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12/06/2018

Visiting the Columbretes Islands

At 8:00 Am everyone was ready to leave with the catamaran from Penyíscola. Cameras with large objectives, good binoculars and those who also went snorkeling, weighed neoprene, tubes and masks.

Very dark clouds were seen and some drops fell, but the people were livelier and we drove the Columbretes course laden with fish that we immediately started firing as soon as we left the port. Pere Josa, an ornithologist and great expert in pelagic birds, made a small introduction and gave some advice to facilitate the best observations to the islands.

The birds took little time to throw themselves into the water to recover the food that was pulled from aft. Yellow –legged gulls (Laurus michahellis), young and adult, and Audouin's gulls (Laurus audouinii) were the first to be photographed, in large groups and they followed us all the way.

Although on the horizon a vast sheet of water was seen, the time was improving and with it the most interesting observations. When we had waited for a while, the first group of Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) appeared. Its way of flying next to the waves and how close we had them to the ship,  made all the cameras shoot. But when Pere Josa announced a couple of Scopoli’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), the people crushed to be able to see them closely. They accompanied us for a long time, arriving more specimens every minute, until we could count more than 20 next to the boat. Those who had more luck were able to photograph them with the Balearic shearwater, which were distributed between the back and the sides of the catamaran. Seeing how they were sinking to collect the fish that was submerged was really impressive.

It was brief the visit of a lesser black-backed gull (Laurus fuscus) and a black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) that camouflaged between the Audouin’s gulls and the yellow-legged gulls. The arrival of some common tern (Sterna hirundo), with its prickly droppings to pick up the fish, a great skua (Stercorarius skua) and a northern gannet (Morus bassanus) caused the image behind the ship to be very good for a while Interesting, with all these mixed species competing for the food that was falling to the water.

  After more than two hours, we began to see the silhouette of Columbretes. Those who had not visited them ever went to the bow to photograph them, and people started storing the material in their backpacks. We moored in the bay that forms on the Grossa Island, in the form of a half ellipse, and the fastest distinguished the silhouette of an Eleonora's falcon (Falco eleonorae) that rested inside a cave. His acrobatic flights delight us while we were mooring, as well as visiting the islets. We could observe its two forms of plumage (clear and dark).

Two groups were made, the first ones left with a small boat to the island, where a technician was expected to explain the history, evolution, curiosities and all the fauna and flora that inhabit. It was full of yellow -legged gulls with their offspring and, on the way to the lighthouse, we were able to photograph the Columbretes lizard (Podarcis atrata), the only endemic vertebrate of the Valencian community and that can only be found on the islands.

Those who stayed in the boat and wanted to enter the water, had time to snorkel, where they could see large groupers, common dentex of more than 3 kg, brown meagre, mediterranean chromis, diplodus puntazzo, saddled seabream and all the fish, that being a marine reserve and unable to fish, were not afraid of divers who, combined with the great water quality, made them look very close. Some also saw jellyfish like portuguese man o'war, slipper lobsters of more than 2 kg and black sea urchins.

After the second round of visiting the island, we ate and went back to Peñíscola. Before, we took a tour of the small islands of the archipelago and we could see Ferrera, Foradada and Carallot closely. A group of european shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) rested atop the rocks and from the boat we were throwing fish again to try and keep making observations. For a long time, no birds came in, but eventually the thing was encouraged by some Audouin's gulls and a good group of common terns, which were added to some sandwich terns (Sterna sandvicensis), allowing flight comparisons between both species. The boat was again revolutionized by seeing a european storm pretel (Hidrobates pelagicus), a species that suddenly only saw fleetingly and that was very applauded. Finally, some ocean sunfish (Mola mola) were seen.

At 18:00 and very on time, we arrived at the port, tired but satisfied, showing the photographs they had done one and another and wishing to see us again soon, to continue singing "bimbos" and enjoying great days like the one we had.