MV Balmoral

Sightings Archives: September 2017

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Glasgow to Loch Fyne via Kyles of Bute 24th September 2017

Posted 01 October 2017

Louise Milne; MARINElife WLO
Weather: Over cast with showers. Wind: light breeze. Sea state: 2-3

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise 11
Common Seal 18

Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black Headed Gull

Terrestrial birds on coastline
Grey Heron
Mute Swan                                                                                                                    

On approaching the Science Museum, I was greeted by the sight of not one but two iconic steamships: MV Balmoral and TS Queen Mary. What a wonderful sight and a great way to start our day cruise. Tony the purser and Captain Howie were waiting dockside to welcome me and the other guests aboard.

We set off sharp at 10am heading west down the atmospherically misty Clyde. I positioned myself on the lower bow deck where I introduced myself to the passengers some of which I recognised as regular MV Balmoral travellers. We were a mixed bunch comprising of steamer enthusiasts, wildlife spotters and day trippers.

As we cruised down the Clyde a fascinating commentary highlighted the great days of Clyde ship building. Who knew you can bungee jump off the top of the Titan Crane for example!

Although it was a damp start to the day I had plenty of company on deck for the sail to Largs. This meant many pairs of eyes all focused on the water and the banks of the Clyde. It wasn't long before the calls of seal were heard. A single swimming Common Seal watched us as we cruised past Braehead shopping centre. Further on the sandy banks were full of Grey Heron which myself and another passenger coined a new collective noun for- a flush of herons!

Common Seal Graham Ekins 01

Common Seal (Graham Ekins)

As for me and my fellow wildlife spotters (collectively known as a steam of spotters!) we saw many examples of the local wildlife on the sail to Largs: Cormorant, Mute Swan with signets, Canadian Geese, Lapwing, Curlew and Oyster Catchers. Oh and not least a pod of Harbour Porpoise feeding around Wemyss Bay.

We reached Largs to lots of friendly waves 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 sea birds such as Gannet, Guillemot, Black Headed Gull, Kittiwake and Razorbill.  After collecting more passengers at Rothesay, we headed round the northern tip of Bute through the Kyles of Bute.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 01a

Kittiwake (Rob Petley-Jones)

The channel between Bute and the mainland is known as "The Narrows" and it afforded us a very close encounter with the lolling Common Seal which watched us nonchalantly from their haul up sites on the pink hued rocks around Colintraive. The name Colintraive comes from the Gaelic for swimming narrows as in the past cattle were swum across from Bute to the mainland for market. A few passengers alighted at Tighnabruaich from where we headed round to Loch Fyne.

The sea state was very calm and mirror like as we headed round the peninsula and into Loch Fyne. The sail up Loch Fyne was very pleasant with a couple of sightings of Harbour Porpoise cutting gracefully thought the flat water. We pulled into Tarbet before heading further up Loch Fyne towards Otter Ferry.

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 01

Harbour Porpoise (Mike Bailey)

Loch Fyne has a rich heritage of marine mammal sightings. One record from 1570 documents a 'monster in the loch the size of a ship's mast with great eyes'. More recently in August 2017 Minke and Humpback Whale were spotted heading from Arran towards Loch Fyne. Loch Fyne regularly hosts Otter, Common and Bottlenose Dolphin and seasonal Basking Shark. None spotted on this trip but a solitary Harbour Porpoise did follow us on our return journey down the loch.

The return to Bute was dry and bright with many of us out on deck taking in the wildlife all around us. I was kept busy talking with passengers and the General Manager of White Funnel Ltd who was on a busman's holiday! This afforded me the opportunity to talk more about MARINElife, my role on board and the species of marine mammals found in and around the Clyde and sea lochs.

As we crossed between Bute and Largs the evening light was fading so I decided to disembark at Largs. I said a big thank you to Tony the Purser and bade farewell to the Glasgow bound passengers.

My thanks to the crew of MV Balmoral for all their help and continued support.

Louise Milne; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Cruise to Loch Striven 22nd September 2017

Posted 27 September 2017

Jenny Ball; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Weather: Rain until mid-afternoon with poor visibility. Wind: SW 2-4

Marine Mammals:
Grey Seal 3
Harbour Porpoise 2

Black Guillemot
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Terrestrial Birds:
Greylag Goose

The weather for this trip could hardly have been more disappointing for the passengers. The rain set in as we left Greenock, with visibility declining to the point where we could only just see the outline of the hills either side of the river. Apart from a very short interlude as we arrived at Dunoon, the chilly murky and wet conditions didn't let up until the very last leg of the journey, from Greenock up the river to central Glasgow.

Balmoral Greenock Jenny Ball

Balmoral at Greenock (Jenny Ball)

There were of course a few hardy souls finding sheltered spots around the ship, and one of them reported seeing a couple of Harbour Porpoise near Hunters Quay.  Some small groups of Eider were seen on the water, Cormorant on the old quay at Dunoon were trying to dry their wings, a solitary Black Guillemot sped past, and a few Gannet were flying and occasionally diving.

Once the weather finally improved, we enjoyed the trip up the Clyde towards the city, where the ship follows a deep dredged channel through otherwise shallow mudbanks.  We had hoped to see some Grey Seal hauled out on the rocky shores, but instead saw two or three of them swimming and then diving away as we passed.

Gannet Karen Dick 01

Gannets (Karen Dick)

Shore birds were a little easier to see, with Oystercatcher lined up on an old wharf, a large flock of Greylag Geese on a lush grassy bank, a few solitary Heron spaced out along the rocky shore, with a group of three or four in a stand of small trees, and Black-headed Gull swirling round an outfall.

Despite the conditions, guests were interested to look out for whatever wildlife they could see, and made the best of their cruise by enjoying the socialising in the indoor viewing areas.

My thanks to the crew of the Balmoral for all their help and support.

Jenny Ball; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Greenock to Campbeltown 21st September 2017

Posted 26 September 2017

Jenny Ball; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Weather:  Sunny with excellent visibility and calm sea. Wind: NE  2-3

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 12
Grey Seal 3
Common Dolphin 1
Unidentified Dolphin Spp. 2

Other Mammals:
Red Deer

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull
Manx Shearwater

This was the MV Balmoral's first cruise on the Clyde this season, and the conditions could not have been more perfect. A light NE breeze, brilliant sunshine and a flat sea - much more than we could have hoped for!  The visibility was exceptional (we could see Ailsa Craig, the famous gannetry, from well over 40 miles), and the passengers were keen to look out for the abundant wildlife.

Balmoral Lochranza Jenny Ball

Balmoral at Lochranza (Jenny Ball)

There are plenty of resident porpoises in the Clyde, and I saw 5 or 6 between Greenock and Largs - other passengers reported sightings too, and it seemed that if you looked hard enough, you would see one!

One of the Balmoral volunteers had told me about a Common Dolphin which likes to follow boats in the Largs area, and sure enough, it leapt around in our wake as we approached the town.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 30

Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Sailing between the Great and Little Cumbraes, there was quite a feeding frenzy, with Gannet, gulls and Guillemot circling, wheeling and diving - a spectacular sight.  Bird life generally seemed plentiful, with frequent small rafts of resting birds, Gannet feeding, many Guillemot in winter plumage as well as several flocks of Manx Shearwater.

Our approach to Campbeltown was marked by three Harbour Porpoise diving away, and a Grey Seal giving us a wary look.  In the harbour itself were two huge Grey Seal, blowing and snorting and rolling gently in the water - I think they were being well fed by the local fishermen!

Guillemot Peter Howlett 11

Guillemots (Peter Howlett)

The return trip back up the Clyde was quieter, but beautiful in the evening light. We saw two groups of Red Deer on the ridges above Lochranza on Arran, and others amongst the yellowing bracken on the hillsides. I heard from a passenger that she had seen at least two dolphin breaching, along the north side of Arran.

The Largs dolphin came out again, and this time we were all ready for it, so lots of passengers had great views of it frolicking in the waves alongside the boat, and then carrying on leaping behind us as we sailed on.

Lochranza & Arran Jenny Ball

Lochranza & Arran (Jenny Ball)

Light was fading as we left Largs, and I spent the remaining time chatting to people in the lounge - an interesting mix of Waverley/Balmoral enthusiasts, transport buffs, visitors and some locals just enjoying their magnificent home waters.

A big thank you to all the passengers and crew for their enthusiasm.

Jenny Ball; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)