MV Balmoral

Recent Sightings

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Glasgow to Loch Fyne via Kyles of Bute 24th September 2017

Posted 01 October 2017

Louise Milne; MARINElife WLO
Weather: Over cast with showers. Wind: light breeze. Sea state: 2-3

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise 11
Common Seal 18

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black Headed Gull
Gannet
Kittiwake
Cormorant
Guillemot                                                                                                                        
Razorbill
Oystercatcher

Terrestrial birds on coastline
Grey Heron
Mute Swan                                                                                                                    
Mallard                                                                                                                        
Lapwing

On approaching the Science Museum, I was greeted by the sight of not one but two iconic steamships: MV Balmoral and TS Queen Mary. What a wonderful sight and a great way to start our day cruise. Tony the purser and Captain Howie were waiting dockside to welcome me and the other guests aboard.

We set off sharp at 10am heading west down the atmospherically misty Clyde. I positioned myself on the lower bow deck where I introduced myself to the passengers some of which I recognised as regular MV Balmoral travellers. We were a mixed bunch comprising of steamer enthusiasts, wildlife spotters and day trippers.

As we cruised down the Clyde a fascinating commentary highlighted the great days of Clyde ship building. Who knew you can bungee jump off the top of the Titan Crane for example!

Although it was a damp start to the day I had plenty of company on deck for the sail to Largs. This meant many pairs of eyes all focused on the water and the banks of the Clyde. It wasn't long before the calls of seal were heard. A single swimming Common Seal watched us as we cruised past Braehead shopping centre. Further on the sandy banks were full of Grey Heron which myself and another passenger coined a new collective noun for- a flush of herons!

Common Seal Graham Ekins 01

Common Seal (Graham Ekins)

As for me and my fellow wildlife spotters (collectively known as a steam of spotters!) we saw many examples of the local wildlife on the sail to Largs: Cormorant, Mute Swan with signets, Canadian Geese, Lapwing, Curlew and Oyster Catchers. Oh and not least a pod of Harbour Porpoise feeding around Wemyss Bay.

We reached Largs to lots of friendly waves from the awaiting dockside passengers. Once they boarded we headed directly towards Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, passing Cumbrae Island on the way. The sea state was 2 which afforded more sightings of sea birds such as Gannet, Guillemot, Black Headed Gull, Kittiwake and Razorbill.  After collecting more passengers at Rothesay, we headed round the northern tip of Bute through the Kyles of Bute.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 01a

Kittiwake (Rob Petley-Jones)

The channel between Bute and the mainland is known as "The Narrows" and it afforded us a very close encounter with the lolling Common Seal which watched us nonchalantly from their haul up sites on the pink hued rocks around Colintraive. The name Colintraive comes from the Gaelic for swimming narrows as in the past cattle were swum across from Bute to the mainland for market. A few passengers alighted at Tighnabruaich from where we headed round to Loch Fyne.

The sea state was very calm and mirror like as we headed round the peninsula and into Loch Fyne. The sail up Loch Fyne was very pleasant with a couple of sightings of Harbour Porpoise cutting gracefully thought the flat water. We pulled into Tarbet before heading further up Loch Fyne towards Otter Ferry.

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 01

Harbour Porpoise (Mike Bailey)

Loch Fyne has a rich heritage of marine mammal sightings. One record from 1570 documents a 'monster in the loch the size of a ship's mast with great eyes'. More recently in August 2017 Minke and Humpback Whale were spotted heading from Arran towards Loch Fyne. Loch Fyne regularly hosts Otter, Common and Bottlenose Dolphin and seasonal Basking Shark. None spotted on this trip but a solitary Harbour Porpoise did follow us on our return journey down the loch.

The return to Bute was dry and bright with many of us out on deck taking in the wildlife all around us. I was kept busy talking with passengers and the General Manager of White Funnel Ltd who was on a busman's holiday! This afforded me the opportunity to talk more about MARINElife, my role on board and the species of marine mammals found in and around the Clyde and sea lochs.

As we crossed between Bute and Largs the evening light was fading so I decided to disembark at Largs. I said a big thank you to Tony the Purser and bade farewell to the Glasgow bound passengers.

My thanks to the crew of MV Balmoral for all their help and continued support.

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Cruise to Loch Striven 22nd September 2017

Posted 27 September 2017

Jenny Ball; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Weather: Rain until mid-afternoon with poor visibility. Wind: SW 2-4

Marine Mammals:
Grey Seal 3
Harbour Porpoise 2

Seabirds:
Gannet
Guillemot
Eider
Oystercatcher
Cormorant
Black Guillemot
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Terrestrial Birds:
Greylag Goose
Heron

The weather for this trip could hardly have been more disappointing for the passengers. The rain set in as we left Greenock, with visibility declining to the point where we could only just see the outline of the hills either side of the river. Apart from a very short interlude as we arrived at Dunoon, the chilly murky and wet conditions didn't let up until the very last leg of the journey, from Greenock up the river to central Glasgow.

Balmoral Greenock Jenny Ball

Balmoral at Greenock (Jenny Ball)

There were of course a few hardy souls finding sheltered spots around the ship, and one of them reported seeing a couple of Harbour Porpoise near Hunters Quay.  Some small groups of Eider were seen on the water, Cormorant on the old quay at Dunoon were trying to dry their wings, a solitary Black Guillemot sped past, and a few Gannet were flying and occasionally diving.

Once the weather finally improved, we enjoyed the trip up the Clyde towards the city, where the ship follows a deep dredged channel through otherwise shallow mudbanks.  We had hoped to see some Grey Seal hauled out on the rocky shores, but instead saw two or three of them swimming and then diving away as we passed.

Gannet Karen Dick 01

Gannets (Karen Dick)

Shore birds were a little easier to see, with Oystercatcher lined up on an old wharf, a large flock of Greylag Geese on a lush grassy bank, a few solitary Heron spaced out along the rocky shore, with a group of three or four in a stand of small trees, and Black-headed Gull swirling round an outfall.

Despite the conditions, guests were interested to look out for whatever wildlife they could see, and made the best of their cruise by enjoying the socialising in the indoor viewing areas.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Jenny Ball; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Greenock to Campbeltown 21st September 2017

Posted 26 September 2017

Jenny Ball; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Weather:  Sunny with excellent visibility and calm sea. Wind: NE  2-3

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 12
Grey Seal 3
Common Dolphin 1
Unidentified Dolphin Spp. 2

Other Mammals:
Red Deer

Seabirds:
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull
Manx Shearwater
Gannet
Guillemot
Eider
Oystercatcher
Cormorant
Shag

This was the MV Balmoral's first cruise on the Clyde this season, and the conditions could not have been more perfect. A light NE breeze, brilliant sunshine and a flat sea - much more than we could have hoped for!  The visibility was exceptional (we could see Ailsa Craig, the famous gannetry, from well over 40 miles), and the passengers were keen to look out for the abundant wildlife.

Balmoral Lochranza Jenny Ball

Balmoral at Lochranza (Jenny Ball)

There are plenty of resident porpoises in the Clyde, and I saw 5 or 6 between Greenock and Largs - other passengers reported sightings too, and it seemed that if you looked hard enough, you would see one!

One of the Balmoral volunteers had told me about a Common Dolphin which likes to follow boats in the Largs area, and sure enough, it leapt around in our wake as we approached the town.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 30

Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Sailing between the Great and Little Cumbraes, there was quite a feeding frenzy, with Gannet, gulls and Guillemot circling, wheeling and diving - a spectacular sight.  Bird life generally seemed plentiful, with frequent small rafts of resting birds, Gannet feeding, many Guillemot in winter plumage as well as several flocks of Manx Shearwater.

Our approach to Campbeltown was marked by three Harbour Porpoise diving away, and a Grey Seal giving us a wary look.  In the harbour itself were two huge Grey Seal, blowing and snorting and rolling gently in the water - I think they were being well fed by the local fishermen!

Guillemot Peter Howlett 11

Guillemots (Peter Howlett)

The return trip back up the Clyde was quieter, but beautiful in the evening light. We saw two groups of Red Deer on the ridges above Lochranza on Arran, and others amongst the yellowing bracken on the hillsides. I heard from a passenger that she had seen at least two dolphin breaching, along the north side of Arran.

The Largs dolphin came out again, and this time we were all ready for it, so lots of passengers had great views of it frolicking in the waves alongside the boat, and then carrying on leaping behind us as we sailed on.

Lochranza & Arran Jenny Ball

Lochranza & Arran (Jenny Ball)

Light was fading as we left Largs, and I spent the remaining time chatting to people in the lounge - an interesting mix of Waverley/Balmoral enthusiasts, transport buffs, visitors and some locals just enjoying their magnificent home waters.

A big thank you to all the passengers and crew for their enthusiasm.

Jenny Ball; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Five Bridges Cruise from Clevedon 31st August 2017

Posted 03 September 2017

Terry Bridgwood; MARINElife WLO
Weather: Clear & sunny. Wind: SW  2-4

Summary of sightings
Seabirds:
Unidentified Gull Spp.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Little Gull

Terrestrial Birds:
Curlew
Mallard
Grey Heron
Peregrine Falcon

I was feeling a bit more confident for my second trip and the Oystercatcher was visible and audible on the shore.

It was a clear and sunny day as we left Clevedon pier. We headed NE along the coast towards the river Avon. Passing along Redcliffe bay, the old National Nautical school, Battery Point lighthouse and the new Lifeboat station at Portishead, I spotted half a dozen gulls which I was unable to positively identify.

As we turned onto the river Avon I saw a mix of gulls and ducks on the mudflats. I briefly saw a single bird with a long, curved needle like beak, characteristic of the Curlew.  Along the banks there were numerous Mallard Duck, Lesser Black-backed Gull and juvenile and adult Little Gull. Numerous Redshank were also spotted.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 03

Little Gull (Peter Howlett)

We cruised up the river Avon taking in the beautiful scenery, passing under the M5 bridge and past Sea Mills, under the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge to Brunel lock where we picked up more passengers. A Grey Heron and a Buzzard were seen. One of the passengers advised me that they had seen 2 Peregrine Falcon on the Port side whilst I was on the Starboard side.

Peregrine 01_Adrian Shephard

Peregrine (Adrian Shephard)

We cruised back down the river Avon and rejoined the Bristol Channel. Heading upstream we passed under the M4 2nd Severn crossing. Traffic was racing overhead as we cruised along peacefully. We waited in the channel whilst the Pilots assessed the conditions to see if we could enter the mouth of the river Wye.

Conditions were okay so we made our entrance. There was 6' clearance between to top of the mast and the underside of the bridge but it didn't look like that much. Having turned around in the river mouth we continued under the  M48 1st river crossing. Turning around again we headed back under the bridges and back to Clevedon.

It was interesting to see Clevedon pier from "the other end" at low tide.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trips on the Balmoral and look forward to many more.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Terry Bridgwood; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Clevedon to Nash Point 30th August 2017

Posted 02 September 2017

Terry Bridgwood; MARINElife WLO
Weather: Overcast, raining. Cleared to blue skies & sunshine. Wind: NE 3-5

Summary of sightings
Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 2

Seabirds:
Oystercatcher
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Little Gull
Common Gull
Unidentified Gull Sp.

Other species
Pigeon
Barrel Jellyfish

This being my first solo trip, I was very nervous about how I would manage. The drive to Clevedon was rain all the way and grey skies. When I reached the pier I heard an Oystercatcher on the shore.  I embarked along with the rest of the passengers and introduced myself to the Purser and donned my Wildlife Officer tabbard.

Ropes off was at 09:30 hours and we headed across the Bristol channel to Penarth. There was a lot of marine debris floating but I was really excited to see a possible seal pop its head up amongst a raft of seaweed. On closer inspection it turned out to be nothing more than a log bobbing upright in the water.

En-route to Penarth I saw a variety of gulls - Herring, juvenile Lesser Black backed, Common and some others that I couldn't positively identify. A pigeon flew overhead and joined his fellows as we pulled alongside Penarth pier.

LBB Gull Graham Ekins 03

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull (Graham Ekins)

Some passengers disembarked and others joined us for our trip along the Welsh coast to Porthcawl.

The weather had changed from raining and overcast on the English coast to clear blue skies and glorious sunshine on "the other side". As we rounded the coast, passing Barry and Nash Point, I started to see the occassional Barrel Jelly Fish. A juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull made an appearance.

Nigel, one of the Balmoral volunteers gave a running commentary, pointing out interesting features on shore,the power station at Cardiff, the airport, a castle and the lighthouse.

We entered Porthcawl harbour, the ship sounded its horn to notify swimmers of our approach. Anglers on the harbourside quickly reeled in their lines. Unfortunately I missed the 2 Harbour Porpoise on the Port side, which a passenger kindly told me about a bit later.

Harbour Porpoise Adrian Shephard 09

Harbour Porpoise (Adrian Shephard)

We did a short trip for the embarkees from Porthcawl, returning to the harbour about an hour later.

More lesser black backed gulls were seen on the way  back to Penarth. I enjoyed listening and speaking to passengers who were very knowledgeable about the area.

We returned to Clevedon and disembarked. I thanked the Captain and crew for having me on board and making me welcome.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Terry Bridgwood MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Sharpness to Ilfracombe 8th August 2017

Posted 09 August 2017

Nicola Simpson; MARINElife WLO
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods.

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 2

Seabirds: 
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Gannet
Puffin

I arrive at Sharpness Docks at around 8.45am in drizzle and grey skies. Whilst waiting at the docks I could see the MV Balmoral up the estuary loading passengers at Lydney. It then set off to pick us up and made a tricky maneuver along the fast-flowing estuary to pick us up.

Balmoral Nicola Simpson 01
Herring Gull perched on the flagstaff of the Balmoral (Nicola Simpson)

Shortly after setting off a Cormorant was spotted, along with many Black- headed Gull. As we continued down the estuary into the Bristol Channel we were pleasantly surprised by the change in weather (not what we had seen forecast). The grey clouds lifted and we were greeted with sunny intervals. We pulled in to Clevedon to collect more passengers and drop some off, upon arrival we were greeted with sea shanties from the pier which was very pleasant.

We continued into the Bristol Channel passing through Flatholm and Steepholm, many more seabirds were spotted along our way, including Herring Gull and Gannet. A passenger also reported a sighting of 2 Harbour Porpoise to me, spotted as we passed near the islands.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 02
Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

We arrived in Ilfracombe at around 2.30pm and were met with the local town crier and beautiful sunshine. I departed the boat and went for a walk around the harbour. I sat in the sunshine on a bench eating my lunch, with several hungry Herring Gull watching me, and spotted a Great Black-backed Gull sat on the rocks opposite.

I then re-joined the ship for our return trip with the sun still beaming. We set off at around 4.30pm and had a lovely journey back along the Bristol Channel with many more seabirds spotted, including a report of a Puffin from one of the crew.

Puffin Steve McAusland 01
Puffin (Steve McAusland)

As we returned through Flatholm and Steepholm we watched a big storm build behind the ship over Illfracombe. We carried on back to Clevedon, where we arrived at around 8pm and departed for coaches to return to Sharpness. Many passengers commented on what a lovely day they had with unexpected beautiful weather, and that they would definitely take this trip again.

My thanks to the crew for all their help and support.

Nicola Simpson; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Swansea to Lundy 26th July 2017

Posted 27 July 2017

Peter Howlett; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Wind: SW 5-6, occ. rain at first brightening later, sea state 5-6

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 2

Seabirds:
Manx Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Fulmar
Storm Petrel
Gannet
Kittiwake
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Guillemot

I drove to Swansea through some pretty appalling conditions but fortunately the worst of the rain passed through quickly and the journey south from Swansea to Ilfracombe was largely dry with just occasional drizzle/light rain. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong so the sea was a bit lumpy for picking up cetaceans - although I did harbour hopes that the winds might push the odd Great or Cory's Shearwater into the Bristol Channel as there had been good numbers seen in the southwest a few days earlier.

Swansea pilot Beaufort Peter Howlett 01

Swansea Pilot (Peter Howlett)

We left Swansea to the dramatic sight of the Swansea pilot launch punching its way through the waves behind the Balmoral. Seabirds were immediately in evidence with a few Manx Shearwater seen weaving their way across the waves heading down channel. The weather conditions kept most passengers off the upper decks so there were only a few hardy souls to point these avian wanderers out to. Disappointingly there were relatively few birds to be seen for much of the journey, the highlight being a sole Storm Petrel. The sole cetacean sighting came just as we turned to enter Ilfracombe, with a solitary Harbour Porpoise surfacing briefly alongside the Balmoral.

The weather also put paid to our onward journey to Lundy, with the Captain making the quite obvious decision that the conditions were too rough to continue. The afternoon was spent perusing a few of the many cafes around the harbour with the occasional look off shore which on one occasion turned up two Harbour Porpoise, a mother and calf, making their way down channel.

The return journey was quite lumpy with the highlights being another Storm Petrel and a Balearic Shearwater in amongst the scattering of Manx as we made our way back. Other seabirds included numerous Gannet, the occasional Fulmar and Kittiwake and quite a few adult Guillemot accompanied by their youngsters - unfortunately no Great or Cory's Shearwater deigned to show themselves during the trip. A sole Harbour Porpoise spotted in amongst the waves was the only cetacean sighting of the return trip.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 17

Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

The light was fading as we made our way towards Swansea off the Gower coast and even though wildlife was no longer visible it was audible with the plaintive piping of young Guillemots calling to their parent ringing out across the sea.

Many thanks to White Funnel and the crew of the Balmoral for supporting our work and I look forward to my WLO outing next week and hope the weather is a little kinder.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban to Iona 12th July 2017

Posted 14 July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer
Weather Conditions - Sunny with light wind and excellent visibility

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 6
Bottlenose Dolphin 3

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Razorbill
Cormorant
Shag

Arriving at the pier at 10.30am, I quickly made my way on board and set myself up for the day with my camera and binoculars. It was a very warm and sunny day, and we set off from Oban North Pier at 11.00am. There were plenty of Herring Gull flying around the harbour, along with Guillemot, and lots of Moon Jellyfish in the water.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01

Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

As we began the cruise through the Sound of Kerrera we sighted lots of Gannet and plenty more gulls, both Herring and Black-backed. Due to the low winds and warm temperatures, the water was very still and perfect for sighting marine mammals, as became clear when I sighted a Harbour Porpoise breeching continuously in front of the boat.

As we continued, Cormorant were sighted sitting on the water and large groups of Kittiwake were also seen flying around and sitting on the water. Between the Isle of Seil and the Isle of Mull, 2 more Harbour Porpoise were spotted. There were also large groups of Manx Shearwater and Guillemot sitting on the water along the Mull coast, with several of the Guillemot accompanied by chicks.

Guillemots 01_Rachel Meacock

Guillemots (Rachel Meacock)

These large groups of auk species continued to be sighted as we cruised past the Slate Isles, as did Harbour Porpoise as we had another 2 sightings. There was also a sighting beneath the water of a large Barrel Jellyfish.

Barrel jellyfish

Barrel Jellyfish (Rob Petley-Jones)

As we passed the Isles of Scarba and Colonsay, and the Isle of Jura became visible on the horizon, porpoise number 6 was spotted along with a group of Black-backed Gull.

As we rounded the southern tip of Mull and began to cruise towards Iona, there were several sightings of Shag, along with a single Gannet dramatically dive bombing into the water. As the MV Balmoral began to prepare to allow passengers to disembark for the Isle of Iona, passengers were treated to a traditional anchor drop using bells. After this, we were picked up by another boat and brought to the Isle, as is tradition.

Gannet 01_Rachel Meacock

Gannet (Rachel Meacock)

On the Isle of Iona, I enjoyed a leisurely walk through the ruined nunnery and past the abbey, upon which, I excitedly found a highland cow, before making my way back to the café by the harbour for lunch. Keeping an eye on the sea, I was able to sight several Herring Gull, along with many House Sparrow and Crow.

Once back on board the MV Balmoral, the cruise away from Iona gave me lots of Shag sightings, as a popular nesting spot for these birds is on the cliffs of Iona. There were also lots of Gannet, Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Guillemot with chicks, Manx Shearwater, Razorbill, and Cormorant to keep us busy with sightings.

As we came back into the Sound of Kerrera, I had two passengers approach me with a marine mammal sighting. Some quick discussion as to the breeching behaviour allowed us to decipher that three Bottlenose Dolphin had also been sighted.

BND Adrian Shephard 04

Bottlenose Dolphins (Adrian Shephard)

The MV Balmoral docked back at Oban North Pier at 8.00pm, and I thanked the crew, disembarked and headed for home.

 

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban, Tobermory and the Sound of Sleat 11th July 2017

Posted 13 July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather conditions - Sunny with high winds and occasional rain.

Marine Mammals:
Common Seal 10
Harbour Porpoise 2
Bottlenose Dolphin 2
Minke Whale 1

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Common Tern
Cormorant
Skua

Terrestrial Birds
Sea Eagle

I arrived at the pier and boarded the MV Balmoral at around 9.30am. Once on board I set up my camera and binoculars and put on my high-vis vest. We left the Oban North Pier at 10am and began the journey into the Sound of Mull. The sea state was calm to begin with, and just out of the pier we were treated to views of four Common Seal fishing, along with plenty of Herring Gull, Guillemot, Gannet, Kittiwake and Black-backed Gull.

Common Seal Adrian Shephard 05

Common Seals (Adrian Shephard)

As we entered the Sound of Mull and passed under Duart Castle, nearby Lady Rock was occupied by a large group of Kittiwake, and another Common Seal was calmly circling it.

A single Bottlenose Dolphin was sighted jumping near the rocks, and as we cruised around the Isle of Mull, there were large groups of Common Tern and Manx Shearwater putting on impressive displays alongside the boat. As we came into Tobermory I was informed by a passenger that he had spotted a dolphin jumping, however, I was unable to find out what species they had seen. As we left Tobermory harbour, there were several Cormorant flying around, which were very impressive to see.

As we made our way past Ardnamurchan point, the sea state became slightly rougher as the winds picked up. There were plenty of seabirds to be seen, including terns, Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Razorbill, and one passenger claimed to have seen a Minke Whale whilst looking out towards the Isle of Coll.

Minke Peter Howlett 03

Minke Whale (Peter Howlett)

As we reached Eig and the Small Isles there were large congregations of Manx Shearwater, most likely the nesting population from the Isle of Rum, unable to return to their nests due to the bright sunlight that day. Several passengers were also excited by a large brown bird very close to the deck; a lone Skua!

As we entered the harbour at Mallaig, there were plenty of Herring Gull around, and I was particularly interested by a nest on the rocks containing three chicks. There was also a Common Seal in the harbour which caught the attention of most of the passengers. Also, plenty of Gannet flying around and one Cormorant washing itself quite happily in the water.

As we cruised the Sound of Sleat, there were plenty of birds to keep us entertained, including more congregations of Manx Shearwater, and lots of Common Tern, Kittiwake and Gannet.

As we returned the way we came, bird sightings remained the same as the way out with plenty of terns, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Herring Gull, Guillemot, Black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Cormorant on the water.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 04

Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

As we cruised back through the Sound of Mull, a passenger tapped me on the shoulder and pointed upwards, giving me a fantastic view of a sea eagle flying across to the mainland, where it began hovering and circling, looking for food. As we passed Lady Rock again, the Kittiwake had been joined by around 6 Common Seal, hauled out basking in the sun. Another passenger also informed me that they had seen 2 Harbour Porpoise on the cruise back through.

We returned to the harbour slightly later than scheduled, around 9.45pm. After thanking the crew for accommodating me, I disembarked and made my way to my overnight accommodation to rest up for the next day's trip!

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban - Ardnamurchan Lighthouse & Loch Sunart

Posted 12 July 2017

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods. Winds: Light Breeze. Sea State: 2-3

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 3
Unidentified dolphin sp. 1
Common Seal 100+

Seabirds: 
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx Shearwater
Gannet
Kittiwake
Shag
Cormorant
Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Oystercatcher                                                                                                                                                
Common Tern

Terrestrial Birds: 
Grey Heron                                                                                                                                              
Buzzard
White-tailed Sea Eagle

It was an early start for me and some other passengers who had decided to take the bus from Glasgow to Oban. The 2½ hour drive to Oban was very pleasant and afforded us the opportunity to catch glimpses of the Loch Long Gannet fishing for breakfast. The harbour at Oban was a hive of activity upon our arrival. Kayakers were preparing their kayaks; the Calmac ferry made manoeuvres to sail and day cruise operators touted for business.

Paul the purser gave me a friendly hello as I boarded MV Balmoral. I quickly set about re-familiarising myself with the ship. I headed up to the top deck were I met a few familiar faces from my trip last year up the Clyde. The weather was fair and the sea calm as we set off at 11am towards our first port of call, Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull.

Oban

Tobermory (Louise Milne)

The commentary stared almost immediately due to the fact we were surrounded by so much heritage and history. As we passed Duart Castle I spotted Gannet, Guillemot and Shag.

As we slipped up the Sound of Mull a solitary Harbour Porpoise swam between us and the Craignure ferry terminal on Mull.  At Tobermory some passengers disembarked while others joined us. The sun was shining as we departed Tobermory and headed towards the most westerly point in mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan point. I got chatting with a Tobermory local who informed me that one of the wildlife cruises had spotted the orca 'John Coe' and a Minke Whale the day before around Coll.

We had Coll in our sights as we left the Sound of Mull, so I kept my eyes extra peeled as we progressed. As we sailed on, one passenger did call out whale, but I'll have to report it as an UWO - an unconfirmed whalelike object! We did pass a bobbing raft of Manx Shearwater which one passenger was keen to have confirmed by me.

As we sailed towards Ardnamurchan Lighthouse we had a clear view towards Muck, Eigg and Rum.  Many sea birds sightings were made including Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Gannet, Guillemot, Black Guillemot and Common Tern. As we leveled with the lighthouse we had reached our most northerly point of the trip. With a graceful 360ᵒ turn, MV Balmoral charted a route down towards the entrance of Loch Sunart.

The Loch Sunart shoreline is surrounded by ancient Atlantic oak woodlands, some of the last remaining in Europe. Tucked into the woods is the stunning Glenborrodale Castle which has a commanding position looking over the various islands at the entrance to the sea loch.

Glenborrodale Castle

Glenborrodale Castle (Louise Milne)

On one of the islands, Carna, I spotted a hundred plus Common Seal basking in the afternoon sun. I also spotted a Grey Heron, Oystercatcher and numerous Common Tern.

Two Porpoise were also spotted as we sailed up the loch. On our return down the loch we had a 20 minute privileged sighting of a White Tailed Sea Eagle. It was being harassed by two comparatively small Buzzard. It was wonderful to watch this large raptor turning on a dime as it twirled on its back to bare its talons at the Buzzard. All of us who watched this drama had huge smiles on our faces for the full 20 minutes!

The day went very quickly but there was one last brief cetacean sighting before we entered Tobermory harbour. It was a lone unidentified dolphin, its dorsal fin silhouetted black against the rocks. At Tobermory I disembarked to have a quick look at the sightings list in the window of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust office. It confirmed that Orca and Minke Whale had been sighted around Eigg a few days previous.

Just as we approached Oban we had a rare sighting of two ships passing each other- the CalMac passenger ferry MV Isle of Mull and the cruise ship MV Hebridean Princess. The former having taken over the role and route of the latter in the late 1980's.

Calmac ships crossing

Calmac Crossing (Louise Milne)

We arrived back into Oban at 8pm where I boarded the bus back to Glasgow. This time I missed the road side view as I settled into a comfortable sleep all the way home!

My thanks to the crew and volunteers of MV Balmoral for their help, support and interesting commentary.

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Sound of Mull 7th July 2017

Posted 09 July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

Marine Mammals:
Common Seal 1
Harbour Porpoise 2
Bottlenose Dolphin 1
Unidentified Dolphin

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Unidentified Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Guillemot
Commic Tern

Terrestrial Birds
Barn Swallow

I arrived at the pier at around 13.20 and boarded MV Balmoral with the rest of the passengers at 13.45. Once on board I set up my binoculars and then received a high-vis vest and a stack of leaflets, and I then began making my way around the deck. Sea state was calm as we moved out of Oban harbour and towards the Sound of Mull, getting lovely views of Oban and Dunollie Castle. After around 10 minutes of sailing, the purser announced that I was on board and several passengers approached to ask questions.

On exiting Oban harbour there were quite a few gulls, both Herring Gull and Black-backed Gull, flying around. Shortly after passing the Isle of Kerrera there was a small group of Gannet, both flying and sitting on the surface. As we reached Mull there were some great views as we passed Duart Castle.

Herring Gull Peter Howlett 01

Herring Gull (Peter Howlett)

There were large numbers of Kittiwake on Lady Rock, which some passengers were very happy to see! There were also a few Guillemot sat on the water. Shortly after passing this, I was able to point out a group of Swallow, and then a group of terns (unable to identify species), putting on an impressive display to the delight of passengers. The captain announced that dolphins had been spotted to the Starboard side, however, they didn't hang around for very long.

As we turned around and began to make our way around Kerrera, the weather brightened up considerably and the sea became very calm, almost flat. A group of Kittiwake could be seen feeding, giving us hope of a few marine mammals which sadly didn't show. Several passengers, now keenly watching for animals, were delighted to see a Common Seal checking out the boat!

Common Seal Graham Ekins 01

Common Seal (Graham Ekins)

Plenty of Herring Gull could be sighted as we cruised along the shore of Kerrera. A very excited passenger approached me to tell me he'd spotted a Harbour Porpoise, which I sadly missed, although a second one then appeared a few minutes later.

As we returned to the harbour, I was very happy to see a lone Bottlenose Dolphin jumping clear of the water near to a yellow buoy. Sadly it didn't hang around for long enough to put on a display for the passengers! We arrived back in Oban at 17.00 and having thanked the crew for accommodating me, I disembarked and headed for home!

BND Adrian Shephard 01

Bottlenose Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Llandudno around Anglesey 2nd July 2017

Posted 07 July 2017

MARINElife Wildlife Officer: Jenny Ball
A mild and sunny day, with occasional high clouds.  A moderate north-west breeze and calm sea conditions

Summary of Sightings
Cetaceans:
Harbour Porpoise 6+

Seabirds:
Gannet
Kittiwake
Cormorant
Shag
Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Razorbill
Puffin
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Scoter
Eider

Terrestrial birds:
Oystercatcher
Little Egret
Heron
Curlew

Looking along Llandudno Pier, we could hardly see the MV Balmoral. It was low water and she was well hidden behind the landing stage, but the crowd at the end of the pier gave the game away!  Once aboard the historic ship, I introduced myself to the Purser and the Captain and we were soon on our way across the bay and round Great Orme's Head.

Balmoral_Jenny Ball July 2017

Balmoral (Jenny Ball)

Many Cormorant and Guillemot, which nest in significant numbers on Puffin Island, were seen flying backwards and forwards, and we were lucky enough to spot a few Puffin on the water.  A quick sight of a Black Guillemot was a nice surprise, as was a brief glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise as we sailed along the north coast of Anglesey.  Overall we saw around half a dozen Harbour Porpoise during the day, with other sightings (or maybe the same ones) being reported by keen-eyed passengers along the way.

Puffin Island_Jenny Ball July 2017

Puffin Island (Jenny Ball)

The impressive South Stack was a hot spot for bird sightings, again mostly Guillemot, Razorbill, Cormorant and a few Gannet and Kittiwake, and though we looked out for cetaceans, we weren't lucky this time.  Sailing fairly well offshore, we saw some Gannet feeding in Malltraeth Bay, before turning into the Menai Strait.

South Stack_Jenny Ball

South Stack (Jenny Ball)

A group of eight Curlew flew along the south bank of the Strait as we approached Caernarfon and, waiting for passengers to board at Menai Bridge, we saw a Little Egret and a number of Oystercatcher on the exposed rocks.  Our on-board guide then called from the Bridge to point out a small island on which around 50 or so Little Egret were roosting in the trees, and we could also see three Heron standing in a grassy area nearby.

The state of the tide meant that the captain was able to take us right up close to the southern side of Puffin Island, much to the delight of the bird-watching passengers.  We could see hundreds of Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot and gulls on the rocks and ledges, on the water and in the air - spectacular!  As we neared Llandudno, flocks of Common Scoter rose from the water, a fitting end to an excellent day.

Common Scoter Graham Ekins 01

Common Scoter (Graham Ekins)

Thanks to Captain Iain Henderson and the friendly and enthusiastic volunteers and crew of the MV Balmoral for their support and assistance in making the trip so memorable both for MARINElife and for their own passengers.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Milford Haven River Cruise 20th June 2017

Posted 26 June 2017

Maggie Gamble; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Very good, sun and light cloud wind SW1

Marine mammals:
None seen

River birds:
Mute swan
Grey Heron

Seabirds:
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Guillemot
Gannet
Fulmar
Shag
Cormorant

Other Wildlife
Moon Jelly fish
Barrel Jellyfish
Compass Jellyfish

We had perfect weather for Balmoral's cruise around Milford Haven and up the Cleddau River.

As she headed up river, we attracted quite a lot of attention from the local sailors who then accompanied us at various times for a closer look at this famous survivor of the White Funnel Fleet. We progressed further upriver than expected and turned at Lawrenny to cruise back down the river and under the "infamous" box girder bridge. In the Haven, there was plenty of interesting shipping to watch as they docked and un-loaded.

Mute Swans-Carol Farmer-Wright

Mute Swan (Carol Farmer-Wright)

At the end of the afternoon, we headed out into the bay for about an hour and had nice views of Skokholm and Skomer, the Pembrokeshire islands famous for their sea bird colonies.

St Ann's Head on the mainland was nearby and this is an excellent vantage point from which to watch Manx Shearwater around dusk as they stream past heading towards their nest burrows on the islands. Coming in like this under cover of darkness, they avoid the worst of the predations by Black-backed Gulls.

GBB Gull Adrian Shephard 04

Great Black-backed Gull (Adrian Shephard)

Heading back into the Haven we approached Pembroke Dock with the sun still shining at the end of a very hot day. Indeed, out on the water, the Balmoral was the best place to be - but then I always think like that.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Maggie Gamble; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Penarth to Ilfracombe 1st October 2016

Posted 01 October 2016

Peter Howlett; MARINElife WLO
Weather: W-NW 4 inc. 6-7 then dec. 3 later, heavy showers at first, visibility mainly good

Summary of sightings
Seabirds:
Gannet
Shag
Great Skua
Artic Skua
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull

Terrestrial birds:
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit

The forecast for the day had been for a lot of rain but as it turned out the day was a mix of sunshine and showers - although the frequency on the way out to Ilfracombe meant you were seeking shelter more often than not. There was a good crowd on the pier at Penarth for this last sailing down channel for the 2016 season, including one group really entering into the spirit having turned up dressed as pirates.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 29

Great Skua (Peter Howlett)

The journey out to Ilfracombe was remarkable for almost a complete lack of birds - apart from two Meadow Pipit making the crossing south. The first seabirds didn't appear until nearing Ilfracombe when a handful of Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull put in an appearance. The rather lumpy conditions also made trying to spot any cetaceans that bit more challenging.

The stiff breeze and choppy conditions meant no cruise further west than Ilfracombe so after a short break in Ilfracombe the return journey began slightly earlier than would otherwise have been the case. Just out of Ilfracombe we passed a group of ten or so Gannet circling a patch of sea but despite a good grilling I was unable to spot a Harbour Porpoise. After that it was much the same as the outward journey with a distinct lack of birds until a group of skuas saved the day - four Great Skua and one Arctic Skua flashed past on their way down channel. It's always exciting to see these charismatic birds.

Bristol Channel Peter Howlett 01

Late afternoon skies over the Bristol Channel (Peter Howlett)

As we were returning early the ship diverted to take a closer look at Flatholm, always a bonus as it's such an interesting island. By now the clouds had broken enough to make for some lovely skies with late afternoon sun.

A chilly but very enjoyable day out and my thanks go to the captain and crew of the MV Balmoral for all their help and support.

Peter Howlett; MARINElife WLO

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Glasgow to Lochranza 26th September 2016

Posted 30 September 2016

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Clear and dry. Sunny intervals. Wind: SW 4-7; Light Breeze

Marine Mammals: 
Common Dolphin 2
Harbour Porpoise 18
Harbour Seal 22                                                                                                       
Grey Seal 2

Seabirds:
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx shearwater
Gannet
Kittiwake
Cormorant
Guillemot
Oystercatcher

Terrestrial birds on coastline:
Heron                                                                                                                            
Mute Swan                                                                                                                    
Skylark
Mallard                                                                                                                            
Greylag Goose

My early morning commute to MV Balmoral involved a 30 minute walk from my home in the West End of Glasgow to the Science Museum on the banks of the River Clyde. It was a lovely, clear morning with only a hint of autumn freshness. On my walk along the Clyde I passed a line of preening Cormorant plus a Heron flying straight down the middle of the Clydeside Expressway. The Tall Ship by the Transport Museum had its usual throng of circulating Black-headed Gull.

Soon I was standing opposite the MV Balmoral which held her own against a backdrop of intimidating silver monoliths, not least BBC Scotland! I headed over the river and introduced myself to the purser, Tony, who welcomed me on board. I did a quick 'getting my bearings walk' around the ship, but was soon distracted by seven Mute Swan juveniles and two adults who were inspecting the ship.

Female Grey Seal_Rick Morris

Grey Seal (Rick Morris)

We set off sharp at 9.30am heading west down the mirror calm Clyde with the sun on our backs. I positioned myself on the lower bow deck where I introduced myself to the passengers.  We were a varied crowd sailing 'doon the watter'- boat enthusiasts including PS Waverley volunteers (the paddle steamer 'sister' ship to MV Balmoral), birders and general interest groups of tourists and locals.

As we cruised down the Clyde, a fascinating commentary highlighted the great days of Clyde ship building. We even had an impromptu salute from the crew aboard HMS Somerset berthed at King George V docks.Not long after I had started talking with a couple from York, I heard shouts of 'Wildlife Officer…come here!' Heading port side we caught sight of a couple of Grey Seal 'bottling' a view at us. With my new group of keen spotters we were soon alerting each other to other sightings, such as a large flock of Lapwing and a group of wading Greylag Geese. Other notable sightings as we sailed towards Largs included rafting Guillemot at Dumbarton Rock, feeding Gannet at Greenock docks and skimming Harbour Porpoise at Wemyss Bay.

We reached Largs to lots of camera flashes and waves of hellos from the awaiting dockside passengers. Once they boarded we headed directly towards Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, passing Cumbrae island on the way. The sea state was 2 which afforded more sightings of Harbour Porpoise and plenty more sea birds such as Gannet, Guillemot, Kittiwake and Manx Shearwater.

From Rothesay we rounded the northern tip of Bute through the Kyles of Bute, a narrow channel between the island and the mainland. A large group of Harbour Seal watched from their rocks as we stealthily negotiated The Narrows between Bute and Colintraive. A few passengers alighted at Tighnabruaich from where we headed towards Lochranza on the northern edge of the Isle of Arran.

The crossing over saw us in more open, yet relatively calm, (sea state 2-3) water. I ventured up to the sun deck at this point and was in mid conversation when we saw two Common Dolphin on our port side. They were about 50m away, but didn't stick around for long, only offering us a brief glimpse as they surfaced twice and then disappeared, heading in the direction of a small fishing boat. It wasn't long before it became apparent that a large group of us, on all decks on the port side, had spotted them. Big smiles all round.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 17

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

A broken down ferry spoiled our landing option at Lochranza, but a very adept Captain and crew quickly put Plan B into action, which involved a bonus sail to Tarbet to drop off one way passengers for the connecting ferry back to Lochranza. On the way we visited the 13th century Skipness Castle where Oystercatcher scurried below it on the beach. After safely landing our diverted passengers at Tarbet we started our return journey via the same route. Back on the sun deck, I now had the company of a group of keen wildlife photographers and birders who called out more Harbour Porpoise sightings and many more sea birds. One lady thought she may have spotted a couple of juvenile Puffin, but on closer inspection we decided they were juvenile Guillemot.

Guillemot Adrian Shephard 02

Guillemot (Adrian Shephard)

The evening sky behind Bute was stunning as we sailed back towards the mainland. The light was fading by the time we reached Largs at 7.30pm so I decided to disembark there after saying a big thanks to Tony the Purser and farewell to the final few Glasgow bound passengers.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Circumnavigation of Bute 25th September 2016

Posted 26 September 2016

Adrian Shephard; MARINElife Wildlife Officer
Weather: SSW5

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 5
Common Seal 15
Unidentified Dolphin Sp. 2

Seabirds:
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Manx shearwater
Gannet
Fulmar
Shag
Cormorant
Black Headed Gull
Common Gull
Little Gull
Kittiwake
Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Red-Throated Diver
Sandwich Tern

Terrestrial Birds from Balmoral:
Mute Swan
Carrion Crow
Raven
Oystercatcher
Whimbrel
Jackdaw
Grey Heron

I arrived at Greenock for my first WLO trip aboard the Balmoral for this historic trip, being only the second time in the ships history that it had circumnavigated Bute - the last time being almost 20 years ago to the day.

Balmoral Adrian Shephard

Balmoral (Adrian Shephard)

The weather was dry with sunny spells when I boarded but it was predicted that there would be occasional rain showers and this proved to be the case, but they did not dampen the passengers enjoyment of the trip.

As I stood with the other passengers, I watched Balmoral appear from further up the Clyde and pull alongside. I familiarised myself with the ship and had a chat with a few of the passengers before getting to work watching the waters.

There was a lot of seabird activity, which persisted throughout the trip with multiple groups of Gannet feeding, but spotting dorsal fins was a challenge with the sea state and whitecaps. There were also good numbers of Guillemot on the water and groups of Eider Duck with the males looking spectacular in the breeding plumage.

Eider Adrian Shephard 03

Eider (Adrian Shephard)

With a mix of rain and sunshine, we did see a number of rainbows which against the dramatic scenery of Bute and Arran, the made me appreciate the occasional downpour.

Bute Rainbow Adrian Shephard

As we headed north around Bute towards the Kyles, we encountered our first marine mammals, a number of Common Seal basking on the exposed rocks.

Common Seal Adrian Shephard 04

Common Seal (Adrian Shephard)

Shortly after a couple of the passengers spotted a fleeting glimpse of the back of an animal and a dorsal fin and they agreed it to be too large to be a porpoise, indicating it was likely a dolphin. A number of Harbour Porpoise were later seen as we returned south, some clearly chasing down fish.

By the end of the trip, there was good comradery on the top deck amongst the hardy passengers who didn't seek shelter inside (including myself) even during the brief rain showers and we all talked about the wildlife in the area and how lucky they were to have it on their doorstep.

A big thank you to the crew of the Balmoral for welcoming me aboard their special vessel and I look forward to a return visit soon.

Adrian Shephard; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Ilfracombe to Porlock Bay 4th September 2016

Posted 09 September 2016

Maggie Gamble; MARINElife Balmoral Wildlife Officer
Conditions good with sun and some cloud Wind: SW 3

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 6

Seabirds:
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Manx shearwater
Gannet
Fulmar
Shag

It is quite a few years since I've sailed on the Balmoral and I'd seen her a couple of years earlier when she was long berthed in Bristol Docks. So, it was lovely to watch her coming into Ilfracombe for the cruise along the Dorset and Somerset coast. Once all the passengers from Porthcawl had disembarked for their afternoon in Ilfracombe we were quickly off in pursuit of coastal scenery and wildlife.

Heading towards Porlock with the weather behind us it was a warm and enjoyable cruise with plenty of dramatic cliffs and picturesque bays to admire. Bird life was fairly sparse but a few Gannet (which seemed to be all adults), juvenile gulls, Fulmar and occasional Manx Shearwater were seen.  Manx Shearwater nest around the British coast, then leave their nest sites in July before heading down to the South-American coast for the winter.

Fulmar Mike Bailey 01

Fulmar (Mike Bailey)

Once in Porlock Bay the Balmoral turned around and headed back to Ilfracombe. After this change of direction (because we were now heading into the weather) it seemed breezier and cooler so people migrated from the bow to the stern where it was more sheltered.

On this return leg just off Watermouth Castle we finally saw some Gannet feeding activity. Through the binoculars underneath the feeding Gannet, I could see the unmistakable profile of a surfacing Harbour Porpoise and then a brief glimpse of another closer to us. Some Gannet moved closer to the Balmoral in pursuit of fish and other passengers spotted porpoise that I missed, giving a total of six animals seen in this area.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 07

Harbour Porpoise (Pete Howlett)

All this feeding activity reminded me that I was also hungry so I headed down to the dining saloon for some tasty hot soup.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Maggie Gamble; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Ilfracombe to Lundy 31st August 2016

Posted 03 September 2016

Annette Dutton; MARINElife/Balmoral WLO 
Weather:
Dry, warm and sunny, Sea State moderate, Wind slight

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin 80
Grey Seal 4
Harbour Porpoise 1

Seabirds
Gannet
Greater Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Kittiwake
Manx Shearwater
Shag

Terrestrial birds
House Martin
Meadow Pipit
Swallow
Wheatear

This was my first outing as WLO on the MV Balmoral and although I had been onboard before I had forgotten how big she was compared to the MS Oldenburg. It was warm and sunny when the Balmoral arrived at Ilfracombe from Penarth and Clevedon and many of the passengers got off to explore Ilfracombe before we boarded for the Lundy leg of the cruise.

I introduced myself to Tony, the Purser and once under sail I went to the Office to collect my Hi-viz jacket and to leave my belongings. By this time we were already heading towards Lee Bay and a passenger told me they had seen a dolphin which I presumed was a Porpoise as they are common along this stretch of the coast. Tony announced my presence onboard and the passengers were keen to hear about the work of MARINElife and what wildlife we may see on the voyage especially dolphins and seals.

For most of the journey all I spotted was a couple of Gannet as I made my way round the decks. It wasn't until we were about half an hour away from Lundy when I saw a large gathering of Gannet feeding off the Starboard side of the ship then suddenly we were surrounded by Common Dolphin including juveniles. The passengers were thrilled and we enjoyed the sight of them for a few minutes before they were gone although distant sightings of the odd one could still be seen.

Common Dolphin 1_Annette Dutton

Common Dolphin (Annette Dutton)

Shortly afterwards, there was another group of feeding Gannet and a smaller group of Common Dolphin swam over to see us. I spotted what I thought was a large seal in the water which on closer inspection turned out to be a Harbour Porpoise lifting its head out of the water. As we approached the landing stage I saw the line of Shag along the rocks and a couple of Grey Seal below them and another two in the water.

The passengers started to walk up to the village and as we only had an hour on the Island I managed to get a lift up to the village to give me more time to see what was about. I had noticed Gannet feeding off Mouse Island so headed up to Castle Keep to scour the sea for cetaceans and although there must have been over 40 Gannet I didn't see any.

Below me I could see a couple of seals in the bay and a Meadow Pipit flew down and sat on the wall next to me. It was soon time to wander back to the landing bay and I saw the Oldenburg in the bay and as I got further down she was making her way to the landing stage to join the Balmoral.

Oldenburg & Balmoral 1

Oldenburg and Balmoral (Annette Dutton)

As both sets of passengers queued to board the vessels we were treated to the antics of a large bull Grey Seal by the rocks, I also noticed a couple of Manx Shearwater flying around by the Islands. The Oldenburg left before us and we soon followed, the sea was calm and the sun was shining so I was hopeful of more Dolphin sightings, then about 5 minutes after leaving Lundy I saw a large number of feeding Gannets and then a group of around 20 Dolphins swam around the boat then we had another visit after around half an hour but not as many.

Grey Seal Annette Dutton 04

Grey Seal (Annette Dutton)

There were regular sightings of Manx Shearwater with some bobbing about on the sea and as we neared Woolacombe Bay I was joined by a small boy who was asking lots of questions. As I was pointing out a group of Gannet to him we were joined again by a small group of Common Dolphin and more joined us as we passed Bull Point.

My last sighting was of a Kittiwake flying past as we started the approach to Ilfracombe Harbour passing the Oldenburg as we got nearer.

Several of the passengers came over to tell me what a great trip they had had and that the dolphins had made it extra special.

I said goodbye to Tony and thanked the crew as I made my way off the Balmoral passing the long queue of passengers waiting to go back to Clevedon and finally Penarth.

Annette Dutton; MARINElife/Balmoral WLO

 

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Ilfracombe to Lundy 17th August 2016

Posted 19 August 2016

Rick Morris; MARINElife/Balmoral Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Overcast with sunny spells Wind: Easterly 3-4 Sea State: 3-4

Summary of sightings
Marine mammals:
Common Dolphin 50+
Harbour Porpoise 4
Grey Seal 6

Seabirds:
Fulmar
Oystercatcher
Gannet
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-back Gull
Great Black-back Gull
Kittiwake
Shag
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Razorbill (passenger sighting)

Sightings on Lundy:
Rock Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Skylark
Wheatear
Carrion Crow
Raven
Peregrine Falcon
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Starling
House Sparrow
Swallow
Swift
House Martin
Blackbird
Mallard

It was an overcast morning when I arrived in Ilfracombe and the MV Balmoral was still on her way from Swansea, so I popped in for a chat with Jacqui in the shore office. The Balmoral arrived on time and after the passengers for Ilfracombe disembarked, I was greeted by Tony, Balmoral's purser.

Oldenburg from Balmoral_R Morris

Oldenburg at Lundy from Balmoral (Rick Morris)

We left Ilfracombe on time and Tony kindly made the announcement that I was onboard as the Wildlife Officer, this made it easier to talk to the passengers as I made my way around the outer decks. I had plenty of interest in what we may see and it never ceases to amaze me just how many people are unaware of the diversity of marine wildlife that can be found in our seas, so these Wildlife Officer trips really are a great way for us to engage and inform the passengers.

It was a fairly quiet start to the trip, with just a few Herring Gull, but then nearing the halfway point a passenger next to me on the starboard side said she thought she saw something come out of the water and to our delight it was a Harbour Porpoise and it obligingly resurfaced a couple of more times to give a few passengers a chance to see. I promptly made my way to the stern to inform those on the back deck, but by then the animal had disappeared. I returned to the bow and was informed by another passenger that another porpoise appeared briefly on the port side, but I did not see this one.

Seabird activity started to increase and we started seeing Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Lesser Black-back and Herring Gull and also small groups of Manx Shearwater. I looked intensely at the shearwaters as this time of year there's the possibility of seeing critically endangered Balearic Shearwater amongst them.

Manx Shearwater Rick Morris 06

Manx Shearwater (Rick Morris)

Another 2 Harbour Porpoise around 150m distant went down the port side giving all great views before we arrived at Lundy. There were quite a lot of Shag feeding in the Landing Bay and a couple of female Grey Seal were seen 'bottling', checking us out!

The MS Oldenburg was moored on one side of the landing jetty and after we berthed I popped over to say hello to some familiar faces. I decided to jump in the Landrover with Rob (Lundy's manager) as we didn't have too much time up top. Here I met up with Lundy's warden, Beccy McDonald and after a quick catch up I popped over to the west side for a short walk to the quarter wall then across to the east side and back down through Milcombe Valley to the Landing Bay. Even though I only spent around an hour on top, I still managed to see a good variety of wildlife.

Reaching the Landing Bay, a number of Grey Seal could be seen as we waited for the 'Oldenburg' to depart and the 'Balmoral' to come onto the jetty. We left Lundy and within a few minutes we were spotting Gannet and Manx Shearwater and with the sea state improving the hope was we may see more Harbour Porpoise, but we did not, we did however encounter a large group of 50+ Common Dolphin as we neared Bull Point which was fantastic as everyone on board had excellent views of these beautiful animals, with lots of them coming into the bow and side of the boat. To me, moments like these are priceless as you see the shear enjoyment and pleasure on the faces of the passengers that these animals bring! I'm sure many will have gone home feeling elated having done this 'great day out on the MV Balmoral'.

Common Dolphin_Sharon Morris 06

Common Dolphin (Sharon Morris)

Upon reaching Ilfracombe, the 'Balmoral' was expertly berthed and I made my way ashore saying my farewells as I left.

Balmoral 01_Rick Morris

Balmoral (Rick Morris)

My thanks to Tony and the captain and crew of the MV Balmoral for all the help and support.

Rick Morris MARINElife/Balmoral Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Ilfracombe to Porlock Bay 27th July 2016

Posted 28 July 2016

Rick Morris; MARINElife/Balmoral Wildlife Officer
Weather: Cloudy with sunny spells Wind: NW 3-4 Sea State: 3

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 4

Seabirds:
Fulmar
Oystercatcher
Gannet
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-back Gull
Great Black-back Gull
Shag
Cormorant
Guillemot

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Rock Pipit
Carrion Crow
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Kestrel

I arrived in Ilfracombe on a rather cloudy afternoon and upon parking my van, I looked across the Harbour to see the charismatic MV Balmoral berthed along the outer wall.

Juvenile Herring Gull_Rick Morris

Juvenile Herring Gull (Rick Morris)

A short walk found me at the Harbour and I popped into the Lundy shore office to say hello and a catch up with Jacqui before making my way over to the Balmoral. I was greeted and welcomed on board by Paul the ships purser and after a brief visit to Paul's office to leave my bag I made my way outside. As I was about to go for a chat on all the decks with the passengers explaining what we might see on this coastal cruise up to Porlock Bay and back, I noticed a familiar face coming up the boarding gangway, it was Jerry Waller the former Captain of Lundy's MS Oldenburg, we had a bit of a catch up before he went up to the bridge.

The clouds gave way to some long sunny periods as we slipped our mooring and with excellent visibility and a not too bad sea state, I was hopeful of spotting some cetaceans.

We didn't have to wait long as shortly leaving Ilfracombe behind us, a single Harbour Porpoise appeared around 100 meters off the bow and instead of the normal view of the animal swimming away, it passed down the starboard side surfacing twice more giving some of the passengers a great view.

Harbour Porpoise Adrian Shephard 05

Harbour Porpoise (Adrian Shephard)

Seabirds observed throughout the cruise were predominantly Herring Gull with large numbers on the cliff ledges, a further 7 different species of seabirds were seen in small numbers. Nearing Woody Bay, a Great Black-backed Gull could be seen feeding and as we neared, it became apparent that it was feeding on a dead Herring Gull.

A mile or so further on we had a Catalina flying boat pass low on our port side giving all onboard great views of this rarely seen aircraft.

Catalina Rick Morris

Catalina (Rick Morris)

Reaching Porlock Bay - where Devon meets Somerset, we turned around and made our way back. As we neared Foreland Point Lighthouse another Harbour Porpoise gave a brief sighting, too quick for all but two of the passengers. We passed Lee Bay and Lee Abbey with its symbolic '3' crosses, then nearing Lynmouth another 2 Harbour Porpoise gave another frustratingly brief appearance. As we left Lynmouth behind we passed Great Hangman, at 318 metres high it is the highest sea cliff in England.

Passing Coombe Martin, numerous gulls were seen feeding, but no cetaceans were seen with them. We passed Watermouth Castle and shortly after, found ourselves arriving back in Ilfracombe under the watchful eye of Damien Hirst's statue Verity.

Watermouth Castle Rick Morris

Watermouth Castle (Rick Morris)

This was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise along the North Devon coast and I made my way home feeling very content knowing that lots of the passengers had learnt a lot about the diversity of wildlife that may be found in these waters.

My thanks to White Funnel Ltd, Captain David Howie and the crew of the MV Balmoral and to Paul the purser for all his help and support.

Rick Morris MARINElife/Balmoral Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Liverpool to Llandudno 23rd July 2016

Posted 24 July 2016

Emma Howe-Andrews MARINElife WLO
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds. Winds S 1-3

Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin 8
Harbour Porpoise 6
Harbour Seal 12
Grey Seal 10

Seabirds: 
Balearic Shearwater 1
Common Tern
Cormorant
Gannet
Great Black-backed Gull
Guillemot
Herring Gull
Kittiwake
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx Shearwater
Puffin
Razorbill
Shag

Terrestrial Birds: 
Little Egret

It was my first time in the city of Liverpool and as I walked towards the Pier Head Ferry terminal, I was really impressed by the stunning architecture that surrounded me, just so many beautiful buildings that revealed the history of the place.

Taking in my surroundings I continued towards the historic waterfront passing the Royal Liver Building, which I had only ever seen from a far when I have travelled from Birkenhead to Belfast on the other side of the river. Finally, it was nice to see it up close! After a few short minutes, I had reached the MV Balmoral operated by White Funnel berthed on the River Mersey and she looked magnificent!

Gannet Adrian Shephard 07

Gannet (Adrian Shephard)

As soon as I walked into the ticket office, I was met by John, who would be the commentator on the trip today and he made me feel instantly welcome and provided guidance on who to see once on board. After a swift and efficient boarding from the departure lounge, I had found Tony, the Purser who organised for me to stow my bag and showed me around the ship, introducing me to crew as we went along. Everyone was so friendly and helpful.

It wasn't long before all the passengers were on-board, the gangway was raised and with a prompt 09:00 departure, the MV Balmoral was on her way up the River Mersey and I headed out on deck to talk about the diversity of wildlife we could see on the trip across to Llandudno.

It was such a beautiful day for sailing, sunny, light winds and a sea state 1, everyone on-board was in high spirits and as we reached the mouth of the Mersey we could see 12 Harbour Seal on the sandbanks, some hauled out, whilst others played in the surf.

Grey Seal 02_Graham Ekins

Grey Seal (Graham Ekins)

Crossing the Burbo Bank Wind Farm passengers enjoyed several close sightings of Grey Seal bottling at the surface, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake and a solitary Balearic Shearwater sweeping across the waves. This also brought 2 Harbour Porpoise briefly surfacing 600m off the portside bow.

Shortly before our arrival in Llandudno, a number of Gannet were seen circling and diving and this brought our second cetacean sighting, 8 Bottlenose Dolphin 400m off the starboard side. This brought a few squeals of delight from a couple of passengers who had been keen to see some dolphins!

BND Adrian Shephard 05

Bottlenose Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

After enjoying views of Great Orme, the prominent limestone headland on the north coast of Wales, the ship arrived at Llandudno and I enjoyed a delicious lunch in the on-board restaurant during the turnaround. Feeling content, I went back out on deck as the ship approached Puffin Island, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and this brought another cetacean sighting with a single Harbour Porpoise racing away from the port bow. There were so many birds inhabiting Puffin Island and this provided magnificent views of Cormorant, Common Tern, Guillemot, Shag, Lesser Black-backed Gull along the cliff edges. Passengers were delighted when I pointed out two rafting Puffin near the Trwyn Du Lighthouse at the north entrance to the Menai Strait.

With a brief trip down the Menai Strait to view the historic Telford Bridge, the Captain took the ship past a small island that had become inhabited by a large colony of Little Egret whose nests could clearly be seen in the tree canopy amongst their white plumage. Something that I had not seen before! There were a large number of Oystercatcher feeding along the edge of the strait.

It was soon time for the ship to start making her way back to Liverpool, and with another brief stop in Llandudno we were on our way back under continuing sunny skies and an increased sea state. On the return journey John continued to provide narration on points of interest, in particular on some of the ships that were in the area. One in particular, a stunning Argentine navy frigate 'Libertad' that had made its first return journey to the city since 1992 and was 'fully dressed' from stem head to taffrail with nautical flags. The MV Balmoral passed the 'Libertad' on her starboard side and signalled her horn in recognition which brought sailors and passengers waving unanimously to each other from both ships. Fantastic!

Balearic SW Peter Howlett 01

Balearic Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

A few more Harbour Porpoise, Grey Seal and Harbour Seal and a good variety of seabirds were observed shortly before the ship docked in Liverpool on what had been a truly memorable day at sea talking to enthusiastic people about wildlife. Perfect!

Huge thanks to Captain David Howie, John, Tony, White Funnel Ltd and the MV Balmoral crew and passengers who made me feel so welcome and took great interest in my work and for their help and support.

Emma Howe-Andrews MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)