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