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

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black Headed Gull
Gannet
Kittiwake
Cormorant
Guillemot                                                                                                                        
Razorbill
Oystercatcher

Terrestrial birds on coastline
Grey Heron
Mute Swan                                                                                                                    
Mallard                                                                                                                        
Lapwing

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)