MARINElife Survey Report: Ilfracombe-Lundy 'MS Oldenburg' 17th August 2013

James Darke and Gareth Bradbury; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward: SW 6-8, sea state 3-5   Return: SW 6-8, sea state 3-5

Summary of Sightings
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 92
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 76
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 25
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 17

After a worrying forecast on the 16th and a call to the Lundy boat office, we found that the schedule for our survey had changed but the ferry was still going.  Anticipating difficult conditions for cetaceans, the lure of interesting seabirds was our motivation for an early morning on Saturday.

We boarded the Oldenberg with a friendly warning from crew members that it might be a bit rough. The Captain welcomed us onto the bridge and with his much appreciated hospitality, offered bacon sandwiches.

Storm Petrel Peter Howlett 01For the first half an hour I thought we would get away with the worst of the weather, until we passed Morte Point, the Cape Horn of North Devon, and felt the full effects of the near gale force south westerlies and accompanying swells.  Although our surveying ability was restricted by having to cling to solid objects on the bridge, Gareth managed to pick up two Storm Petrel in amongst the graceful Manx Shearwaters who seemed to be enjoying themselves on the monstrous swell.

Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot and a close view of a juvenile Kittiwake were also had when we dared to shift our eyes from the horizon.

Storm Petrel (Pete Howlett)

After a challenging two and a half hours we landed safely on Lundy and composed ourselves near the boat shed to the noise of a helicopter taking off. This turned out to be Lundy's wind turbine which must have been producing enough electricity for the whole of the south west. We walked up the hill and sheltered in the tavern for a while with a cup of tea, chatting to families who were feeling apprehensive about the trip back. Our pasty faces may not have filled them with confidence.

Great Skua Rick Morris 01The trip back was a comparative pleasure, with a following wind and sea, the Oldenberg smoothly surfed down waves and we were able to lift binoculars without fear of being dashed against furniture.  A Great Skua was seen close to the boat half way back to port with many Manxies and Gannet. Four Common Tern were spotted closer to shore.

By the time we made it back to Ilfracombe I had decided not to give up boat surveys and bird watching after all, and was looking forward to the possibility of another trip next year, when I might find out what the commonest owl on Lundy is.

Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Oldenberg who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Great Skua (Rick Morris)

James Darke and Gareth Bradbury, Research Surveyors for MARINElife