MV Balmoral

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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)