Weymouth or Poole-Channel Islands

Sightings Archives: August 2014

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘Condor Express’ Poole-Guernsey 27 August 2014

Posted 03 September 2014


MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Andy Gilbert

Dry but overcast, wind F4, Sea state 2-4

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Common Tern  Sterna hirundo
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis
Gannet  Morus bassanus
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Lesser Black Backed Gull  Larus fuscus
Great Black Backed Gull  Larus marinus
Black Headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus
European Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Cormorant Phalacorax carbo
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua
Pomarine Skua  Stercorarius pomarinus

Terrestrial birds:
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
Little Egret  Egretta garzetta
Canada Goose  Branta canadensis
Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea

After days of rain it was great to find dry skies as I arrived at 6am in the car park at the Condor ferry terminal in Poole.  I was greeted by Rick Morris who was joining me on today's crossing to talk to the blogger, "One Tired Mummy", real name Laura, who was also taking the trip. As we left Poole the harbour was relatively calm with little wind and we enjoyed Brownsea Island lagoon where we counted easily over two hundred Cormorant and watched a juvenile Grey Heron fishing, along with Oystercatcher and Canada Goose. In the harbour, both adult and juvenile Common and Arctic Tern were spotted, as was a solitary Gannet gliding around the harbour, which Rick and I agreed was unusual so close to shore and in sheltered waters.

WLO Andy Gilbert Rick Morris
WLO Andy Gilbert at work (RIck Morris)

The sea state on the crossing was a bit challenging, probably reaching sea state 4 at times, particularly through the tidal race around Alderney. Despite this a fair number of passengers were up on deck and came and chatted, whilst we watched Gannet carving through the air and were rewarded with not just one but three Great Skua sightings throughout the journey. We concluded that, considering the scarcity of other birds in this part of the Channel, there was little to sustain these kleptoparasites today. Further into the crossing the Poole-Guernsey route provides an alternative perspective to the Weymouth-Guernsey sailing as it passes between (rather than to the west) of Les Casquets lighthouse rock and the Ortac Gannet colony. Superb views of this solitary rock covered white with guano with thousands of Gannets swirling above can be had on this route. First colonised in 1940 the rock now holds over 2,000 Gannet with the nearby Les Etacs rocks on Alderney (seen in the distance from the ship) housing another 4-5,000. Gannet tagged from these colonies have been recorded travelling up to 340km on foraging trips and will make up many of the birds we see off the southern coast of England. Once past the choppy tidal races, the seas into Guernsey were a little more forgiving and Rick spotted a Grey Seal off Herm before we arrived to the sight of another cruise ship moored off St Peter Port.

A wander around the harbour and coffee by the yacht club, along with the impressive sight of a flock of 6 Grey Heron passing over us, filled the time before we returned to port for the second leg. We enjoyed another view of Ortac and some Manx Shearwaters on the way home. I was going to call this "the voyage of the Bonxie" but as we approached the Dorset coast and listened to a passenger telling us about the pod of 20 or so dolphins she had seen off the Guernsey coast the day before, a Pomarine Skua showed itself and put an end to that thought!

Ortac Rock Rick Morris
Ortac rock (Rick Morris)

A great day was had with some good avian sightings and our thanks, as always, to the Captain of the Condor Express and all the crew and staff.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Vitesse’ Weymouth-Guernsey 20 August 2014

Posted 25 August 2014

Ellen Last Wildlife Officer for MARINElife


Outward - sunny, dry with light winds. Good visibility but some glare.
Return - dry, with some glare as the sun set, but quickly became dark.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus (c.8)

Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus
Gannet Morus bassanus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea

We departed Weymouth on a late crossing at 13:15 and the afternoon started with high hopes as there had been reports of dolphins in Weymouth Bay. However, despite keeping an eye out we didn't see any sign of them! A group of six people joined me for the MARINElife day trip down to Guernsey, which included some experienced birders and a marine photography student, as well as some less experienced passengers.

BND Adrian Shephard 01
Bottlenose Dolphin (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)

The journey was fairly quiet but there were many Gannet sightings interspersed with Manx Shearwater, Commic Terns,  and Great and Lesser Black-backed gulls.

Just as we were approaching Guernsey a school of about eight Bottlenose Dolphin was sighted alongside the ship, but they were soon left behind due to the fast speed of the ferry! For one of the passengers this was her first time seeing dolphins and, even better, she was the one who spotted them!

After disembarking I headed into St Peter Port, finding a lovely pasty shop for my tea. I then headed out of the town and discovered the La Vallette Bathing Pools - a set of tidal sea pools. Most of them were in disrepair but it was nice to see people using one of them. I may have to bring my swimming stuff on my next trip!

On the journey back to Weymouth we were treated to a gorgeous sunset and some sightings of Manx Shearwater but all too soon it became too dark to continue looking.

Guernsey sunset Ellen Last 01
Guernsey sunset (Ellen Last)

MARINElife Survey Report: Condor ‘Vitesse’ Weymouth-Jersey survey 17 August 2014

Posted 21 August 2014

Ellen Last and Maggie Gamble, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Fairly rough conditions with some rain. Wind SW, force 4-5.

Summary of sightings:

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 107
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 14
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 5
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Unidentified gull sp. 74
Shearwater sp. 1

This proved to be a fairly quiet survey with the choppy conditions meaning that spotting cetaceans was very difficult. Overall the majority of seabirds sighted were Gannet with a few Manx Shearwater. There were also sightings of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater.

The crossing from Weymouth to Jersey was fairly quiet, although made worthwhile by the sighting of four Balearic Shearwater in the seas around the Channel Islands.

Balearic Shear Tom Brereton 06b
Balearic Shearwater (Archive photo: Tom Brereton)

During the stop in Guernsey we had time to pop into St Peter Port time to sample  some delicious lasagne for tea then on departure we continued with the survey. A small fishing vessel was spotted with around 70 gulls following it and we also saw Shag and Fulmar on this last leg of the journey.

As we approached Weymouth Herring Gulls took over as the most numerous species. By this time it was also beginning to get dark, making identifying the birds more difficult but at least it was near the end of the survey.

Overall a total number of 241 seabirds were seen from a total of 12 species. Many thanks to the captain and crew of Condor Vitesse for their hospitality.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Express’ Poole-Guernsey 13 August 2014

Posted 16 August 2014

Abigail Parsons Wildlife Officer for MARINElife

Clear skies, quite windy on the outward trip. A little calmer on the homeward journey.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
None today

Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Tern Sp.

Terrestrial Birds:

Wednesday 13th August started out a beautiful crisp morning. We set sail at 7am sharp, making our way through the channel.

As we left the shelter of the coast the wind picked up and we experienced the very last of the Hawaiian hurricane that blew over at the weekend. The wind made for some quite choppy seas. A few people braved the decks with me but the weather made it quite difficult to see anything.

Poole Harbour Abi Parsons
Poole Harbour (Abi Parsons)

As we passed Gannet rock I counted over 100 Gannet soaring through the air enjoying all the high winds. By 10am we had arrived at Guernsey. Despite the wind it was a lovely sunny day and there were Black-headed Gull sheltering in the harbour enjoying the early morning sun.

I had an explore of the surrounding coastline after lunch, and all too soon it was time to return to the ferry.

Guernsey view Abi Parsons 01
View across the Little Russel to Jethou and Herm (Abi Parsons)

The return journey was calmer and I kept my eyes peeled for any cetaceans in the sheltered sea around Guernsey but with no luck. As we neared Poole harbour I spotted a few Herring Gull and terns feeding around the shore.

As always our thanks go to Condor Ferries for their continued support of our work.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘Condor Vitesse’ Weymouth-Guernsey 6 August 2014

Posted 10 August 2014

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO  Andy Gilbert

Sunny with strong wind,  Sea state 2-3.

Summary of sightings:


Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis
Gannet  Morus bassanus
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
Little Egret  Egretta garzetta

Once again I found myself on the top deck of Condor Vitesse in the Wildlife Officer role speaking to passengers eager to spot cetaceans - many simply keen to find out what could be seen in our waters.  As we left Weymouth and rounded Portland I kept a keen eye out for Harbour Porpoises and promised passengers that it really was possible to see Bottlenose Dolphins off this coast on the right day. Common Terns off Portland provided a show; a species whose acrobatics I never tire of watching.

As we headed towards the shipping lanes I spotted Gannets diving, probably around the same position where we had spotted Minke Whale and Common Dolphin on the return leg of my last trip.  I was conscious that the individual birds were widely spread out which did not indicate the presence of cetaceans herding the fish but trained my binoculars on them anyway and enjoyed the spectacle of these white darts firing themselves into the sea.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 01a
Gannet (Archive photo: Carol Farmer -Wright)

All in all the seas were very quiet with hardly any notable seabirds even as we passed Alderney, which can be a hotspot on this route. As we approached St Peter Port on Guernsey the Captain announced that the ferry was slightly altering its approach to the harbour as a result of a huge cruise ship moored in the bay ferrying its passengers ashore. On the starboard side we passed three sea kayakers negotiating the tidal race and the shipping.  Later I learnt that this was Mark Rainsley and friends from South West Sea Kayaking paddling between all of the Channel Islands, see here.

On disembarking , keen to avoid the cruise ship crowds in Guernsey's capital town, I wandered along the harbour to Fort George built during the Napoleonic wars to defend the island from  possible French invasion.  Climbing up to Clarence battery I sat and ate my sandwiches, scanning the inshore waters for signs of life and watching Oystercatchers on the rocks below. This whiled away a very content couple of hours before it was time to head back to the port. As I walked along the front I stood and enjoyed a great view of a Little Egret fishing in the rock pools below.

Little Egret Andy Gilbert 01
Little Egret (Andy Gilbert)

The return journey revealed nothing apart from  six Manx Shearwaters carving through the air just above the waves.  I refused to do an on deck cetacean (or even seabird) dance to conjure them from the abyss and simply continued to scan until the light faded. Despite the lack of cetaceans a great day was had and I look forward to my next crossing to the islands with trepidation and excitement about what it may bring.

As always, many thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Vitesse for their ongoing support and assistance.