Sightings Archives: July 2016

MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Clipper) Portsmouth – Cherbourg (3rd July 2016)

Posted 06 July 2016

Carol Farmer-Wright, David Doxford and Tegan Greenway, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


The weather was variable.  The wind started as a southwesterly but veered to an easterly by the time we returned to Portsmouth. It varied from force 2 to 6.  Cloud cover varied from 70% to 100%.  Mid-channel had mist and light rain with visibility reducing to 2km.  Swell was mostly <1m and sea state varied from 2 to 4.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 207
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 12
Tern sp. 3
Larus sp. 49
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1

Terrestrial Birds:
Pigeon Columba sp. 28
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1

The team (Carol, Tegan & Dave) assembled at the International Ferry Terminal on a breezy Sunday morning; after a coffee upstairs we were shuttled out to the ship by minibus.  Captain Howard Roberts and his crew settled us in the starboard bridge wing and we were able to start our survey in the upper Solent.

The weather was highly variable on this trip - all four seasons in one day territory - but with a moderate sea and visibility varying from 2-15+km we were able to survey the whole way out and back.

Gannet Adrian Shephard 10On the outward run we mostly sighted Gannet; overall two thirds of our 314 bird were this spectacular species.  Captain Roberts commented on how much more numerous they are now compared to when he was sailing this route 20/25 years ago - good to hear!

We had fleeting glimpses of terns near both shores but they were small and distant so difficult to identify to species.  A single Manx Shearwater joined us for a few minutes; always a heartening sight; poetry in motion as they scoot low over the sea.

We passed HMS Tyne (Fisheries Protection Vessel) which was sitting in the 'central reservation' between the Eastbound and Westbound traffic separation lanes.

BND Adrian Shephard 06The highlight of the outward trip was a single Harbour Porpoise glimpsed briefly as it 'porpoised' down the port side.

Cherbourg proved to be both hectic and very un-French looking with low cloud and drizzle.  A French military helicopter was conducting winching exercises with a lifeboat in the harbour.  The port was also receiving the Tour de France so the place was a-buzzing.

Despite the traffic the Commodore Clipper was turned around in just over an hour and we were off northward.

Many of us suspect that cetaceans are aware when surveyors take meal breaks so it was no surprise that Carol was alone on watch when a single Bottlenose Dolphin put in a brief appearance just south of the Isle of Wight.

The weather was again poor in mid-Channel with visibility dropping to around 2km at one point.  By the evening the sun was shining brightly over 'Pompey' with pinkish clouds dotting a blue sky.

We concluded our survey off Gun Wharf Quay with a Great Crested Grebe sighting. Captain Roberts drove us back to the terminal himself; another big thank you to Condor Ferries for their hospitality!

Gannet (Adrian Shephard)
Bottlenose Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)