MV Balmoral

Sightings Archives: September 2016

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

Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx shearwater

Terrestrial birds on coastline:
Mute Swan                                                                                                                    
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

Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Manx shearwater
Black Headed Gull
Common Gull
Little Gull
Black Guillemot
Red-Throated Diver
Sandwich Tern

Terrestrial Birds from Balmoral:
Mute Swan
Carrion Crow
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

Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Manx shearwater

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)