Sightings Archives: February 2013

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 16-18 February 2013

Posted 24 February 2013

Joe O'Hanlon and Peter Lewis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Day 1: Light winds and clear skies, sea state 3
Day 2: Light winds and clear skies, sea state 2
Day 3: E 3 inc. 8, clear skies, sea state 3 inc. 5

Marine Mammals
Cuvier's Beaked Whale  Ziphius cavirostris 4 (1 dead + 3 prob)
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 16
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 74
Dolphin sp  25

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 166
Gannet  Morus bassanus 523
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 31
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 21
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Common Gull  Larus canus 2
Mediterranean Gull  Larus melanocephalus 2
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 14
Yellow-legged Gull  Larus michahellis 444 (c400 on headland - Santander)
Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 39
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 8
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 93
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 3
Guillemot  Uria aalge 135
Razorbill  Alca torda 81
Auk sp 69
Gull sp  352
Large gull sp  76
Shearwater sp   1 Manx/Balearic ?

Terrestrial Birds
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 1
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 19
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 2
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Diver sp  4
Wader sp   35

We left Poole Ferry Terminal at 08.00hrs on a pleasant morning on the 16th: 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls crossed in front of us straight away and, passing through the narrow Sandbanks exit to Poole Harbour, we were able to look down on the beach of Shell Bay from our lofty vantage point on the bridge in time to see the Brent Geese leaving the sand's edge as the morning dog-walkers set out.  A Black-necked Grebe dived in front of the ship and, almost immediately, we were into our first cetaceans - 14 Bottlenose Dolphin within the marked channel!

BN Dolphin_2013_02_16

Thereafter we enjoyed a day of sunshine from clear blue skies, although sailing straight into the sun for a while did make viewing harder (were we complaining in February? - no). Gannets were frequent all day, plus Great Skua, Guillemot, various common gull species, Fulmar, Cormorant and some Shag. A small trawler actively fishing was accompanied by 80+ Gannet, about 350 gulls including many Kittiwake, many Fulmar and a Great Skua. Passing Brittany we encountered 30+ Common Dolphin in a wide-spread feeding group accompanied by diving Gannets, then later some smaller dolphin groups, only one nearer group identifiable to species (Common again).

The next morning it was getting light about 7 o'clock and we were set for another beautiful sunny morning but quiet until a single Common Dolphin broke the surface at 8.30. Later the ship, making 20 knots, was overtaken by a lone meadow Pipit heading for Spain (and still with an hour and a half to go). We spotted two distant groups of unknown dolphin species. Following this, we passed a dead Cuvier's Whale some distance off the port side and attracting the attention of some large gulls. This was some way behind us when, to our considerable surprise, a first-winter Iceland Gull lowered itself on outstretched, slow-flapping wings in front of the bridge windows only to rise up again and disappear. This was out of the accepted range of Iceland Gull and we wondered whether we had "picked it up" when passing the area of the whale carcase.

Two Bottlenose Dolphin appeared as we approached Santander and crossed in front of the ship. Yellow-legged Gulls were numerous in the harbour along with other gull species including a few Mediterranean Gulls.  Behind the harbour we could see the snow-covered Cantabrian Mountains, although unfortunately not very clearly in conditions which were now very hazy. Two passerines in a palm tree turned out to be House Sparrows. Surface sea temperature by now was 13°C with an air temperature of 16°C.


We left Santander on time mid-afternoon and headed back north across the Bay of Biscay in quiet conditions. Forty-five minutes out Joe was able to identify three Cuvier's Beaked Whale swimming slowly but quite distantly: unfortunately they turned away from the ship.  Subsequently there was little to note until dusk, when 35 Common Dolphin in several groups approached the ship fast from off the port bow, followed by another five (species uncertain) a few minutes later.

The morning of the 18th found one of our team enjoying a most delicious pain-au-chocolat with coffee provided by Brittany Ferries when a pink-red neon ship appeared on the horizon: this 'ship' then widened and rapidly shape-shifted and rose above the horizon-haze as a giant balloon manifesting itself as the Sun. Another four minutes and it had changed colour and was starting to dazzle the eyes, lighting up the tops of the slight swell in a repeating pattern of gold.

The wind was interesting this morning also: force 3 at 07.00hrs, 4 at 07.15, 5 at 07.30, 6 at 07.45, 7 at 08.30 and 8 at 09.45hrs. The swell remained quite low, however, as the wind was from the east-southeast.

As we approached the northwest tip of France we noticed a few Little Gull, then birds increased as we entered the Channel (Fulmar, Kittiwake, Great Skua, Guillemot and groups of Razorbill). Four in the afternoon found us approaching Poole Harbour, with a sea temperature of 8°C and an air temperature of 6°C; the ship slowly edged its way through the narrow channel and we finished the day with a lofty view of Avocet gathering on Brownsea Island Lagoon. Three days of good visibility and mostly sunny skies!

Our thanks to Capt. Le Bourdonnec and crew for happily accepting us on the bridge and for plentiful good food for the three days. Thanks also to the office staff in Poole for sorting out our cabins and to Brittany Ferries as a whole for providing these valuable survey opportunities.