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