MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Clipper) Portsmouth – Cherbourg (29th May 2016)

David Doxford, Jo Collins and Tony Chenery, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather was good with gentle seas, light variable wind (mainly from the North) and 10km+ visibility.  Cloud cover varied from 25% to 75% with lots of bright sunshine.  We had glare to the port side ahead on the southerly leg.  It was dry throughout although we could see some heavy showers over France as we approached the coast.

Summary of sightings:

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 170
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 57
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 4
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 2
Larus sp 98
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2

Terrestrial Birds:
Feral Pigeon Columba spp 5
Swallow Hirundo rustica 5

Herring Gull David Oxford 01This was a new route for all our survey team and Jo, Tony and I were impressed with the facilities at Portsmouth International Port.  The Condor Ferries staff were their usual helpful selves as they welcomed us aboard and showed us rapidly to the bridge.  Captain Ian Luff and his crew settled us in the starboard bridge wing and we were able to start our survey immediately on departure from Portsmouth.

As we headed out into the Solent we had the usual assemblage of gulls, especially juveniles, plus one Sandwich Tern.  Marine traffic was heavy with large numbers of leisure boats taking advantage of the Bank Holiday weekend.  Amongst the sea birds we also had some Swallow and Feral Pigeon who utilised the Commodore Clipper as a rest stop.

Despite almost perfect observing conditions we had no cetacean sightings on the whole trip.  It happens at times but still provides useful data for population assessments.

Port Militaire David Doxford 01Approaching France we began to see larger numbers of Gannet, mostly flying low to the calm sea.  A few circled and we saw one plunge diving.

As we had a very rapid turnaround in Cherbourg we could only manage a short break sunning ourselves on the outside seating and admiring the rather eccentric Basilique Sainte-Trinité.

Bird sightings increased on the return survey with Gannet continuing to predominate.  We even had a pair of Gannet circling just off Gunwharf Quays, dodging a flotilla of dinghies.

We concluded our survey on arrival back in Portsmouth and thanked the Captain and his staff for their hospitality before heading ashore. Our total bird count was 376 with 45% of these being Gannet.

A good route and one that we are all keen to do again soon!

Herring Gull (David Doxford)
Port Militaire (David Doxfor)