MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries ‘Commodore Goodwill’ Portsmouth-Jersey 6 March 2018

Steve Boswell and Helen Swift, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: North-westerly to south-westerly wind force 5-6, sea state 2-4, very good-excellent visibility

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 30
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 185
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 17
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Auk sp. 11
Gull sp. 43

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1

In St Helier before going 'on effort':
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 85
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Curlew Numenius arquata 20
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 130

We were escorted aboard the Commodore Goodwill in the early evening. At this time of year, it is not possible to survey on the outward crossing due to the shortened day length.  Instead, we spent the evening chatting to other passengers over an enjoyable dinner, before retiring to our cabins early for a good night's sleep.

When we awoke in the morning the ship was docked in Jersey. We headed out to the deck to see what wildlife we could spot in the harbour. There were plenty of birds, including sizeable flocks of Oystercatcher, Curlew and Brent Geese around the Elizabeth Castle islet.  We then proceeded to the bridge, ready to begin the main survey.

The sky was dark with rain clouds as we departed, and we soon headed into a shower.  However, a double rainbow over La Corbière lighthouse provided a great photo opportunity and suggested that the sun would break through shortly.  Sure enough, the cloud soon cleared, and we experienced glorious sunny weather until we reached the coast of England.

Rainbow_Helen Swift

Rainbow (Helen Swift)

We kept our eyes peeled for Bottlenose Dolphin, which are sometimes seen around the Jersey coastline, but did not see them on this occasion. However, we were not disappointed, as we encountered another dolphin species - the Common Dolphin - which has been seen in this area less frequently on MARINElife surveys. We spotted a pair of them surfacing and making a beeline for the ship. These were swiftly followed by further twos and threes, all coming to ride the bow wave produced by the ship. In total, we saw at least 30 individuals over the course of a few minutes.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 12

Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Half an hour later, we encountered another cetacean species, this time a Harbour Porpoise. It surfaced about 300m ahead of the boat and then quickly disappeared. A second individual was seen a few hours later as we approached the Isle of Wight.

Sightings of seabirds were fairly steady throughout the journey. Gannet were the predominant species, with a particularly strong passage around the Cherbourg Peninsula.  We also saw small numbers of auk, Fulmar, a variety of gulls and a single Great Skua.  A highlight was several Red-Throated Diver, flying east from St Catherine's on the Isle of Wight. As well as seabirds, we encountered a Meadow Pipit on migration across the Channel, a sign that Spring was on the way.

We concluded our survey as we turned into the Solent and thanked Captain Zelazny and the crew for their hospitality throughout the journey.

Steve Boswell and Helen Swift; Research Surveyors for MARINElife