MARINElife survey report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Vitesse’ Weymouth-Jersey 4 January 2015

Michael Bamford and Jonathon Biddle, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather: Wind ENE to SSE 3-4, with calm seas and good visibility.

Summary of sightings:

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 16
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 7
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 6
Mixed gull species 400
Auk species 5

Birds seen in harbour:
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

The weather had calmed after windy and wet conditions the day before and we arrived at the Condor ferry terminal to unseasonal flat seas stretching across Weymouth Bay and the promise of good conditions for the survey, despite it being a little nippy and a bit grey. We met up and chatted about distant archipelagos before boarding the impressive  'Condor Vitesse', which would carry us swiftly and safely to the Channel Islands and back. As we left we were treated to great views of a Little Grebe in the harbour, as well as admiring the tall ship, 'Pelican of London'.

Common Dolphin Carol FarmerWright 02a
Common Dolphin (Archive photo: Carol Farmer-Wright)

Surveying from the bridge began just after passing Portland Bill, with a few small flocks of auks being seen as we were setting up. We headed due south with mainly adult Gannets and the occasional Guillemot coming into view. It didn't seem that long before Michael said "land ahoy" as the island of Alderney popped its head above the horizon. Just after admiring an elegant Gannet a small pod of Common Dolphin gave us a pleasant surprise - what a treat! The granite outcrops of Guernsey, Herm and Sark grew ever closer and an ocean-wandering Kittiwake passed ahead of the ship without getting itself too close to land. We spotted a large raft of mixed gulls outside of St Peter Port a short while before Captain Steve Crowe manoeuvred into harbour with exceptional skill.

Whilst waiting for passengers and vehicles to disembark in Guernsey and for Jersey-bound ones to board, we feasted our eyes upon the harbour's scenery and looked out for any birds within the port's shelter. An Oystercatcher patrolled the low tide rocks, various immature gulls gave us opportunities to practice their tricky I.D. and several Shags and a Cormorant fished in the calm waters. Then the ship's horn sounded and we were back on the survey. Another Kittiwake showed us its clean cut plumage as the skies lightened a little and a slight ground swell gently swayed. The coastline was spectacular, with rugged cliffs and islets reminding me of Cornwall and a whole array of lighthouses on offer for the connoisseur. We soon rounded Jersey's southeast corner and came into our next port, St Helier, with several Shags and impressively large Great Black-backed Gulls having been seen on this leg.

BND Peter Howlett 03
Bottlenose Dolphin (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

On leaving Jersey, just outside the harbour entrance, Captain Steve Crowe spotted dolphins on the port side of his vessel and cheerfully drew our attention to them. They were Bottlenose Dolphins and brought a smile to our faces, as well as the skipper's, without whom we may not have enjoyed the sighting as our research station is on the starboard side of the ship. It was by now late in the afternoon and after two separate dolphin species sightings it seemed that we had enjoyed a great day, when a Harbour Porpoise suddenly surfaced momentarily, to disappear beneath the waters as quickly as it had arisen. What a great start to the New Year and how wonderful to know that a variety of cetaceans and seabirds can be seen from the 'Condor Vitesse' not far from our doorsteps.

Due to the shortness of the winter day our survey ended and the last leg of our voyage from Guernsey to Weymouth was now expertly and safely navigated under darkness. It was now time to sit back in a comfy seat and relax as we sailed back, after a great day's surveying. Many thanks to Condor Ferries and especially to Captain Steve Crowe and his crew for making this all possible.