblers, including a Melodious (it could have been an Icterine but very unlikely). Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, a few Northern Wheatears (they looked strong), a few Sand Martins and a rather weakly House Martin, although the last migrants we saw were a small flock of 7 Dunlins which shot past the boat like formula one cars (obviously not Ferraris).
And yes, thank you, I did enjoy it.
NOTE: No blogs for a month as I shall be out of action.

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