Weymouth or Poole-Channel Islands

Sightings Archives: October 2015

MARINElife Survey Report: Condor Ferries 'Condor Liberation' Poole-Jersey 17 October 2015

Posted 27 October 2015

Andrew Gilbert and Hazel Pittwood, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Winds NE, sea state 3 for a majority of the survey, with full cloud cover for most of the day.

Summary of Sightings

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 56
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 48
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 8

Terrestrial Birds
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 28
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 80+
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 3
Unidentified Passerines (in flight at sea) 3

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly Aglais urticae 1

I met with Andrew at the reception area at the ferry terminal in Poole and after a prompt check in, we headed for the bus to take us on the short journey to the ship. After departure and once out of the red zone, we were escorted up to the bridge by the helpful Condor staff from the passenger assistance desk. We were warmly greeted by the Captain and quietly went about setting up for the survey.

It was an overcast day with full cloud cover, but sea state three and good visibility meant the conditions were favourable. Our first sighting of the day was a solitary Gannet at 7.45am and a steady and consistent stream of sightings followed throughout the day. There was a good variety of birds early on with six different species seen within the first hour, including a Razorbill and two Great Skuas.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 05
Great Skua (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

As we passed by the island of Alderney we saw Ortac rock. In the summer months this uninhabited isle is host to a large Gannet colony, but at this time of year most had migrated and just a dozen birds remained, circling high above the rock. We arrived in Guernsey shortly after where we docked for a short time before continuing the journey to Jersey.

Within half an hour of leaving Guernsey we had a sighting of eight Guillemots, rapidly beating their wings as they flew together in a line, just above the water. As the ship came in to dock at St. Helier in Jersey we made our way outside to get some fresh air up on the outer deck. From here we saw a large gathering of Oystercatchers on the shore, we counted at least 80. We also observed 28 Brent Geese on our survey; three of these winter visitors were in flight out at sea, whilst the others were on shore at St. Helier. Three diminutive passerines were spotted in flight out at sea, evidently migrating southwards, but could not be identified.

Sooty Shearwater Peter Howlett 03
Sooty Shearwater (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

On the return leg of our journey we were treated to a notable sighting of two Sooty Shearwater. Cormorants were the most numerous species with over 40 sighted at various points along the way as we headed for home, along with the comparatively smaller Shags. After we departed Guernsey our sightings consisted almost entirely of solitary Gannets. As we approached the Dorset coast we kept our fingers crossed for a sighting of the Bottlenose Dolphin that have been very active in the waters around the Isle of White recently, but sadly it wasn't to be! As our survey came to an end the cloud cover lessened and we were treated to a beautiful, autumnal evening sky.

Many thanks to Condor Ferries, Captain Giles Wade and crew of the Condor Liberation for their assistance and support throughout this survey.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 7 October 2015

Posted 12 October 2015

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Julia Benson
Weather: Cloudy with some sunshine, strong winds. Sea state 4-7

Summary of Sightings
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull

The day started out cloudy and rather breezy for the last wildlife officer trip of the season. As the Liberation left port and made her way along the channel there were a number of juvenile gulls as well as a few adult Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull. There were also concentrations of Cormorant and one or two Shag mostly resting up on the lateral buoys lining the safe channel of water but a few were also sat on the water. One Cormorant had just caught a rather large flat fish and I wondered if perhaps its eyes were bigger than its belly as it appeared to be struggling to swallow it, but eventually it managed to swallow the fish whole.

Shag Peter Howlett 02
Shag (Peter Howlett)

After passing the lagoon I noticed some Gannet circling the sky. I watched them eagerly with some of the passengers waiting for them to dive. Gannet are spectacular divers and quite a sight to see. I was also keeping an eye on the surface of the water in case there were any dolphins feeding there too but unfortunately no fins appeared.

As we headed out of the Channel and past Old Harry Rocks, the wind and swell picked up. Moving down to the more sheltered back deck due to the high winds, I kept scanning the water but if there was anything there, it would've been extremely difficult to see due to the swell and numerous white caps.

As we passed Ortac Rock, it looked very empty and it was hard to believe that just recently it was teeming with breeding Gannet. The only evidence was the whiteness of the upper part of the rock, stained with guano.

Gannet Julia Benson 01
Gannet (Julia Benson)

After a few hours ashore in Guernsey it was time for the return crossing which was calmer than the outbound trip but there were still a number of whitecaps and a bit of swell making the spotting of dolphins, porpoises and birds quite tricky. There were few bird sightings on the way back as with the outbound journey, only seeing the occasional Gannet gliding gracefully.

Thank you to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Liberation for their support and assistance.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 1 October 2015

Posted 05 October 2015

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Julie Hatcher

Weather: Fine and clear with a brisk F4/5 easterly wind for both outward and return journeys.

Summary of species seen:

Manx Shearwater
European Shag
Great Skua
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull

Terrestrial birds:
House martin
Variety of unidentified small passerines

We left Poole and sailed through the Harbour as it was beginning to get light and were treated to a spectacular sunrise as we passed Old Harry Rocks. The harbour birds were already busy and we spotted quite a few Cormorants, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls from the outer deck of the ferry.

As the sun rose into a clear blue sky and we left the Dorset coast behind, several adult Gannets were seen at a distance. However, the highlight of the voyage was the constant stream of small birds crossing the Channel in groups of 3 to 20 on their southerly migration. With a stiff easterly breeze, these birds were always to be seen on the starboard side in the lee of the wind, and kept up with the fast ferry for several minutes, taking advantage of the shelter, before eventually dropping back. Among a selection of small songbirds it was easy to recognise large numbers of swallows and martins in their black and white livery. Travelling slower than the ferry which had left port at first light, it was amazing to think that these tiny birds had left land in the dark to cross the sea.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 06
Great Skua (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Despite the stiff breeze, the sun was warm and strong as we docked at St. Peter Port, Guernsey and we took advantage of the fine weather to explore the town for a few hours before re-boarding the ferry for our return trip. As always our route took us close to Ortac, the offshore rock at Alderney which is home to a large colony of Gannets. Although the colony is quieter now than during the breeding season, there were still large numbers of Gannet to be seen in the area.

The many white caps on the waves made cetacean-spotting difficult and unfortunately none were seen on this trip. However a brief glimpse of a Manx Shearwater soaring among the wave crests and the large, dark form of a Great Skua in mid-Channel were welcome sightings.

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