MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 13 July 2015

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Charles McGibney

Weather: Sea state 5-7, strong winds, mainly cloudy with poor visibility, mist and some rain.

Summary of sightings:

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Cormorant

I was very excited as I boarded Condor Ferries 'Liberation'. This was my first trip as Wildlife Officer for MARINElife, despite having done a number of marine surveys and being a route coordinator for the charity for some time. After introducing myself to the Cabin Service Manager I located my seat and made my way up to the top deck viewing area. There was a pleasant warm breeze blowing strongly, with almost full cloud cover and patches of drizzle. As I chatted to a few of the passengers explaining what marine life we might see, the first few gull species were recorded.

As we departed Poole terminal with the powerful engines of 'Liberation' roaring, the wind force increased dramatically. As we travelled through Poole harbour, past Brownsea Island and towards Old Harry Rocks, I was hopeful of spotting a group of Bottlenose Dolphins, as the last Wildlife officer reported seeing some in that area last week. Unfortunately no marine mammals or cetaceans could be seen but a number of low flying Cormorant and gull species shot past us as 'Liberation' blasted her way through the swell and mist.

St Peter Port Charles McGibney 01
St Peter Port (Charles McGibney)

There was an interesting and quite dramatic 'dog fight' between two Black-headed Gulls over a highly prized sand eel which I enjoyed watching with a few other passengers for several minutes before they disappeared out of view behind the ship. My hopes of seeing cetaceans were then lifted again with the sight of a few Gannet but sadly they were not diving down into a bait ball beneath, just battling the strong winds whilst scanning the seas for food.

On approach to St Peter Port the weather was improving and, by the time we docked, cloud had been replaced with blue skies and some sunshine. I spent the few hours I had on Guernsey strolling over to the castle and lighthouse where I spotted some Black-headed Gulls grooming themselves on some rocks.

Unfortunately, by the time we boarded 'Liberation' once more and set off, the weather had changed again for the worse with rain and mist setting in. This made spotting cetaceans and other interesting marine life almost impossible!

During the trip back we again saw a number of Gannet. They were usually alone, including an immature bird but I did spot 3 scanning the seas together. With their impressive 2 metre wingspan and specialised respiratory system these pelagic birds were able to keep up with the ship despite her mighty engines pushing her along at up to 35 knots!

Gannet Charles McGibney 01
Immature Gannet (Charles McGibney)

As we passed Old Harry Rocks for the final time the weather had lifted a little, improving visibility slightly but despite all our efforts myself and the passengers were unable to spot any marine mammals or cetaceans before we docked at Poole terminal.

Many thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the 'Liberation' for their support and assistance.

Dorset coast Charles McGibney 01
Old Harry Rocks (Charles McGibney)