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The Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean - the BSPC pipeline inspection.
March 2010

Black Sea map
Map showing the work area

The job was an ROV pipeline inspection survey of two lines crossing the Black Sea from Samsun in Turkey over to Russia. The job was nearing completion when we joined the vessel MV Geosund in Samsun on 3rd March. On completion of the job the vessel sailed west through the Bosporus into the Mediterranean and ultimately to Algerciras in southern Spain.

For more links to other trips to the area see the following links:
Russian Black Sea - April 2012
Turkish Black Sea - May 2012 

ROV Survey vessel Geosund arrives in Samsun harbour at dawn
ROV Survey and construction vessel Geosund arrives in Samsun harbour, Turkey

In the harbour there were flocks of Tufted Duck, plenty of Coot and several Great-crested grebes as well as various gulls and large numbers of Cormorants.

Great Crested Grebe in Samsun harbour
Great Crested Grebe in Samsun harbour

The very first morning offshore, approximately halfway between Turkey and Russia, there were grounded migrants onboard the vessel. Following a pattern that was repeated over the next several days most stuff cleared off shortly after dawn leaving largely only the dead and dying behind. Dead birds were found on deck pretty much daily during this trip. The corpses of Skylarks, Black Redstarts, Robins and others were a reminder of the risks taken by migrating passerines.

A few moribund Skylark were picked off and eaten by a Rook whilst a couple of Cormorants rested onboard moving only when disturbed..

Migrating Skylark
This bedraggled Skylark landed on a winch and became covered in grease
Click on the picture for more Skylark images

By dawn on 6th March we had moved to N 42° 39.3’, E 37° 36.5 and more typical early spring migrants turned up, mostly Skylarks but also White Wagtail and a Yellowhammer.

Yellowhammer resting onboard, 06 March 2010
Click on picture for more Yellowhammer images

Cormorant in breeding plumage
Cormorant onboard survey vessel, Black Sea, 06 March 2010
Click on picture for more Cormorant images

During strong westerly winds the next day several distant Yelkouan Shearwater gave brief views.

On 8th March a much larger movement was obvious with a flock of some 200 Skylark circling the vessel during the pre-dawn darkness – complete cloud cover must have made navigation virtually impossible for them. Most disappeared shortly after dawn when they managed to realign themselves using the light from the sun.

Kestrel sheltering under the helideck
Kestrel sheltering under the helideck, 08 March 2010

Interestingly a Black-necked Grebe also circled the vessel with them but instead of moving on after dawn it settled on the sea near the vessel. A Heron took off from the mast as I went out on deck before breakfast and other species included a male Black Redstart, a few Stonechat, a White Wagtail and a Kestrel. Late at night, around 2300 flocks of thrushes were seen and heard circling around. Fieldfares, Song thrush, Blackbird and Redwing were joined by small flocks of Skylark.

Female Stonechat
Female Stonechat 08 March 2010

By dawn of the 9th March (again before breakfast and before it was light) the deck was covered in migrants of a large variety of species, some of which were somewhat surprising. Highlights were a couple of Cetti’s Warblers – one of the few birds that remained onboard after dawn and a Corn Bunting.

Migrating Cetti's Warbler
Migrating Cetti's warbler, 09 March 2010
Click on picture for more images of Cetti's Warbler

Migrant Corn Bunting
Corn Bunting resting onboard pre-dawn

With all this going on I discovered that I had forgotten the battery charger for my camera. This led to a desperate remedy – one that worked just fine but is probably not to be recommended. That battery grip I’ve been thinking about buying moved right to the top of the list….

Unconventional battery charging
Unconventional battery charging....not to be recommended but desperate times breed desperate solutions....

Later in the afternoon a Kittiwake flew past – a vagrant in these parts and possibly only the second ever photographed in Turkish waters. More thrushes were heard around the vessel after nightfall.

Male Black Redstart
A male Black Redstart passes a dead Skylark on deck, March 2010
Click on picture for more images of Black Redstart

On completion of the job the vessel started the transit to Athens for demobilisation. Unfortunately we passed the Bosporus at night but went through the Marmora straights during daylight.

The Straights of Marmora were a once in a lifetime experience with thousands of Yelkouan Shearwater passing – huge flocks heading both to and from the Black Sea flew past constantly. They steered well clear of larger vessels such as ours but passed very close to the many small fishing boats.

Yelkouan Shearwaters moving through the straits of Marmora
Flock of Yelkouan Shearwaters moving through the staits of Marmora

The following "landscapes" were also taken using a 400mm telephot lens - no time to change lenses with flocks of Yelkouan Shearwaters passing!
View as we went through the straits of Marmora View as we went through the straits of Marmora
View from Marmora straits, March 2010 View from Marmora straits, March 2010

Numerous Mediterranean Gulls and Great Egrets were among the other species seen in this area as well as pods of dolphins. Things were relatively quiet off Athens although there were a few Sandwich Terns and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls among the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls. The vessel sailed on from Athens towards the western end of the Mediterranean. As usual for this area there was very little to see for the most part with just one Cory’s Shearwater flying past and a dead male Subalpine Warbler of the eastern race found on deck.

We finally went ashore at Algerciras in southern Spain. Whilst waiting for the crewboat off Gibraltar in the early hours of the morning and long before dawn a flock of around 30 Audoin's Gulls fed around the vessel. Attempting to photograph these gull at night produced some rather surreal images - even with the ISO set to 3200....

Two Mediterranean Gulls with Black-headed Gulls, Athens
Two Mediterranean Gulls with Black-headed Gulls off Athens, March 2010

Crew change off Athens
Crewchange day! Personnel on their way home off Athens, March 2010

Male Subalpine Warbler of eastern race found dead onboard
Male eastern race Subalpine Warbler found dead on deck in the eastern Mediterranean, March 2010

Seabat 7125 and tritech profiler
Some of the equipment used during the survey - a Tritech profiler (left) and a Seabat 7125 mounted on the ROV
Night time shot of Audoin's Gull, Gibraltar
One of 30 or so Audoin's Gulls feeding at night off Gibraltar

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