MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Jersey 12 May 2019

Helen Swift, Tom Forster and Margaret Boswell Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather: Dry, very good-excellent visibility (16-20+ km), sea state 1-3, occasional glare

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Seabirds
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 41
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 11
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 15
Gannet Morus bassanus 318
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 22
Guillemot Uria aalge 21
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 126
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 4
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 21
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 24
Unidentified Auk sp. 5
Unidentified Gull sp. 619
Unidentified Larus Gull sp.34
Unidentified Tern sp. 4

Terrestrial birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 18
Swift Apus apus 3

Today's survey was a new experience for us all, since Margaret was a trainee and it was the first time Tom and I had been on this route. By coincidence, Tom and I had met Margaret and her husband Steve (also a MARINELife surveyor) last year on a whale-watching cruise in the Bay of Biscay, which felt like being on an unofficial survey for MARINElife!  So we had a nice time catching up with each other while waiting to board the Condor Liberation.

Once aboard, we were quickly shown to the bridge where we were warmly greeted by Captain Giles Wade and invited to set up ready for departure.  We were informed that there was a change to the schedule today - instead of travelling via Guernsey on the outbound journey, this would happen on the way back.

Conditions were very favourable for spotting wildlife. There was no swell, the sea state was merely 1 at departure and this got no higher than 3 at any point during the survey.  Visibility was fantastic throughout, there was no precipitation and only occasional glare.

As we departed Poole Harbour, there were plenty of birds to test Margaret's observation and recording skills, which she coped with admirably! As well as Cormorant, Shag and the usual mixture of gulls, there were a few surprises.  The first bird recorded was a Swallow, with a total of 18 recorded by the end of the survey.  We thought it was quite late to be recording Swallows on migration and wondered whether the recent bad weather had delayed their migration.  A couple of Swift were also recorded - less surprising since they typically arrive on our shores in early May, but still perhaps a little late.

Puffin Peter Howlett 13
Puffin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Another notable sighting was two Puffin not far out of Poole harbour, though sadly only seen by Tom, as Margaret and I were busy recording other birds. While we were surprised by this at the time, we subsequently discovered that a pair of Puffin had been seen by the MARINElife Wildlife Officer on this route a few days prior, in a similar area. We were also pleased to see a good number of Sandwich Tern, back for the summer, and a pair of Shelduck.

Glynis, the route coordinator, had told us to watch out for a lone Bottlenose Dolphin that had recently been spotted in Poole Harbour near Old Harry Rocks.  However, despite three pairs of eyes searching and very favourable conditions, nothing was seen in the vicinity.  There were a number of jet skiers in the area, making the most of the lovely conditions, so this wasn't entirely surprising.

As we moved away from the coast, the initial flurry of sightings slowed down somewhat, and Gannets, Fulmar and auks, particularly Guillemot, started to be recorded. A few of the Gannet appeared to be searching for food.

During a particular lull in sightings, we took it in turns to take a break. As I was taking my break, one of the crew showed me a wonderful video of some Bottlenose Dolphin (presumably Jersey's resident pod) bow-riding alongside the Liberation. Sadly, this wasn't a spectacle that we would witness today.

Shortly after we were all back on effort and as we passed inshore of Alderney, Tom briefly spotted a lone dolphin surfacing ahead of the ship which, judging by the size, he thought was probably a Bottlenose. Unfortunately, Margaret and I missed this again!

Another couple of hours were spent recording birds in dribs and drabs (punctuated by a nice lunch), then we arrived into St Helier at around 2 pm.

After an hour's turnaround, we headed back into the Channel where we encountered a similar mix of birds. We had another hour of survey time before pausing in Guernsey to drop off some passengers.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 15b
Harbour Porpoise (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Just after 5 pm we set sail again for Poole.  As we passed Alderney we enjoyed the spectacle of the Gannets colony on Ortac with our course passing close to give us lovely views even if it made counting somewhat challenging! During this leg of the survey there were quite a few birds resting on the water, suggesting they had fed recently, plus occasional diving or prospecting Gannet.  This made us hopeful of cetaceans. However, there was only one brief sighting of a Harbour Porpoise, which Margaret spotted while Tom was on his break.  Guess what? I missed this again! I obviously didn't have my eyes in for this survey!

Our thanks to Captain Giles Wade and the crew of the Condor Liberation for making us welcome and looking after us throughout the survey.