MV Balmoral

Sightings Archives: July 2016

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

Herring Gull
Lesser Black-back Gull
Great Black-back Gull

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

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

Balearic Shearwater 1
Common Tern
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx Shearwater

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)