Weymouth or Poole-Channel Islands

Sightings Archives: July 2014

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘Condor Express’ Poole-Guernsey 30 July 2014

Posted 31 July 2014

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Abi Parsons

Summary of species seen:

None today!

Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Gannet Morus bassanus
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Outward: Clear skies, dry and light winds. A clear sky meant a little bit of glare on the sea surface.
Return: Clear skies, dry weather but a little bit windy. Sea not as calm as outward journey.

Another beautiful July morning and I found myself climbing aboard the Condor Express just before 7:30 to be the Marinelife Wildlife Officer on board for the journey to Guernsey! I wrapped up warm before I headed out on deck with my binoculars at hand. Leaving through the Poole channel gave me a chance to have a look for bird species while we were slowly making our way out to deeper waters. Brownsea island is a great place to spot a large variety of shorebirds both breeding and on migration all year round. I spotted many Shags perched on wooden poles protruding from the water, catching the early morning sun. Gulls followed us along the coastline past Sandbanks, Studland and out into open waters.

Gannet Abi Parsons 01
Gannet (Photo: Abi Parsons)

The beautifully calm sea stayed with us all the way over to Guernsey, nearing Alderney I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of the elusive Minke Whale and any Harbour Porpoise taking shelter along the coastline - sadly apart from a few Gannet diving into the sea there was little to be seen in the water. As we arrived in Guernsey we again saw the Herring, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls circling overhead.

We disembarked for a three and a half hour wander around the Island. I stopped and had lunch in a gorgeous restaurant and had a little wander round before heading back to the ferry. The tide was out and in the harbour, if you looked closely, you could see young Mullet basking in the shallows. On our departure I saw 2 Cormorant diving in the deeper waters looking for the unsuspecting Mullet.

The return journey took us past Ortac, which is home to one of the large Gannet colonies around Alderney. The wind had picked up a little by now making spotting a Harbour Porpoise quite a challenge.

Ortac Gannet colony Abi Parsons
Ortac Gannet colony, off Alderney (Photo: Abi Parsons)

I arrived back at Poole harbour at about 6pm, nicely windswept and satisfied with a day of Wildlife spotting. Thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Express for the support and assistance. And thank you to the public who approached me, it was lovely to hear about your experiences of marine life wherever in the world you saw them!

If you like the sound of joining one of our trips down to Guernsey, either from Weymouth or Poole, then you can book online at Condor Guernsey day trips. What's more, Condor Ferries will kindly donate £5 of the cost of your ticket to MARINElife!

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Vitesse’ Weymouth-Guernsey 23 July 2014

Posted 25 July 2014

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO: Andy Gilbert

Weather: Outward journey, sunny, strong wind, good visibility, a little  glare. Homeward journey, Very strong winds, good visibility to start but with declining light as the journey progressed.

Summary of sightings:

Minke Whale  Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 8

Balearic Shearwater  Puffinus mauretanicus
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo
Gannet  Morus bassanus
Black Headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo

Basking Shark  Cetorhinus maximus

With the temperature creeping past the mid 20s by lunchtime the prospect of a sea breeze in the Channel was definitely alluring as I boarded the Condor Vitesse to Guernsey. After introducing myself to the very supportive customer services manager and asking him to announce the Wildlife Officer role over the tannoy system I made my way to the upper deck and cool air. Once out of the harbour that cool air become a relatively strong wind that made wildlife spotting a little difficult, and lost me one of my favourite hats into the bargain.

Black Guillemot Peter Howlett 01
Black Guillemot (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

However, the sun deck was full, the sea state was only 2 so the voyage began with excitement and expectation. Sadly there was very little wildlife movement on such a hot day. Some Herring Gull and a few Common Tern as we passed Portland but, despite the eagle eyes of a very experienced birder, Ashley and his wife Esme from Weymouth, the skies and seas proved relatively empty for this crossing bar an occasional Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Instead we were subjected to the sad sight of numerous helium balloons floating by in the currents.

There were, however, two birds that saved the day.  Half an hour out of Weymouth I spotted a small auk on the water off to starboard. As we got closer I saw it was guillemot in shape  but I couldn't believe my eyes when I realised this was deep black all over apart from the white wing patch.  I certainly wasn't expecting a Black Guillemot this far south but this bird was definitely a small Guillemot and definitely black all over! Typically as soon as I reached for my camera it dived and Ashley was on the port side so unable to substantiate what I saw but I am informed they have had an occasional Black Guillemot off Portland in winter. The second bird was found off Alderney; as we avidly scanned for cetaceans a Balearic Shearwater flew into view. This was the only shearwater of the whole trip with not even a Manxie putting in an appearance.

Despite the lack of cetaceans there were a number of interested passengers who came to talk, ask questions about what they might see, and recount their own whale and dolphin experiences. This included members of the 1st Tadcaster Scout Group on their way to a jamboree in Guernsey. A couple of the young scouts were very impressed with a great view of a Cormorant flying beside the ship as we came into St Peter Port. Hopefully some future wildlife enthusiasts there!

St Peter Port provided sunshine, atmosphere, coffee and a sandwich sat beside the harbour, followed by a great meander around the town.  As we left Guernsey we found the wind had increased and despite a family with two young children who came up regularly to try to see dolphins the wind beat all but a few hardy smokers from the top deck and only two of us huddled under the communications tower out of the wind desperately trying to find some binocular action in the fading light. It seemed the only fishy (or even marine mammal) tales we would have to tell from today's trip was that recounted by the very enthusiastic and friendly customer services manager about two of the girls from the restaurant seeing a dolphin swim past whilst they were on their break the day before. Ashley thought he might have had a possible Puffin, otherwise just the occasional Fulmar kept us company but couldn't keep up with the pace of the ferry and we filled the time watching immense container ships crossing our stern.

Minke Peter Howlett 01a
Minke Whale (Archive photo: Peter Howlett

An hour and a half before we reached the Dorset coast the English Channel redeemed itself. That whale-watchers friend, the Gannet, came to our rescue as a number of them dived deep into the seas, amongst them, off the port stern, in the dull light a large animal lunged out of the water. Too big for a dolphin and too small to be any other lunge feeder than a Minke Whale it was followed by about 8 feeding Common Dolphin porpoising clear of the surface as the frenzy took place. As the ferry sailed on the feeding experience was over for us in a flash. We'd got on it a little too late in the fading light but it was enough to make our day. Exhilarated and keen for more, ten minutes later we both spotted the unmistakable fin of a Basking Shark - a great way to round off an excellent trip. It seemed quiet at first and we had thought it was all over but it just goes to show that anything can appear when you least expect it. Sadly the keen family didn't get to see the show but the youngsters did go away with laminate id charts of the dolphins of Lyme Bay to put on their wall and giggles of "stinky Minke".

What a great start to my first day as Wildlife Officer with MARINElife on the Guernsey crossing!  I would like to thank Condor Ferries and the Captain and crew of the Condor Vitesse for welcoming us and allowing us the opportunity to guide on this route.

MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries 'Condor Vitesse' Weymouth-Jersey 18 July 2014

Posted 22 July 2014

Julie Hatcher and James McCarthy; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Outward - good visibility, cloudy at first but clearing, light southeasterly wind force 4 or less
Return - bright becoming cloudier but with good visibility, wind dropping force 1-0

Summary of species recorded
Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena 7
Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus 12
Common Dolphin, Delphinus delphis 12+

Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 9
Balearic Shearwater  Puffinus mauretanicus 269
Gannet  Morus bassanus 261
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 5
Storm Petrel  Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 37
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 3
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 22
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 57
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 25
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 6
Guillemot  Uria aalge 3
Razorbill  Alca torda 4
Larus gull sp 18
Auk sp 6

Terrestrial Birds
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 20
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 10
Wader spp. 1
Swift Apus apus 1

I was very excited about my first ferry survey for MARINElife. The Condor crew were very friendly and helpful welcoming James, my fellow surveyor, and I to the bridge about 30 minutes after leaving Weymouth. We started spotting seabirds immediately and were kept busy all the way across the Channel. James was very helpful offering me tips on recognising species and flight patterns.

Balearic Shearwater Julie Hatcher 01

Balearic Shearwaater (Photo by Julie Hatcher)

As we approached Guernsey we saw several Gannet circling and kept our eyes peeled for evidence of cetaceans. Sure enough we spotted a couple of Harbour Porpoise which surfaced twice more before they went out of sight. A Honey Buzzard over St Peter Port harbour just as we were leaving  Guernsey was a pleasant and unusual sight. Between Guernsey and Jersey we were on the look-out for Balearic Shearwater rafting on the water as we had heard they were around in large numbers. Again we were lucky, counting around 200 shearwaters in large groups on the sea and we saw more on the way back between the islands later in the afternoon.

Leaving Jersey for the return trip we soon came across a group of Bottlenose Dolphin bow-riding a fishing boat but they left the boat and headed straight towards our ferry allowing good views of 12 animals. The Condor crew helped us keep count as I tried to get a photograph. Unfortunately a few splashes and the briefest, blurred glimpse of a tail fluke disappearing below the waves were the best I could do!

North of Guernsey the cloud cover increased and as the light started to fade the sea in mid-Channel was eerily calm, even glassy at times. This made excellent conditions for spotting Storm Petrel and sure enough we saw a couple of these tiny birds flitting over the sea. A steady stream of Gannet increased our bird count and as we came closer to Portland I took the opportunity for a break and to grab a snack. I only left the bridge for 15 minutes in which time James and the crew spotted 2 more groups of Harbour Porpoise and a group of over 12 Common Dolphin. I think that was the most important lesson I learnt all day!

BND Peter Howlett 02

Bottlenose dolphins (Photo by Pete Howlett)

For my first survey I had the most wonderful day and felt very privileged to have the opportunity to contribute towards MARINElife's work. I would like to thank the Captain and crew of the Condor Vitesse who were so helpful and interested in our sightings and finally thanks to James for finding me such amazing wildlife!

Julie Hatcher, Trainee Surveyor, and James McCarthy, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘Condor Express’ Poole-Guernsey 16th July 2014

Posted 18 July 2014

MARINElife/Guernsey Wildlife Officer (WLO) Joe Cockram

Weather: Outbound- Sunny, dry, very light winds. Return- fog for majority of passage

Summary Of Sightings

None seen

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Mediterranean Gull Icthyaetus melanocephalus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Guillemot Uria aalge
Gannet Morus bassanus
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Departing Poole on a glorious morning, we had a grandstand view of the Brownsea Island lagoon and an assortment of waders and wildfowl before exiting the harbour and rounding Durlston Head into the channel. In calm, clear conditions, visibility was excellent, but not much was seen other than the occasional Herring gull and Gannet.

Balearic sw Joe Cockram








Balearic Shearwater (Photo: Joe Cockram)

As we passed Les Casquets to enter the Channel Islands, the birdlife suddenly increased, most notably with the presence of many Gannet, from their nesting colony on Les Etacs. A Balearic Shearwater passed close by the boat, giving us good views of this critically endangered species. With more to see and the reduced speed of the boat, passengers emerged from the lounges and several came over for a chat before we moored up in St Peter Port.

Manx sw Joe Cockram









Manx Shearwater (Photo: Joe Cockram)

As we departed the island group in the afternoon, a Manx Shearwater passed very close by the ship at the same time as another Balearic, giving as a good opportunity to compare these similar species. Unfortunately, we then hit a fog bank which lasted for pretty much the entire return journey, with just a single Sandwich tern seen in a small clearing mid-channel. The fog cleared a few miles before we reached the English coast, and as we passed by Studland, Mediterranean and Black-headed Gull fed in the wake of the ship, and as we returned to dock in Poole, Common Tern fished alongside.

Thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Express for their support and assistance.

If you would like to join our Wildlife Officer on one of our trips down to Guernsey, either from Weymouth or Poole, then you can book online at http://www.condorferries.co.uk/day-trips/view-marinelife-day-trips. What's more, Condor Ferries will kindly donate £5 of the cost of your ticket to MARINElife! 

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Joe Cockram  

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Weymouth-Guernsey Condor Ferries 'Express' 10th july 2014

Posted 14 July 2014

Rick Morris, Ellen Last and Abi Parsons, Wildlife Officers for MARINElife

Weather: Outward: sunny, dry with light winds. Good visibility but sunny conditions also meant there was some glare.
Return: sunny, dry with slightly stronger winds. Good visibility but some glare again.



Summary of Sightings: 

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena

Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
Guillemot Uria aalge
Razorbill Alca torda
Gannet Morus bassanus
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis

This was the first Wildlife Officer (WLO) Guernsey day trip in partnership with Condor Ferries, and myself and Abi, the new interns, joined Rick to represent MARINElife. The aim of this new venture is to look for cetaceans and seabirds, whilst interacting with the general public to educate about the species that occur in the English Channel.

WLO on lookout








MARINElife Wildlife Officers

After departing from Weymouth a number of seabird species were sighted, including a mix of gulls, Guillemot and Razorbill. When we reached Guernsey harbour, we spotted a Black-headed Gull. This was the first visit to the Channel Islands for both Abi and myself so we were captivated by the gorgeous coastlines and heritage sites that we could see from the ferry.

Entering St Peter Port







Arriving at St Peter Port Guernsey

En route from Guernsey to Jersey, we were accompanied on the rear deck by Tony Robinson from Time Team and a film crew as they filmed a new season of Channel 4's 'Walking Through History'. We even managed to get a photo with him!

Rick Tony Abi Ellen







Rick, Tony, Abi and Ellen

Shortly before arriving at Jersey, despite choppy seas Rick spotted two Harbour Porpoise, which surfaced twice before disappearing from sight.

A group of European Shag were sighted once we departed Guernsey, followed by numerous Gannet and the occasional Fulmar, Great Black-backed Gull and Guillemot.

Despite arriving back in Weymouth windswept, slightly sunburnt and tired, a very enjoyable day was had by all.

Many thanks to Condor Ferries for the support and welcoming us aboard!

If you like the sound of joining one of our trips down to Guernsey, either from Weymouth or Poole, then you can book online at http://www.condorferries.co.uk/day-trips/view-marinelife-day-trips. What's more, Condor Ferries will kindly donate £5 of the cost of your ticket to MARINElife!

Rick Morris, Ellen Last and Abi Parsons, Wildlife Officers for MARINElife