Weymouth or Poole-Channel Islands

Sightings Archives: May 2017

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 31 May 2017

Posted 05 June 2017

MARINElife WLO: Chris Gleed-Owen

Weather: Mainly sunny but with sea fog on outward journey, with visibility down to 20m. Light winds, sea state 1-2.

Summary of sightings:

Seabirds
Fulmar
Gannet
Cormorant
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Sandwich Tern
Guillemot

Following a cool overcast passage through Poole Harbour, the view of Old Harry and the Purbeck coastline drew the usual crowds to the viewing deck. The wildlife sightings were uneventful though, with only the occasional Gannet to keep us company.

There was quite a lot of interest from the passengers, and indeed from a team of Condor staff on a corporate trip to the Channel Islands. As always, I explained that seeing dolphins wasn't guaranteed, and they could easily be missed even if present.Liberation passengers Chris GleedOwen 01
Passengers enjoying the Dorset coast (Chris Gleed-Owen)

One lady described an extreme close-up of a large bird flying alongside her window below-deck for five minutes, and came to ask what type of bird it was (a Gannet). Another couple described how they'd seen a pod of dolphins following the ship for five minutes in February 2017. Similarly, Melissa from Condor had seen dolphins recently off Brittany, and most people had seen dolphins before, but by no means all.

We were enjoying blue skies and sunshine, until we hit a bank of sea fog after about an hour. This lasted for the next hour and a half, and there was little to see during most of the crossing. We even passed Alderney, the Casquets and the other smaller rocks without noticing them in the fog. The visibility only cleared reasonably well on the final ten-minute approach to Guernsey. No cetaceans seen, but a few Gannets and gulls about. Sea state was very pleasant for the whole crossing.

A pleasant sunny afternoon ashore was spent up the hill, in St Peter Port's Candie Park; a peaceful option if you want a change from the bustling town centre.

English Channel Chris GleedOwen 01
A beautiful day to cross the Channel (Chris Gleed-Owen)

The return leg began in sunshine with a favourable sea state. The usual range of seabirds accompanied the crossing, with an impressive display of Gannets around Ortac Rock. Unfortunately no cetaceans were seen though.

Many thanks to Condor Ferries for its hospitality once again.

If you like the sound of joining one of our trips down to Guernsey from Poole, then you can book online here. What's more, Condor Ferries will kindly donate £5 of the cost of your ticket to MARINElife!

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 22 May 2017

Posted 25 May 2017

MARINElife WLO: Hazel Pittwood

Weather: Sunny with light winds, sea state 2-3, visibility very good with some glare

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Dolphin sp. Distant splashes

Seabirds:
Fulmar
Gannet
European Shag
Cormorant
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Kittiwake
Razorbill

As the ship set sail from Poole the weather looked promising for our crossing over to Guernsey. Numerous passengers came up onto the outside deck to look out for birds as we passed the lagoon on Brownsea Island and were treated to views of numerous gull species, ducks, geese, Cormorants and Shags. The highlight though was the large number of terns we observed feeding as we passed by the beaches of Studland. This was the first time I have seen these graceful birds in the area this year; they nest on purpose built islands in the lagoon on Brownsea. I was lucky enough to watch great numbers of Common and Sandwich Terns here last year and it is wonderful to see that they have returned. Passengers enjoyed watching them lightly winging through the air, twitching their heads down towards the sea looking for glints of fish in the water. Their distinctive shrill calls filled the air and we watched as their bodies became minute white arrows, plunging with speed and precision into the sea.

The first Gannet sighting of the day came shortly after. I was looking forward to seeing many more later in the journey as the crossing passes the internationally important breeding colony of Ortac. By this point many passengers had returned indoors to settle in to their journey on the ship, but a good number stayed out on deck to enjoy the calm seas and sunshine. There was also a large group of transport enthusiasts on board who enjoyed spotting various ships, in addition to talking with me about the wildlife we could see.

Ortac Christine Arnold 2016-06
Ortac Gannet colony (Archive photo: Christine Arnold)

The only cetacean sighting of the day came in the form of very distant dolphin splashes approximately halfway into the journey. I desperately hoped for a closer encounter but it wasn't to be! The next highlight was the aforementioned Gannet colony of Ortac. This small uninhabited islet supports 2% of the world's Gannet population during their breeding season (February to September). These impressive creatures are the largest breeding seabird in Europe and can dive at over 60mph. I am always thrilled to see these birds with their beautiful yellow-tinged heads contrasting with their brilliant white plumage and black wing tips. Huge numbers could be seen, both circling in the skies above and on the islet. It was also a joy to see a Kittiwake; a species which has experienced severe decline in the north of Britain.

On approach to St Peter Port many juvenile and adult gulls could be seen, predominantly Herring and Great Black-backed Gull. I departed the ship and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours on shore on Guernsey. Walking along the docks I could see numerous large slender fish in the clear shallow waters between the boats.

Gannet Peter Howlett 29
Gannet (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Back aboard the ship for the return journey, a new wave of passengers came up to the outer deck to bid farewell to a gloriously sunny day on Guernsey. I talked to numerous people about marine wildlife and advised those who were interested to stay on deck for the spectacle of Ortac once more. This time, passing the colony again, Gannets could be seen much closer to the ship with some even accompanying it for a short while. Shortly after I also saw the first Fulmar of the crossing. A chat with a passenger from Devon made me very jealous; he told me of his experience seeing the Humpback Whale off Slapton Sands a couple of months ago, a location just down the road from his home!

I had heard that dolphins had been sighted off Old Harry Rocks the previous weekend, so I vigilantly scoured the surrounding waters with my binoculars as we approached this stunning area of the Dorset coast. No luck on this day unfortunately, but good to know they have been seen in the area recently.

Returning towards the chain ferry crossing between Sandbanks and Studland, the terns could still be seen gliding and diving. It was a beautiful day and I had enjoyed spectacular views of the coast and sea, with lots of lovely passengers to talk with.

Many thanks as ever to Condor Ferries for being very welcoming.

If you like the sound of joining one of our trips down to Guernsey from Poole, then you can book online at here. What's more, Condor Ferries will kindly donate £5 of the cost of your ticket to MARINElife!

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 8 May 2017

Posted 12 May 2017

WLO's Glynis Northwood-Long, Maggie Gamble and Jenny Ball

Weather: Sunny with northerly wind 3-4, sea state smooth to moderate with good visibility

Summary of sightings:

Seabirds:
Gannet
Cormorant
Shag
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Guillemot

Terrestrial birds:
Canada Goose
Oystercatcher
Swallow

I met with Maggie and Jenny at the ferry terminal as they were joining me for a refresher/training day. After a quick check-in, we were soon boarding the Liberation. We found our seats but, as it was a sunny morning, headed straight up onto the upper viewing deck to take advantage of the journey through Poole harbour.

As we set off through the harbour we began spotting different varieties of gull, terns along with Cormorants. As we sailed past Brownsea Island lagoon we could see Sandwich Tern diving at speed into the water and could hear the distinctive call of the Oystercatcher.

We left Poole Harbour and after passing the impressive sight of Old Harry Rocks, most of the passengers went back inside. We used this as a chance go inside ourselves and enjoy refreshments from the Casquets Bistro on board before heading back on deck.

Jenny Ball and Maggie Gamble Glynis Northwood-Long
Jenny Ball and Maggie Gamble chatting to passengers (Glynis Northwood-Long)

We were soon were chatting to passengers about the wildlife that we may encounter. One couple had been together for 60 years and another were on the MARINElife Wildlife day trip as a birthday present. Unfortunately, sightings were scarce apart from a few Shag, until we approached Ortac rock when the Gannet sightings increased dramatically. We were able to point out the Gannet colony to the passengers on deck with us.

On arrival in Guernsey, we walked round St Peter Port harbour, passed the marinas and strolled along the sand at Havelet Bay as the tide was out. We then continued round to La Valette bathing pools admiring the Sea Thrift and Mesembryanthemum. Then up the steps to the Clarence Battery, where we had a superb view across St Peter Port and Castle Cornet, along with the Castle Breakwater. Here we enjoyed a late picnic lunch watching the Herring Gull soaring above us and swoop underneath us, and listening to noisy Oystercatcher.

Havelet beach Glynis Northwood-Long
Havelet Bay (Glynis Northwood-Long)

Back on the Liberation on the return journey, we headed back up to the viewing deck and were joined by more interested passengers. Again we enjoyed seeing the Gannet nesting and circling Ortac rock, highlighted in the sunshine.

As we sailed back into Poole, the sun set behind the clouds and the light faded. The three of us were vigilant throughout the return journey, watching and forever hopeful of spotting a cetacean or two but sadly they remained elusive to us.

Thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Liberation for making us welcome on board and for their support to MARINElife and a big thank you to Maggie and Jenny for joining me.

MARINElife Survey Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Jersey 6 May 2017

Posted 10 May 2017

Jo Collins and Steve Boswell, Research Surveyors MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather: wind NE force 4-5 decreasing 3 later. Significant swell for the first two hours, easing as we neared Guernsey. Heavy rain nearly all day with reduced visibility.

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 15
Gannet Morus bassanus  77
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 13
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 24
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 80
Guillemot Uria aalge 12
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 22
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Gull sp.  1

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 25
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 5
Swallow Hirundo rustica 23
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 6
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 1

On embarkation we were escorted straight onto the bridge and were introduced to Captain Stephen Ainscow and his crew. He very kindly allowed us to start our survey from departure so we had the advantage of viewing Brownsea Island and Sandbanks before heading out passed Old Harry Rocks.

There was a brisk north-easterly wind blowing and heavy rain began to reduce visibility, it was amazing to see good numbers of Swallows battling against the elements to head north on their migration. The weather on this part of the trip put paid to any chances of seeing cetaceans.

Gannet Jo Collins 02
The only immature Gannet of the trip (Jo Collins)

As we travelled between Guernsey and Jersey we had good views of nine Manx Shearwaters which flew alongside the ship for a while.  We were surprised to see just one non-adult Gannet on this trip - a 3rd year bird, presumably most of the young birds were still further south. As we approached Jersey we saw a Gannet diving into the water and beside it we then saw the distinctive roll and fin of a Harbour Porpoise.

We left Jersey fifteen minutes early and soon after leaving the harbour we saw three Bottlenose Dolphins, a fairly brief encounter but a memorable sighting. The sea state reduced more on our return journey and it wasn't long before we had a good view of another Harbour Porpoise.

BND Peter Howlett 12
Bottlenose Dolphin near St Helier, Jersey (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Travelling close to the Gannet colony on Ortac we were able to see good numbers sat on the ledges and many swirling around the summit, an impressive sight.  By the time we got closer to Poole at the end of the trip the weather had improved quite considerably.

Our thanks go to Captain Ainscow and his crew for helping to make this a very enjoyable trip.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 2 May 2017

Posted 04 May 2017

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO Christine Arnold

Weather: Out - cloudy and breezy, reasonable visibility. Return - dry and sunny, visibility good.

Summary of sightings:

Seabirds:
Fulmar
Gannet
Cormorant
Shag
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern

Terrestrial birds:
Shelduck
Canada Goose
Oystercatcher
Marsh Harrier
Kestrel
Woodpigeon
Rock Pipit
Swallow

I joined fellow passengers on deck for the journey from Poole to Guernsey. Many people were interested by the MARINElife tee shirt and vest and came over to ask about what I was doing on deck. I also went around to others to hand out leaflets and explain to them which species they were likely to see during the crossing.

I met some interesting people, some were on a coach trip from Manchester and were delighted to be out in open waters and this was a quite unique experience for them as they live so far inland.

People were interested in the surrounding areas, typically Studland beach, Swanage bay and the surrounding areas. I was able to tell them how amazing Studland Bay is for biodiversity, especially its seahorses.

As we passed Brownsea Island we saw several Cormorant and European Shag along with Herring Gull.  Travelling past Studland beach we saw Sandwich Tern fishing and once out into the Channel and reaching good speeds we saw the first Gannet soaring above the waves in the majestic, calm way that they typically adopt.

Just north of Alderney we saw a Herring Gull carrying what looked like seaweed in its beak to line its nest with. We also had good views of a Fulmar as it flew over reasonable level with the vessel.

Soon we were approaching Les Ortac rock off the coast of Alderney where we were rewarded by a spectacular display of Gannet. The Gannets were fishing in the area near the rock and many hundreds were perched on it. Behind and closer to Alderney we could see Les Étacs rocks also covered by numerous Gannet.

Carribean Princess Christine Arnold 01

As we approached St Peter Port we had a great view of the cruise ship Caribbean Princess, one of the many which visit the island during the summer.

During our time on Guernsey we went on a bus trip right around the island and were lucky enough to see many Swallows flying over the houses and fields, We also saw Shelduck, 2 Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Canada Geese and a Marsh Harrier soaring reasonably low over a marshland area.

As Guernsey is so small the trip doesn't take too long and on returning to St Peter Port we had time to walk out along the breakwater to Castle Cornet, where we heard a Rock Pipit.

Just before we departed Condor's slow ferry, the Commodore Clipper, came in to berth which was an interesting sight for passengers.

During the return journey we saw several Woodpigeons flying north that appeared to have just taken flight from Guernsey. For much of the return trip sightings were similar to the outward leg and alas no cetaceans were seen. Approaching the entrance to Poole Harbour we saw several Common and Sandwich Terns flying low over the water and it was easy to hear their screechy calls.

Poole Harbour Christine Arnold 02

To complete the journey there was a beautiful sunset which several people commented on and took photos of, the atmosphere was very jovial as people told of their experiences of their holidays or day trips on Guernsey. A lovely day was had by all concerned.

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