Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Hand-feeding Turnstones and Humpback Whales

There is only one place in the country where this combination is possible (at the moment at least!), and that is in the idyllic coastal town of St Ives. This characterful little town lies on the north coast of Cornwall, some 26 miles from Falmouth. I have been fortunate to visit the area twice in the last week, with my Mum and with a group of fellow photographers: Will Hawkes, Max Thompson, Rebekah Ball and Rhys Kaye. Both visits were very pleasant, with plenty of wildlife to look at, although it has to be said that the real target of the trips was the chance of caching in on a glimpse of one of spectacular Humpback Whales that turned up in the bay a weekend ago.

On our first visit (7th), the sea was relatively rough, which wasn't particularly conducive for spotting cetaceans! We spent most of our time along the harbour front watching a flock of 25 Turnstones as they ran about our feet ad occasionally took the odd peanut from our hands! It was brilliant to see these smart waders so close, and to watch the interactions and behaviours amongst them. We took a lot of pictures, trying to get some slightly more unusual portraits to take advantage of their tame behaviour. We did eventually get up to St Ives Island, where a half hour seawatch produced two Balearic Shearwaters, 14 Fulmars, a Red-throated Diver, 42 Kittiwakes and 65 Gannets. There was a single Purple Sandpiper hiding amongst a sizeable flock of 200 Dunlins on the rocks too. A very pleasant first visit!

Sunset from St Ives Island

We headed back to St Ives on the 10th, to see if we could have another crack at the whales. The weather this time was much more favourable, with hardly a breath of wind and a flat calm sea to accompany; ideal. We headed to the harbour to check out the Turnstones initially, of which there were many fewer. I then set up the scope and had a scan out to sea...

Half way through my scan, the dark shape of a cetacean's back suddenly arced into view as an animal surfaced- straight away I knew the beast in question, it was the Humpback Whale!!! I saw the superb animals for a full four or five seconds, taking in the uneven shape of its back and stunted little dorsal fin, before it disappeared. After many expletives and a bit of panic, we were all set staring out to sea with whatever optics were bestowed upon us- unfortunately it was quite distant, and we only had one more glimpse. After a while we decided to head up to St Ives Island for a better perspective, and discovered a crowd of people who had already seen it several times that day. 

We sat atop the mound for a good hour, but nothing materialised. A very smart male Black Redstart and two Purple Sandpipers were present on the rocks nearby, whilst a steady stream of Kittiwakes and Guillemots passed by out to sea. It was good to see a few Great Northern Divers too- a great trip all-in-all! 

HUMPBACK WHALE!!! Ok so no flukes or breaches, but a full 3/4 seconds as the awesome beast surfaced in the bay. This is a quick sketch of what I saw

Here is a selection of other images taken during out visits to the area, particularly of the Turnstones...
The flock of Dunlins


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