Pat Howard and Peter Jones, Research Surveyors for
Day 1: wind NW 4 sea state 2/3, visibility 6.
Day 2: wind N veering NNW 6, sea state 4 increasing to 5, visibility 5
Day 3: wind S 6 gusting 7, sea state 4 increasing 5, visibility 5.
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 166
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 1
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 2
Dolphin sp. (probably Striped Dolphin) 3
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1 (in Santander harbour)
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 3
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 343
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 45
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 85
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 3 (another 7 seen in Santander harbour)
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 4
(3 of the 4 were seen on approach to Santander harbour and could have been Yellow-legged Gull)
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 28
Guillemot Uria aalge 15
Razorbill Alca torda 10
Auk sp. 3
Large gull sp. 2
Skua sp. 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Redwing Turdus iliacus 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
It was with a great deal of anticipation that myself and Peter Jones boarded the Cotentin, the route that we were about to survey has long been held to be the mecca for cetacean and sea bird surveyors, so we were looking forward to seeing some exciting cetaceans and seabirds. We started the trip from the aft deck, so that we could check the lagoon on Brownsea Island for birds. There were plenty, with a party of 11 Spoonbills being the highlight along with good numbers of Avocet, Little Egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher and Teal as a supporting cast. As we passed the island we managed to pick out 2 Black-necked Grebes on the sea.
After a short delay we were escorted to the bridge and the survey proper began, the weather was fairly calm, which was promising for spotting cetaceans. It was, however, a quiet start with only Guillemot, Kittiwake and Gannet noted and the occasional Great Black-backed Gull and Great Skua also seen.
As we moved further across the Channel, cetaceans began to appear. The Cotentin seemed to act as a magnet for Common Dolphin with 18 being observed in the space of 33 minutes. It then went quiet on the cetacean front until, as we approached the French coast, a large pod of Common Dolphin (61) came in towards the ship. This spectacular sighting was a fitting end to the day.
Day 2. We were back on the bridge by 0740 the next morning, to discover that the choppy sea state meant that spotting cetaceans was going to be difficult. However, this proved not to be the case as within minutes of arriving on the bridge a group of 3 probable Striped Dolphin were observed approaching the ship, followed by a Minke Whale which performed brilliantly for us, spy hopping and breaching. As we got closer to the Spanish coast 2 Pilot Whale were spotted and 10 minutes later a pod of 7 Common Dolphin joined the ship for a spot of bow riding.
On the birding front Meadow Pipit and Redwing were seen on the ship at dawn and the birding got even better as we approached the Spanish coast. A Little Gull and Mediterranean Gull joined the now familiar Gannets, Kittiwakes and Great Skuas. Best of all a mixed flock of Great shearwater and Cory's Shearwater were observed on the approach to Santander. As we made our way into the harbour several Herring Gull-type birds were seen flying, they were most likely Yellow-legged Gulls but identity couldn't be confirmed with the views we had.
After lunch and before the ship left Santander birding was resumed from the aft deck, a Great Northern Diver proved to be the star attraction ably backed up by a supporting cast of Mediterranean Gull, several Yellow-legged Gull's and of course Black-headed Gull.
Once the ship was underway we made our way back to the bridge to resume the survey. As the sea conditions had not improved we didn't think that we would see many cetaceans, and so it proved with just one Striped Dolphin being seen. Seabirds were the familiar Gannet, Kittiwake with the odd Great Skua. The highlight of the day was a Leach's Petrel which was handed to Pat during the afternoon by a member of the crew; it had been discovered on the ship during the day and taken into care. The bird seemed to have suffered no physical damage, but appeared dazed. It was kept warm and provided with water.
Day 3. A grey overcast day with a steadily increasing southerly wind. This was the best day for dolphins with 80 Common Dolphin seen during the day. Seabirds were also in evidence with good numbers of Gannet and Great Skua being seen. Smaller numbers of Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Fulmar and Great Black-backed Gull were also recorded. One hitchhiker was discovered on board - a Starling travelled from Spain to Poole on the bridge superstructure. As we approached Poole Harbour an attempt was made to release the Leach's Petrel but it refused to fly off and it was taken to a bird hospital in Norfolk.
A huge vote of thanks must go to the Captain and crew of the Cotentin, who ensured that our stay on the ship was a real pleasure, being extremely helpful and taking an interest in the work being undertaken.
Foot note: The Leach's Petrel was successfully released back into the wild on 23rd Nov at Great Yarmouth. A Leach's Petrel was reported from Horsey Gap Norfolk on 24th Nov.
Pat Howard and Peter Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife