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