Ilfracombe or Bideford-Lundy

Sightings Archives: August 2014

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘MS Oldenburg’ Bideford-Lundy 30 August 2014

Posted 02 September 2014

Steve McAusland; MARINElife Lundy Wildlife Officer

Weather: Clear, wind westerly 5 decreasing 4

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans:
Harbour Porpoise 2
Grey Seal 30

Seabirds:
Fulmar
Manx Shearwater
Gannet
Cormorant
Shag
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Kittiwake
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

Lundy terrestrial birds:
Mallard
Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Oystercatcher
Wood Pigeon
Tree Sparrow
Meadow Pipit
Wheatear
Starling
Raven
Carrion Crow
JackdawHouse Sparrow
House Martin
Sand Martin
Swallow
Linnet
Robin
Blackbird
Dunnock
Skylark
Whitethroat
Pied Wagtail

Estuary birds:
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Cormorant
Redshank
Curlew
Black-tailed Godwit
Oystercatcher

Arriving in Bideford at 08:15am my first port of call was the Landmark office to collect my ticket for boarding MS Oldenburg. The ship was full with 256 passengers and 8 crew, on making my way up to the bridge I readied myself for the sailing while chatting the Jerry the Captain. I started my tour around the upper and lower decks introducing myself to the passengers as quickly as I could as information from the bridge proposed that the weather out on the open sea was force 5.

Shag Steve McAusland 01
Shag (Steve McAusland)

Whilst Oldenburg navigated the estuary towards the open sea, I had the opportunity to point out notable birds such as Oystercatcher, Redshank, Little Egret, Curlew, Grey Heron and Black-tailed Godwit. Once out of the estuary the sea livened up and we were soon enjoying the sea breeze and spray and the ships motion that goes with force 5 weather! A very brief sighting of a Harbour Porpoise off the port side was sadly the only cetacean seen. Birds of note were a few Manx Shearwater gliding effortlessly over the water and a group of 11 diving Gannet were seen as the ship passed Hartland Point.

Upon disembarking the Oldenburg a great many of the passengers stopped on the jetty to watch an inquisitive large Grey Seal showing off. I briefly stopped to say hello to Derek the Island's manager and also a hello to Chloe the assistant warden to find out about recent bird sightings. Following this I began to make my way up to the higher levels. My planned route kept me on the east side where I settled myself in the shepherd's shelter to have lunch and to begin a sea watch. More Grey Seal were spotted further up at the northern rocks and also 2 below near the beach area. Scanning the sea produced many Gannet and Shag along with the usual gull species. Unfortunately no cetaceans were seen. After a two hour watch I went over to the west side and did the same for another two hours, unfortunately with the same results!

Grey Seal Steve McAusland 04
Grey Seals (Steve McAusland)

The return journey aboard the Oldenburg gave a distant view of 21 Grey Seal that were basking on Mouse Rock.  The crossing back to Bideford was a much calmer affair which gave another brief sighting of a Harbour Porpoise and the same species of birds were seen as on the outward journey.

As we arrived back in Bideford there was a huge crowd gathered on the quay, not to welcome us back but to wave goodbye to 'Kathleen and May' an old three-masted sailing ship that was about to leave on the high tide bound for Liverpool.

I thanked Jerry and the crew for supporting MARINElife and I look forward to my next trip in September.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: 'MS Oldenburg' Ilfracombe-Lundy 23 August 2014

Posted 28 August 2014

Libby Abbot and Ellen Last MARINElife Lundy Wildlife Officers
Weather: Sea state 3/4, wind northwest  force 4

Summary of sightings
Marine Mammals:

Harbour Porpoise 4
Common Dolphins 6
Grey Seals

Seabirds:
Manx Shearwater
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Guillemot
Razorbill
Shag

I was accompanied on this week's crossing by Ellen Last and we arrived in Ilfracombe, on a bright and breezy morning. After popping into the shore office to collect our tickets, we made our way to the quayside to board the MS Oldenburg. We were invited onto the bridge by Jerry, the Captain, who as always, greeted us with a warm welcome.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 06Leaving the calm of Ilfracombe Harbour, it soon became apparent that cetacean spotting would be a little challenging in the sea state of 4-5. I made my way round the outer decks, as normal, to encourage the passengers to keep a look out, as it would still be possible to get close up sightings of the seabirds.

On the way across we encountered three or four Manx Shearwater flying between the crests of the waves and then we heard shouts signifying that there had just been a sighting of three triangular dorsal fins of Harbour Porpoise. We tried desperately to spot them again, but to no avail. The rest of the crossing was quiet, with seabird numbers low but on the bright side a good variety of species were seen. Approaching Lundy Island, we managed to observe a flock of Guillemot and two Fulmar.

Manx Shearwater (Pete Howlett)

On disembarking Ellen and I saw two Compass Jellyfish at the water's edge. Ellen took a few photographs and we made our way up to the wonderful Marisco Tavern for lunch.  Afterwards, Ellen wanted to go and look around some of the sights that Lundy Island has to offer, so we took the up-hill hike to the island's castle, where you get a great view down on the jetty. We spotted four Grey Seal in the water 'spy hopping' as though they were catching the sun's rays.  Next on the agenda, we looked around the appropriately named St Ellen's Church and then on to the old lighthouse, where Ellen climbed the steps to take the opportunity to see the truly spectacular views over the Island.

Common Dolphin Carol FarmerWright 02aThere was a moment of excitement on the return journey with a report of Common Dolphin. One passenger showed us some photos of cetaceans taken during her  visit to the island, they were a little distant but it appeared there were two to three Common Dolphin taking part in some group activity together, probably feeding on a 'bait ball'.

The return journey was bathed in sunshine, but there was very little bird activity.  We arrived back in Ilfracombe ahead of schedule and before disembarking Ellen and I said our farewells to Jerry and the crew.

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)  

Our thanks to the Captain and crew of the Oldenburg, the shore office and to Landmark Trust for supporting MARINElife

 

MARINElife Survey Report: 'MS Oldenburg' Ilfracombe-Lundy 16 August 2014

Posted 21 August 2014

Fiona McNie & Annie Jenkins, Research surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather:
WNW to WS 3-4, Swell between 0-2m, generally fair with sunny spells, but occasional light rain

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Whale sp. 1

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 259
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 30
Gannet Morus bassanus 81
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Gull sp.  1

The trip to Lundy was a great day and the staff were welcoming as usual. There was a breeze during the day but great visibility with lovely views of the Devon coast. The MARINElife wildlife officer was also present on the vessel, talking to the passengers about the marine life present.

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 01a
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Mike Bailey)

Bird life seemed quiet leaving Ilfracombe and the first bird was not spotted for some time, though the wildlife officer spotted a Harbour Porpoise fairly soon after leaving the harbour which luckily some of the passengers were also able to see as the WLO pointed it out.

Further out towards Lundy we had a most frustrating experience. We glimpsed a whale blow (about 2m tall) far off on the starboard side of the vessel followed by a breach but, due to the distance and spray-streaked windows, we weren't able to confirm the species.

After the slow start a good variety of seabirds were seen during the trip including Kittiwake, a Great Skua, Fulmars and a few Razorbills. In particular, on the way out, high numbers of Manx Shearwaters were seen rafting and flying in large groups. At Lundy large number of Cormorants were seen resting on the rocks in the sun and, of course, a few seals swimming in the harbour - though no seal pups just yet.

Manx Shearwater Rick Morris 05a
Manx Shearwater (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

On the return journey it was our turn to catch sight of a Harbour Porpoise, again close to the Devon coast.

Marine life would like to thank the crew of the Oldenburg and Lundy for their continued support.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: 'MS Oldenburg' Ilfracombe-Lundy 16 August 2014

Posted 20 August 2014

MARINElife/Lundy Wildlife Officer John Little

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise 2
Grey Seal  15

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Kittiwake
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Gannet

We sailed on an ebbing high tide with a slight to moderate sea state and visibility out to 10nm. Despite the windy, overcast conditions within 20 minutes of leaving Ilfracombe Harbour we saw two Harbour Porpoise, a mother and her calf. True to their retiring nature they only briefly stayed in the vicinity of the ship before heading south towards Mortehoe.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 11
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

As we neared Lundy Island I was aware of excitement on the other side of the vessel. Like all good Wildlife Officers I had just come from there seconds before. Heading back over I was informed that a whale blow had been seen by several passengers, the Captain, and the two MARINElife surveyors (Annie and Fiona, carrying out the monthly survey) on the bridge. It was seen twice, to the north in the main channel, then it was then gone. Unfortunately the viewing conditions precluded a positive identification - how frustrating!

In terms of seabirds this leg of the journey was on the quiet side the main highlight being a group of 30 or so bobbing Manx Shearwater enjoying an apparent game of chicken with the Oldenburg, waiting until the last second to scatter from our bow wave. Guillemot, Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull and the occasional Gannet were observed infrequently at distance.

On the island Annie and I decided on a lunch on the cliffs watching the local Grey Seal population. In total we saw 10-15 individuals all invariably mooching about in the shallows and foreshore. One adult member of the group was perched on a small rock, just clear of the water, and spent two hours singing to any seals that came near it. In the lee of the wind just behind Rat Island, this song could be heard from several hundred meters away.

Grey Seal Steve McAusland 02
Grey Seals (Archive photo: Steve McAusland)

After the excitement of our whale escort and our lunchtime serenade. We decided to focus our attention on the smaller things on the coast. As low tide fast approached we had Lundy's innumerable rock pools at our disposal. Armed with our seashore guides we spent time finding and identifying the more discrete wildlife, the diversity of life on the UK's rocky shores is simply incredible. It would not be practical to list all our discoveries here, but notable finds included the stunning Blue-rayed Limpet Hellcion pellucidum, Beadlet and Strawberry Anenomes Actinia equine and A. fragacea and the microscopically dazzling Star Ascidian Botryllus schlosseri.

The return journey back to Ilfracombe was on the flood tide, with visibility down to 8nm, higher winds kept the sea state moderate, as such there were no cetaceans or seabirds to note in detail. Only the most determined of Gannet were seen feeding at range in the vicinity of Hartland Point.

On days when the weather is not ideal (in the UK it rarely is) but you still want to observe and enjoy what the coast has to offer there is always the option of swapping the binoculars for the magnifying glass.  As ever Lundy Island and its stunningly rich seascape proved full of surprises and kept us expecting the unexpected in both large and small scale.

On behalf of MARINELIFE a very big thank you to the Captain and crew of MS Oldenburg for taking us to sea and making us feel so welcome.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘MS Oldenburg’ Ilfracombe-Lundy 9 August 2014

Posted 11 August 2014

Rick Morris; MARINElife Lundy Wildlife Officer (WLO)

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 1
Grey Seal 3 

Seabirds:
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Manx shearwater
Gannet
Kittiwake
Fulmar
Shag
Cormorant
Guillemot

Joining me on the journey down to Ilfracombe was Abi, one of MARINElife's interns and after arriving in the car park, we made our way to the ship. Here we met our patron Maya Plass who was already onboard and the three of us made ourselves ready to meet the passengers.

As we left our mooring, leaving Ilfracombe on a low tide, we made our way around the decks, Maya and Abi on the upper whilst I went to the lower deck and saloons to introduce ourselves to the passengers and explain the role of the 'Wildlife Officer'.

The trip across to Lundy was relatively quiet, with only one Harbour Porpoise seen in terms of cetacea, this was due to a sea state of 4, making spotting these small shy mammals extremely difficult. Seabird numbers were also low, with Gannet and gulls being mostly seen as well as a juvenile Kittiwake and a Cormorant heading out of the channel. The resident colony of Shag were mostly rafting off 'Mouse Island' as we approached the jetty.

Helicopter Lundy_Rick MorrisShortly before arriving at Lundy, Maya pointed out a Sea King rescue helicopter off the starboard side. To everyone's delight the helicopter proceeded to carry out a training rescue procedure, this had it come very close to the ship and lower a crew member onto the back deck to perform a demo of taking someone off (using a large bag). After they had finished the 'rescue', the pilot and crew made off towards Lundy, waving to the passengers as they left. Shortly after the excitement of our 'rescue' we found ourselves on the landing stage and so headed up to the top of Lundy.

Upon reaching the green outside Marisco's tavern we stopped for lunch and then met Derek Green (General Manager) and Derek kindly gave us all a tour of some of the accommodation, as we will be jointly hosting a four day 'Lundy experience' on the island in 2015 (date to be confirmed).

RAF Rescue Demonstration (Rick Morris)

This was Abi's first visit to the island and as we didn't have too much time left, Maya suggested a visit up the 'Old Lighthouse' as you get awesome 360° views across the island taking in views of North Devon and South Wales from the top.

Manx Shearwater_Rick Morris 06We made our way back stopping at the tavern for a chat with Beccy (Lundy's Warden). It's always great to meet up with Beccy to get the latest wildlife and island developments. We then made our way back to the landing stage via a brief visit to the old castle which was built in 1244 by Henry III.

Waving goodbye to the island, we again engaged the passengers into looking out for wildlife, with a Grey seal to be seen just off Mouse Island. The wind had picked up a bit and so made the return a little bumpy at times and somewhat challenging for picking out marine mammals. Seabird numbers remained low for most of the trip, but we did see the odd Guillemot, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet and also a few Manx Shearwater.

Manx Shearwater (Rick Morris)

Our thanks as always to Jerry and his crew, the shore office and island staff for all their help and support.

Rick Morris MARINElife Lundy Wildlife Officer (WLO)

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘MS Oldenburg’ Bideford-Lundy 2 August 2014

Posted 04 August 2014

Pete Howlett; MARINElife Lundy Wildlife Officer

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin c.20
Grey Seal 4

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater
Fulmar
Gannet
Shag
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Guillemot
Razorbill
Puffin

Landbirds on Lundy
Peregrine
Oystercatcher
Swift
Wheatear
Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Robin
Willow Warbler
Blackcap
Spotted Flycatcher
Starling
House Sparrow
Wren
Carrion Crow
Jackdaw
Raven
Swallow
Sand Martin
Goldfinch
Linnet

On the Torridge
Cormorant
Grey Heron
Little Egret (inc. roost of 12)
Oystercatcher
Curlew
Redshank
Dunlin
Common Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull

I had been waiting for the chance to do this trip for a long time and this Bideford-Lundy-Bideford trip  provides the most time on the island, in fact this particular trip was the longest in the entire season.

I checked in at the shore office then waited with the other passengers to board, needing to shelter from a passing shower was not a good start and the sky looked to be threatening more of the same. I was welcomed aboard by Captain Jerry Waller and then, kitted out with the MARINElife tabard and armed with MARINElife leaflets, I set about introducing myself to the 230+ passengers as we sailed down the Torridge.

Lundy west cliffs Peter HowlettThe trip got off to a good start when a passenger alerted me to a fin several hundred metres off to starboard - two Common Dolphin! Unfortunately they surfaced only three times before being lost in the lumpy sea and never came close enough for more than a handful of eagle-eyed passengers to see. Sadly they were the only cetaceans to put in an appearance on the outward journey. In fact the sea was generally very quiet with Manx Shearwater being the only species seen in any numbers. The weather didn't really help matters mind, particularly the torrential downpour which had everyone, including me, scurrying for cover. The upside to that shower was that it marked the end of the rain for the day and the light and sea state improved markedly after that - unfortunately the numbers of seabirds didn't. I did see an adult Razorbill accompanied by its newly fledged chick, followed a little later by a Guillemot with its youngster and managed to get a few passengers on to this rather endearing sight.

Lundy West Cliffs (Pete Howlett)

The two hour trip flew past and before I knew it we were pulling into Landing Bay, with Lundy now bathed in sunshine and a freshening westerly breeze. Unfortunately the breeze was strong enough to put paid to the round the island trip which would normally happen on these long day trips so it was seven hours on the island - time enough for a thorough exploration. As this was my first visit to Lundy I took advantage of the guided walk led by assistant warden Chloe. A fascinating hour taking in Marisco Castle, Benson's Cave and culminating with the fantastic views from the top of the Old Light.

After a spot of lunch the west coast beckoned. With the stiff westerly breeze I thought it looked particularly spectacular from the Battery, especially the cave going right through Dead Cow point. I cut across to the east coast at Halfway Wall to experience the entirely different nature of the sheltered, lee side of the island. Dramatic wave-washed cliffs were replaced with tranquil wooded valleys and pebble beaches. The woods revealed that autumn migration was well underway with a few Willow Warblers calling in the oak trees and a Spotted Flycatcher in the trees by Government House.

After the exertions of walking around the island a mug of tea at the Marisco Tavern was very welcome and the rest recharged the batteries ready for the two hour sail back to Bideford. By now, with the wind having been blowing force five from the west for the past seven hours, the sea was a little choppier than on the way out. The Oldenburg made light work of the following swell but conditions weren't conducive to seeing cetaceans. Fortunately you can rely on Gannets to help in these conditions and about halfway across I spotted a flock of Gannet circling ahead of the ship but well off to starboard. I quickly got any nearby passengers armed with binoculars to keep looking at the sea below the circling flock. Sure enough there were dolphins, probably about 20 or so Common but they were a long way off and never came closer than a kilometre or so. Still several of the passengers were excited to round off their trip with the sighting.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 07It was interesting to see a few small groups of Guillemot, including an adult with newly fledged youngster within a kilometre or two of the mouth of the Torridge, it's obviously good feeding there at the moment. The trip didn't end on entering the Torridge though, there was still plenty to see on the banks of the river, by now bathed in the warm light of the setting sun. Little Egrets are now very common in the southwest but it was still great to see 12 of them gathering to roost in a tall riverside tree and there were several more still out on the river. Wader migration was also very evident with seven Common Sandpipers seen in a small stretch of the river. The passengers were equally interested and I had more questions thrown at me in the half hour trip up the Torridge than I had out at sea.

Common Dolphin (Pete Howlett)

We finally berthed at Bideford Quay and I thanked Jerry for his hospitality and the Landmark Trust's continued support for MARINElife. Unfortunately it wasn't the end of the day for Jerry and the crew as they had to take the Oldenburg up to Ilfracombe ready for a charter the following day.

Despite the damp start this had been a fantastic day, dolphins had been seen, albeit distantly, and there had been enough wildlife to keep the interest going. Then there was my first visit to Lundy, a real gem and I think another visit will be needed!

Pete Howlett; MARINElife Lundy WLO