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