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