MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Goodwill) Portsmouth-Jersey (23rd March 2016)

Peter Howlett and Keith Morgan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of Weather and Species Recorded

Weather: Wind mainly NW force 2 or less, sea state 2 or less, hazy sunshine, clouding over late afternoon.

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 202
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Guillemot Uria aalge 38
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 10
Shearwater sp. 2
Auk sp. 61

Terrestrial birds
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 32

Off-survey sightings in St Helier
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 114
Curlew Numenius arquata 29
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 230
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 34

Weather forecasts were suggesting we would have light winds and sunshine for the day of the survey so hopes were high that this would be a good one.  Things got off to a good start with lovely clear, moonlit skies on the evening departure from Portsmouth, showing the Spinnaker Tower and Portsmouth skyline off to good effect. The light winds and calm seas also made for a very smooth crossing to Jersey.

Portsmouth night Peter Howlett

Portsmouth skyline by night (Peter Howlett)

Dawn saw us just outside St Helier and conditions were still excellent with hazy sunshine and very light winds. The turnaround in St Helier gave time to look out for wildlife from the top deck of the ship, with the nearby Elizabeth Castle always worth scrutinizing. On this occasion the highlight was a winter-plumaged Great Northern Diver and 114 Brent Geese with a fly by Grey Plover adding to the wader diversity.

We made our way to the bridge just as we departed and were welcomed by Captain Zelazny and the deck officers. Conditions were excellent with barely a breath of wind and flat calm seas - surely we would be able to see Harbour Porpoise in these conditions? Things got off to a good start with a nice adult Mediterranean Gull doing a flypast in front of the bridge and we did not have to wait too long for the first cetacean sighting - a Harbour Porpoise off to port.

The Commodore Goodwill makes a great survey platform for many reasons, she is quite small so you are closer to the sea than on bigger vessels and she is not too fast, normally about 17 knots. However, when you have a sunny day with light winds the thing that really sets the Goodwill apart are the open bridge wings. You cannot beat being able to stand outside and feel the warmth from the sun while surveying. It also allows you to use a sense denied you when inside: sound. With spring migration underway there was a steady trickle of Meadow Pipit and the occasional Pied Wagtail going past on their way across the Channel to the UK and it was great to be able to hear their calls as they flitted past.

Pipit and Wagtail Peter Howlett 01

Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit on migration across the Channel (Peter Howlett)

Halfway between Jersey and Cap de la Hague two shearwaters were picked up in the distance to starboard. Unfortunately they were too far off and silhouetted by the morning sun for us to be sure of their identity but the way they were flying suggested Balearic Shearwater. Just south of Cap del Hague we had our best, although very brief, cetacean sighting with three Harbour Porpoise surfacing just ahead of the ship. A first-winter Mediterranean Gull, marking the spot where they were, added to the occasion.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 19

Harbour Porpoise surfacing just ahead of the ship (Peter Howlett)

The deck officers had been telling us about the many Gannet and a sighting of dolphins they had near Cap de la Hague a few days previously but today there were very few Gannet to the east of Alderney and no dolphins either. It was quite clear from the long lines of Gannet flying across from the east that they were all feeding well away from the island.

Once to the north of Cap de la Hague the seabird sightings dropped with only the odd group of auks sitting on the sea to keep us occupied. It was quite frustrating to be travelling across a calm sea and not be able to see any porpoises.

As we moved north the bird sightings dwindled still further and we called a halt to the survey as we entered the navigation channel southeast of the Isle of Wight. This is always an enjoyable route to survey and it will be good to be back again in May - hopefully in similar conditions!

Our thanks to Captain Zelazny and his crew for the warm welcome on board and to Condor for their continued support for MARINElife.

Med Gull Peter Howlett 01

First-winter Mediterranean Gull (Peter Howlett)


Peter Howlett and Keith Morgan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife