MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 12 August 2015

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Ali Quinney

Weather: Sunny and calm outward journey with great visibility, strong winds and choppy on the return journey.

Summary of species seen:

Cetaceans: none

European Shag
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Greater Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern

It was starting to look like a nice summer's day as I boarded the Condor Liberation. The ship was at full capacity and many passengers were making the most of the warm weather on the deck taking in the sights of Poole harbour in the morning sunshine. We set sail at 10am in a light breeze and we enjoyed watching Black-headed Gulls in winter plumage and terns flying past the ship and seeing lots of holiday makers on the chain ferry and at Studland Nature Reserve. The sea state wasn't bad for viewing, a few breaking wavelets and hardly any swell.

Guillemot Peter Howlett 06
Guillemot in winter plumage (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

We passed a number of jellyfish including the large barrel jellyfish just under the surface as we moved through Poole Bay, 1 of 8 species of jellyfish that have been recorded along the Dorset coast. I chatted to the passengers about jellyfish attracting larger marine species including Leatherback Turtle, like the one spotted in Lyme Bay the week before, and Sunfish. Shortly after this I learnt from Twitter that a Sunfish had been spotted in Swanage Bay so we kept our eyes peeled for a floppy fin.

The rest of our crossing was warm and calm and a constant stream of Gannet, flying with purpose, entertained us as we attempted to estimate their ages by their plumage features. Shortly after passing Ortac rock and Alderney I spotted a winter plumage Guillemot on the water. These will have left their breeding colonies to spend their winter on the sea and would have undertaken a post breeding moult. As we neared St Peter Port the usual gull species were seen, Herring, Lesser and Greater Black-backed.

We arrived in Guernsey in bright sunshine but it soon turned hazy. I boarded a bus and travelled half way round the island to a beach at Torteval where I spent the afternoon rock pooling and taking in the scenery, stony outcrops, historical sites and fishing boats moored out in the bay.

Gannet Peter Howlett 18
Gannet (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

It was a much choppier crossing back to Poole. The wind really picked up and the waves and swell were much bigger. The thousands of Gannet that circle above Ortac rock were displaced and groups of birds were circling on the wing downwind. We were hopeful to see diving and feeding behaviour but it was too choppy even for the Gannet. I was lucky enough to see a couple of Kittiwake braving the strong winds. As we neared Poole Bay the winds died down and viewing conditions improved, more passengers joined us on deck in hope of seeing the pod of Dorset dolphins. Even though we didn't see any cetaceans we were treated to a stunning sunset as we arrived back in Poole harbour lighting up Brownsea Island and the lagoon in pinks and orange hues.

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