MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Glasgow to Lochranza 26th 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)