MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘MS Oldenburg’ Bideford-Lundy 12 August 2017

Rick Morris MARINElife/Lundy WLO

West: Cloudy, wind NW 3-4, sea state 4 with 1m swell at times.
East: Cloudy with sunny spells, wind NW 2-3, sea state 3-4 with slight swell.

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 17
Common Dolphin 28
Bottlenose Dolphin 3
Grey Seal 5

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

Birds seen in the River Torridge:
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Peregrine Falcon

Lundy terrestrial birds:
Peregrine Falcon
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow

Today's WLO trip departed from Bideford with a full boat at a little after 08:30 under grey skies with the threat of a shower of rain. Fortunately, the rain stayed away and as we sailed down the River Torridge, we observed Curlew, Oystercatcher and Grey Heron on the far bank and as we passed Northam on our port side, in the trees, Little Egret could be seen.

We headed out into the Bristol Channel and once over the sand bar, the sea state picked up making it a little challenging for surface observations. However, I pick out 5 Harbour Porpoise from 3 sightings and 16 Common Dolphin from 3 sightings, this included a mother and calf right in the Landing Bay as we approached Lundy to the delight of those on the port side that saw them. Also in the Landing Bay was the Tall Ships Youth Trust vessel, the Stavros S Niarchos.

Stavros S Niarchos Rick Morris 01
Stavros S Niarchos (Rick Morris)

I spent my time on the island visiting the Old Battery, then back to the south side before stopping at the Marisco for lunch. As I still had a few hours to while away and with a stiff northwesterly wind blowing, I decided to spend some time at the 'Ugly' for a seawatch. There were many Gannet and Manx Shearwater feeding way out in the tidal race, possibly with Harbour Porpoise. Shortly before I decided to go down to the Landing Bay, a Peregrine Falcon gave a fly by before disappearing towards the South Lighthouse.

Back on board the Oldenburg, we set off for home at 18:30 with a few Grey Seal keeping an eye on us. Within minutes of leaving, I picked up around 30 Gannet diving in to feed and I told those passengers close by to keep an eye on the surface, as this was a good indicator of possible cetacean presence. As we continued to observe and we drew a little closer, there was indeed Harbour Porpoise present and I managed to count 9 animals.

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 05
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

Leaving Lundy behind us, after around 45 minutes, a small group of Common Dolphin came racing down the port side to the excitement of a couple of families with small children that saw them. Around 20 minutes later I picked up a large group of Gannet and Manx Shearwater feeding about a mile ahead of the ship, even at that distance I could clearly see the Gannet diving in. Again, I told everyone in earshot to keep watching the 'birds' and again there were cetaceans present, this time 3 Bottlenose Dolphin, with one animal clearing the water with big leaps. I wondered if these could be the same 3 animals I observed a couple of weeks earlier on the monthly survey!

Another 15 or 20 minutes passed by and a Harbour Porpoise 'popped up' with another a little further on. Nearing the sand bar a passenger next to me shouted "dolphins" and another small group of Common Dolphin went down the side, with 4 of them clearly seen playing in the wake.

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 10
Mother and calf Common Dolphin (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

As we sailed up the River Torridge, daylight was failing, but still enough light to give a great view of a Peregrine Falcon in the trees on our starboard side, followed by lots of Little Egret and a few Grey Heron roosting in the trees. Over on the far side, now to our port, 20+ Curlew were seen, with some flying past the bow giving their distinctive call.

Passing under the A39 road bridge I pointed out to some children the mermaid that has been painted on one of the support structures, before we drew up alongside our berth.

My thanks to Paul, Vernon and the crew of the 'Oldenburg' and to all on Lundy and the shore offices.