MV Balmoral

Sightings Archives: July 2017

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Swansea to Lundy 26th July 2017

Posted 27 July 2017

Peter Howlett; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Wind: SW 5-6, occ. rain at first brightening later, sea state 5-6

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 2

Seabirds:
Manx Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Fulmar
Storm Petrel
Gannet
Kittiwake
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Guillemot

I drove to Swansea through some pretty appalling conditions but fortunately the worst of the rain passed through quickly and the journey south from Swansea to Ilfracombe was largely dry with just occasional drizzle/light rain. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong so the sea was a bit lumpy for picking up cetaceans - although I did harbour hopes that the winds might push the odd Great or Cory's Shearwater into the Bristol Channel as there had been good numbers seen in the southwest a few days earlier.

Swansea pilot Beaufort Peter Howlett 01

Swansea Pilot (Peter Howlett)

We left Swansea to the dramatic sight of the Swansea pilot launch punching its way through the waves behind the Balmoral. Seabirds were immediately in evidence with a few Manx Shearwater seen weaving their way across the waves heading down channel. The weather conditions kept most passengers off the upper decks so there were only a few hardy souls to point these avian wanderers out to. Disappointingly there were relatively few birds to be seen for much of the journey, the highlight being a sole Storm Petrel. The sole cetacean sighting came just as we turned to enter Ilfracombe, with a solitary Harbour Porpoise surfacing briefly alongside the Balmoral.

The weather also put paid to our onward journey to Lundy, with the Captain making the quite obvious decision that the conditions were too rough to continue. The afternoon was spent perusing a few of the many cafes around the harbour with the occasional look off shore which on one occasion turned up two Harbour Porpoise, a mother and calf, making their way down channel.

The return journey was quite lumpy with the highlights being another Storm Petrel and a Balearic Shearwater in amongst the scattering of Manx as we made our way back. Other seabirds included numerous Gannet, the occasional Fulmar and Kittiwake and quite a few adult Guillemot accompanied by their youngsters - unfortunately no Great or Cory's Shearwater deigned to show themselves during the trip. A sole Harbour Porpoise spotted in amongst the waves was the only cetacean sighting of the return trip.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 17

Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

The light was fading as we made our way towards Swansea off the Gower coast and even though wildlife was no longer visible it was audible with the plaintive piping of young Guillemots calling to their parent ringing out across the sea.

Many thanks to White Funnel and the crew of the Balmoral for supporting our work and I look forward to my WLO outing next week and hope the weather is a little kinder.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban to Iona 12th July 2017

Posted 14 July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer
Weather Conditions - Sunny with light wind and excellent visibility

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 6
Bottlenose Dolphin 3

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Razorbill
Cormorant
Shag

Arriving at the pier at 10.30am, I quickly made my way on board and set myself up for the day with my camera and binoculars. It was a very warm and sunny day, and we set off from Oban North Pier at 11.00am. There were plenty of Herring Gull flying around the harbour, along with Guillemot, and lots of Moon Jellyfish in the water.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01

Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

As we began the cruise through the Sound of Kerrera we sighted lots of Gannet and plenty more gulls, both Herring and Black-backed. Due to the low winds and warm temperatures, the water was very still and perfect for sighting marine mammals, as became clear when I sighted a Harbour Porpoise breeching continuously in front of the boat.

As we continued, Cormorant were sighted sitting on the water and large groups of Kittiwake were also seen flying around and sitting on the water. Between the Isle of Seil and the Isle of Mull, 2 more Harbour Porpoise were spotted. There were also large groups of Manx Shearwater and Guillemot sitting on the water along the Mull coast, with several of the Guillemot accompanied by chicks.

Guillemots 01_Rachel Meacock

Guillemots (Rachel Meacock)

These large groups of auk species continued to be sighted as we cruised past the Slate Isles, as did Harbour Porpoise as we had another 2 sightings. There was also a sighting beneath the water of a large Barrel Jellyfish.

Barrel jellyfish

Barrel Jellyfish (Rob Petley-Jones)

As we passed the Isles of Scarba and Colonsay, and the Isle of Jura became visible on the horizon, porpoise number 6 was spotted along with a group of Black-backed Gull.

As we rounded the southern tip of Mull and began to cruise towards Iona, there were several sightings of Shag, along with a single Gannet dramatically dive bombing into the water. As the MV Balmoral began to prepare to allow passengers to disembark for the Isle of Iona, passengers were treated to a traditional anchor drop using bells. After this, we were picked up by another boat and brought to the Isle, as is tradition.

Gannet 01_Rachel Meacock

Gannet (Rachel Meacock)

On the Isle of Iona, I enjoyed a leisurely walk through the ruined nunnery and past the abbey, upon which, I excitedly found a highland cow, before making my way back to the café by the harbour for lunch. Keeping an eye on the sea, I was able to sight several Herring Gull, along with many House Sparrow and Crow.

Once back on board the MV Balmoral, the cruise away from Iona gave me lots of Shag sightings, as a popular nesting spot for these birds is on the cliffs of Iona. There were also lots of Gannet, Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Guillemot with chicks, Manx Shearwater, Razorbill, and Cormorant to keep us busy with sightings.

As we came back into the Sound of Kerrera, I had two passengers approach me with a marine mammal sighting. Some quick discussion as to the breeching behaviour allowed us to decipher that three Bottlenose Dolphin had also been sighted.

BND Adrian Shephard 04

Bottlenose Dolphins (Adrian Shephard)

The MV Balmoral docked back at Oban North Pier at 8.00pm, and I thanked the crew, disembarked and headed for home.

 

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban, Tobermory and the Sound of Sleat 11th July 2017

Posted 13 July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather conditions - Sunny with high winds and occasional rain.

Marine Mammals:
Common Seal 10
Harbour Porpoise 2
Bottlenose Dolphin 2
Minke Whale 1

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Common Tern
Cormorant
Skua

Terrestrial Birds
Sea Eagle

I arrived at the pier and boarded the MV Balmoral at around 9.30am. Once on board I set up my camera and binoculars and put on my high-vis vest. We left the Oban North Pier at 10am and began the journey into the Sound of Mull. The sea state was calm to begin with, and just out of the pier we were treated to views of four Common Seal fishing, along with plenty of Herring Gull, Guillemot, Gannet, Kittiwake and Black-backed Gull.

Common Seal Adrian Shephard 05

Common Seals (Adrian Shephard)

As we entered the Sound of Mull and passed under Duart Castle, nearby Lady Rock was occupied by a large group of Kittiwake, and another Common Seal was calmly circling it.

A single Bottlenose Dolphin was sighted jumping near the rocks, and as we cruised around the Isle of Mull, there were large groups of Common Tern and Manx Shearwater putting on impressive displays alongside the boat. As we came into Tobermory I was informed by a passenger that he had spotted a dolphin jumping, however, I was unable to find out what species they had seen. As we left Tobermory harbour, there were several Cormorant flying around, which were very impressive to see.

As we made our way past Ardnamurchan point, the sea state became slightly rougher as the winds picked up. There were plenty of seabirds to be seen, including terns, Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Razorbill, and one passenger claimed to have seen a Minke Whale whilst looking out towards the Isle of Coll.

Minke Peter Howlett 03

Minke Whale (Peter Howlett)

As we reached Eig and the Small Isles there were large congregations of Manx Shearwater, most likely the nesting population from the Isle of Rum, unable to return to their nests due to the bright sunlight that day. Several passengers were also excited by a large brown bird very close to the deck; a lone Skua!

As we entered the harbour at Mallaig, there were plenty of Herring Gull around, and I was particularly interested by a nest on the rocks containing three chicks. There was also a Common Seal in the harbour which caught the attention of most of the passengers. Also, plenty of Gannet flying around and one Cormorant washing itself quite happily in the water.

As we cruised the Sound of Sleat, there were plenty of birds to keep us entertained, including more congregations of Manx Shearwater, and lots of Common Tern, Kittiwake and Gannet.

As we returned the way we came, bird sightings remained the same as the way out with plenty of terns, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Herring Gull, Guillemot, Black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Cormorant on the water.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 04

Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

As we cruised back through the Sound of Mull, a passenger tapped me on the shoulder and pointed upwards, giving me a fantastic view of a sea eagle flying across to the mainland, where it began hovering and circling, looking for food. As we passed Lady Rock again, the Kittiwake had been joined by around 6 Common Seal, hauled out basking in the sun. Another passenger also informed me that they had seen 2 Harbour Porpoise on the cruise back through.

We returned to the harbour slightly later than scheduled, around 9.45pm. After thanking the crew for accommodating me, I disembarked and made my way to my overnight accommodation to rest up for the next day's trip!

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban - Ardnamurchan Lighthouse & Loch Sunart

Posted 12 July 2017

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Cloudy with sunny periods. Winds: Light Breeze. Sea State: 2-3

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 3
Unidentified dolphin sp. 1
Common Seal 100+

Seabirds: 
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx Shearwater
Gannet
Kittiwake
Shag
Cormorant
Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Oystercatcher                                                                                                                                                
Common Tern

Terrestrial Birds: 
Grey Heron                                                                                                                                              
Buzzard
White-tailed Sea Eagle

It was an early start for me and some other passengers who had decided to take the bus from Glasgow to Oban. The 2½ hour drive to Oban was very pleasant and afforded us the opportunity to catch glimpses of the Loch Long Gannet fishing for breakfast. The harbour at Oban was a hive of activity upon our arrival. Kayakers were preparing their kayaks; the Calmac ferry made manoeuvres to sail and day cruise operators touted for business.

Paul the purser gave me a friendly hello as I boarded MV Balmoral. I quickly set about re-familiarising myself with the ship. I headed up to the top deck were I met a few familiar faces from my trip last year up the Clyde. The weather was fair and the sea calm as we set off at 11am towards our first port of call, Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull.

Oban

Tobermory (Louise Milne)

The commentary stared almost immediately due to the fact we were surrounded by so much heritage and history. As we passed Duart Castle I spotted Gannet, Guillemot and Shag.

As we slipped up the Sound of Mull a solitary Harbour Porpoise swam between us and the Craignure ferry terminal on Mull.  At Tobermory some passengers disembarked while others joined us. The sun was shining as we departed Tobermory and headed towards the most westerly point in mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan point. I got chatting with a Tobermory local who informed me that one of the wildlife cruises had spotted the orca 'John Coe' and a Minke Whale the day before around Coll.

We had Coll in our sights as we left the Sound of Mull, so I kept my eyes extra peeled as we progressed. As we sailed on, one passenger did call out whale, but I'll have to report it as an UWO - an unconfirmed whalelike object! We did pass a bobbing raft of Manx Shearwater which one passenger was keen to have confirmed by me.

As we sailed towards Ardnamurchan Lighthouse we had a clear view towards Muck, Eigg and Rum.  Many sea birds sightings were made including Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Gannet, Guillemot, Black Guillemot and Common Tern. As we leveled with the lighthouse we had reached our most northerly point of the trip. With a graceful 360ᵒ turn, MV Balmoral charted a route down towards the entrance of Loch Sunart.

The Loch Sunart shoreline is surrounded by ancient Atlantic oak woodlands, some of the last remaining in Europe. Tucked into the woods is the stunning Glenborrodale Castle which has a commanding position looking over the various islands at the entrance to the sea loch.

Glenborrodale Castle

Glenborrodale Castle (Louise Milne)

On one of the islands, Carna, I spotted a hundred plus Common Seal basking in the afternoon sun. I also spotted a Grey Heron, Oystercatcher and numerous Common Tern.

Two Porpoise were also spotted as we sailed up the loch. On our return down the loch we had a 20 minute privileged sighting of a White Tailed Sea Eagle. It was being harassed by two comparatively small Buzzard. It was wonderful to watch this large raptor turning on a dime as it twirled on its back to bare its talons at the Buzzard. All of us who watched this drama had huge smiles on our faces for the full 20 minutes!

The day went very quickly but there was one last brief cetacean sighting before we entered Tobermory harbour. It was a lone unidentified dolphin, its dorsal fin silhouetted black against the rocks. At Tobermory I disembarked to have a quick look at the sightings list in the window of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust office. It confirmed that Orca and Minke Whale had been sighted around Eigg a few days previous.

Just as we approached Oban we had a rare sighting of two ships passing each other- the CalMac passenger ferry MV Isle of Mull and the cruise ship MV Hebridean Princess. The former having taken over the role and route of the latter in the late 1980's.

Calmac ships crossing

Calmac Crossing (Louise Milne)

We arrived back into Oban at 8pm where I boarded the bus back to Glasgow. This time I missed the road side view as I settled into a comfortable sleep all the way home!

My thanks to the crew and volunteers of MV Balmoral for their help, support and interesting commentary.

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Sound of Mull 7th July 2017

Posted 09 July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

Marine Mammals:
Common Seal 1
Harbour Porpoise 2
Bottlenose Dolphin 1
Unidentified Dolphin

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Unidentified Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Guillemot
Commic Tern

Terrestrial Birds
Barn Swallow

I arrived at the pier at around 13.20 and boarded MV Balmoral with the rest of the passengers at 13.45. Once on board I set up my binoculars and then received a high-vis vest and a stack of leaflets, and I then began making my way around the deck. Sea state was calm as we moved out of Oban harbour and towards the Sound of Mull, getting lovely views of Oban and Dunollie Castle. After around 10 minutes of sailing, the purser announced that I was on board and several passengers approached to ask questions.

On exiting Oban harbour there were quite a few gulls, both Herring Gull and Black-backed Gull, flying around. Shortly after passing the Isle of Kerrera there was a small group of Gannet, both flying and sitting on the surface. As we reached Mull there were some great views as we passed Duart Castle.

Herring Gull Peter Howlett 01

Herring Gull (Peter Howlett)

There were large numbers of Kittiwake on Lady Rock, which some passengers were very happy to see! There were also a few Guillemot sat on the water. Shortly after passing this, I was able to point out a group of Swallow, and then a group of terns (unable to identify species), putting on an impressive display to the delight of passengers. The captain announced that dolphins had been spotted to the Starboard side, however, they didn't hang around for very long.

As we turned around and began to make our way around Kerrera, the weather brightened up considerably and the sea became very calm, almost flat. A group of Kittiwake could be seen feeding, giving us hope of a few marine mammals which sadly didn't show. Several passengers, now keenly watching for animals, were delighted to see a Common Seal checking out the boat!

Common Seal Graham Ekins 01

Common Seal (Graham Ekins)

Plenty of Herring Gull could be sighted as we cruised along the shore of Kerrera. A very excited passenger approached me to tell me he'd spotted a Harbour Porpoise, which I sadly missed, although a second one then appeared a few minutes later.

As we returned to the harbour, I was very happy to see a lone Bottlenose Dolphin jumping clear of the water near to a yellow buoy. Sadly it didn't hang around for long enough to put on a display for the passengers! We arrived back in Oban at 17.00 and having thanked the crew for accommodating me, I disembarked and headed for home!

BND Adrian Shephard 01

Bottlenose Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Llandudno around Anglesey 2nd July 2017

Posted 07 July 2017

MARINElife Wildlife Officer: Jenny Ball
A mild and sunny day, with occasional high clouds.  A moderate north-west breeze and calm sea conditions

Summary of Sightings
Cetaceans:
Harbour Porpoise 6+

Seabirds:
Gannet
Kittiwake
Cormorant
Shag
Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Razorbill
Puffin
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Scoter
Eider

Terrestrial birds:
Oystercatcher
Little Egret
Heron
Curlew

Looking along Llandudno Pier, we could hardly see the MV Balmoral. It was low water and she was well hidden behind the landing stage, but the crowd at the end of the pier gave the game away!  Once aboard the historic ship, I introduced myself to the Purser and the Captain and we were soon on our way across the bay and round Great Orme's Head.

Balmoral_Jenny Ball July 2017

Balmoral (Jenny Ball)

Many Cormorant and Guillemot, which nest in significant numbers on Puffin Island, were seen flying backwards and forwards, and we were lucky enough to spot a few Puffin on the water.  A quick sight of a Black Guillemot was a nice surprise, as was a brief glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise as we sailed along the north coast of Anglesey.  Overall we saw around half a dozen Harbour Porpoise during the day, with other sightings (or maybe the same ones) being reported by keen-eyed passengers along the way.

Puffin Island_Jenny Ball July 2017

Puffin Island (Jenny Ball)

The impressive South Stack was a hot spot for bird sightings, again mostly Guillemot, Razorbill, Cormorant and a few Gannet and Kittiwake, and though we looked out for cetaceans, we weren't lucky this time.  Sailing fairly well offshore, we saw some Gannet feeding in Malltraeth Bay, before turning into the Menai Strait.

South Stack_Jenny Ball

South Stack (Jenny Ball)

A group of eight Curlew flew along the south bank of the Strait as we approached Caernarfon and, waiting for passengers to board at Menai Bridge, we saw a Little Egret and a number of Oystercatcher on the exposed rocks.  Our on-board guide then called from the Bridge to point out a small island on which around 50 or so Little Egret were roosting in the trees, and we could also see three Heron standing in a grassy area nearby.

The state of the tide meant that the captain was able to take us right up close to the southern side of Puffin Island, much to the delight of the bird-watching passengers.  We could see hundreds of Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot and gulls on the rocks and ledges, on the water and in the air - spectacular!  As we neared Llandudno, flocks of Common Scoter rose from the water, a fitting end to an excellent day.

Common Scoter Graham Ekins 01

Common Scoter (Graham Ekins)

Thanks to Captain Iain Henderson and the friendly and enthusiastic volunteers and crew of the MV Balmoral for their support and assistance in making the trip so memorable both for MARINElife and for their own passengers.