Sightings Archives: June 2016

MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Clipper) Portsmouth – Cherbourg (19th June 2016)

Posted 23 June 2016

David Doxford, Steve Boswell and Sharon Doake, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


Weather was initially good with gentle seas, force 3 to 4 South Westerly and 10km+ visibility.  Cloud cover varied from 70% to 100%.  It was dry going south but the weather closed in on the return leg with continuous rain and visibility reducing to 1-2km.  Swell was <1m throughout.

Summary of sightings:

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 144
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Tern sp. 1
Larus sp. 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 4

Terrestrial Birds:
Pigeon Columba sp 19

Gannet Sharon Drake 01The team (Sharon, Steve & Dave) met at the International Ferry Terminal on a bright and sunny Sunday morning.  As the only foot passengers we had our own minibus out to the ship.  Captain Ian Luff and his crew settled us in the starboard bridge wing and we were able to start our survey in the upper Solent.

The Solent was calm and quiet with few birds and few ships.  This proved prophetic - it was a quiet trip overall with only 179 seabirds sighted - the vast majority of these (80%) were Gannet.

We did see Gannet actively feeding on a patch of disturbed water just south of the Isle of Wight and this activity was drawing in birds from miles around, but no cetaceans unfortunately!

The highlight of the trip was seeing four Manx Shearwaters indulging in some formation flying.  They are incredibly elegant birds, fine-tuned for the oceanic lifestyle.

Manx Shearwater Rick Morris 05In Cherbourg we watch, amused, as three enormous Great Black-Backed Gull chicks (looking like giant balls of fluff) harassed a loan adult by demanding food.  They breed on an unused jetty adjacent to the ferry terminal.

We had a very rapid turnaround and were soon back on the bridge with some Racing Pigeon using the Commodore Clipper as a rest stop on the return as they did outbound.

The visibility deteriorated on the return leg with rain and low cloud, although sea conditions were still slight, however the dolphins decided to stay away.

We concluded our survey on arrival back in Portsmouth and thanked the Captain and his staff for their hospitality before heading ashore.

Gannet (Sharon Doake)
Manx Shearwater (Rick Morris)

MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Clipper) Portsmouth – Cherbourg (12th June 2016)

Posted 22 June 2016

Keith Morgan, Lucy Grable and Cerridwen Richards, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


For the outward and return journeys the weather was cloudy with some fog which reduced visibility at times, but there was no precipitation. Calm sea throughout with South Westerly winds.

Summary of sightings:

Gannet Morus bassanus 85
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10 
Lesser Black-backed GullLarus fuscus 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 18
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Tern sp. 1
Gull sp. 3
Auk sp. 1

Gannet Cerridwen Richards 01

We were warmly welcomed aboard the ferry by Captain Howard Roberts at 8:00am for the 9:00am departure from Portsmouth. The Captain and his crew kindly showed us to the starboard bridge wing where we conducted our survey. We began our survey as we left Portsmouth harbour where we rapidly encountered our first Gannet, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, a Tern and a Fulmar.

Unfortunately, there were no cetacean sightings during the trip. However, we were all excited to observe a Gannet plunge diving, and two Manx Shearwaters shearing across the sea's surface. The crew shared our excitement when we spotted this, and grabbed their binoculars to join us.

At lunch time, we were invited to have lunch with Captain Roberts, and he told us some tales from his 40 years of working at sea. Throughout the journey, other members of the crew told us their sea stories whilst also taking an immense interest in the work done by MARINElife.

Manx Shearwater Cerridwen Richards 01As we approached France, there was an increase in the number of Gannet, and we observed 18 Shag, either resting or flying low to the sea. There was a rapid turnaround at Cherbourg, but we managed to admire the harbour and surrounding coast before we headed back towards Portsmouth.

The number of bird sightings increased on the return journey, particularly Gannet. A large flock of approximately 20 Gannet flew past the ferry. As we neared the Isle of Wight, more Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull were sighted. Our total bird count was 153 with 56% of these being Gannet, 12% being Herring Gull, and 12% being Shag.

We concluded the survey upon arrival in Portsmouth, and thanked the crew for their hospitality. The Captain kindly offered to drive us off the ferry to the Portsmouth International Port building, where we thanked him again and said our goodbyes.

A huge thank you to Captain Howard Roberts, his bridge crew, and all the staff at Condor Ferries for allowing us to join you on this route, and for taking a vast interest in our work with MARINElife.

Gannet (Cerridwen Richards)
Manx Shearwater (Cerridwen Richards)