UK/Ireland - Bilbao

Recent Sightings

MARINELife Survey Report: ‘Encounter’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 7th – 13th July 2019

Posted 25 July 2019

Steve McAusland; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Weather conditions for the whole time at sea were calm and sunny with occasional clouds

Summary of Sightings
Marine mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 6
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 192
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 31
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 36
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 2
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 3
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 7
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 8

Auk sp. Alcidae 15
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 11
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis 52
Eider Somateria mollissima 11
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 24
Gannet Morus bassanus 997
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 56
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 380
Gull sp. Laridae 261
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 103
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 13
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1394
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 30
Tern sp. Sternidae 2

Terrestrial Birds
Swift Apus apus 1
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Pigeon sp. Columbidae 6
Gadwall Anas Strepera 8

On Saturday the 6th of July 2019, I made my way to Liverpool docks where upon I joined the JR Shipping Container ship the MV Encounter. I was welcomed aboard by the ship's Captain Niels Johannes. Niels introduced me to some of the crew and showed me my cabin and the more important areas of the ship i.e. the galley and the bridge. The second most important crew member was Marc the ships cook who over the period of time I was onboard produced the most enjoyable breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I turned in quite early as the ship was leaving at 10.30pm and I wanted to be on the bridge as early as possible.

Encounter Steve McAusland

Encounter (Steve McAusland)

Day 1. The 7th of July 2019 - Liverpool to Greenock (Scotland)

I was on the bridge at 05:00am in time to see the Isle of Man from the starboard wing looking rather gloomy. Soon the gloom cleared and we enjoyed a beautiful warm sunny sail to Greenock. The further north we went the more sea birds could be seen and as we passed by Ailsa Craig the number of Gannet went off the scale!

Isle of Man Steve McAusland

Isle of Man (Steve McAusland)

Continuing to sail north we soon past the Isles of Arran and Bute and as the Firth of Clyde narrowed the first Harbour Porpoises were seen a total of 14 individuals were observed, however, I'm sure there were more that I didn't see.

As we arrived in Greenock the Captain manoeuvred the ship to our berth in the port and here we stayed until Monday, unloading some of the containers and then loading more that were bound for Bilbao. Looking around the quay I came across a few Black Guillemot rafting in the early evening sun.

Black Guillemot Steve McAusland 01

Black Guillemot (Steve McAusland)

Day 2. The 8th of July 2019 - Greenock to Bilbao (Spain)

Departing from Greenock at 10:00am our journey to Bilbao was under way, again Harbour Porpoise were seen, this time 20 individuals, plus a Grey Seal and the first Minke Whale of the survey.

Harbour Porpoise Steve McAusland 01

Harbour Porpoise (Steve McAusland)

Day 3. The 9th of July 2019 - Greenock to Bilbao

An early start at 06:00am the view from the bridge was absolutely stunning the weather was perfect! Today was to turn out to be the day that I would see the most dolphins ever! Both Common and Bottlenose species were seen, plus two more Minke Whale.

Minke Whale Steve McAusland 01

Minke Whale (Steve McAusland)

Passing Lundy Island, albeit 50 miles to its west was noted and as Lands End was spotted off the Port side the number of Dolphin increased. By 09:30am the seas colour had changed to aquamarine with only a few Cirrus clouds above, perfect conditions for Cetacean surveying.

By 19:00pm the French coast was many miles off our Port side and by morning we would be in the Bay of Biscay.

Day 4. The 10th of July 2019 - Bay of Biscay to Bilbao

Again, an early start, 05:30am, but wow, the first of 15 Fin Whale we recorded, these huge majestic mammals are second only in size to the massive Blue Whale! More Common Dolphin were spotted throughout the day, however the strangest thing that happened on this day was that not one single bird was spotted in the whole days survey.

Fin Whale Steve McAusland 01

Fin Whale (Steve McAusland)

We arrived in the port of Bilbao that evening and we stayed there until Friday.

Day 5. The ship was in port.

Day 6. The 12th of July 2019 - Bilbao to Liverpool

The ship slipped its berth at 04:00am and I was on the bridge at 06:00am to see the sun had risen over the starboard beam. Today turned out to be the best day of the survey with the following cetacean's species recorded, Fin Whale, Long Finned Pilot Whale, Common and Striped Dolphin and Cuvier's Beaked Whale.

Not long after a lunch break I returned to the bridge and watched a very large gas tanker as it moved north on our port side, moving at a faster rate than that of ours, suddenly I saw a whale blow, then another, two Fin Whales were surfacing in front of the tanker, I was concerned to say the least as I thought they would be hit by the ship bow! Thankfully they moved to the ships starboard side and were out of danger. They were quite a distance from our ship, however close enough to almost witness whale strike and a strong coffee was needed following this experience.

A few hours later the most beautiful sight was observed as two Fin Whale surfaced alternatively.

Fin Whale Steve McAusland 03

Fin Whale (Steve McAusland)

During the day the crew deployed a "Continuous Plankton Recorder" which was towed for a measured time from the stern of the ship, the Captain and crew were happy for attend the launch etc. This survey has been conducted by a number of ships since 1931!

Plankton recording Steve McAusland

Plankton Survey (Steve McAusland)

Day 7. The 13th of July 2019 - Bilbao to Liverpool

Plenty of birds recorded and many Common Dolphin on the last full day of surveying. The final leg of the journey was done through the night.

Day 8. The 14th of July 2019 - Liverpool

We arrived in Liverpool in the early hours on Sunday and as the ship was gently manoeuvred in to the lock and then towards the quay, I spent these last two hours chatting the Captain, and talking about my time onboard etc. I have to say; I've learnt so much about life at sea on a merchant ship rather than a ferry. The crew were superb and I thank Niels Johannes and his First Mate Thymen Bouma for their hospitably and for supporting MARINElife.

Lastly, as the Encounter finally came to rest at the quay, a Harbour Porpoise was spotted from the bridge within the dock, a superb way to end a brilliant survey!

Steve McAusland; Research surveyor for MARINElife

MARINELife Survey Report: ‘Encounter’ Liverpool-Portbury-Bilbao-Liverpool 2nd – 9th June 2019

Posted 12 June 2019

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoceana 3
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 513
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 42
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 163
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 30
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 9

Sunfish Mola mola 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 51
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3447
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 4
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 1061
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 24
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 27
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 40
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 15
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 77
Little Tern Sterna albifrons 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 86
Puffin Fratercula arctica 154
Guillemot Uria aalge 238
Razorbill Alca torda 27
Auk sp. 107
Large gull sp. 125
Large Shearwater sp. 2
Tern sp. 1
Petrel sp. 2

Terrestrial Birds
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 2
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 4
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 15
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 1
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 1
Curlew  Numenius arquata 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 2
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1

Day 1 Liverpool - 2 June

Weather: Mostly calm seas and fair weather; deteriorating to rough sea with big swell on last day.

After leaving our car at the Seaforth Dock car park Jane and I were given a lift in the port bus to the MV Encounter late in the afternoon, where we were warmly welcomed by the entire crew who were just sitting down to their supper, it being ship's time - an hour ahead!

Captain Arie Bruins sat with us while we ate our tea and chatted about the ship, his time as a seafarer, and the fact that this was to be his very last sailing as Master, as he retires when we get to Bilbao!  What a privilege to be part of his final voyage.  He has plans for his retirement and we wished him well with a hope that he will enjoy his as much as we do ours!  He has a small vessel, so the sea will still beckon.

After a tour of the bridge with First Officer Barend, we even had a look inside the emergency lifeboat and Jane even went inside this - just like in 'Captain Phillips', she said!  We spent the evening watching the Mute Swan and few gull in the dock, settling into our cabins, and preparing for an early start tomorrow morning.

The ship will leave Liverpool at 01.30 and we should be off Anglesey by dawn and on our way down the Celtic Sea toward the Bristol Channel and a late call into Avonmouth.

Guillemot Rob Petley Jones 04
Guillemot (Rob Petley-Jones)

Day 2 Anglesey-Avonmouth - 3 June

Weather: Moderate SW wind, sunshine, excellent visibility; Sea state 5 in Celtic Sea, decreasing to 2 in Severn Channel.

We got to the bridge just after sunrise with Anglesey away to port, and with a moderate swell and sea state ahead.  Bird activity was steady throughout the morning and early afternoon, with numbers of GuillemotRazorbillGannet and Fulmar passing by.  Manx Shearwater numbers were steady with the occasional raft of sitting birds, but Kittiwake were few and far between.

The ship was moving at quite a pace through the advancing swell so watching from the bridge was quite a challenge, but Arie explained that the ship was moving at full speed all day so as to catch the evening high tide at Avonmouth - if we did not get there in time it would mean a 12 hour delay there getting into the dock!

Grey Seal Annette Dutton 13
Grey Seal (Rob Petley-Jones)

As we passed to the west of Pembrokeshire and the islands of Skokholm, Skomer and Grassholm (white with its nesting Gannet colony - thankfully beyond 2km so no need to count them!) bird activity became intense, with large numbers of Puffin rafting on the sea or flying by in hurrying flocks, and the first of the day's two Grey Seal was spotted here.

We also had the pleasure of watching the lovely cadet training ship The Royalist battling north through the heavy swell!  A good day for finding out if your stomach is up to sailing!

As we turned into the mouth of the Bristol Channel, the swell thankfully decreased.  Rather surprisingly so did the bird sightings, with only the odd Gannet and Fulmar and a single Harbour Porpoise to keep us on our toes while the ship steamed up towards Avonmouth.

Jane and I are regular travellers on the M5 and know several the landmarks of this part of the West Country, so it was strange to see the two Severn Crossing bridges, Brean Down, and a very distant Glastonbury Tor from the different perspective of the sea.  The pilot came on board at Cardiff and we had a fascinating passage between Flatholm and Steepholm and then on to Avonmouth late in the evening.

Day 3 Avonmouth - Land's End - 4 June

Weather: Initially calm in Bristol Channel with sea state 0-1; increasing to 3 in Celtic Sea with frequent rain showers; later clearing to sunny conditions with infrequent showers

The Encounter left Avonmouth at 10.00 and entered the Bristol Channel through the rather tight lock!  A bit of a squeeze but Captain Bruins remained calm and collected - clearly, he has done this many times before!   The tide was falling fast and the exposed mudflats has a few feeding Curlew and Shelduck, and there was a bit of excitement occurred when one of the Shelduck flushed an Avocet and chased it around for a short while before both birds settled down to feed again.

The passage down the Bristol Channel was surprisingly quiet, with very few birds and only one Harbour Porpoise, which popped up briefly off Barry Island.  We were briefly visited by a solitary Ringed Plover, but this flew on when it realised there was no food on the containers.  An unusual piece of flotsam was also recorded - a plastic mannequin!  We were left wondering how such an item came to be floating up the Bristol Channel.

Our life became suddenly much busier the moment the ship turned south off Hartland Point where, with a rain-shrouded Lundy in the distance, the steady progression of Manx Shearwater began.  These birds were rarely out of view for the rest of the day and we were delighted to record increasing numbers every minute as we approached the seas off St Ives, where there was a very large gathering of Manx Shearwater and Gannet, feeding on an extensive shoal of fish.

Common Dolphin Steve McAusland 04
Common Dolphin (Steve McAusland)

This area also provided us with excellent views of three separate pods of Common Dolphin as the excited animals came in to bow-ride in front of the ship.  We even had to stop counting the shearwaters to record the dolphins' antics!

Teatime was special, as the crew had laid on a surprise retirement party for Captain Arie, and we were delighted when we were invited to attend.

The crew clearly have great affection and respect for Arie, and the First Officer, Barend, gave a touching speech about the man he has worked with for many years.

Day 4 Ushant - Central Biscay - 5 June

Weather: Moderate swell calming to 1; Sea state 2-3; sunny and excellent visibility all day.

We began a very long day of recording just after dawn and were entertained for the first two hours by nothing other than loads of Gannet!  All age classes were present and there were several groups of diving birds.  We mused on the mortality rates of the young birds and were especially intrigued by their ability to dive successful without breaking apart!  How do young Gannet learn how to dive safely?

One threat to Gannet of all ages must be the plastics which pollute our oceans, and this was brought home to us as a lovely adult Gannet flew by, with a large piece of plastic clearly caught in its beak.  Not much hope for this lovely creature.

Gannet Rob Petley-Jones 10
Gannet with plastic (Rob Petley-Jones)

It was just one such feeding group of Gannet which brought to our view the first of the very many dolphins we were to see during the day.  Not long afterwards, the sea burst into life with a very large pod of mixed Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin appeared away to port and began a classic dolphin-charge towards the bows.  In the end we assessed numbers to be about 350 Common Dolphin, with a further 50 Bottlenose Dolphin accompanying them.  The sea was alive with joyful beasts all trying to take advantage of the ship's bow wave and wake to have some fun!

Although bird activity was very quiet from late morning until dusk, there were some good moments.  A flurry of Storm Petrel just before lunch were a delight - how do these tiny birds survive out on the ocean? - while a very perplexing bird was the long-winged graceful petrel which defied identification as it flew into the midday glare.  A possible Pterodroma species?

At last we picked up the first of many Fin Whale blows, and the rest of the day was one of recording these magnificent animals as they passed the ship in a seeming endless procession.  We had some excellent views of several animals, with one just metres from the port side as we performed a rather strange 360 wide turn!  Barend, the First Officer, told us they were testing their compass, but it was all very confusing for the Fin Whale and several groups of boisterous Striped Dolphin who did not know which way to leap!

Fin Whale Rob Petley Jones 01
Fin Whale (Rob Petley-Jones)

A single very distant low sideways blow indicated the presence of a Sperm Whale, but no other blows were seen so this must remain only a possibility.  Almost the last bird of the day was a Balearic Shearwater which flew past in brilliant sunshine, showing its rather grubby-looking underparts - not at all like the very dapper Manx Shearwater of yesterday.

The Fin Whale blows continued until just before sunset when we finally left the bridge, exhausted after 14 hours recording but thoroughly satisfied with the excellence of the day.

Day 5 Santurtzi - 6 June

Weather: Sunny and calm

The Encounter docked at Santurtzi port at 0500 so there was no opportunity to look for marine wildlife on the approach to the port.  Instead we had a leisurely breakfast, collected out shore passes from Barent, and made our way out into the wilds of Northern Spain!

Sawfly Orchid_RPJ
Sawfly Orchid (Rob Petley-Jones

The walk up the Serantes hill from Santurtzi is a must for anyone interested in wildlife.  This expedition has never failed us yet, and today was no exception.  We encountered several orchid species, some not to be found in Britain, and a good number of butterflies moths and bumblebees.  The sun shone us all day except when a large shadow passed over us - we looked up to see a Griffon Vulture eyeing us up as potential tea!

Griffon Vulture Rob Petley-Jones 01a
Griffon Vulture (Rob Petley-Jones)

Returning to the Encounter late in the afternoon we met the new Captain, Niels Johannes, while we were having tea.  He explained that a short but vicious storm was due in Biscay in the next 18 hours, with predicted waves of 9 metres!!

He then said the ship will take a different route back to Britain, by sailing along the Spanish coast towards Finisterre and then heading north behind the receding storm, where waves will only be 3 metres!  Tomorrow should be an interesting day!

Day 5 Wildlife seen on Serantes Hill - Butterflies
Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius
Large White Pieris brassicae
Small White Artogeia rapae
Clouded Yellow Colias crocea
Pale Clouded Yellow Colias hyale
Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas
Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus
Brown Argus Aricia agestis
Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus
Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus f. ceronus
Camberwell Beauty
Large Tortoiseshell Nymphalis ploychloros
Peacock Inachis io
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
Fritillary sp.
Marbled White Melanargia galathea
Tree Grayling Neohipparchia statilinus
Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina
Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus
Speckled Wood Pararge a.aegeria
Wall Brown Lasiommata megera
Red-underwing Skipper Spialia sertorius
Lulworth Skipper Thymelicus acteon
Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris
Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus

Day 5 Wildlife seen on Serantes Hill - Birds
Griffon Vulture Gryps fulvus 4
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus 2
Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 4
Stonechat Saxicola torquata
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
Crested Tit Parus cristatus

Day 5 Wildlife seen on Serantes Hill - Orchids and plants
Heart-flowered Orchid Serapias cordigera
Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera
Yellow Bee Orchid Ophrys lutea
Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera
Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Day 6 South Biscay to Mid Biscay - 7 June

Weather: Sea state 9 decreasing slowly to 5; Sunny with some showers early on; Wind force 8 falling to 5 later.

With the force 10 winds of Storm Miguel lashing the Bay of Biscay into a frenzy with a 9 metre swell in the north, Captain Johannes very wisely decided to take a westerly route along the coast of Northern Spain for number of hours before turning north with the worst of the storm racing away to the east.

We got on deck (no breakfast for us - delicate tums!) to see the snow-capped Picos de Europa rising magnificently to the south while the Encounter battled through equally mountainous seas, almost as white as the mountains with spray, with waves from the 5 metre swell crashing into the bow in steady progression.

Any recording was going to be very difficult today, but we pressed on counting the numbers of Gannet - mostly boisterous juveniles and immature birds of various ages - and the small numbers of Yellow-legged Gull which joined the ship to cruise in the updrafts from the wall of containers.

Long hours without any sightings of any wildlife, and then a flurry of activity all at once!  A couple of groups of Striped Dolphin came leaping in to bow ride in front of the ship.  These animals thoroughly entertained the First Officer Barend and the Cadet Matthieu, who were both eagerly getting into the swing of cetacean recording!

Sunfish Rob Petley-Jones 01a
Sunfish (Rob Petley-Jones)

A Sunfish passed along the starboard beam, lying flat on the sea until it flipped into an upright position and wiggled its fins, before flopping back like a pancake to lie flat on the surface again.
Shortly afterwards, another mystery petrel - long thin wings and pale -showed itself very briefly between the rolling peaks of the swell.

The view was far too brief to allow any identification, but we had been hoping that a by-product of the storm might have been to delivery of some of the Atlantic rarities like Fea's Petrel.  Frustratingly we will never know what this bird was, but could it have been….?

Day 7 Ushant to St George's Channel - 8 June

Weather: Sea state steady 3; Sunny and excellent visibility.


The horrible Storm Miguel long past and sunshine all day meant we had perfect watching conditions for the crossing of the English Channel from Ushant towards Cornwall.  A brief flurry of activity from a few of the Ushant Common Dolphin and a small number of passing Balearic Shearwater was followed by a rather long period of few observations, so we just watched the sea and sky, and counted the ships heading up and down the Channel and mused on where they were bound and what cargoes they were carrying.

It was not until early evening, when the Cornish coast appeared as a shadow on the horizon, that we started to see bigger numbers of birds, with increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater and Gannet flying north.  As we sailed past Land's End numbers of these birds as well as of Fulmar increased, and we were pleased that we had seen at least some birds after what had been a rather quiet day.

Just as we were contemplating whether to stop surveying after 12 hours of observing, we had to get our wits together fast as a feeding mass of Gannet and Manx Shearwater came into view.  Amongst the wheeling and diving birds we could see a pod of Common Dolphin feeding on the fishy bonanza!  Jane took charge of monitoring the dolphins while I did my best to count the mass of birds, and we sank back near to exhaustion as the spectacle passed into the wake of the ship.

Manx Shearwater Adrian Shephard 02
Manx Shearwater (Adrian Shephard)

Then…. another feeding frenzy of birds and dolphins as active as the first.   More frenetic counting and observing, and then sinking back even more exhausted!

Then…another two feeding flocks and pods!  Our pens were red hot on the record sheets, and the thoughts of aching backs, knees and feet were firmly put away as we captured the scene for the records.

We finally left the bridge close to physical breakdown, but fully satisfied with an amazing hour of watching the spectacular marine wildlife we so love.

Day 8 Hollyhead Island - Liverpool - 9 June

Weather: Sea state 2-1; Sunny and excellent visibility.

A lovely morning at sea welcomed us to the bridge as the Encounter was rounding Holyhead Island into Liverpool Bay.  Plenty of Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake activity entertained us throughout the steady cruise towards Liverpool, but it was not until the Liverpool pilot had been picked up that we recorded the first mammals with single Grey Seal and Harbour Porpoise, while the pilot pointed out a group of loafing Harbour Seal on a sandbank.

The Encounter finally docked in Liverpool after lunch - a really tasty meal provided by the ship's cook Mark - and we left the very friendly Encounter family after a really good week.

Our thanks to JR Shipping for their support in allowing this exciting and productive survey to continue, and particular thanks to Captains Arie Bruins and Niels Johannes and the great crew of the Encounter for their warm welcome to their happy ship.  Particular thanks to First Officer Barend van Winden who really made us feel part of the ship's family, and for his enthusiasm for the wildlife we showed him.  He has all the makings of a fine marine wildlife observer!

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINELife Survey Report: ‘Endeavour’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 18th March – 24th March 2019

Posted 07 April 2019

Robin Langdon and Nuala Campbell; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 23
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 83
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 2
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 15
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 34
Unidentified Whale sp. 1

Basking shark    Cetorhinus maximus 1
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp.    2

Marine Birds
Auk sp. Alcidae 44
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 2
Carrion Crow Corvus corone    6
Common Gull    Larus canus 31
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Fulmar    Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet    Morus bassanus 595
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 55
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 19
Guillemot Uria aalge 94
Gull sp. Laridae 1064
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 29
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 131
Larus sp. Larus sp. 246
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 74
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 81
Passerine sp. Passeriformes 26
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Shearwater sp.    Shearwater 1
Skua sp. Stercorariidae 8
Swan sp. Cygnus 2
Wagtail sp. Motacilla sp. 3

Arrival: Liverpool
Waiting for the journey to begin…
As we waited for the mv Endeavor to load at Liverpool the glorious sunset was enhanced by the spectacle of a starling murmeration over the port lock, swans and geese heading for a relatively quiet evening roost and cormorant and gulls picking up a late supper before a night's sojourn.

Sunset through porthole
Sunset in Liverpool (Nuala Campbell)

The fascinating cranes loading the containers onto the ship reminded me of my grandson's Transformer toys made large, and the skilled coordination between the ships crew and the dockers carried on into the evening until our departure just before midnight.

Day 1: Liverpool - Greenock
Gannet Robin Langdon 02
Gannet (Robin Langdon)

Our route took us from Liverpool via the Irish Sea then up through the Firth of Clyde to Greenock. The cloud cover was extensive, and more so on the port side. The Scottish coastline dipped in and out of visibility, but still we saw Gannet, Guillemot and gull species. The Captain, ship Master Gornev, and bridge crew were welcoming and happy to point items of interest out to us, especially the workings of the coffee machine, which was a blessing!

By 10:00hrs Ailsa Craig was spotted, an iconic Gannet breeding roost, but it faded into the mist by 10:30hrs, though the coastline was clear and we logged Gannet commuting to the isle and out to sea.

Highland Sculpture at Port
Port Sculpture (Nuala Campbell)

Robin was the first to identify Harbour Porpoise off the starboard side, but my own first Harbour Porpoise ID came at 11:20hrs in sync with the Captain who saw it too. I still get a kick seeing these sleek swimmers, and this individual was gracious enough to slowly cruise though my field of vision. Gannet, Auk and gull species continued to be identified, and when the Pilot joined us at 12:30hrs to guide us through to Greenock, we added Crow, Cormorant, Shag and a single Kittiwake to the tally.

Just as we began to consolidate our findings for the shift at 14:00hrs, the Captain alerted us to the Grey Seal moving out to sea as we moved into the docking area, a fine aperitif to the day.

As the ship was loaded in Greenoch I watched a beautiful dawn, snow-capped distant mountains) and the port waters silvery mirrors, with the clouds rolling in like a feather duvet. There were Eider ducks, Black Guillemot and a resident Grey Seal lifting its head for a breath before diving back beneath the calm water.

Day 2: Irish Sea
At the start of day 2 we were still in port until 13:00.  The weather was interesting moving from quite thick fog to being able to see to the horizon.  There was even a small glimpse of blue sky.  Though not enough to constitute a nice day according to my Gran.  As she always told us "It's a nice day if there is enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor's trousers".

On the marine mammal front there was a single grey seal as we left the port.  This was the same seal we had counted on the way into the port and also seen a couple of times while moored.  Presumable a resident.

While in port we had seen a few Eider ducks so we were hoping to see some of these when leaving as none had been seen while surveying.  Alas none appeared.  There was also a distinct lack of gannets.  We pass right by Elsa Craig, a large gannet colony without seeing any.  A few did appear after the island but still not many.


Day 3: Celtic Sea and Western Approaches

Rainbow - NC

A beautiful series of rainbows illuminated the Celtic sea, though we were not tempted to dive for the fabled pot of gold. Shortly after midday, just off the Scilly Isles, I had my first sight of a Common dolphin bow riding, just a single individual, but it thrilled me to see the creature in the wild.

In the early afternoon, as we started to cross the mouth of the Channel, Robin the Team Leader pointed out two Puffins, skittering out of the ship's path, another first for me. A minute later a Great Skua did a fly-by, so maybe these were part of the 'pot of gold' reward!

I managed to see a Grey Seal, surface then gracefully dive under the bow of the ship, and later Robin spotted a second Common Dolphin catching a wave along the starboard Bow. Despite remnants of the mist and fog, we logged Great Skua, lots of gull species, Kittiwake, Gannet, Guillemot and Fulmar; it proved again that no day is without plenty of marine life to add to our data sheets.

Day 4: Bay of Biscay
The sea conditions were not quite as good as they had been the evening before but still not bad.  The main issue was the sun.  There were no clouds in the sky and with the ship heading south we had to contend with the sun all day.

This was to be a day of 'Firsts'.

Striped Dolphin RL
Striped Dolphin (Robin Langdon)

It was the first day of spring on the twenty first of March.  It was my sixty first birthday and the first birthday I had spent on a ship.  It was Nuala first sighting of Stripped Dolphin and any whale in the wild. It was also almost the first time the cetacean count would exceed that of the birds on a survey I had been on.  It was only a large group of gannets and other gulls sitting around as we approached Bilbao that finally brought the bird count up.

On the cetacean front we saw three separate groups of whale blows.  Judging by the blow these were most likely Fin whales.  We had pods of Common, Stripped and Bottle-nosed dolphins.  The pod of about a dozen Stripped slowly swam passed the ship giving us a good view and even getting some identification photos of them.  As we approached Bilbao there was a group of Bottle-nose dolphin splashing around ahead of the ship.  To add the species count there were a couple of Tuna leaping from the water outside Bilbao.

The birds were a bit of a no-show.  We did not see the first one until we had been surveying for over an hour.  We did see a number of Passerine sp. And we suspect we may have double counted some of these as they would re-appear every now and again so we think they may have been finding a resting spot somewhere on the ship.  One landed on the containers so we were able to get a good look and identify it as a White wagtail.

So what did we learn today?

  • It's good to be first
  • It's a lot sunnier in Bilbao than it is in the UK

Day 5: Southern Biscay
As the Endeavor left Bilbao, the coastal cliffs revealed the folds and drapes of a prehistoric uplift of seabed mudstone, eroded now into the rolling hills and crags of the land of the Spanish Basques, and we set off through the green seas and into the Bay of Biscay.

The deeps of the bay soon turned blue, and there were many groups of Striped and Common Dolphin who came to check the ship out. The Common Dolphin came to bow ride, and the Stripped to shoot across the bows, some in pods of a score or more.

Basking Shark RL
Basking Shark (Robin Langdon)

Robin identified several Cuvier's Whale, and we were overjoyed to spot a Basking Shark. Very few birds were to be seen once we were out into the deep blue, but so many dolphins showed that there was plenty of marine life to be identified. A most productive day.

Finally, as the sun set into a milky sea, like a blood orange it sank into the port side horizon and another observation day ended.

Day 6: Northern Biscay
Today was never going to be as good as yesterday.  We were now up into northern Biscay, passed where you normally see the whales.  The sea state was reasonable but most of the day it was overcast, finally ending in fog.

Common Dolphin Robin Langdon 01
Common Dolphin (Robin Langdon)

Only 3 small pods of dolphin were spotted during the day and this despite the excellent window cleaning that took place.  There was another sighting but as it was only very brief, we could not decide if it was cetacean, shark or tuna.

The first officer told us we should have been up on the bridge around 5:30 am as quite a few dolphin came to the ship to have a bow ride.  The Following morning a while after we left the bridge a large group of dolphins came into the bow.

We were accompanied from first getting to the bridge by a group of Lesser black-backed gulls.  The number in the group ranged from about 12 to 20.  They stayed with us until 11:30 when their stomachs got the better of them and headed off to a passing fishing boat.  There was a group that came up behind us a couple of hours later which could have been from the original group.  They only stayed for 10 minutes before heading off to yet another fishing boat.

There were long periods of the day when nothing was seen.

Day 7: Irish Sea

Dawn rose with a waning Gibbous moon still in the sky and we made our way to the Bridge for our final day of observation. The coast of Wales and the Isle of Angelsea were beautiful in the morning light and we passed the Skerries lighthouse, there were clear skies to the coastline, the clouds were low, rolling cumulous and though we logged many Skua and Auk species, no cetacean were spotted until we began the run past the wind farm arrays.

Liverpool Tug Boat
Docking (Nuala Campbell)

The Pilot boarded at about GMT 11:30, and again I was impressed by the excellent collaboration between the Pilot boat crew and the ship's crew. As we rode towards Liverpool we sighted two Harbour Porpoise and so accompanied by many Common Gull we finally came into the lock and safe harbour.

For my first long voyage with MarineLife and the Endeavor I was delighted to have had the privilege of observing and logging such a variety of species. I was also impressed with the potted plants grown by the crew, the Captain told me they were from orange pips reclaimed from a previous First Officer and tenderly nurtured by the officers.

A massive thanks to all the officers and deck crew of the Endeavor for their friendly welcome, I hope to meet them again on further survey voyages. Thanks also to Robin, the MarineLife team leader who has supplied wonderful images of our many species of marine creatures and has helped hone my identification skills.


MARINELife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Encounter’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 30th November – 9th December 2018

Posted 18 December 2018

Robin Langdon and Jenny Ball; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 143
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 13
Unidentified Whale sp. 2

Tuna sp. Thunnus sp. 1

Marine Birds
Auk sp. Alcidae 25
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 17
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 17
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 400
Gannet Morus bassanus 86
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 13
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 158
Gull sp. Laridae 1176
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 153
Larus sp. Larus sp. 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 43
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 154

Land Birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 3
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 150

The Encounter was a new ship to both of us (though both Robin and I had surveyed on her sister ship the Endeavour), but after a warm welcome from Captain Bruins, we were soon very much at home.

Saturday 1st December - sea state 2, rain showers

Leaving Liverpool on Friday evening, we had to wait till the following morning to begin our survey, on the way up the Clyde, and it dawned just a little damp and murky. We didn't see many birds during the three hours or so of recording, but had several sightings of Harbour Porpoise, the last of which was a group of three, just after Cloch Point.

View of Ailsa Craig Jenny Ball
View of Ailsa Craig (Jenny Ball)

A change in the ship's unloading/loading schedule meant a second day in Greenock.  Robin carried on with his coding work for the MARINElife data entry system, and I went into Glasgow on the train, to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, and the Gallery of Modern Art in front of which stands the famous statue of the Duke of Wellington, now with an officially approved traffic cone on his head!

Duke of Wellington Jenny Ball
Duke of Wellington (Jenny Ball)

Monday 3rd December - sea state 2-4, sunny

An early departure on Monday, and our survey began as soon as it was light, however we struggled all day with the bright sun, low in the sky and making it difficult to look ahead. Most birds were seen in the couple of hours after lunch: a blizzard of gulls was accompanying a fishing boat back up the Clyde, and then we saw a surprisingly large number of Fulmar, strung out over a couple of hours. They were in several groups of up to around 30, milling around, cruising alongside the boat, sweeping up and down in front of us... we only saw three small groups of cetaceans, the first two were Harbour Porpoise and the third probably was too, though we were well out into the Irish Sea where they are less common.

Fulmar Graham Ekins 04
Fulmar (Graham Ekins)

Tuesday 4th December - sea state 2-3, showers

Watching the sun rise from my cabin on Tuesday, I could see a flock of gulls circling round the ship, and they were still there 20 minutes later as it became light enough to identify them as Lesser Black-backed Gull. We also had a small group of Kittiwake accompany us for a while, but those were the only significant birds all day.

Mid-afternoon, the Chief Engineer was telling Robin that as there were some fishing boats nearby, this might be a good place to see dolphins, when "There they are!" he cried, and sure enough, there were dolphin approaching from all sides, heading for the ship and disappearing into the bow wave. There were nearly 100 animals seen, with a good number of juveniles, over the course of 10 minutes or so - an exciting interlude in an otherwise quiet day on the bridge.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 07
Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

We arrived in Bilbao on Wednesday morning just after breakfast, so no time for a survey. This was Robin's 8th trip to Bilbao, but unbelievably his first opportunity to get ashore: the MARINElife data entry system must have plenty of bells and whistles by now! He went to see the spectacular Guggenheim museum and I visited the old city, the Casco Viejo. What a great backdrop to a day off in the autumn sunshine!

Thursday 6th December - sea state 2-4, clear

Twenty four hours after our arrival, we were off again, with conditions good for surveying. During the early part of the day, we were accompanied at first by a group of Yellow Legged Gull, then as we sailed further offshore, by a mixed group of Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull. There were immature birds of both species, and we enjoyed watching the two 2nd year gannets carry on quite an animated interaction!

YL Gull Graham Ekins 02
Yellow-legged Gull (Graham Ekins)

For the rest of the day, birds were very few and far between, though we did see a few Kittiwake and a lone Manx Shearwater.

Mid-morning, Robin saw a distant whale blow, and although we saw another three blows, the animals were moving away from us and we didn't even catch a glimpse of their shapes. Later on, what Robin in retrospect thinks was probably a Tuna flung itself half out of the water, but otherwise, the southern Bay of Biscay seemed to be a quiet place.

Friday 7th December, sea state 5-7

By Friday morning, the forecast gale was starting to make itself felt, and sea conditions for surveying were hampered by the waves and spray. Visibility however was fine, so we spent the day spotting the occasional Kittiwake, amazingly acrobatic in the wind, but there were few birds around. Once again, we were outdone by the crew: this time the Chief Officer saw the only dolphin of the day!

Saturday 8th December - sea state 6

We reached the bridge on Saturday to the happy news that the Captain was as good at spotting dolphins as his officers: he had already seen four, and it wasn't even properly light! Robin and I were ready to hang up our binoculars, but thankfully we saw plenty of Common Dolphin for ourselves, with ten separate sightings throughout the day as we sailed across the Bristol Channel and up the coast of Wales.

Sunrise Jenny Ball
Sunrise (Jenny Ball)

We learnt that wherever in the world a ship is crewed by the Dutch, Saturday is always special: lunch features a hearty green bean soup, followed by apple and cinnamon pancakes. Everyone tucked in with enthusiasm, and so did we! It was a good end to an enjoyable survey, and we are grateful to JR Shipping Management, Captain Bruins and his crew for allowing us on board, and for their interest in the work of MARINElife.

Robin Langdon and Jenny Ball; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Ensemble’ Tilbury-Bilbao 16-21 October 2018

Posted 28 October 2018

Carol Farmer-Wright and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Day 1 - Tue. 16th. Weather dry, sea-state 2-4. Visibility poor, improving to good.
Day 2 - Wed.17th. Weather intermittent light rain, sea-state 2-4. Visibility poor improving to good.
Day 3 - Fri. 19th. Weather dry, sea-state 3-5 dec. 3 later. Visibility moderate improving to good.
Day 4 - Sat. 20th. Weather dry, sea-state 2-3. Visibility good with glare at times.
Day 5 - Sun. 21st. Weather dry, sea-state 2-1. Visibility moderate owing to haze.

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 417
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 240
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 7
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 8

Auk sp. 32
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 129
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 11
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 837
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 329
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 839
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 15
Guillemot Uria aalge 20
Gull sp. Laridae 588
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 43
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Larus sp. 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 201
Shearwater sp. 4
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 5

Terrestrial Birds on migration
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla 3
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 3
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1
Finch sp. 1
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 9
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinereal 1
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 2
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 3
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 11
Passerine sp. 6
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 2
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 123
Wader sp. 6
Wagtail sp. 1

Our survey was to begin early on Tuesday morning. We met up at Tilbury and arranged to board the ship on Monday afternoon. We spent the remaining daylight hours on the bridge trying to spot the Beluga Whale currently in the Thames, sadly it remained elusive.

Survey Day 1 - Southend to Chichester

Tilbury Oct 18_Map 1

Our survey began as we neared Southend-on-Sea. The sightings were initially dominated by Great Black-backed Gull. There are several Seal haul-outs off the north Kent coast and, with a favourable tide, three sandbanks between Herne Bay and Margate resulted in a count of almost 230 Seals.  By the time we reached Deal on the approach to the Dover Straits we started to see Herring Gull, Kittiwake and Gannet. Some avian migrants were recorded including a small charm of Goldfinch and a solitary Meadow Pipit. In the early afternoon Robin spotted a Harbour Porpoise, our only cetacean sighting of the day. Gannet were seen throughout the remainder of the day with an occasional sighting of a Great Skua and gulls surrounding a couple of fishing vessels that we encountered.  The days survey ended when we were due south of Hayling Island.

Day 2 - Brittany to the Northern shelf break

Tilbury Oct 18_Map 2

When we reached the bridge, we had just rounded Brittany and we were now heading south.  The conditions were a bit misty.

We have to thank the Gannet and Great Shearwater for our first sightings of cetacean.  There was a couple of large groups all swirling around and on closer inspection dolphin were spotted.  They were most likely Common Dolphin but they were too interested in feeding and did not give us a good look at them.

There was a period of a couple of hours where there was continuous light rain but at around 14:00 it stopped and within a few minutes the Common Dolphin started pouring into the bow of the ship. Over a period of about 20 minutes over 200 attempted the joy of a bow ride.  No other type of cetacean was spotted that day.

Common Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 03

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

The vast bulk of the birds were Gannet and Great Shearwater but a few migrating terrestrials were also seen. There was a pair of Juvenile Pied Wagtails that joined the ship at 9:30. The last time they were seen was just before we finished at 18:20 so we presume Bilbao now has a couple of new residents. 3 Blackcaps also joined the ship for a while as well as a couple of Meadow Pipits.

Pied Wagtail Carol Farmer Wright

Pied Wagtail (Robin Langdon)

Our third day was spent in Santurzi, unloading and loading the new cargo bound for the UK and Western Europe so no surveying was possible.

Survey Day 3 - The Abyssal plain to the Continental shelf

Tilbury Oct 18_Map 3

We left Santurzi at 3 am in the morning. By 7.30 am there was sufficient light to begin our survey for the day. At the time we were over the abyssal plain with more than 4000 meters of water below us. Bird sightings were initially slow, with only a few Gannet and a single Great Shearwater appearing in the first 5 hours. The only other birds seen during the day were a Chaffinch, 3 Little Gull, 1 Meadow Pipit and a Guillemot. Whilst travelling we hoped to encounter some of the whales that frequent these deeper waters, sadly they did not make an appearance. Our first cetacean sighting of the day occurred just as we were leaving the deeper water on the shelf break, just before the continental shelf. A small pod of Striped Dolphin attempted to come in to bow ride. As soon as they realised that they had left their charge too late, they slowed down and turned away only 150 meters from the ship. We hoped that we would see Common Dolphin again on the shelf and we were not to be disappointed. In a period of 50 minutes we encountered at least 93 Common Dolphin, some kept their distance feeding, the remainder came in to bow ride from all forward angles. A great way to end the days survey.

Survey Day 4 - Brittany coast to Cherbourg peninsula

Tilbury Oct 18_Map 4

This was a day of one extreme to another.  We went Dawn till Dusk, Sunrise to Sunset, Long lulls to many animals.

We were into the English Channel after rounding Brittany the previous night.  We looked out to see strange entities floating on the surface, that turned out to be large rafts of seaweed.  We saw these several times throughout the day.

As far as cetaceans go we saw both Common Dolphin and a small group of Bottlenose Dolphin.  They mainly stayed away from the ship but a few did come into to attempt to ride the bow.

Most disappointingly after our dinner at about 16:30 our most common sighting was bits of plastic.  We did stick it out to the bitter end with the hope that as there was a clear line of sight to the setting sun we might see the green flash as it finally sets.  Alas no flash was seen. (The Bitter End is an old naval term meaning the last part of a rope or final link of chain. The end attached to the vessel, as opposed to the "working end" which may be attached to an anchor).

Survey day 5 - Dover Strait to Tilbury

Tilbury Oct 18_Map 5

Today was to be our last day of surveying. We started our survey as we approached the Strait of Dover, just west of Boulogne-sur-Mer.

In Autumn there is quite often a haze over the sea, this continued throughout the day, limiting our visibility near the horizon. There are shipping lane rules that have to be obeyed over this very busy part of the Channel. Permissions have to be sought to cross from the northbound lane off the French coast, to the River Thames approach where the London Port Authority (LPA) pilot would join us.

GBB Gull Carol Farmer Wright 01

Great Black-backed Gull (Carol Farmer-Wright)

As we moved North towards the Thames we evidenced some of the avian migrants flying to the UK to winter, Starling, Wagtail and Chaffinch being among them. Pelagic birds encountered were primarily Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull with a few Guillemot, Razorbill and Herring Gull making an appearance together with a Black-throated Diver.

Four hours into the survey we encountered a small group of Harbour Porpoise, but we were unable to see the seal colonies off of the Kent coast owing to the tide being in. We did however see seals hauled out further up the Thames as we approached East Tilbury, a small group of 5 animals, Harbour and Grey Seal were enjoying the autumn sunshine.

We hoped to see the Beluga that had been around Gravesend before our survey ended, however the LPA pilot advised that it had been seen further up the Thames near Greenhithe earlier that morning and we were to dock about 2 miles short of the area it had been encountered. The pilot also advised us that the Beluga was first seen by the LPA in July near Shell Haven further down river.

Ensemble_Adrian Shephard

Ensemble in the Thames (Adrian Shephard)

As the captain started to manoeuvre the ship onto the berth, we thanked him and made our way downstairs to collect our belongings before departing the ship.

Our thanks go to JR Shipping, Captain Oleg Pyatnytskyy, his Officers and crew together with John Brown the Tilbury agents for enabling this survey to go ahead.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Bilbao 18-24 August 2018

Posted 27 August 2018

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Mostly calm seas and fair weather; deteriorating to rough sea with big swell on last day.

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoceana 102
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 910
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 6
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 62
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 35
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 15
Northern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon amphullatus 2
Dolphin sp. 7
Large rorqual sp. 2
Medium cetacean sp. 13
Small cetacean  sp. 1
Small whale (Minke Balaenoptera acutorostrata?) 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 8

Sunfish Mola mola 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 176
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 923
Cory's Shearwater Celonectris diomedea 166
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 6128
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 28
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 68
Gannet Morus bassanus 982
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 39
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 52
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Eider Somateria mollissima 41
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 9
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 36
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 66
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 28
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 175
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 127
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 59
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 121
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 138
Guillemot Uria aalge 3555
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Auk sp. 1107
Large gull sp. 218
Small gull sp. 1
Large Shearwater sp. 1
Small Shearwater sp. 1
Tern sp. 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1

Terrestrial Birds
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 7
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 27
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 1
Curlew  Numenius arquata 4
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 2
Wader sp. 26
Warbler sp. 6

Day 1 Liverpool to Liverpool Bay - 18 August
Weather: Fair, Sea state 3

After leaving our car at JR Shipping car park we passed easily through Liverpool port security and boarded the MV Endeavor mid-afternoon, to be welcomed by Captain Vladimir Gornev and his crew.

LBBG Rob Petley Jones 02

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Rob Petley-Jones)

As the evening sun bathed the two cathedrals and the Liver Building, the ship left its berth and the pilot skilfully navigated us from the dock through the very narrow lock system into the Mersey Estuary.

We began our survey as the ship passed the mouth of the Mersey out into Liverpool Bay.  There was a steady stream of Common Tern, with numbers of Cormorant, a few Kittiwake and some gulls as we passed the Anthony Gormley figures, which seemed not to notice our passing but gazed blankly out to sea.

As the sun set on our first survey session, we headed down to our cabins to prepare for the coming days on board.

Day 1 Seabirds

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 15
Common Gull Larus canus 5
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 13
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 15
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 59
Guillemot Uria aalge 1
Auk sp. 1
Large gull sp. 151

Day 1 Terrestrial Birds
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 7
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 22

Day 2 Isle of Arran-Greenock - 19 August
Weather: Light rain then Fair, Sea state 3-1

Dawn found us back on the bridge, with the Firth of Clyde and Isle of Arran in rather misty and grey conditions, with Ailsa Craig well behind us.  We started to see a number of Manx Shearwater as the light improved and had good views of diving Gannet and a passing flock of Common Scoter.

The pilot came aboard as we passed the Isle of Bute, and we were quickly swapping stories of whales we had seen, although he outdid us by telling us of the pod of Orca that he watched hunting seals by his house!

The sea conditions were calming steadily as we entered the upper reaches of the Clyde and were ideal for Harbour Porpoise spotting, with the last in the deep-water channel just off our berth at Greenock.

As the ship was going to be some time loading its containers, we headed ashore for a pleasant walk along the Greenock Esplanade, where we watched the antics of Eider, some Sandwich Tern and a transitional plumage Black Guillemot!

Eider Rob Petley Jones 01

Eider (Rob Petley-Jones)

We had a fine view of the Clyde paddle steamer Waverley as she passed downstream.  Built in 1946, this is the last sea-going passenger-carrying steamer in the world, and she now ferries passengers out to Helensburgh and back.

The many informative displays along the Esplanade were a wealth of learning!  Did you know that Greenock was the birthplace of Henry 'Birdie' Bowers, who met his end as one of Captain Scott's companions on their ultimately futile attempt to be first to the South Pole in 1910?

Day 2 Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoceana 10
Grey Seal 2

Day 2 Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 459
Gannet Morus bassanus 72
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 23
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Eider Somateria mollissima 41
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 6
Common Gull Larus canus 6
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 11
Sandwich Tern Sterna 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 74
Auk sp. 1
Large gull sp. 66

Day 2 Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 5
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1

Day 3 Greenock - Anglesey - 20 August
Weather: Initially calm sea, state 0-2; hazy then fog - later clearing to sunny and clear, sea state 3

The ship finally left Greenock at 04.00, and we were again on the bridge at first light at the start of what was to be a very exciting day!

Passing down the Ayr coast and past Ailsa Craig the sea conditions were mirror-calm with bright but overcast skies, so the spotting conditions were perfect.    We very soon started seeing in rapid succession groups of two or three Harbour Porpoise and a seemingly endless stream of Guillemot, most with youngsters in tow.  Rafts of Manx Shearwater and a steady passage of Gannet kept us fully occupied, with occasional Great Skua providing us with variety while causing some alarm among the resting birds.

The superb conditions continued through the morning and allowed us to spot a good number of Storm Petrel as we passed into the northern stretch of the Irish Sea.  By lunchtime we were physically and mentally exhausted by our efforts at recording so much wildlife, with thirteen sheets of bird records and 43 Harbour Porpoise seen!  These waters are familiar to us from our surveys to Belfast, but never have we seen such a wealth of wildlife here before.

Common Dolphin Rob Petley Jones 04

Common Dolphin (Rob Petley-Jones)

After a welcome lunchtime break, we continued to record exceptional numbers of birds and mammals, including two Balearic Shearwater flying with the many Manx ShearwaterHarbour Porpoise sightings continued to flow, and two groups of Bottlenose Dolphin were a very welcome sight.  Not everything was as obvious as we would have wished, and a large splash and moderate fluke pattern were all we saw of an unknown cetacean - possibly a Minke Whale?

Fog was a brief problem as we passed the Isle of Man but then the wind began to strengthen and sea conditions became brisker as we continued down the Irish Sea, and although our sightings of Harbour Porpoise began to fall away, by the end of the survey we had amassed an amazing count of 90 animals!

Day 3 Marine mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoceana 90
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 14
Small whale (Minke Balaenoptera acutorostrata?) 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 6

Day 3 Seabirds

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 162
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3758
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 16
Gannet Morus bassanus 402
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 12
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 29
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 70
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 36
Guillemot Uria aalge 3298
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Auk sp. 1106
Large gull sp. 1
Tern sp. 1

Day 3 Terrestrial Birds
Wader sp. 26
Curlew  Numenius arquata 4
Swallow Hirundo rustica 2

Day 4 Land's End - Central Biscay - 21 August
Weather: Calm sea, state 0-2; light rain then clearing to sunny and clear, sea state 3

Another exciting day with plenty of cetaceans!  We were on the bridge very early to find we had passed Land's End and the Scillies and their abundance of petrels in the darkness and were well out into the Western Approaches on our way towards Ushant and the Bay of Biscay.

However, we were soon seeing a variety of cetaceans and birds, with a continuous flow of small groups of Common Dolphin coming in to bow ride and play in the wake, while the first flocks of Great Shearwater and Cory's Shearwater began to appear, along with two Sooty Shearwater and more Balearic Shearwater, but surprisingly few Manx Shearwater.

Sooty SW Rob Petley Jones

Sooty Shearwater (Rob Petley-Jones)

A significant amount of splashing turned into a large shoal of feeding Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, which was very exciting to watch as the fish launched themselves out of the water amongst the diving Gannet!   Later, a Sunfish passed down the side of the ship, although it was being pecked at by a pesky Gannet and a Great Shearwater!

Frustration set in when Jane spotted a group of medium-sized cetaceans lying quietly off the port side of the ship, some 800 metres away.  They lay very low in the water with an occasional short bushy blow, and we were unable to make any identification.  However, our spirits rose quickly when we were surrounded by a well-spread super-pod of Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin, which kept coming and coming to the ship's bow and wake to play!

As we entered the deeper waters over the northern Biscay canyons late in the afternoon we began to see the first of several Fin Whale, and there were two sightings of Northern Bottlenose Whale.   A long and fruitful day of recording ended with final sightings of Pilot Whale and a Fin Whale before the grand finale of the sun setting over the Atlantic, with the fabled Green Flash appearing just after the solar disk had dipped below the horizon!

Green Flash Rob Petley Jones

Green Flash (Rob Petley-Jones)

Day 4 Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoceana 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 604
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 48
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 6
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 13
Northern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon amphullatus 2
Medium cetacean 12
Small cetacean 1

Day 4 Fish
Sunfish Mola mola 1
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Thunnus thynnus many

Day 4 Seabirds

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 206
Cory's Shearwater Celonectris diomedea 137
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 15
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 25
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 48
Gannet Morus bassanus 248
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 21
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 85
Small gull sp. 1
Shearwater sp. 1

Day 4 Terrestrial Birds
Warbler sp. 2

Day 5 South Biscay and Santurtzi - 22 August
Weather: Calm sea, state 1

Wednesday dawned with an amazing scarlet sun rising from the blue of the sea, as we approached Santurtzi, the port for Bilbao.  Although the sea was calm, we only saw a few Cory's Shearwater and a single Balearic Shearwater.  Large numbers of Yellow-legged Gull were sitting on the breakwaters as we sailed into Santurtzi.

As the Endeavor was due to unload and reload all day we took the opportunity to stretch our legs onshore and made our way through the maze of the harbour roads to the base of Serantes Hill!  This is a favourite spot with old hands of the Pride of Bilbao, and always has some exciting Spanish wildlife to show.

The heat of the day was perfect for butterfly watching, and we saw no less than 30 species in a few hours of walking.  These included some splendid Adonis Blue, Swallowtail and Cleopatra, as well as delights like Wood White (egg-laying), Map Butterfly, Tree Grayling and Mallow Skipper.  Birds were few and far between, so the Booted Eagle and Melodious Warbler were a treat.

Butterflies Rob Petley Jones

Butterflies (Rob Petley-Jones)

A long hot walk down into Santurtzi was rewarded at a café in the centre with the best glass of beer we have ever had!  A pleasant stroll back along the Esplanade to the port and we were back on board Endeavor just in time for tea, where we met Captain Vitaly Shutov who was to skipper the vessel back to Liverpool.

Day 5 Seabirds
Cory's Shearwater Celonectris diomedea 13
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 175
Small Shearwater sp. 1
Tern sp. 1

Day 5 Terrestrial Birds
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Warbler sp. 4

Day 5 Wildlife seen on Serantes Hill - Butterflies
Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni
Wood White Leptidea sinapsis
Small White Artogeia rapae
Clouded Yellow Colias crocea
Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius
Swallowtail Papilio machaon
Map Butterfly Araschnia levana
Comma Butterfly Polygonum c-album
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas
Brown Argus Aricia agestis
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus
Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus
Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus
Little Blue Cupido minimus
Geranium Bronze Cacyreus marshalli
Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria
Wall Brown Lasiommata megera
Marbled White Melanargia galathea
Tree Grayling Neohipparchia statilinus
Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus
Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus
Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina
Lulworth Skipper Thymelicus acteon
Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus
Mallow Skipper Carcharodus alceae
Red-underwing Skipper Spialia sertorius

Day 5 Wildlife seen on Serantes Hill - Birds
Booted Eagle
Melodious Warbler

Day 6 South Biscay to Ushant - 23 August
Weather: Sea state 1 rising to 5 and then to 3; Cloudy with some rain at times; wind force 5 later

Endeavor had left Santurtzi in the early hours, so we were over very deep water when we began surveying, hoping for some of Biscay's special cetaceans.  Fin Whale blows began soon afterwards, and continued regularly through the day, with many great views of the animals surfacing.  One close animal left a long slick of bright red whale poo!

Fin Whale Faeces Rob Petley Jones

Fin Whale Faeces (Rob Petley-Jones)

A small group of Striped Dolphin and two Pilot Whale made brief appearances, while a solitary Sperm Whale was seen blowing for several minutes off the port beam.

As we approached the shallower waters off the Brittany coast we again had good numbers of Common Dolphin coming to the ship to enjoy the bow wave and surf in the heavy swell in the wake of the ship.  It was good to see a number of calf and juvenile dolphins swimming close with their parents.

Although bird numbers were relatively low, there was a steady passage of Great Shearwater as we passed north towards Ushant, and later on smaller numbers of Cory's Shearwater, a few Storm Petrel and a single Sooty Shearwater.

Overcast skies ended a good day of cetacean surveying!

Day 6 Marine mammals
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 167
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 6
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 26
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 2
Large rorqual sp. 2
Medium cetacean sp. 1
Dolphin sp. 7

Day 6 Seabirds

Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 717
Cory's Shearwater Celonectris diomedea 16
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 16

Day 7 Land's End to Holyhead Island - 24 August
Weather: Sea state 3 rising to 5 and then to 3; Cloudy with squally rain at times.

An overcast sky, a large swell and rough sea were the very different conditions that greeted us at the start of our last day of survey.  However, we were soon delighted by the sight of many groups of Common Dolphin, leaping through the waves as they sped towards the bow of the Endeavor.  It was good to see so many together, with groups of up to 40 animals coming in to play.

Bird sightings were mostly of Manx Shearwater, although a Pomarine Skua was a nice addition to the week's tally of species.

As we passed up the Celtic Deep towards the Pembroke coast, we were surprised and delighted with the sight of whale blows!  This turned into three Fin Whale, blowing and battling their way through the heavy swell, with one animal launching itself half out of the water in a semi-breach!  They were last seen swimming strongly to the south, hopefully to find their way into the good feeding that Biscay's deep waters provide.

Fin Whale Rob Petley Jones 01

Fin Whale (Rob Petley-Jones)

Despite calmer sea conditions in the Irish Sea, wildlife sightings were virtually absent as we passed through the western reaches of Cardigan Bay.  However, as we approached Anglesey we began to pick up more sightings of Guillemot and their young, as well as good numbers of Arctic Tern, feeding out from their breeding sites on the north of the island.

A group of diving Gannet attracted our attention, and we were pleased to see five Common Dolphin feeding in the waters where the birds were plummeting.  A single Harbour Porpoise seen slipping through a long wave was the last of the very special wildlife we had thoroughly enjoyed over the week of survey.

Our thanks to JR Shipping for their support in allowing this exciting and productive survey to continue, and particular thanks to Captains Gornev and Shutov and the crew of the Endeavor for the warm welcome and hospitality we received.

Day 7 Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoceana 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 139
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 3

Day 7 Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 13
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1896
Gannet Morus bassanus 251
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 31
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 121
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 182

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Bilbao 14-20 July 2018

Posted 21 July 2018

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 365
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 11
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 7
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 7
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 15
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 1
Unidentified Whale sp. 1

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 3
Auk sp. Alcidae 1808
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 15
Common Gull Larus canus 45
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 150
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 26
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 24
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis 73
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 45
Gannet Morus bassanus 2113
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 32
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 613
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 121
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 77
Larus sp. Larus sp. 410
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 320
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 9921
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 2
Puffin Fratercula arctica 283
Razorbill Alca torda 134
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 9
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 19
Shearwater sp. Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater Ardenna grisea 3
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 57

Terrestrial Birds
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Feral/Racing Pigeon Columba livia 15
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1

Day 1

After a smooth drive down to Seaforth Docks from Blackpool, I was soon transferred to the Endeavor and welcomed aboard.  Following the evening meal, I went up to the bridge for a look round the docks, and met Captain Vladimir Gornev.

Observations whilst we were berthed and as we started to leave included Common Tern, a few Mute Swan and several groups of Canada Geese.  As we joined the River Mersey, gulls were flying across the Mersey to roosts, and we followed the cruise ship Magellan out into Liverpool Bay.  Coincidentally the P&O ship European Endeavour was coming in to port and passed us.

Before dusk a few seabirds were noted.  A few Kittiwake were recorded, as well as Cormorant mostly sat on some of the buoys.  In terms of the trip sightings the most notable was a flock of c150 Common Scoter on the sea to the north east; ironically, I watched these with some of the landmarks of my home town including Blackpool Tower and the 'Big One' roller coaster as a backdrop!

Common Scoter Graham Ekins 01

Common Scoter (Graham Ekins)

Day 2

It looked misty viewing through my cabin window just after first light but when I went up to the bridge at around 5am, the visibility was in fact very good.  A few seabirds were noted as we passed the Mull of Galloway including Gannet and Kittiwake.

We passed fairly close to Ailsa Craig so it wasn't a huge surprise to see more Gannet.  An interesting looking shape in the sea was first thought to be a Basking Shark's fin but turned out to be a Grey Seal's head….  As we came alongside the southern part of the Isle of Arran a Swallow circled the boat, probably a wandering individual rather than a migrant.  A Black Guillemot was also some way from its preferred near coastal habitat.

Guillemot & Razorbills Stephen Dunstan

Guillemot & Razorbills (Stephen Dunstan)

Due to congestion at Greenock mid-morning we headed close in to Arran ferry terminal and berthed for the remainder of the day.  Some nice views of the Caledonian Macbrayne inter-island ferries coming and going in the sunshine.

Day 3

The day was mostly spent in dock at Greenock, but there was opportunity for some surveying either side of this.  On the way from Arran to Greenock, some sightings of Harbour Porpoise were followed by a couple of Common Dolphin, whilst a group of Common Seal were hauled up.  A lone Eider was to prove to be the only one of the survey.  Due to the weather conditions, i.e. it was raining, I didn't venture ashore in the limited time available and caught up with paperwork.

There was a bit less time available for surveying on the outward journey from Greenock than the inward leg.  A couple of porpoises were seen.  Otherwise about the only thing of note other than expected seabirds was an Oystercatcher which appeared to be migrating from the Isle of Bute to somewhere else and went across the box recording area as it did so.

Common Dolphin Stephen Dunstan 1

Common Dolphin (Stephen Dunstan)

Day 4

Most of the day was spent traversing the Celtic Sea, before passing Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. One of the first avian surprises of the day was a pair of Mallard heading south east off the Irish coast; as I was to find out again during the trip migration often occurs even in months when you aren't really expecting it.  In seabird terms the highlight of the Celtic Sea part was two separate Sooty Shearwater one of which allowed good comparison with smaller Manx relatives, whilst late in the day a Balearic Shearwater was seen south of Scilly.  The Balearic was one of the rather scarce individuals with a darker belly, but having seen Sooty's already it was easy to discount the potential confusion on structure and flight action.

The cetacean action was relatively limited. Common Dolphin were seen on a number of occasions during the day with an estimated final tally of 64 animals, and whilst it wasn't ideal conditions for picking out porpoises a handful were seen.

Day 5

At first light we were in northern Biscay. It took a while for the first cetacean to be seen, but then several pods of Common Dolphin were noted.  We had a close range encounter with a group of five or so Minke Whale and I managed to get some pictures of these.  Bird wise, a few Cory's Shearwater and groups of feeding Storm Petrel were noted, and three Great Skua that were giving the first two Cory's noted a torrid time.

Fin Whale 01 Stephen Dunstan

Fin Whale (Stephen Dunstan)

Later in the day we had Fin Whale blowing on two occasions.  On one occasion we could see the two animals involved, on the other, we were only able to see the blow due to distance and sea conditions.  A couple of Collared Dove independently arrived on the boat, the first one landed and the second one decided not to.  The former dove was still on board when the sun set and we approached Bilbao.  Near the end of survey effort, we also had the second Balearic Shearwater of the trip, a more typical paler bellied individual than the first.

Collared Dove_Stephen Dunstan

Collared Dove (Stephen Dunstan)

Day 6

We were in dock all day so I did what all good marine watchers and surveyors have done since the time of the Pride of Bilbao and went up the hillside overlooking the port for a fix of local Spanish wildlife.  Some people take a taxi up to the top and walk back, those who know me won't be surprised that I eschewed this option on the grounds that after four days on a ferry I wanted some exercise.

Bird highlights included Zitting Cisticola, Melodious Warbler, Serin, Black Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler.  I was particular pleased to see the cisticolas (aka Fan-tailed Warbler) as I saw them on my first trip across Biscay on the Pride of Bilbao but not on the last two visits on JR Shipping survey.  An array of butterflies included Swallowtail, Brimstone, Clouded Yellow, Marbled White, Gatekeeper and the continental form of Speckled Wood.

Day 7

We spent the day in Biscay.  The sea state wasn't ideal for picking out cetaceans, but even allowing for that the totals were relatively modest.  The undoubted highlight was a pod of 15 Common Dolphin.  A brief false alarm was provided by an apparent 'shark' which turned out to be an upturned surfboard or similar with two different sized 'fins' protruding above the water.

Birding was also less productive than on the equivalent southern leg.  A more standard looking Balearic Shearwater flew across the front of the boat, it is always a thrill to see this critically endangered seabird in its natural environment.  Otherwise there were again a few Cory's Shearwater with their languid flight action, and a single Storm Petrel.

Corys Shearwater Peter Howlett 01

Cory's Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

Day 8

In theory this should have been the quiet day to finish after the highlights of Biscay the day before.  In practice it was a great day of wildlife watching in the Celtic Sea, which just goes to show you can never taking anything for granted with wildlife.

Things started a little quiet, but then a few pods of Common Dolphin began to be seen.  A Minke Whale was seen well on the port side as it surfaced a couple of times. Lots of seabirds were seen off south Pembrokeshire, particularly Gannet presumably from Grassholm.  Then as we passed Ramsey Island and St David's Head the sea went flat calm and we were treated to an amazing wildlife spectacle.  Everywhere you looked there were rafts of Manx Shearwater and auks with their young, including good numbers of Puffin and Pufflings. Another Minke Whale was also seen and the captain and crew were able to watch it surface in the calm conditions.

Passing Bardsey two Sand Martin flying south well offshore was a surprise at this time of year, a group of pigeon that had passed earlier were thought likely to be racers. As we headed towards Liverpool along the North Wales coast the weather closed in so surveying was stopped prematurely but after a great day.

Many thanks to Captain Gornev and his crew, when you are surveying alone it is particular appreciated when the JR Shipping staff make you feel so welcome.


Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Bilbao 21-27 June 2018

Posted 04 July 2018

Robin Langdon and Jack Lucas; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 1247
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 11
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 126
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 10
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 5
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 82
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 5
Unidentified Seal sp. 6
Unidentified Whale sp. 1

Other Marine Wildlife
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp. 2

Auk sp. Alcidae 358
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 7
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 127
Cormorant/shag sp. Phalacrocoracidae 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 57
Gannet Morus bassanus 1793
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 26
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 752
Gull sp. Laridae 421
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 58
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 97
Larus sp. Larus sp. 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 79
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2853
Puffin Fratercula arctica 17
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 23
Shearwater sp. Shearwater 6
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Tern sp. Sternidae 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 21

Terrestrial Birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 10
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Passerine sp. Passeriformes 2
Swift Apus apus 5
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 6

Liverpool to Greenock Day 1 and 2

The trip from Liverpool to Greenock was fairly uneventful with some choppy conditions. There was only myself surveying as Jack, the other surveyor was boarding the ship at Greenock.

The setting sun was directly in front of the ship that made spotting challenging. After a couple of hours the light had faded so I gave up.  Nothing of note was spotted, sorry to any Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull listening.

The sea was a lot calmer at 4:30 the following morning, who's idea was it to volunteer for a survey on the longest day? We were about 3 hours out of Greenock.  I spent the first hour counting Gannet, many circled the ship.  Looking behind the ships there were lines of Gannet waiting their turn to pass the ship and be counted.

Gannet I2 Jack Lucas

Gannet (Jack Lucas)

The spotting conditions got even better as we approached Greenock.  I was just thinking to myself that I was not likely to see any cetaceans within the shipping channel.  But you guessed it, 30 seconds later the first Porpoise pops up within the channel.  Don't you hate it when the wildlife makes you look a fool!

So, what did we learn today?

  • Gannets are well-behaved
  • Porpoise try to make a fool of you

Greenock to Bilbao Day 1

Jack joined the ship on the previous evening, allowing time to catch up and plan what we might see on the trip:

Day 1 - Few Porpoise at the start, may be a Minke and a stack of Common Dolphin.  May be 25 different sightings by the end of the day.

Day 2 - Lots more Common Dolphin and many whales.

Then the same in reverse on the way back.  Plan set, time to put into action.

The weather was good and got better and better.  From 10:30am until just after 21:30 when we finished there was a sea state of 0 and no swell.  The spotting conditions were ideal. So, we were expecting we should get a good number of sightings.

There were many Gannet as we pass Ailsa Craig. The island was looking like a smoking volcano.  As expected there were also reasonable number of Manx Shearwater.  We even had various Pigeon land on the ship and hitch a ride for a while before leaving us.  Presumably Racing Pigeon as one seemed to have a mobile phone number on its ring.

As the conditions were so good it was quite hard work as you wanted to keep looking and you were always picking up your binoculars to look at things.  By the end of the day my shoulder was aching with all the exercise.

Oh yes, I need to mention the cetaceans.  Well it did start according to plan with a few Harbour Porpoise and adding to the sighting count some seals too, but they kept coming.  By the end of the day the sighting count was as follows, this is the number of separate sightings not individual animals

  • Seals - 10
  • Common Dolphin - 7
  • Minke - 4
  • Porpoise - 60

That is over 80 separate sightings in a day.  On my best Bilbao survey so far, we had recorded 104 sightings in the whole survey.  Most were under 70 for the whole survey.  I even managed to see a group of Common Dolphin bow riding on a passing ship.

As you can understand we did not want to leave the bridge that day, particularly Jack as the first Minke Whale appeared while he was at lunch.  We wanted to stay to the bitter end as there was no cloud in front of the setting sun so with the right conditions you can get a green flash as it sets.

Sunset Jack Lucas 01

Sunset (Jack Lucas)

Greenock to Bilbao Day 2

We were keen to get back to the bridge after yesterday's exploits.  We were now going to cross into Biscay where the sightings should increase.  We were getting concerned I had not brought enough data sheets as we had already used about half of them.

The sea state had picked up a bit starting off at about 2.  This steadily increased and so by 7:30 it had reached a 4.  The swell also increased to a 1.  So, we were not going to get the ideal conditions of the previous day.

The birds seemed to be few and far between.  We were hoping for early Great and Cory's Shearwater, but none were seen all day.  We did get excited when the captain shouted that there was a Pelican on the starboard side.  We spun round to look to find he was point to a ship that was passing out bow.  We did briefly come across the Pelican again the following day as we reached Bilbao.

There was a Pigeon, either from the previous day or a new one was there to greet us when we first got to the bridge.  A juvenile Black-backed Gull landed on the containers around 16:30 and was still there 14 hours later as we went into the port at Bilbao.

The cetaceans started well with the first group of Common Dolphin being spotted just after 6 am.  But then nothing for hours.  According to Jack this was because it was 'Bathymetrically disinteresting'. We were feeling blue with the lack of sightings, Jack even more so when he went down to have his lunch, a pod of 10 Pilot Whale swam slowly passed the ship.  He was starting not to like lunch.

Pilot Whale Robin Langdon

Pilot Whale (Robin Langdon)

We saw a few more Common Dolphin through the afternoon.  In the evening, the sightings did pick up and included a crazy 10 minutes when we had around 250 Common Dolphin come into to try and bow ride the ship.

By the end of the day we had a total of 15 separate sightings so we left the bridge with our dreams of Olympic spotting fading fast.

Bilbao Port

We managed a very short survey in the morning before the pilot boarded and we went into port.  We had hoped to get our 100th sighting but alas that was not to be.  We did however see our first Great Shearwater.

The day in port was going to be chock-a-block with action.  Jack headed up the hill to get a look at the local flora and fauna while I stayed on board to catch up with some MARINElife work I needed to get done.

Jack had a successful trip up the hill.  Amongst the birds he saw were Stonechat, Serin, Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Melodious Warbler, Garden Warbler and White Wagtail.  He also saw Little Stint while down on the beach after coming down from the hill.  It also had the added advantage that during lunch he did not miss any sightings of whales.

Bilbao to Liverpool day 1

Our original plans now in tatters we left Bilbao about 23:00.  When we arrived on the bridge the following morning round about 5 am we had already passed a lot of the canyon area where a lot of the whale sightings are seen.

This day was not for the birders unless they wanted pictures of a Gannet, which stayed with the ship for a number of hours, or a Collared Dove, which landed on the ship around 11 am and finally left sometime the following morning now many miles from its start point.  No doubt somewhat confused.

During the whole day we saw less than 50 birds.

There were sightings of Common and Stripped Dolphin as we came across Biscay.  Jack carried on with his lunch exploits.  He had announced when he joined the ship in Greenock that it would be nice to see a Cuvier's Beaked Whale.  One did turn up but Jack as normal was down at lunch.  Jack exclaiming after returning and being informed of his mishap, "Son of a gun this has got to stop".

Striped Dolphin Jack Lucas 01

Striped Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

As I said on a previous day that the most sightings I had seen on this survey was 104.  We passed this number in the morning and by the end of the day we had over 120 sightings for the trip.  One more day to go, would we make 150?

Bilbao to Liverpool day 2

By now Jack was resigned to not seeing his key species.  He was even deciding which cetacean I was going to see while he was at lunch.  Top of the bill where Risso's Dolphin as neither Jack nor I had seen these before.

When we first got to the bridge we were just passing Lands End.  We already had a large group of gulls around us and as mentioned the Collared Dove was still with us.  Later that day we had a couple of probable sightings of Balearic Shearwater.

Fulmar Jack Lucas 01

Fulmar (Jack Lucas)

There were also large numbers of Gannet forming up into V's and flying off towards the north.  Big groups of Manx Shearwater were also seen resting on the water.

By lunch time Jack had developed Bathmophobia and Cibophodia.  For those who are uneducated this is a fear or stairs and a fear of food.  He did not want to go down the stairs for lunch as he would miss the Risso's Dolphin.  He was eventually persuaded to go and was most surprised on his return that he had not missed anything.  We did however conclude that the Risso's must have been there it is just I failed to spot them.

There were only a few encounters of Common Dolphin but there was a large group of about 250 that came into the ship over about 10 minutes.  There were a few Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seal spotted but we fell just short of the 150 sightings with a final tally of 147.

Common Dolphin Jack Lucas

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Back on home ground

All in all, this was a good survey.  Thanks to Captains Shutov and Gornev and the crew for making us most welcome.

Robin Langdon and Jack Lucas; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Enforcer’ Tilbury-Bilbao 22-26 May 2018

Posted 31 May 2018

Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Day 1 - initially cloudy, sea state 3-1 with good visibility.
Day 2 - sunny and dry, sea state 3-1, moderate swell, good visibility.
Day 3 - early low cloud, visibility good to moderate, sea state 1.
Day 4 - mainly cloudy, sea state 1-4 moderate visibility.
Day 5 - continual sea fog, sea state 3-6 visibility moderate to poor.

Summary of Sightings
Marine Animals

Basking shark Cetorhinus maximus 3
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 13
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked)  Delphinus delphis 62
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 3
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 7
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 1
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 20
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 7
Unidentified Seal sp. 60
Unidentified Whale sp. 1

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 38
Gannet Morus bassanus 314
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 130
Guillemot Uria aalge 14
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 54
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 27
Larus sp. 227
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 30
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 28
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Tern sp. Sternidae 14

Terrestrial Birds
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 5
Duck sp. 4
Dunlin Calidris alpine 1
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 11
House Martin Delichon urbicum 3
Rock Dove / Feral (Racing) Pigeon Columba livia 99
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 3
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 3
Swift Apus apus 3

This was to be my very first survey from Tilbury to Bilbao and would prove interesting as only small parts of the Kent and Sussex coast get surveyed by MARINElife regularly so there were bound to be some surprises. I arrived at Tilbury on Monday afternoon and was taken to the Enforcer as she was mooring up. I was welcomed on board by the first officer and taken to my cabin to unpack before dining with Captain Oleg Pyatnytskyy. The ship was due to sail early the next morning, so I set my alarm and retired to bed.

Day 1 Tilbury to Swanage

Travelling along the Thames estuary with calm seas was joyful. Immature Herring Gull were the first birds recorded, searching for food in the centre of the river. Within the first hour I recorded my first marine mammal, a Grey Seal, resting on the surface of the water. Two hours later the ship was turning south towards the busy Straits of Dover. A low rocky outcrop in the sea near Deal was to prove to be a rewarding location. Here sixty or more seals were hauled out enjoying the warm weather. A further Grey Seal was seen shortly afterward and then sightings stopped for four hours until we were off the Sussex Coast. Here the seas became mirror calm, a blessing for surveying as the mammals become easier to spot. The down side was seeing so much rubbish floating on the seas surface, including inflated balloons and two full plastic waste sacks. On the positive side eight Harbour Porpoise were seen before the light failed and I retired to bed.

Herring Gull Graham Ekins 06

Immature Herring Gull (Graham Ekins)

Day 2 Brittany coast to North Biscay

I arrived on the bridge at sunrise looking forward to travelling south into Biscay later in the day. Container ships are useful vehicles for avian migrants and during the day a pair of Collared Dove, three House Martin and a Spotted Flycatcher were all seen on the vessel. The day was spent recording Gannet, Fulmar, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull and an occasional Manx Shearwater. No marine animals were recorded until 13 hours after the days survey began. An Ocean Sunfish passed the vessel, swimming vertically in the water column instead of its usual horizontal position. By 7p.m. the ship reached the continental shelf break, an area where I hoped to see more marine fauna. Imagine my delight when the huge dorsal and tail fin of a Basking Shark came into view, one of three animals seen within the last half hour of the days' survey.

Basking Shark_Carol FW

Basking Shark (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 3 Southern Biscay

Southern Biscay is always interesting and a virtually mirror calm sea enhanced the opportunity of seeing marine mammals. The view was initially impaired as the lack of breeze meant that sea fog had descended overnight. The sun, being strong at this time of year, soon started to burn some of this away though some mist remained as the ship headed to Bilbao.  The four hours I spent surveying covered part of the abyssal plain with water over 3000 metres deep, to the coastal areas of less than 100 metres. Eight groups of dolphin were seen, Bottlenose, Striped and Common Dolphin; the latter came in to bow-ride, other groups appeared intent on feeding and ignored our passage through their waters.

The highlight of the morning was watching a Fin Whale passing close to our vessel on the port side. The captain and I were able to hear the animal exhaling. Birds were few, the most seen were Gannets and Great Black-backed Gull interacting with a group of feeding Bottlenose Striped Dolphin. As the ship approached the port I left the bridge to catch up on some sleep.

Fin Whale 04 Carol Farmer Wright

Fin Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 4 Southern Biscay to the French Continental Shelf

A quick turn-around in Bilbao meant that the Enforcer was heading back north by 3am BST on the Friday morning. I started surveying at 5.15 am when we were sailing in 3200 metres of water heading north into a deeper section of Biscay. At these depths Cuvier's Beaked Whale can be encountered as they return from their forays hunting for squid in the canyons. I was not to be disappointed as I had recorded three Cuvier's within thirty minutes. As we travelled north we encountered more than eight groups of Common Dolphin, the majority were able to come in to bow ride. One group left it too late and could be seen playing in the wake at the back of the ship. My last two sightings of the day were to be of Pilot Whale on the northern continental shelf break, swimming majestically along. Only 25 birds were seen the whole day, Gannet and Great Black-backed Gull in the majority. Three and a half hours later I left the bridge to rest before my last day of surveying.

Pilot Whale 01 Carol Farmer Wright

Pilot Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 5 The English Channel from Falmouth to Eastbourne - Ready …..Steady….Stop!

Today was to be a day of sea fog and surprises. The fog stayed around all day and it was weird being able to see blue sky above, but mist limiting visibility ahead to no more than one nautical mile for the majority of the time. Again, some avian migrants decided to rest on our ship, three Collared Dove spent most of the day with us, sheltering from the stiff breeze that tried to blow them from the top of the containers. No cetaceans were seen at all as the sea state rose to force 5 and 6 with a 2 metre swell that would have hidden anything other than a fast swimming dolphin from view. Just after 1pm a large flock of birds were seen flying ahead of the ship on the starboard bow. They turned out to be a flock of Racing (Feral) Pigeon that had been released from Fougères earlier in the day and were making their way back to their respective pigeon lofts in the UK. In all I counted 99 of these birds over two and a half hours. Half a dozen decided to have a quick rest on the ship and their two-coloured leg rings could be seen. They stayed only briefly, dwarfing their Collared Dove cousins before continuing their journey home. The strong breeze resulted in sighting of Fulmar and Gannet. As the visibility had not improved by late afternoon I left the bridge to compile my sightings before  disembarking the ship early the next morning at Tilbury.

Fulmar Carol Farmer-Wright 03

Fulmar (Carol Farmer-Wright)

My thanks go to J R Shipping, Captain Oleg Pyatnytskyy, his Officers and Crew for making me feel so welcome aboard the Enforcer; thus enabling MARINElife to discover more about Biscay and the English Channel.

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 10-17 February 2018

Posted 20 February 2018

Robin Langdon and Jenny Ball; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 15
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 127
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 23
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 5
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Auk sp. 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Common Gull Larus canus 61
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 85
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 26
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Gannet Morus bassanus 215
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 99
Gull sp. 37
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 67
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 170
Larus sp. 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 53
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 11

Terrestrial bird seen at sea
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 5

Joining Antony Gormley's steel men on Crosby Beach, gazing out to sea, seemed as good a way to prepare for a week's survey as anything.  Soon though, Robin and I met up to board the Endeavor, and were welcomed with a safety briefing and tour round the ship. Cabins allocated, meals eaten, ID books unpacked, and we were ready for an early night.

Antony Gormley Statue Jenny Ball

Anthony Gormley's statue (Jenny Ball)

Day 1: Wind SW F4, sea state 2-4

In the morning we arrived on the bridge, expecting to see the island of Arran on our port side, but it took a little while for the visibility to improve enough to see anything at all!  Eventually, a backward glance revealed a glimpse of a snowy Goatfell through the clouds, and with the weather clearing during the rest of the journey up the Clyde we logged a number of familiar coastal birds. As we were preparing to close the survey on the approach to Greenock, we spotted a lone Harbour Porpoise diving away on the port side of the ship.

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 02

Harbour Porpoise (Mike Bailey)

Robin spent the afternoon on board working on a new MARINElife database, and I went into Greenock, ending up having a lovely walk in the Victorian cemetery, a peaceful and atmospheric wooded park with many interesting memorials, and apparently one of the largest municipal cemeteries in Europe.

Day 2: Wind W F6, sea state 5

The morning dawned bright and clear, and our survey started as we were more or less level with Dublin and Holyhead. Sightings were fairly sparse throughout the day with a tricky combination of an agitated sea state and glare making surveying difficult.

However, we managed to see a group of five, and then two separate Common Dolphin, though we felt that the solitary individuals may well have been part of groups, difficult to see in the conditions. A long and very drawn-out stream of adult Gannet tracked alongside us for a while, small groups of Fulmar and Kittiwake swept in and out of the waves, and a few auks hurried by. We had two possible shearwater sightings to mull over, neither well enough seen to identify confidently, and we ended the day's effort shortly after sunset.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 07

Gannet (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 3: Wind NW F2, sea state 2-3

After an interesting night's "rest" where we had to make sure all was securely battened down, we arrived on the bridge at about 07:30, slightly bleary-eyed.  We were looking forward to a good day's spotting, travelling across the Bay of Biscay, but it seemed that the birds and cetaceans had not read the plan.  Out came the excuses:  the sea conditions, the glare, the spray on the windows… but as the conditions improved and the crew cleaned the windows not just once but twice, we needed a new strategy.

I went off to the port side to make a cup of tea.  Just as I did so a couple of Common Dolphin came into the starboard bow.  Soon it was lunch time so I went down and within a minute Robin recorded some more Common Dolphin on the starboard side, followed a few minutes later by another group.  After returning from lunch I popped over to have a chat with one of the crew, port side of the bridge, and sure enough Robin was calling a group of Common Dolphin on the starboard side.

There was a pattern developing!  Why is it that Common Dolphin like the starboard side?

Our largest group of the day, about 40 Common Dolphin, slowly came into the ship over a five minute period.  We also saw smaller groups of Bottlenose and Striped Dolphin, but no whales this time… we decided all in all it was not a bad day with a final total of 86 dolphins.

BND Peter Howlett 04

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

The birds also came slowly, with only 4 different species throughout the whole day. The most common being Gannet and Kittiwake but also a few Great Skua and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Robin's assessment of the day: Common Dolphin like the starboard side but Jenny likes the Port.

Day 4

With a full rest day in prospect, and Robin still working on his software development, I made my way into Bilbao to see the famous Guggenheim museum. It's a spectacular building, the titanium sheeted curves, glass and limestone shapes almost changing as you look at them... the inside is just as impressive and that's before you start looking at the galleries and collections!

Guggenheim Jenny Ball

Guggenheim (Jenny Ball)

Day 5: Wind SW F5-6, sea state 4-5

Maybe the Victorians had it right after all, in thinking that birds hibernated in the mud at the bottom of ponds (or the sea?), reappearing in the spring.  We saw it with our own eyes:  Lesser Black-backed Gull were appearing from nowhere!  Every time we looked, there would be more birds in the group alongside the ship but we had seen no new ones fly in…very mysterious.

We enjoyed watching the gulls fly with the wind coming over the port side at about 90° to the ship.  The birds were facing into the wind but moving in the same direction as the ship, effectively flying sideways.  They were all grouped on the port side, we assume because the wind on the starboard side was turbulent due it having passed over the ship.

LBB Gull Peter Howlett 04

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Peter Howlett)

Birds seen were of the same species as had been recorded on the way down a couple of days ago:   Gannet, Kittiwake and Great Skua, along with our mysterious Lesser Back-backed Gull.  The conditions were not ideal with a mist being down all day meaning we could see less than 2 km.  The sea state was also 5 with a 2m swell for most of the time.

Day 6: Wind W F4-5, sea state 4-5

Another day, another dolphin... it's always a pleasure to see them rushing in towards the bow, though from our vantage point on the bridge it's not possible to see what they do when they get there!  Early on we saw four groups of Common Dolphin over a half hour period, and then later on, and rather unusually, a close group of five Harbour Porpoise swimming parallel to the ship. The birds mostly kept their distance today, though a good number of Fulmar were patrolling the waves in search of food. Sightings new to both of us were an immature Glaucous Gull, weaving to and fro with a Lesser Black Backed Gull, and a Black-throated Diver which was startled into flight by the ship.

Glaucous Gull Jenny Ball

Glaucous Gull (Robin Langdon)

Day 7: Wind SW F3, sea state 2

Our final half day's survey was from our overnight anchorage off the north coast of Anglesey, skirting the huge Rhyl Flats and Burbo Bank windfarms up to the Port of Liverpool.  We saw a good number of Common Gull, Common Scoter, some velvety Great Black-backed Gull, and many Cormorant sitting on the BAR lightship, but none of the frequently seen porpoises or seals.

We very much appreciated the hospitality offered by Captain Gornev and the crew of the Endeavor, and send grateful thanks to JR Shipping for allowing us the opportunity to survey on their ships.

Robin Langdon and Jenny Ball; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Enforcer’ Liverpool-Bristol-Bilbao-Liverpool 23-30 January 2018

Posted 03 February 2018

Stephen Dunstan and Jan Ozyer; MARINElife researchers from MARINElife
Liverpool-Bristol - Force 8 on 24th, calmer on approach to Bristol port on morning of 25th
Bristol-Bilbao - Moderate winds on 26th, light winds in northern Biscay on 27th
Bilbao - Liverpool - light winds on 29th and light to moderate winds on 30th.

Summary of sightings:

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 13
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 253
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 1
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 6
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 9
Common Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 43          
Leach's Petrel  Oceanodroma leucorhoa 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 161                                                            
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 16                          
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 303                        
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Common Gull   Larus canus 40
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15                                                                                          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 24
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 38          
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2                                              
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 406
Large Gull   Larus sp. 180                                                        
Razorbill,  Alca torda 28                                          
Guillemot   Uria aalge 25
Unidentified auk sp. 9
Puffin, Fratercula arctica 4

Landbirds seen offshore
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 3

Day 1

We boarded late Monday, departure wasn't until late Tuesday.  This gave us chance to take in the birds of the Seaforth Docks, which included some nice sightings.  A Peregrine flew low over the boat, and up to four Raven were in the vicinity.  A family party of five Mute Swan shared our dock for a while, and various groups of Canada Geese came through.  In the corner of the nature reserve to the north several species of wader and a few Grey Heron and Shelduck were present, and before dusk a sizeable gull roost had assembled.

Day 2

Overnight the boat had dropped anchor for several hours due to strong winds.  We deliberated as to whether to go to the bridge at first light given conditions were clearly still very challenging.  We went ahead, and though winds remained at Force 8 or thereabouts all day we did record for eight and a half hours.  Although numbers were relatively modest all the expected seabird species were seen as we headed south off the Welsh coast, i.e. Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill.

Kittiwake Graham Ekins 05

Kittiwake (Graham Ekins)

Day 3

We were on approach to Bristol at first light.  An hour or so on watch produced a few gulls of three species, and a couple of species of duck.  For the remainder of the day we were berthed in dock for unloading and loading.

Day 4

When we joined the bridge at first light we were leaving Bristol behind, and Lundy was on the horizon in front of us.  We didn't see any cetaceans before passing Lundy, but afterwards we saw several pods of Common Dolphin some of which were leaping clean out of the water.  Seabirds were largely the expected species of Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake and the larger auks.

Fulmar Mike Bailey 07

Fulmar (Mike Bailey)

Day 5

We were in Biscay when survey effort began.  We were stopped for a couple of hours near the shelf, and at this point up to 17 Kittiwake sheltered in our lea.  The seabird highlights however were two Little Gull, an adult and a first year seen separately as we headed south.  There were no cetaceans seen until late in the afternoon and nearing dusk, when one Striped Dolphin passed us.

Striped Dolphin 2

Striped Dolphin (Mike Bailey)

Day 6

We were docked in Bilbao and the survey team took the opportunity to walk up the hill adjacent to the port, a route made popular by passengers in the days of the Pride of Bilbao.  We weren't sure what to expect in January, but on a nice day we saw some good birds including Griffon Vulture, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Tit and a Tawny Owl which was being mobbed by a couple of Firecrest.  As we came back to the port a few Black Redstart and a couple of vocal Serin added to the variety in what was a most enjoyable rest day.

Tawney Owl Stephen Dunstan

Tawny Owl (Stephen Dunstan)

Day 7

When we started surveying we had already passed over the southern shelf and were in deep water.  The morning was quiet, but things started to gather pace at lunchtime with a pod of c20 Common Dolphin followed by the seabird highlight of the survey.  A Leach's Petrel was looking for food right in front of the boat, a decent record anywhere in Europe in January.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 13

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

We hoped that there would be a flurry of observations as we passed the northern canyon shelf, and we were not to be disappointed.  On the cetacean front two groups of Bottlenose Dolphin were followed by nine Long-finned Pilot Whale, which were seen very well as we passed alongside them at close range.

Pilot Whale Stephen Dunstan 02

Pilot Whale (Stephen Dunstan)

Common Dolphin meanwhile continued to be seen in decent numbers until we stopped surveying when the light began to go.  Other than the petrel the bird features included a Mediterranean Gull and several Great Skua.

Day 8

Surveying at dawn found us in the Celtic Sea.  A pod of presumed Common Dolphin in the half-light was followed by several pods throughout the day confirmed to be of this species.  As we were roughly level with Bardsey Island the first Harbour Porpoise of the trip was recorded to complete a decent selection of cetaceans for a January survey.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01

Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

The bird highlight of the day was a 'Blue' Fulmar of the northern dark morph, seen well by both surveyors as it went across the bow of the boat.  A couple of Kittiwake and a Herring Gull hitched a ride as we were in waters south west of Pembrokeshire.  One of the Kittiwake, other than for a brief time when it flew round assessing options, was still sitting tight after we had traversed the length of Wales and dusk set in.

We would like to thank Captain Ylja Lamberts and his friendly and accommodating staff.  We are particularly grateful as the Enforcer is not normally used on the Liverpool-Bilbao route and they have not had a MARINElife team on board before but were interested in our work and very good company throughout.

Stephen Dunstan and Jan Ozyer; Research Surveyors for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Bristol-Bilbao-Dublin-Liverpool 2-10 October 2017

Posted 16 October 2017

Robin Langdon; Researcher Surveyor for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 11
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 360
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 95
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 60
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomediea 7
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 330
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus baroli 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 15
Gannet Morus bassanus 516
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 12
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 34
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 31
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 177
Guillemot Uria aalge 499
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Auk sp. 4
Gull sp. 3
Diver sp. 17
Tern sp. 1
Skua sp. 1
Shearwater sp. 12

Terrestrial Birds
House Martin Delichon urbicum 1
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 1
White (Pied) Wagtail Motacilla alba 1
Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus 2

On the last survey I undertook to Bilbao, we had over 100 separate sightings of cetacean and over 1800 bird sightings.  So, as I was doing this survey by myself I thought I better get some training done before I turned up - I had a regime of 'Spot Thrusts' and 'Running on the Spot' to get my spotting abilities in top form!

Monday 2nd October

The weather was partly cloudy with a stiff breeze from the west.  There was a reasonable swell most of the day and a sea state of 4 to 6.

We set sail just before 13:00 UK time.  The spotting conditions were challenging with a reasonable swell and a sea state of 6 after leaving the port.  The conditions made it tricky to get the pilot off so he stay with us till we reached the shelter of Lyness Bay where he disembarked on to a launch and then he had a two-hour taxi ride back to Liverpool.

There were not large quantities of birds until we reached the shelter of the bay where large numbers of Kittiwake and Guillemot could be seen.  The only large quantity seen outside the bay were a group on Gannet living up to their name feeding round a fishing vessel.

Kittiwake Graham Ekins 07

Kittiwake (Graham Ekins)

The survey continued until the sunset in the hope of spotting some cetacean but alas none were seen, but tomorrows another day…

Tuesday 3rd October

… it's amazing how little life there seems to be in the Bristol Channel.

Meanwhile 8 hours earlier it all started very differently.

I got to the bridge a little before 7 am, before the sun had risen.  I got there early hoping there may be a nice sunrise.  It was still a bit gloomy to start the survey, so I was chatting to one of the crew members when out of the corner of my eye I spotted two silhouettes of dolphin heading away from the bow of the ship.  Presumable they had come into the ship to bow ride.  I had not started recording yet but the omens were good.  I could also see the odd Guillemot resting on the surface, this was going to be a good day.

I started at 7:30am and the sightings came slowly.  A few Guillemot and Kittiwake. There was even a Pied Wagtail that briefly landed on the ship before taking off again.  I continued to see the bird occasionally for the next couple of hours so must have found a perch out of sight somewhere on the ship.

45 minutes into the survey the first sighting of cetacean.  Two Common Dolphin came into the ship for a quick bow ride, an adult and juvenile.  Was this the start of the flood?

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 02

Common Dolphin (Rick Morris)

We were heading into the sun which made the spotting a little trickier.  It seemed as the sun moved off to the starboard side, the ship would turn to follow it.  The bird sightings got fewer and fewer and there were no more cetaceans spotted.  Not even a piece of chocolate cake brought up by the cook seem to do the trick.  As we approached the Severn Bridge, we took a right turn to head into Bristol dock and all I could conclude was "it's amazing how little life there seems to be in the Bristol Channel".

Interesting fact:  Bristol has one of the largest tidal flows on anywhere in the world.  It can vary by more than 30 feet meaning ships that were moored here in the past were beached at low tide, so had to be made of sturdy construction and the goods in the holds had to be securely stowed.  Hence the origin of the phrase 'Shipshape and Bristol fashion' meaning in good seamen like order.

Wednesday 4th October

Well after yesterday's excitements what was today going to bring?

We got underway by 8:30am and within minutes we had some bird sightings.  Quite a few Black-Headed Gull in their winter plumage.  There was also the odd Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull.  But then the sightings dried up again.  It seems they really did not like the Bristol Channel, well at least while I was looking.

Around about 11:00 I spotted a group of 3 Great Skua sitting on the water, they flew up as the boat passed.  No doubt they were discussing what they were going to do for lunch being as there were no birds around to pinch it from.

As we moved further down the channel there were a few more bird sightings, mainly of single Gannet.  There were no cetaceans spotted though there was a tantalising glimpse of something just in front of the boat that disappeared before it could be identified.

I was beginning to wonder if all my pre-survey training had done any good.

So, what lessons have we learnt over the last couple of days? Beware of omens foretelling of great things to come and chocolate cake does not help spot dolphins, though it does not hinder either.

Thursday 5th October

Thursday saw us crossing Biscay.  The weather was calm, a good day for spotting cetacean.  It started well with two sightings of Common Dolphin in the first 5 minutes of the start of the survey.  But then there were no more seen until almost 16:00 when another group of Common Dolphin was seen swimming away from the ship.

At about 18:45 I was just deciding if I should wrap up the survey for the day or go on until 19:00 as the light was starting to fade.  My deliberation was nicely over ruled by a group of 6 Bottlenose Dolphin coming into the bow.

BND Peter Howlett 16

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

There had been a steady flow of birds spotted up until about 11:00 when they too dwindled in number.  It seemed it was a day of 'G' birds as the vast majority were Gannet, Great Shearwater and Great Skua.  The 'G' party only being spoiled by a single Fulmar and Sooty Shearwater as well as few unidentified shearwaters.

Great Shearwater Martin Gillingham 0 1

Great Shearwater (Martin Gillingham)

There was a good number of immature Gannet amongst those seen.  There were a couple determined to get the count up as the re-appeared every 10 minutes or so as they made a wide circle round the ship.

The Captain pointed out how lovely the sun light looked as it shone down in shafts through the clouds.  For someone who presumable had been at sea for many years it was great to see how he was still getting enjoyment from nature.


Sunbeams (Robin Langdon)

Saturday 7th October

The conditions were better than on the way down.  Starting off with a sea state of 2 but reducing to 1 for a long period.  You felt if there was anything out there, you were going to see it.

After a day's rest in Bilbao I was hoping for better things on the return journey.  It started slowly but just before 9:00 something broke the surface near the ship.  It did surfaced 3 times but only just breaking the surface so was not able to decide what it was, possibly Tuna or may be Shark.  But at least there was something out there!

Just following this, the first confirmed sighting of a couple of Striped Dolphin.  There was then a steady flow of a sighting every 40 minutes through the morning.  After lunch when the sea state was at its best the sightings started to increase.

Striped Dolphin 4

Striped Dolphin (Mike Bailey)

With the conditions so good, it was possible to pick up sightings at greater distance.  This in itself brought other issues as the sun was behind which you would think was good.  However, this glinted off the cetacean making it difficult to identify them at distance.  What's this I hear you say, near perfect conditions and the Brit is still complaining about the weather.

Just after lunch there was a mad few minutes.  A Fin Whale crossed in front of the ship, followed by another whale coming directly at the ship.  This made it difficult to identify.  Just at this moment the 2nd Officer pointed out another group that turned out to be Pilot Whale, I presumed the unidentified one was also a Pilot Whale.  Just as I was trying to write this down, a pod of Common Dolphin came in on the bow followed by some Striped Dolphin crossing the bow.

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 03

Pilot Whale (Adrian Shephard)

The sightings continued through the afternoon and into the evening.  The final count for the day was 31 sightings which totalled 409 animals.  On the way down crossing virtually the same sea there was 4 sightings with a total of 19 animals.  The conditions were not very different.  So where were they on the way down?

As for the birds again there were not many around.  Up until 13:00 only 5 birds had been seen and one of these, a Black Redstart, was a stowaway on the ship that would appear periodically through the day.  I think Ireland, our next port of call, is going to get a new visitor.

Black Redstart_Robin Langdon

Black Redstart (Robin Langdon)

There quite large groups of Gannet and Great Shearwater seen throughout the afternoon.  These were mainly sitting round waiting for something to happen.  I had noticed that when the Gannet flew close to the water because it was so calm there was a reasonable reflection.  I decided to try and photograph this to show how calm it was.  However, the Gannet were not playing ball as they were all on the port side of the ship.  One passed in front of the ship again going to the port side so I decided to follow.  When I got to the port side, the Gannet I was following had joined up with a number of other Gannet and also a number of Common Dolphin in a bit of a feeding frenzy.  This now took my attention.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 11

Gannet (Carol Farmer-Wright)

So, what have we learnt today?  Well Brits always complain about the weather, good or bad.

Sunday 8th October

On getting to the bridge before sunrise, Captain Gornev informed me I had just missed some dolphins coming into the ship.  I had intended to start the survey at 7:30 but had to start 5 minutes early as the Captain had spotted yet more dolphin.

We continued to spot dolphins through the morning, the Captain spotting many of them first.  Then just after 9:00 the captain shout "whale blow".  This turned out to be a Minke whale that surfaced near the ship a few minutes later.

Minke Tom Brereton 01

Minke Whale (Tom Brereton)

The conditions through the day got better and better.  It went from a sea state 2 and 1 metre swell at the start of the day to 0 sea state and no swell by 13:30. Also it was overcast, so it produced a flat light, better for spotting than sun and less strain on the eyes.  You felt that if any cetacean stuck its head above the parapets it would be spotted, however these conditions only lasted an hour.

There were still however quite a few seen later and the perfect conditions returned at the end of the day as we approach Dublin and a number of Harbour Porpoise were spotted.  So not a bad day for the cetaceans.

The birds had the best day so far.  These were mainly Guillemot and Gannet sitting around on the calm sea.  A reasonable number of Kittiwake were spotted but only a single each of Manx Shearwater and Great Skua.

We arrived in Dublin just before 6 pm.

Monday 9th October

We left Dublin at 17:30 so there was only time to do a very short survey of just over an hour.  There were quite a few juvenile Herring Gull flying around the ship and Black Headed Gull resting in the water.  No Cetaceans were seen and the survey was wrapped up just before 7 pm.

I left the ship the following morning to head off for another survey from Heysham to Belfast.  I thanked the Captain and his crew for looking after me so well. Particular thanks to Oscar the cook who will be leaving the ship very soon so would be the last time I saw him, he is off to warmer waters.

Robin Langdon; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 7-13 September 2017

Posted 17 September 2017

Rob Petley-Jones; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

8 September - Wind WNW 5-3; Sea state 5 decreasing 3; Visibility initially 6, decreasing 3
9 September - Wind W-SW 1-3: Sea state 1 increasing 3; Visibility 6; Glare starboard
10 September - Wind WSW 5-9; Sea state 5 increasing 9; Swell 2 increasing 3; Visibility 5
11 September - Wind W 6-5; Sea state 6; Swell 3 easing to 2; Visibility 5-6
12 September - Wind W 1; Sea state 0-2; Swell 3 with long Atlantic swell; Visibility 6
13 September - Wind WNW 6 decreasing 4 increasing 7; Sea state 5-7; Swell 2; Visibility 6
14 September - Wind WNW 6-3; Sea state 6-3; Swell 2 decreasing 1; Visibility 6

Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 3
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 1
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 10
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 60
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 24
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 84
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomediea 179
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 1097
Macaronesian Shearwater Puffinus baroli 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3195
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 50
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1441
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 84
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Eider Somateria mollissima 79
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 18
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 4
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 42
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 99
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 82
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 31
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 359
Sabine's Gull Xema sabini 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 43
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 2
Puffin Fratercula arctica 10
Guillemot Uria aalge 1160
Razorbill Alca torda 22
Auk sp. 3

Terrestrial Birds
Raven Corvus corax 3
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
White (Pied) Wagtail Motacilla alba 1

Thursday 7 September

I arrived at Seaforth Dock at 07.00 and was very quickly welcomed on board the Endeavor and settled down to breakfast.

The ship had been delayed getting into port overnight, and those of the crew not on duty were sleeping in their cabins so I spend a couple of hours in my cabin settling in.  By lunchtime, everybody was awake so I met the captain and officers and proceeded to have lunch followed by a very thorough safety tour of the ship and a look at the bridge where I would be spending most of my time over the next week.

As the ship was not due to sail until the early hours I spent a quiet afternoon and evening preparing myself for the trip and sorting out the papers for the survey.

Friday 8 September: Isle of Man to Greenock

Dawn found the Endeavor off the Isle of Man heading north towards Greenock, and after a quick breakfast I was on the bridge to start recording just after sunrise.  There was a stiff NW wind and a choppy swell which made for a couple of hours of uncomfortable surveying, but conditions began to improve mid-morning despite regular heavy showers which continued for the rest of the day.

Rissos Dolphin Adrian Shephard 04

Risso's Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

With a steady sea state of 4-5, cetacean spotting was always going to be difficult, and in the end only one individual was recorded but as this was a Risso's Dolphin I was not too unhappy!  It suddenly appeared in my binocular view as I was scanning the sea ahead for resting seabirds.

There was a steady flow of sightings of Gannet, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake all day, with numbers of Gannet rising dramatically as the ship approached Ailsa Craig.  There were fewer auks than I had expected, these mostly Guillemot but with small numbers of Razorbill and couple of Puffin.  A Great Skua passed by in mid-afternoon.

Good numbers of Gannet were also recorded right up the Firth of Clyde to Greenock where the ship docked in the early evening.  The Firth also contained several different gull species, as well as fair numbers of Eider and a few Black Guillemot as we approached the dock.  An Arctic Skua chasing some Commic Tern and Sandwich Tern was a bonus, as was a Great Crested Grebe.

A very satisfying if somewhat tiring day with 11 hours of recording, so feet up in the evening to recover and to begin the huge task of entering all the exciting data onto the MARINElife spreadsheets!

Saturday 9 September - Greenock to Ailsa Craig

Dawn found the Endeavor still at her berth in Greenock, and while she was being loaded with her cargo I spent the morning finishing off yesterday's data inputting, with occasional breaks to watch the Eider flock just off the berth and the Cormorant gathering on the wreck of the MV Captayannis!

The weather was significantly improved on yesterday, with a gentle breeze occasionally ruffling an otherwise calm Firth of Clyde while the distant Trossachs were bathed in early autumn sunshine.  This must be one of the most beautiful views in Scotland!

It was therefore a bit frustrating as the expected departure time slipped by and it was only at 16.00 when the Endeavor slipped her moorings and we began to slide down the tranquil waters of the Clyde.

But it was really worth the wait!  The next hour was one of those rare periods that all marine surveyors dream of - mirror calm waters occasionally broken by gleaming black backs and dorsal fins!  By the end of that hour I had recorded 22 Harbour Porpoise and six Bottlenose Dolphin, as well as a Grey Seal.

BND Adrian Shephard 04

Bottlenose Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

Many of these animals were busy feeding, and there were two groups of six Harbour Porpoise feeding together with the Bottlenose Dolphins.  More remarkable was that all this activity was going on amidst very busy Saturday afternoon boating traffic, from large freight ships, through Calmac ferries, to many small launches and sail boats. The animals seemed not to care about all this activity so there must be something very special about the Clyde which keeps them happy!

With all these cetaceans, the bird life was having to take a bit of a back seat for my attention, but as the Endeavour passed out into the Firth of Clyde, I could no longer ignore the birds.  There were very large rafts of Guillemot (where were they yesterday?) and Manx Shearwater across the sea surface, and on the approach to Ailsa Craig numbers of Gannet increased dramatically.  As we passed this magnificent basalt island with its hexagonal columnar cliffs I was amazed by the numbers of breeding Gannet still on site, all precisely spaced so regularly across the nest areas above the cliffs. Even more spectacular were the many hundreds of Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake frantically feeding on a fish shoal alongside the starboard beam of the ship!  To cap a perfect recording session there were further Harbour Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphin to record!

I stayed on the bridge until sunset at 20.30 (ship's time!) with Ailsa Craig disappearing into the dusk behind us, while ahead loomed a large bank of cloud.  This was the forerunner of tomorrow's expected foul weather, and already the sea state had notched up a few levels.  The captain asked me if I got sea-sick………!  Hmmmm…..

Gannet Graham Ekins 07

Gannets (Graham Ekins)

Sunday 10 September - St David's Head to Ushant

The stormy weather was the star performer today, with gales from first light and a very heavy Atlantic swell up to 6 metres throughout the day.  Frequent heavy squally showers and a period of more prolonged rain midday reduced visibility considerably.  The rolling of the ship meant that standing on the bridge became increasingly difficult, let alone trying to hold up binoculars or writing records on the log sheets!

Despite these very challenging conditions and that the gale seemed at times to have swept all life from the ocean, this was a remarkably successful day!  Although things were fairly quiet for the first few hours with regular Gannet and Manx Shearwater, and a lull midday as we approached Land's End and the Scillies, things perked up as we passed into the Western Approaches on our way towards Ushant.  To lift the quality of records, a solitary Balearic Shearwater (in its dark Sooty Shearwater lookalike phase) passed in front of the bow just after lunch.  The first of six encounters with Short-beaked Common Dolphin began as the Endeavor passed the Scillies, all of these animals leaping with glee through the mountainous swell to try to bow-ride in front of the ship!

One unforgettable moment of delight was a gathering of the Clan Shearwater, when numbers of Cory's, Great, Balearic and Manx Shearwater all appeared together in one flock, accompanied by a Common Dolphin, as a five metre Atlantic breaker approached the beam of the ship!

Corys Shearwater 03_Graham Ekins

Cory's Shearwater (Graham Ekins)

The storm continues tonight as I try to write this blog - if only the mouse would stop madly swerving about the desk in an attempt to delete all the text!

Monday 11 September - Mid Biscay to Bilbao

The stormy weather had eased somewhat overnight but a powerful Atlantic swell remained dominant all day, and strong winds meant the sea state was too severe for effective cetacean spotting.  Birds seemed to have been swept from the sea and sightings were few and far between throughout the 10-hour recording period.

However, there were some notable sightings, with the first bird of the day being a Pomarine Skua, followed soon after by the first of the day's Cory's Shearwater.  As I watched this bird sweep by, I noticed a tiny Storm Petrel just in front of the ship's bow.   There followed a very slow progression of Gannet in various age classes, more Cory's Shearwater, a few Great Skua and another Pomarine Skua, but generally the sea scape was devoid of life for much of the time.  By tea-time and after 8 hours recording I had seen only 50 individual birds and no cetaceans!

However, after tea things revived somewhat with a distant blow of a Fin Whale restoring my enthusiasm, followed almost immediately by a superb Sabine's Gull.

Sabine Gull Adrian Shephard

Sabine's Gull (Adrian Shephard)

This seems to have opened the flood gates a little and as the Endeavor approached the Spanish coast at sunset there was a brief flurry of activity from Great, Cory's and Balearic Shearwaters.  Not huge numbers but somewhat satisfying after what had been a very long day.

Tuesday 12 September - Santurtzi (port for Bilbao) then South Biscay

This would have been a fine day to be out in Biscay recording cetaceans, but the Endeavor was in port loading up her next cargo, so I took advantage of the weather to walk up Serantes Hill to the radio mast station at the top.  This is a great place for wildlife and although most of the flowers were over I did find one of the specialities of the site, some Autumn Lady's Tresses.

Autumn Ladies Tresses

Autumn Ladies Tresses (Adrian Shephard)

A good number of butterflies were flying, including lots of very fresh male Adonis Blue and a couple of Clouded Yellow.  There were large flocks of Goldfinch and Greenfinch feeding on the teasel seed heads, and small flocks of Stonechat were everywhere.  Several Sardinian Warbler were hiding in the scrub.  I was delighted to see a pair of Chough on the heather-clay upper heights, and the visit was superbly rounded off when a Booted Eagle and a Griffon Vulture soared over head!

After the hill, a hike into Santurtzi was entertaining as everybody was out enjoying the sunshine.

The Endeavor was loaded and ready for sailing by 19.00, so I spent a productive 90 minutes surveying as we passed out into Biscay.  I made a tally of the numerous Yellow-legged Gull inside the breakwater the harbour, and as the ship passed the breakwater I watched an Arctic Skua as it successfully harried a Commic Tern for its tea!  A White Wagtail briefly stopped for a rest on one of the containers, but wisely resumed its migration to Spain some 2 km to the south, instead of hitching a ride with us back to the UK!

Shearwater activity began soon afterwards with a steady passage of Cory's and Balearic Shearwater, while a Pomarine Skua and another Arctic Skua passed by close to the bow.  Further out, and beautifully picked out by the strong rays of the setting sun, I watched a group of Great, Cory's and Balearic Shearwater feeding, with the Cory's plunging dramatically at low angles into the sea.

As the sun set, I saw some splashing away ahead to starboard, and a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphin came plunging in to bow ride on the ship.  An excellent way to end this short but very productive spell of survey.

Serantes Hill wildlife
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus 1
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus 1
Sparrowhawk Accipter nisus 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
White Wagtail Moticilla alba 2
Wren Trolodytes troglodytes 4
Stonechat Saxicola torquata 30
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala 5
Phylloscopus warbler sp. 4
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus 2
Magpie Pica pica 10
Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 2
Raven Corvus corax 3
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor 12
House Sparrow Passer domesticus 30
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 50
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris 30

Butterflies and Moths
Small White 5
Clouded Yellow 3
Adonis Blue 30
Small Copper 1
Southern Speckled Wood 1
Wall 10
Small Heath 1
Gatekeeper 1
Meadow Brown 4

Plants of note
Autumn Lady's Tresses
Maiden Pink

Wednesday 13 September - Mid Biscay to North Biscay

The day began quietly with overcast skies and regular rain showers, and with few birds for the first hour.  There followed a steady passage on the moderate westerly winds of Cory's Shearwater and Great Shearwater, with a few Great Skua and a single Fulmar (my only record for Biscay!). A superb light phase Pomarine Skua also flew past along the port bow.

Two simultaneous strong blows just off the port bow indicated the presences of large roquals, probably Fin Whale, but the strong swell prevented my getting any view of the actual animals!

Fin Whale Brittany

Fin Whale (Adrian Shephard)

I had more luck with the pod of 32 Short-beaked Common Dolphin that came into bow ride for a few minutes just before lunch.  They had appeared as I was assessing a huge flock of shearwaters which the ship had been passing through for several minutes, virtually all of these Great Shearwater, but with small numbers of Cory's and Balearic Shearwater as well.

The steady flow of records of the large shearwaters continued well into the afternoon, but the sea became very quiet after tea, with just 2 Short-beaked Common Dolphin coming in to bow ride and a solitary Great Skua rising from the sea and flying off.  Virtually the last bird of the day came as low bright sunshine picked out a super little Macaronesian Shearwater resting on the water only 50 metres out from the starboard bow. Quite far north for this species, but perhaps not so unexpected after the fierce Atlantic weather of the last week.

Thursday 14 September - Severn Sea-Isle of Man

The last of the Atlantic swell began the day but this soon dissipated as the Endeavor entered the shelter of the Celtic Sea with Ireland to the west, and the rest of the day was typical Irish Sea.

Throughout the day there was a steady stream of Gannet and Fulmar, especially as we passed Skomer, with sporadic Manx Shearwater and Puffin.  A Great Skua and rather bizarrely a Sabine's Gull (good record for the Irish Sea) were reminders of the Biscay seascape now far behind.

A small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphin came briskly in to play on the bow wave as we passed Bardsey, but towards dusk after South Stack the sea became empty of wildlife.

Common Dolphin with calf John Arnott 01

Common Dolphin (John Arnott)

A quiet end to my very full week of survey from the Endeavor, with the weather perhaps not behaving quite as I would have liked, but what a rare privilege to see Biscay in all its wild fury!

My thanks to RV Shipping and especially to Captain Vladimir Gornev and his crew for making this survey possible.

Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 14-20 August 2017

Posted 25 August 2017

MARINELife Survey Report: JR Shipping 'Endeavor' Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 19-27 July 2017
Monday 14th August: Wind SW 12 Knots; rain early am and then from 14.00 until dusk. Visibility poor during rain but otherwise good.
Tuesday 15th August: Wind SW 10 Knots increasing slightly during the intermittent heavy showers that lasted until mid-evening. Visibility good to excellent except in the heaviest rain showers.
Wednesday 16th August: am: Wind SW 16 Knots until mid-day when it slowly increased to 24 Knots by mid-afternoon. Cloudy all day with visibility deteriorating from mid-day. Intermittent rain and occasional low cloud then continued until dusk.
Thursday 17th August: am: Wind W 10 Knots, low cloud and rain clearing later with light, high cloud by 13.00. Wind decreased pm and skies cleared, wind remained a very light SW until dusk.
Friday 18th August: Wind 5 Knots from SW, low cloud and intermittent heavy showers from mid-morning until mid-afternoon, then dry and sunny until dusk with a 4 Knot SW.
Saturday 19th August: am Wind 4 Knots from NW with scattered cloud and good visibility; swell between 1 and 2 metres from NW: pm Wind increased to 14 Knots, still from NW, sunny with excellent visibility, swell continued until dusk.
Sunday 20th August: am: Overcast with a very light NW wind later backing light NE; good visibility, dry with little swell. pm: from late afternoon light rain and reduced visibility still with a very light NE

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 38
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 57
Short-beaked Common Dolphin D. delphis 588
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 51
Unidentified Dolphin:sp 10
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 12
Sperm Whale  Physeter microcephalus 4
Cuvier's beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 4
Unidentified Whale sp 1
Grey Seal  Phoca vitulina 10

Other aquatic species
Ocean Sunfish  Mola mola 1
(Blue-finned) Tuna Thunnus (thynnus) 14

Common Scoter   Melanitta nigra 9
Eider Somateria molissima 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 318
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 2074
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 12
Cory's Shearwater  Calonectris diomedea 485
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 5956
Baroli's Shearwater  Puffinus Baroli 2
Unidentified Small Shearwater 8
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 30
Wilson's Storm Petrel  Oceanites oceanicus 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 2249                              
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 36
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 73
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 10
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 5
Arctic skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Long-tailed Skua  Stercoraius longicaudus 1        
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 7
Common Gull   Larus canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 634                                                                  
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 242
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 45        
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 32
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 4                      
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 624
Large Gull Larus sp 80
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 94
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 38
Roseate Tern  Sterna dougallii 1
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 20
Little Tern  Sternula albifrons 3
Razorbill,  Alca torda 391
Guillemot   Uria aalge 2439
Black Guillemot Cephus grille 20
Puffin, Fratercula arctica 1

Terrestrial Birds seen offshore
Great-crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 4
Swift Apus apus 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1


Sunday 13th August 2017

After a trouble-free drive north from Suffolk Robin Langdon and myself arrived at Liverpool Royal Seaforth Dock entrance. Here our passports were checked and security drove us to the M.V.  Endeavor. Captain Vitaly Shutov and his officers made us very welcome, we were then shown to our excellent cabins.  A short while later we were sitting down to a very enjoyable meal prepared by the Chef, Oscar Pacamana.  He had also been on the Endeavor on our April and May surveys and had provided us with some superb meals.  During the afternoon we prepared all the files for the recording that would take place the following day as we travelled north through the Firth of Clyde en-route to Greenock. A check of the nearby intertidal pools just north of the Royal Seaforth Dock resulted in the logging of 250 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, many still in summer plumage, 50 presumably Icelandic Redshank, 15 Whimbrel, 8 Curlew and a surprise in a Wood Sandpiper, not usually found on inter-tidal waters and 25 Common Tern with many juveniles.  I then checked the roof of the flour mill and found a roosting male Peregrine.

Monday 14th August

After a refreshing night's sleep we were up on the bridge at dawn. The forecasted rain had held off and the grey light was great for picking up seabirds and cetaceans.  We started recording off the south-west coast of the Isle of Man en-route to Greenock. We were kept very busy with large numbers of Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Kittiwake and the occasional Storm Petrel. We had an enjoyable time studying the different plumages of adult and immature Herring, Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gull that were roosting on the ships containers.  We also had 3 adult Kittiwake join the larger gulls for a short while. It looked as if the local Guillemot had a good breeding season as we saw many adults with well-grown chicks in attendance. As we passed Ailsa Craig we started to see large flocks of roosting Manx Shearwater, presumably waiting until dusk before they returned to their breeding burrows. We took very atmospheric pictures of the island with the upper half shrouded by mist. By now we were due south of The Isle of Arran and to our surprise a large warship appeared in the distance heading rapidly south. This was the very impressive aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth en-route to Portsmouth. We had great views as it passed on our port side.

As we continued north we encountered more flocks of roosting Manx Shearwater including a flock of over 500. Shortly afterwards we saw a large flock of mainly Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater and a Storm Petrel feeding over a group of actively fishing cetaceans, they proved to be 3 Bottlenose Dolphin and 2 Harbour Porpoise. This was the first time I had seen this communal feeding activity between these species.  A short while later I had another first for a MARINElife survey when a migrating flock of 17 Arctic Tern was found to have an adult Roseate Tern amongst them. Luckily, I managed to get an image for confirmation.

Roseate Tern 1_Graham Ekins

Roseate Tern (Graham Ekins)

As we continued North past The Isle of Arran we came across 2 more groups of Harbour Porpoise making a total of seven for day.  We also had a bull Grey Seal swim rapidly past the ship.  By the time we approached Greenock Dock we had logged over 1,700 Manx Shearwater, 400 Gannet and 250 Guillemot amongst a great variety of other interesting species.

Tuesday 15th August 2017

As we were not due to sail until mid-day I decided to walk along the esplanade to the south of Greenock Dock.  This was very enjoyable as the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. I had to search for the Black Guillemot as the young had fledged from their harbour wall nesting sites.  I finally found small groups of adults and young well out on the open water. This also applied to the Eider, they were also far out from the shore.  Close to the breakwater were some fishing Shag while the local Jackdaw were vocal and very tame.

Greenock Graham Ekins

Greenock (Graham Ekins)

We just had time to finish our excellent lunch before we were up on the bridge to start surveying for the southbound leg of the survey. Initially it was dry but before long the first of many intense rain showers appeared from the SW. We were surprised by the large flocks of roosting Manx Shearwater so far up the Firth of Clyde. We also found many family groups of Guillemot.  It was interesting to see that many of the adults photographed were in full wing moult and so flightless. In fact we only saw one flying Auk throughout our survey and that was a Puffin.



Each fishing boat that we passed had large numbers of adult Gannet as well as many Herring Gull of various ages but the numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull were far fewer than in the May survey suggesting that part of the breeding population had already started migrating south. As we headed south past The Isle of Arran we had our first sighting of the day of 2 Harbour Porpoise on the Starboard side of the ship. Over the next two hours we had 3 more sightings of five different animals.

As we continued south towards Ailsa Craig the numbers of Gannet, Kittiwake and Guillemot steadily increased. We passed close to the western side of the island and photographed the vast Gannetry in the sunshine between the showers. It really was very impressive.  For the rest of the afternoon and evening flocks of Gannet passed us heading to or from the colony, often in long undulating skeins. We also passed large mixed flocks of Guillemot and the occasional Razorbill with well grown young in their midst. It was very impressive.  We were also delighted to see so many young Kittiwake suggesting that they had also a good breeding season. Mid-evening 3 Short-beaked Common Dolphin came briefly towards the ship, we were delighted to see them as they were the first of this survey. We continued to record until dusk finding increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater and Fulmar as well as many more family groups of Guillemot. We also had a couple of adult Arctic Tern pass the ship heading south, the only ones seen during the day.

Guillemot Graham Ekins 04

Moulting Guillemots (Graham Ekins)

After leaving the bridge and making a refreshing cup of tea I started to write up the blog for the day while Robin started the mammoth job of entering the day's data.

Wednesday 16th August 2017

After another restful night's sleep we were up on the bridge at dawn to start our recording. We were in St George's Channel off St David's Head en-route to Lands End.  Although overcast visibility was excellent and we were soon recording large numbers of Gannet and Manx Shearwater, the majority overtaking the ship and heading SW. As we passed over the Celtic Deep we were delighted to find both a Minke and a Fin Whale within a few minutes of each other. The latter was totally unexpected so far to the North.  A few minutes later we had a small group of Short-beaked Common Dolphin come into bow-ride before diving under the ship. We then had several more small groups approach the ship during the rest of the morning.

Later in the morning a flock of 4 Whimbrel overtook the ship and continued south into the strengthening wind. Shortly afterwards we found a flock of 500 feeding Manx Shearwater, it was an impressive site as birds continuously moved forward and dived into the sea. Shortly afterwards we found three separate flocks of roosting Fulmar totalling 200 birds, an unusually high total. The massive passage of Gannet and Manx Shearwater continued until mid-morning, slowly decreasing as we approached Lands End early afternoon.  As the wind strengthened and the cloud lowered we came across a Great Shearwater and several Manx Shearwater flying towards a distant flock of fishing seabirds.  As we approached we were amazed to see that it contained 80 Great, 30 Cory's, 5 Sooty, one Balearic and 200 Manx Shearwater as well as over 100 mainly immature Gannet. By now we were 22 Nautical Miles SSE of the Isles of Scilly.  We took several photographs of this memorable sight.

Ailsa Craig_Graham Ekins

Ailsa Graig Gannetry (Graham Ekins)

As we continued south the numbers of seabirds decreased but one small group of Manx Shearwater had a Petrel busy foot paddling amongst them. A close inspection proved it to be a Wilson's Petrel, this was the first on this survey after having logged several Storm Petrel the previous days. We then saw 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphin coming in to bow ride, we were delighted to see that 30% of the group were juveniles.  Over the next 40 minutes three smaller pods also came in to the ship. Then off on the port side a pair of Striped Dolphin jumped energetically clear of the water.

Wilsons Petrel Graham Ekins 01

Wilson's Petrel (Graham Ekins)

During the evening the mist descended and the visibility deteriorated. We decided to finish recording and start to enter data and write the blog. It had been a very rewarding day with so many great Cetacean and Seabird sightings.

Thursday 17th August

When we arrived on the bridge at dawn it was misty with some light rain.  However, within the hour the cloud lifted, the rain stopped and visibility rapidly improved. This was going to be a memorable day as we travelled south over several deep canyons and on to the Golf de Gascogne before reaching Bilbao Harbour.  Within minutes we had our first Great and Cory's Shearwater of the day, light was still poor but it was pleasing to see them. As we continued south we started to see more Cory's Shearwater with several coming close to the boat. The surprise was to see steadily increasing numbers of Great Shearwater, initially in small groups heading rapidly south but later we came across feeding flocks, often with Cory's Shearwater and Storm Petrel in attendance and sometimes associating with feeding Short-beaked Common Dolphin. Flock sizes varied from 12 to an amazing 300 with over 1,000 logged by the end of the day.  We did not see any large groups of Cory's Shearwater but we still logged an impressive 96.

As the visibility improved early morning we were thrilled to see 2 Sperm Whale off the port side, sadly they were quickly lost to view. They were seen over the Canyon des Sables d'Olonne where we had several Fin Whale on previous surveys. This was the start of what proved to be a memorable day for cetaceans.  Mid-morning we passed a shoal of Blue-finned Tuna, these were the first ones I had seen in Biscay for nearly 20 years, Robin and I were delighted.  Shortly afterwards a pod of 60 Short-beaked Common Dolphin came into bow-ride. The youngsters certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

At mid-day we had views of three Fin Whale as they swam past on the starboard side of the boat.  We then had a pod of three more during the early afternoon. The cetacean fest continued with a male Cuvier's Beaked Whale apparently displaying. Even though he was at some distance his pale colouration showed well in the sunshine.  A few minutes later a pair of Striped Dolphin were seen on the Port side, always a great species to see on any Biscay survey. Then 20 minutes later the observations were repeated with another male Cuvier's and 2 more Striped Dolphin. As we continued south in bright sunshine and ever decreasing winds we started to see more European Storm Petrel with one attendant Wilson's showing the pale carpel patches, brighter rump and the classic pattering flight, we logged 2 more before the end of the day.

Cuvierz BW Graham Ekins 4

Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Graham Ekins)

We continued to see the occasional small groups of Great and Cory's Shearwaters but another big surprise was to find 2 Baroli Shearwater sitting on the glass-like surface, they were very reticent to fly. In the very light winds we found a slow moving and photogenic female Cuvier's with another 30 minutes later.  Within 40kms of the coast we started to find pods of feeding Bottlenose Dolphin with a total of 36 logged from three pods, amongst the pods several young were observed. Then just 5kms from the harbour a 2nd year Long-tailed Skua flew past. As we watched this scarce species a blow was seen which proved to be an adult Fin Whale with a youngster, this was totally unexpected so far south.

As we watched the whales an Ocean Sunfish swam past, clearly visible in the crystal clear water.  Over the next 30 minutes we picked up a few adult and one juvenile Yellow-legged Gull. These were the only gulls seen in Biscay as we headed south. As we entered the harbour we could see hundreds of people sun-bathing on the Bilbao beach in the superb evening sunshine.

It had been a truly memorable day with so many fascinating cetacean and seabird sightings. After packing away our gear Robin started to enter data while I updated the blog as the last rays of the evening sun shone through the porthole of my cabin.

Friday 18th August (in Bilbao)

After an enjoyable breakfast I spent time checking through the gulls and terns in Bilbao Harbour.  Amongst the approximately 100 Yellow-legged Gull was a Mediterranean and 2 juvenile Audouin's Gull.  On the various buoys in the harbour were both Sandwich and Common Tern.  The cloud had rolled in overnight and so there was no sign of visible migration along the nearby ridge, however, it was great to see 5 Crossbill flying around one of the pine plantations and 2 Cattle Egret in the nearby horse fields.  At the base of the hillside on a fence was a Red-backed Shrike while on a nearby hedge were 6 very active Bee-eater.  Robin and I spent time working on data entry and the blog.

During the late afternoon the rain stopped and the low cloud lifted. A scan of the nearby hill and radar tower showed a flock of Jackdaw and a Black Kite moving west, then before we left the dock I found 2 Griffon Vultures soaring high over the hill and drifting west.  An enjoyable and relaxing day.

We left the mooring at 19.00 and had time for an hour surveying before the light failed.  We had a couple of flocks of Gannet heading west and several adult and immature Yellow-legged Gull just off the entrance to the harbour. Just before we stopped recording a pod of 32 Short-beaked Common Dolphin came into bow ride.  We left the bridge and updated our data file and blog before retiring for the night.

Saturday  19th August

We were on the bridge to see a beautiful dawn, the sun rising in the east through a thin layer of cloud.  The wind was light and the visibility excellent, just a steady swell from the NW. This was to prove to be yet another excellent day for cetaceans and seabirds.

The first Cetacean of the day was a large Fin Whale whose blow was visible in the light winds for quite a time.  Within minutes of this sighting we added two Sperm Whale making four for the survey.  We had only just finished recording the details when 2 more Fin Whale were logged close together.  What an excellent start to the northward leg of the survey.  Just a few minutes later 20 Striped Dolphin appeared close to the boat with a small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphin.

Sperm Whale Graham Ekins

Sperm Whale (Graham Ekins)

Over the next hour we recorded three more pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin coming to bow-ride and one of Striped.  All showed well in the light winds. While we logged the cetaceans we had a steady stream of Cory's Shearwater pass the bows, often giving great views. We also had the first of three adult pale-phase Pomarine Skua pass us heading steadily SW. The numbers of Cory's Shearwater continued to increase during the morning. An impressive sight was a flock of 60 busy feeding with a couple of attendant Great Skua.  We also started to see small groups of Great Shearwater, the numbers of these steadily increasing as we headed north.  As we approached the shallower water of the continental shelf we had several groups of terns rapidly pass the ship heading SW, they comprised 16 Arctic and 23 Common Tern. At the same time we started to record the first of several first summer Gannet.

Striped Dolphin Graham Ekins 02

Striped Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

After a two hour gap we started to record several more pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin and another one of Striped. We also had great views of a small group of large Blue-finned Tuna, the second sighting of the survey. During the afternoon, the numbers of Great Shearwater logged continued to increase with lesser numbers of Cory's Shearwater.  Mid-afternoon we also had very brief views of a rapidly flying flock of what were almost certainly 8 Baroli's Shearwaters but frustratingly images of the small Shearwaters taken through the UV filtered glass of the bridge could not confirm the sighting.

Great Shearwater 01_Graham Ekins

Great Shearwater (Graham Ekins)

Early evening saw us add an impressive feeding group of 250 Great, 50 Cory's and 4 Sooty Shearwater. By then we were 150 kms SSE of the Isles of Scilly.  Shortly afterwards we had great views of a small pod of feeding Bottlenose Dolphin with an attendant group of Manx Shearwater. For the rest of the evening small groups of Short-beaked Common Dolphin delighted us as they came to bow ride or dive under the ship. By the end of the day notable totals included 255 Short-beaked Common and 43 Striped Dolphin as well as 1030 Great and 355 Cory's Shearwater. We left the bridge at dusk delighted with recording such a wide variety of seabirds and cetaceans.

Corys Shearwater 02_Graham Ekins

Cory's Shearwater (Graham Ekins)

Sunday 20th August 2017

At dawn we were off the Welsh Pembrokeshire Peninsular in St George's Channel and were pleased  that when we went up to the bridge to start surveying we found an almost flat calm sea with light cloud, ideal viewing conditions for both cetaceans and seabirds.  Within minutes we recorded a group of Short-beaked Common Dolphin and the first of four pods of Bottlenose Dolphin, all busy fishing.  We also had a couple of pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin coming in to bow ride.  For the first two hours a steady stream of Manx Shearwater flew west past the ship accompanied by European Storm Petrel, Fulmar and Gannet.  While small pods of Harbour Porpoise were very much in evidence. Amongst the many Eurasian Storm Petrel we found our 6th Wilson's Storm Petrel of the survey as well as our last and most northerly Cory's Shearwater. We also had large numbers of mainly Guillemot with well grown juveniles and our only Puffin of the survey flew east. As we headed north into the more open water of Cardigan Bay the number of seabirds recorded decreased, however, as some compensation we continued to find Harbour Porpoise in the excellent viewing conditions.

We also had an adult Pomarine Skua briefly attack an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull before continuing south. As we continued North past Bardsey Island and into Caernarfon Bay the numbers of Guillemot recorded decreased but we found more family groups of Razorbill. All morning the cloud bank to the SW was steadily approaching and as it did so the wind went around to the NE and a light drizzle started. However, visibility was still good.  As we approached the Holyhead Peninsular we encountered increasing numbers of Auks with many immature birds. We continued to encounter large flocks as we rounded Anglesey and headed towards Liverpool Bay.

As we approached the vast wind farm off the Mersey River Estuary we started to find more Harbour Porpoise as well as a few Grey Seal. We also continued to record many groups of Guillemot and Razorbill with well-grown young. The numbers were impressive with 1113 Guillemot and 332 Razorbill logged by the time we docked.  As we approached the Mersey River mouth a flock of Common Scoter flew across the bows while an adult pale-phase Arctic Skua flew west, both new species for the survey.

Gannet 2 year Graham Ekins 05

2nd Year Gannet (Graham Ekins)

As we slowed to enter the river a group of 20 Common and 2 Arctic Tern started to follow the ship accompanied by 4 adult Little Gull.  Over the next 10 minutes many Lesser Black backed and Common Gull joined the throng. As we passed one of the large sandbanks Robin found 4 Grey Seal hauled out, they were close enough to give us great views.  Shortly afterwards we were nearing the lock entrance and so we finished our recording and packed away our equipment for the last time.

Captain Vitaly Shutov kindly allowed us to stay on board until the following morning.

We thanked him, his Officers and staff for making this such an enjoyable survey. The following morning we also thanked Oscar Pacamana, the Chef for providing us with such great meals.

We would also like to thank JR Shipping for making it possible to survey this very important route.

This was another very successful survey with 776 Cetaceans/sea mammals and 15,974 sea birds logged.

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife.

MARINELife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 19-27 July 2017

Posted 04 August 2017

Maggie Gamble and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 5
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 147
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 26
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 56
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 19
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 4
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Northern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon ampullatus 2
Unidentified Dolphin 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Other Marine Life
Tuna Sp. 3

Common Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 168
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 917
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 20
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis 113
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Wilson's Storm Petrel Oceanicus oceanicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1013
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 39
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 96
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 49
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 44
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 294
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 7
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 12
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 6
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 11
Guillemot Uria aalge 1197
Razorbill Alca torda 86
Puffin Fratercula arctica 7
Unidentified Large Gull sp. 1420
Unidentified Shearwater Sp.  39
Unidentified Tern Sp. 19
Unidentified Auk Sp. 1339
Unidentified Duck Sp. 2

Terrestrial birds during survey effort
House Martin  Delichon urbicum 1
Swift Apus apus 3
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Feral Pigeon 2


Wednesday was a gloriously sunny day as we made our way to Liverpool docks.  We parked up and were escorted to the MV Endeavor.  The Second Officer - Ignatius Perez warmly welcomed us on board, introduced us to the Captain - Vitaly Shutov, and showed us to our cabins which were very spacious and comfortable!  He informed us that dinner would be soon and so we headed back to the officers mess and had a sumptuous salad.  The ship was scheduled to leave Liverpool before breakfast the next day, so we arranged to be on the bridge by 8am the next morning.

Liverpool Docks_Maggie Gamble

Liverpool Docks (Maggie Gamble)


We were both aware of when we moved from the dockside and so were awake in plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast and then up to the bridge.  We made it out to clear waters by 8:30am having dropped off the pilot.  Weather conditions were good with low to little swell, a few white caps with clear visibility.  Our route to Greenock took us south of the Isle of Man, then north travelling along its west coast and the east coast of Ireland.  In the early hours of the evening as we were approaching Scottish waters the sharp eye of Maggie spotted a large amount of white water on the horizon on the port side.  A cetacean was breaching yet deemed it appropriate not to show us what they were so we concluded that as the white water was bigger than that created by a dolphin species it would have been a whale, the most likely being a Minke.  A great start for cetacean sightings!!  We made our way to bed after the sun set with a smile on our faces! Manx Shearwater were the clear winners of the day for numbers seen followed by Gannet, Guillemot, Kittiwake and Larus gull species.

Manx Shearwater Rick Morris 06

Manx Shearwater (Rick Morris)


The following day we rose early to try and make the most of the daylight hours.  Sadly, we were greeted with a grey, wet day with poor visibility.  We reassessed after breakfast giving it a while to brighten.  When we returned to the bridge the pilot was on board guiding us into Greenock docks.  Due to unforeseen circumstances our arrival had been delayed which provided us with an opportunity to explore Greenock.  The local theatre's cafe was recommended to us - The Beacon Cafe - which we would happily recommend to any going to Greenock!  Great carrot cake, service and atmosphere!  We had dinner off the boat too at Torino's restaurant - another great recommendation with fab pizza and homemade burgers! Once again the Manx Shearwater were the winners of the day.  Gannet, Herring Gull and Auk species were runners up.  Sadly, no cetaceans were spotted during the day.


The morning started off with data entry whilst the loading of the ship was finished.  This was done quickly and efficiently as we left ahead of schedule!  Once again, we were piloted out of Greenock to clear waters.  Our attentions were kept heightened as numerous sea birds flew or floated past.  A juvenile Eider duck paddled past oblivious of the huge freight ship going by!  The weather was kind to us for the day with great visibility, calm waters and few white caps.  As we approached Ailsa Craig, large numbers of Gannets were seen on and in the water as well as flying past in all directions, ones and twos but then great long lines of them as they also got closer to the Crag.  Hundreds if not thousands were on the Crag nesting!!  The side of the cliff face was visibly white even from a distance - the white being both bird and poop!  A number of shags were mixed into those breeding on the Crag as well as in flight to and from.  Auk species were in abundance mainly during the afternoon/evening when the waters were exceptionally calm!  Guillemot parings of father and juvenile fledgling making their way in the world were often seen throughout the day, the occasional Puffin was also thrown into the mix.

Ailsa Craig_Maggie Gamble

Ailsa Craig (Maggie Gamble)

Due to the calm waters, it was the day of the Harbour Porpoise!!  They seemed to pop up everywhere!  A good number of Common Dolphin were also spotted along with Grey Seal bobbing at the surface.  The last sighting of the day was of a juvenile Minke Whale feeding amongst Manx Shearwater!  What a way to end the day!

Minke Adrian Shephard 04

Minke Whale (Adrian Shephard)


We had another early start to the day, yet we found a good sea state and visibility but with a fair amount of swell.  When we arrived at the bridge we were still in the Irish Sea just north of Holyhead.  We had a couple of early morning sightings of both Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin heading towards the boat.

BND Peter Howlett 05

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

As the swell and sea state reduced we were passing between Lands End and the Scilly Isles, spotting the Seven Stones light boat on the starboard side.  A small pod of Common Dolphin was spotted feeding amongst Manx Shearwater and Larus gull species.  A fair amount of sea traffic was encountered as we passed the English Channel heading south.  Freight vessels twice the size of us as well as fishing vessels and sailing yachts were manoeuvred passed safely, we were on our way to 'The Biscay'.  By 8:30pm we were off Iles de Glenan, north west of France.

In comparison to the day before it was a fairly quiet day for birds, but we had the odd surprise of a Storm Petrel flitting past and a couple of Balearic Shearwater soaring above the waves.  In addition to birds and cetaceans we spotted tuna leaping from the water - initially thinking dolphin, yet their tails gave them away.  Another great sighting!  Cetaceans had kept us on our feet as they graced us with their presence for a few precious moments throughout the day.  Guaranteed to put a smile on my face when I spotted them!!


Once again, we headed to the bridge early to maximise the daylight hours.  Heading south however enabled us to have an extra half hour in bed as it was still dark at 6am!  We were travelling over the abyssal plains when we arrived at the bridge.  The depth gauge was unable to provide data as after 200 meters it is unable to determine the depth, however it was estimated that we were travelling over depths of up to 4000m (4km)!

We were definitely now in deep waters and the possibility of seeing different cetaceans was very high.  However, no-one had told the weather this and thus it was not cooperating.  Visibility, precipitation and sea state were variable with swell varying between 1-3meters.  Not ideal conditions for cetacean spotting, but also not the worst weather that the Biscay could have thrown at us.  Few birds were seen, with a higher number of Balearic Shearwaters being seen.

Balearic Shear Tom Brereton 06

Balearic Shearwater (Tom Brereton)

Cetaceans were out there and thankfully we were blessed in spotting a few.  Just as we approached a small downpour of rain - alternatively called heavy mist - we spotted a blow.  Tracking this through the mist was challenging but we did spot it again a few moments later as a Fin whale evaded the ships path.

Fin Whale Carol Farmer-Wright 02

Fin Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Common Dolphin and Striped Dolphin were spotted passing fairly close to the vessel, not interacting with it.  In a moment of clear visibility and calmer waters, two Northern Bottlenose Whale were spotted heading away from the ship on the starboard side, one of which was a juvenile!  What a great sighting!  One I have not experienced before!!  When we approached the port, we kept our eyes peeled for the Yellow-legged Gull - it proved to be illusive on our way in.

Santurzi_Maggie Gamble

Santurzi (Maggie Gamble)

We arrived at the port of Bilbao - Santuritz, where the captain very skilfully manoeuvred the vessel alongside the dock.  As the vessel would be here overnight we got off - laden with data sheets - and headed into town and located a cafe.  After refreshments, we worked through the data sheets, totalling all that had been seen this far.  As late afternoon, early evening approached we headed back to the ship to get an early night.


The morning was put to good use as the vessel was still being loaded with containers - nothing like a morning of data entry!  The elusive Yellow-legged Gull managed to make appearance through the port hole of the cabin - seen but not during data recording.... We left around 10:30am heading north.  About an hour later we were again over deep waters, not long after cetaceans were sighted with Common Dolphin seen approaching the vessel.  The weather conditions were much improved on the day before and so we were able to spot many more whale blows and cetacean activity.

Fin Whale were seen feeding as well as slow swimming past the vessel, going about their lives giving us a sneak insight into them - what a privilege!  A small pod of Striped Dolphin approached the ship and were bow riding for a short period of time, then went past, tumbling in the wash - all good fun.  A short while later the Captain spotted some striped Dolphin heading towards the boat again - a great spot!!  Now he knows which species of dolphins they were not just the generic dolphin....

Calm Seas_Suzie Miller

Calm Seas (Suzie Miller)

Again few birds were seen but Cory's Shearwater were gliding over the waters, Gannet flying and diving and a Great Skua passed us by!

Corys Shearwater Martin Gillingham 01

Cory's Shearwater (Martin Gillingham)


The early morning found us to be level with the northern tip of France, yet we were greeted with grey grey skies, poor light and visibility.  Maggie's keen eye spotted 3 Common Dolphin heading towards the boat a few minutes before 7am!  By 9am we were in the Celtic Sea, the weather had not improved, yet we had seen twice as many birds by then than we had for the whole of the previous day - not so many whales though....  We steadily headed north reaching the Scilly Isles by lunchtime, sadly not to be seen due to the 'heavy mist'; however, the afternoon was not wasted.  We may not have been blessed with great spotting conditions, but it did enable us to input a considerable amount of bird data.  We returned to the bridge to find the Penwith Heritage Coast to the east, but visibility soon deteriorated again so down we went to input more data.  After an hour or so we returned to the bridge, undecided as to whether or not to stay as conditions had not improved, potentially the swell was increasing.  We glanced out to check the sea state - a minimum of 7 - a Common Dolphin was making a speedy approach towards the bow of the boat! So, the decision was made for us, we were to stay!  Not long after 4 more Common Dolphin were gleefully approaching the bow, one of which looked as if it was literally throwing its self at the boats!  It was obviously great weather for surfing!

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 10

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

Birds flew past very speedily - by intention or due to the strength of the winds was unclear, but Gannet and Manx Shearwater were making the most of them! The day ended as we passed St Georges Channel at around 9:30pm, still with bumpy seas and reducing visibility.


The early morning was much calmer and brighter than when we had left it the previous day.  The pilot boarded the ship at 8:30am as we made our approach to Liverpool port.  He expertly guided us through the channel as it was a low spring tide, exposing numerous sand banks and the odd ship wreck!!  The man-made wall that had been created back in the day to hold back the moving sand was exposed - well nearly exposed as there were hundreds of gulls using them as a resting post.  A couple of Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull escorted us into the port and a few more hitched a ride on the containers.  As we passed a large sand bank a couple of Common and Grey Seal were hauled out, watching the world pass by.

We had to wait for the tide to raise the ship a few meters for us to enter the lock gates and then manoeuvre past some very large ships as they made their way out of the lock.  We came alongside the quay and disembarked just after lunch having seen a small number of Little Gull on the way into the port, very smart and elegant creatures!

Thanks go to all involved in making this survey possible land and water based!  Oscars soups were noted to be of considerable flavour and highly enjoyable!  Thank you all SO MUCH for enabling this experience to happen!

Sunset_Suzie Miller

Sunset (Suzie Miller)

Maggie Gamble and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINELife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 14-21 May 2017

Posted 24 May 2017

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather conditions:
Sunday 14: pm clear and sunny with SW wind 4 knots increasing to 14 by dusk.
Monday 15: am Heavy rain, with E wind, 7 knots: pm, low cloud and light rain, wind to 12 knots by dusk.
Tuesday 16: Dense mist at dawn, 25 knot W wind; pm W wind to 30 knots with excellent visibility; heavy W swell to 3 metres.
Wednesday 17: am S wind 5 knots, heavy westerly swell; low cloud with rain and mist clearing later.
Thursday 18: Heavy rain all day, low cloud with NW wind 10 knots. Moderate swell from NW.
Friday 19: Wind NW 8 knots; excellent visibility all pm.
Saturday 20: Wind NW backing W 4-8 knots; excellent visibility and sunny all day.
Sunday 21: Wind 4 knots SW, overcast and light rain with low cloud clearing later.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 5
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 715
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 10
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale  Globicephala melas 10
Unidentified Dolphin  41
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Basking Shark  Cetorhinus maximus 1
Blue Shark  Prionace glauca 2
Ocean Sunfish  Mola mola 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 4
Common Eider Somateria mollissima 27
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 59
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2754
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Macaronesian Shearwater Puffinus baroli 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 13
Gannet Morus bassanus 462
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 15
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 14
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 13
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 137
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 203
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 43
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 92
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 75
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 5
Puffin Fratercula arctica 9
Large Gull sp. 100

Terrestrial birds during survey effort
Mute Swan  Cygnus olor 5
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 4
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 4
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1
Pied Wagtail   Motacilla alba yarellii 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 10
House Martin  Delichon urbicum 7
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis 1
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1
Spotted Flycatcher  Muscicapa striata 1

Sunday 14th
Robin and I had a very enjoyable drive north from Ipswich to Liverpool early Sunday morning. The roads were clear and it was sunny and mild.  We were met at the Liverpool dock entrance and after our passports were checked we were driven to the M.V. Endeavor.  Here we met Captain Vladimir Gornev who made us very welcome.  We were then shown to our cabins and after a very enjoyable lunch we were given a detailed safety briefing by the 2nd officer, Ignatius Perez.

Kittiwake Graham Ekins 08
Kittiwake (Graham Ekins)

By mid-afternoon the Pilot was on board and we were making our way out of the lock to the River Mersey.  When we were due south of Formby Point we started the survey.  Within a short time we had recorded both Harbour Porpoise and a large bull Grey Seal.  We also had regular sightings of mainly adult Kittiwakes, Gannets and Guillemots.  As we travelled west towards the southern tip of the Isle of Man we started to record Manx Shearwaters and summer plumaged Puffins.  The majority of these birds were moving either north or south presumably to and from breeding grounds on islands in the Firth of Clyde such as Ailsa Craig.  As we neared the Calf of Man we added Fulmars and Shags to the growing list of species.

At dusk we finished our recording and had an enjoyable cup of tea before getting a great night's sleep.

Monday 15th
This morning we were off The Isle of Arran heading steadily north in the Firth of Clyde.  The wind was a moderate easterly with light but continuous rain.  After only a short time we had our first sighting of a pair of fishing Bottlenose Dolphins followed by a steady stream of Harbour Porpoises including two close groups of seven, an unusually large number, suggesting that feeding was good in that area.  As we passed Wemyss Bay we started to see increasing numbers of Shags and Common Gull as well as Puffin and Guillemot in summer plumage.  We were also delighted to see several summer plumaged Red-throated Divers, presumably from nesting sites on lochans high up in the hills. At Gourock we had a flock of six male Eider fly past and our first summer plumaged Black Guillemots.  As we neared Greenock dock the numbers of Black Guillemots steadily increased and we also added a small group of Red-breasted Merganser and more male Eider. As we neared the dock we finished recording and then went below to start entering data.

Black Guillemot Graham Ekins 04
Black Guillemot (Graham Ekins)

A walk around the harbour was a little damp but enjoyable with 20 Arctic Terns fishing off the breakwater, newly returned from their Antarctic wintering grounds, also several Eider picking mussels exposed by the low tide and several Red-breasted Merganser and Black Guillemot fishing close inshore.  I also watched a Rock Pipit busy feeding large young in a nest in the breakwater. Greenock really is a superb port to visit.

Robin and I spent the rest of the afternoon entering data and processing images.  After another excellent evening meal the Pilot came aboard and the Endeavor headed south passing Dunoon and Innellan to the west. We had our last sightings of Eider, Black Guillemots and Shags as well as the occasional small groups of Guillemots.  As we passed Great Cumbrae Island we spotted a flock of 60+ Gannets, many sitting on the water, they were fishing around a group of 3 Bottlenose Dolphins.  We continued to log Kittiwakes, auks and fishing adult Common Gulls until dusk.

That evening the Greenock Pilot had shown us great images of a Humpback Whale that had spent a few days in April off Greenock Harbour.

Tuesday 16th
Overnight the wind strengthened from the SW as a cold front came through. By dawn we were enveloped in a thick sea mist and although we had the occasional Gannet and Kittiwake close to the ship we could not see very far beyond the bows. We were now heading south through the Irish Sea passing Anglesey to the east and Dublin to the west. Due to the viewing conditions we entered data and updated the blog rather than start recording.  The thick sea mist continued until 08.20 when it lifted enough for us to start recording. Almost immediately we started to log summer plumaged Razorbill and Guillemot and the first of many Manx Shearwaters. This continued for the rest of the morning. By mid-day we had also started to see adult Gannets heading west and the occasional adult Kittiwake and Fulmar.  After an excellent lunch we noticed a steady increase in the numbers of Manx Shearwaters with flocks of up to 80 sitting on the sea. These were presumably birds from breeding colonies on islands such as Skomer off the SW Welsh coast.  During the early afternoon we had our first pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins coming into bow-ride, this marvellous spectacle continued well into the evening.  It was great to see that several pods contained young animals.  Most groups were between 5 and 20 but one impressive group consisted of 155 animals. The very heavy swell from the west increased during the day and made us glad we had good sea legs. The visibility was superb and allowed us to see many of the dolphin pods well before they arrived at the bows.  By the end of the day we had logged an impressive 330 Short-beaked Common Dolphins.

During the evening when we were approximately 40kms N of the Scilly Isles we had 5 Swallows and 7 House Martins attempt to roost on the ship.  The Martins quickly departed N as a group but 3 of the Swallows roosted overnight on one of the containers.

Wednesday 17th
After a great night's sleep we awoke to low cloud and rain with very little wind and a steady swell from the west.  We decided we could record within the 300 metre box and so for the next 2 hours we logged our first Yellow-legged Gull amongst a flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Puffin, Storm Petrel, Fulmar and several Gannets, the latter heading west out to sea presumably from one of the Normandy colonies. The three Swallows that had roosted overnight were seen briefly before heading off east into the low cloud. By 7.30 the mist and rain had reduced visibility to less than 150 metres and so we decided to update the blog and enter data while we waited for the weather to improve. We also learned from Captain Vladimir Gornev that he had been told to avoid the St Nazaire Canyon area due to a live firing exercise.  This was the area where we had seen the majority of the Fin Whales on the April survey. By 8.30 the fog had lifted sufficiently for us to continue recording, the visibility steadily improved during the rest of the day while continuous light rain finally stopped late afternoon. As we started recording a Hummingbird Hawkmoth flew up and down outside the bridge windows, this or another was also seen late afternoon. We also had great views of a Blue Shark on the surface close to the starboard side before it disappeared into the depths. During the morning we saw several more Storm Petrels as well as immature Gannets including first summer birds.  In the excellent viewing conditions late morning a Basking Shark swam past close to the starboard side.

Macronesian Shearwater Graham Ekins 01
Macronesian Shearwater (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

By early afternoon we were entering water over 1,000 metres deep, the first cetaceans were two Striped Dolphins that quickly passed the ship, they were quickly followed by a pod of 5 Long-finned Pilot Whales, these were both new species for this survey.  By 16.30 we were over the Canyon de la Rochelle at 3,300 metres and within minutes a superb Fin Whale passed close to the port side quickly followed by another pod of 5 Long-finned Pilot Whales, these were very photogenic and images showed that the group included 2 young animals. Robin then found a major rarity in the form of a Macaronesian Shearwater, these small Shearwaters are a scarce species in Biscay and are usually seen from July.  The nearest breeding grounds are in the Azores and Madeira. We also had our first of two Balearic Shearwater of the survey. From then until dusk we had a steady stream of Short-beaked Common Dolphins coming into bow ride. The largest consisted of 70 animals with several groups having young in attendance. We also had our second Blue Shark sighting, like the first this was also on the starboard side and two more small groups of fishing Striped Dolphins with their attendant Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. A short rain shower mid-evening resulted in a Tree Pipit dropping in briefly before heading off north while a large flock of immature Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls followed the ship before settling on the water to roost. This had proved to be an excellent day with many very interesting records logged.

Pilot Whale Graham Ekins 05
Pilot Whales (Graham Ekins)

Thursday 18th
We awoke just as the Endeavor docked in Bilbao, it was raining heavily with a moderate wind from the NW. My idea of having a walk on the hillside Nature Reserve above the port was cancelled and so we decided to update the blog and enter data in the spreadsheet. Early afternoon saw the rain stop and the sun showed briefly. A check of the hillside nature reserve showed that birds were making the most of the improved weather with Swifts moving west in a steady stream along with a Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and a few House Martins. Over fields by the port Ravens, Black and Red Kites were much in evidence while Black Redstarts were visible fly-catching on one of the terminal fences.  Best of all was to see 2 Iberian Red Squirrels chasing each other in the conifers nearest to the port entrance.

Friday 19th
We left Bilbao late morning, the skies were clear and the sea was a beautiful white-flecked blue.  We encountered many adult Yellow-legged Gulls moving east and west along the coast from nearby breeding colonies on the cliffs.  We also had several primarily immature Gannets. Once away from the coast the number of seabirds decreased but we had a steady stream of Short-beaked Common Dolphins in small pods coming to bow-ride until dusk.

Saturday 20th
The morning started well with a Balearic Shearwater passing the bows and heading east, the second on this survey.  We also started to see single Storm Petrels as well as increasing numbers of first summer Gannets, an age group we had not seen on the April survey. Robin had a great record in an Ocean Sunfish close to the starboard side of the ship while a steady stream of bow-riding Short-beaked Common Dolphins kept us busy all day. As we passed between the Isles of Scilly and Land's End in beautiful weather we encountered large numbers of Manx Shearwaters heading north, presumably foraging birds that were returning to their south Wales colonies. Towards mid-evening in St George's Channel 80kms west of Aberystwyth we found several large groups of Manx Shearwaters feeding in close association with feeding Short-beaked Common Dolphins. It was incredible to see them diving into the water close to the fast moving mammals.

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 06a
Common Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

Sunday 21st
This Sunday morning we were off the NW coast of Anglesey heading towards Liverpool Dock.  The wind was a light SW and overcast with low cloud and as the rain started a Spotted Flycatcher quickly followed by a Willow Warbler appeared briefly before flying off east as the visibility improved.  A short while later a male Pied Wagtail rested on one of the containers for a few minutes before flying off NE. We had a steady stream of Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Manx Shearwaters as we headed towards Liverpool with increasing numbers of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The tide was high and this may be the reason why we had just one sighting of a Harbour Porpoise as we entered the Mersey Estuary.  It was great to see fishing Sandwich Terns, the only ones on the survey. As we approached Liverpool Dock we packed away our equipment and thanked Captain Vladimir Gornev for all his interest and help over the previous week. We also thanked his officers and crew as well as Oscar Pacama the cook who had provided us with so many enjoyable meals.  We would also like to thank J.R. Shipping for continuing to support this important survey route.

This was another very successful survey with 796 Cetaceans and 4076 birds logged.

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao 'MV Endeavor' 22nd-28th April 2017

Posted 03 May 2017

Graham Ekins and Steve Boswell; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Northbound to Greenock: light westerly increasing slowly from 2 to 12 knots, dry with excellent visibility; cloud light and variable. Southbound to Bilbao: 24th April: Light west to south-west force 2 to 6 knots with light, high cloud and excellent visibility; dry. 25th April Thick cloud and force 3 to 12 easterly with intermittent light rain becoming continuous before reverting to intermittent late afternoon; good visibility. Northbound to Liverpool: 27th April: Wind NW, 8 increasing to 12 knots with intermittent light rain and good visibility. Then skies cleared mid-day and wind speed decreased to 5 knots. 28th April Wind initially NNW, clear skies, excellent visibility and wind 8 knots; pm increasing cloud and winds veering to south and temperature increased to 5C; dry.

Marine Mammals
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 8
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 57
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1423
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 27
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 16
Fin Whale balaenoptera physalus 16

Common Scoter melanitta nigra 50
Common Eider Somateria molissima 15
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 63
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3177
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 768
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 9
Pomarine Skua Stercoarius pomarinus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 5
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 34
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 121
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 15
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 59
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 112
Guillemot Uria aalge 326
Razorbill Alca torda 17
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 13
Puffin Fratercula arctica 79

Other birds seen over sea / on board during survey effort
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 2
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 5
Shelduck  Tadorna tadorna 4
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Quail Corturnix coturnix 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 2
Knot calidris canutus 15
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 15
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 66
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 3
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 43
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis 2
Woodlark Lullula arborea 1
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flava 2
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 2
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 1
Wheatear (Greenland) Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa 1
Song Thrush  Turdusphilomelos 1
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla 2
Whitethroat Sylvia communis 3
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca 1
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephalus 1
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenbaenus 1
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 6
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 3
Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 4
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1
Linnet Carduelis carrabina 5
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 2

Saturday 22nd April 2017

Steve and I had arrived at Seaforth Docks, Liverpool Friday evening and at 22.00 hours our passports were checked and then we were taken by shuttlebus to J.R. Shippings M.V. Endeavor where we were made very welcome by Captain Vitaly Shutov and his officers.  We were then taken to our comfortable cabins for a good night's sleep. The following morning after an enjoyable breakfast we were given a safety tour and briefing of this impressive container ship by the 1st officer. This was to be a particularly interesting survey for us as the ship was sailing to Greenock and then on to Bilbao rather than the usual Dublin to Bilbao route, a total distance of 2,700kms.

Endeavor Graham Ekins

Endeavor (Graham Ekins)

The ship left the dock early evening and we were able to start recording once the Pilot had left the ship.  During this time we had an opportunity to view from the deck a huge flock of Knot twisting and turning over the Mersey Estuary with the Blackpool tower as a back drop.  We also had brief views of Harbour Porpoise and large flocks of Oystercatchers and Grey Plovers on the Formby Point beach.  Once on the bridge we logged a flock of 50 Common Scoter heading purposely northward as well as our first Puffin, Gannet and Manx Shearwater.

Sunday 23rd April 2017

The following morning dawned bright with a light NW wind and great visibility. We were heading north towards Greenock and were sailing past the superb island of Ailsa Craig to the east then the Isle of Arran to the North-west.  We then past the islands of Bute and Great Cumbrae, it was truly a stunning route with such superb scenery. We recorded both Bottlenose Dolphin and several Harbour Porpoise as we headed into Firth of Clyde as well as a Nuclear Submarine out on exercise.  The sheer numbers of Manx Shearwater was staggering with many hundreds logged as we headed north as well as many Gannet, Kittiwake and Guillemot presumably from the large colonies on Ailsa Crag.  As we headed further north in the Firth of Clyde we encountered our first Eider, Shag and Red-breasted Merganser.  We were also delighted to get more sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise in almost calm conditions. As we docked we could see several Black Guillemot by the Pilot House. Captain Vitaly Shutov gave us permission to leave the ship and so we took the opportunity to walk around to nearby Campbell Street where the Black Guillemot were nesting in the old sea wall.

Black Guillemot Graham Ekins 03

Black Guillemot (Graham Ekins)

On returning to the ship we entered the first of the data. We then started recording again late afternoon as we headed south. This time there were many sailing boats out in the superb conditions and we did not record any more Cetaceans.  The seabirds were however just as numerous with 1400 Manx Shearwater, 180 Guillemots and Gannet logged by dusk.  We then left the bridge for an enjoyable cup of tea before heading for bed.

Monday 24th April 2017

This morning we awoke to light westerly winds in the Celtic Sea as we headed steadily south. Initially it was thick cloud but as the morning progressed this thinned and the day became much brighter.  We immediately started recording Manx Shearwaters crossing our bows heading west in increasing numbers the further south we went. We presumed these were out foraging from colonies on Grassholm and Skokholm off the Welsh coast.  We were also seeing many summer plumaged Guillemot and the occasional Razorbill following the same path. At 08.00 Steve picked up an adult Pomarine Skua moving steadily North, this proved to be the only one on this survey. This was quickly followed by our first of many pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin coming in to bow-ride on the Endeavor. From mid-morning we started to see Puffin flying west or sitting on the sea, presumably from nearby Welsh colonies. We also started to see increasing numbers of adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and the occasional Kittiwake. By mid-day we were in the southern Celtic Sea and found several large flocks of roosting Manx Shearwater, these presumably were waiting for dusk before flying to their breeding colonies. By late afternoon we were between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly, the numbers of Manx Shearwater had decreased but we were seeing more Guillemot and increasing numbers of adult Great Black-backed Gull, presumably breeders from the Isles of Scilly. It was then that we saw a close Bottlenose Dolphin, the only one seen that day. As we continued south towards the Brittany Peninsular the numbers of birds decreased steadily, the exception being the sighting of several Great Skua, often flying in the direction of distant fishing boats surrounded by hundreds of Lesser Black-backed Gull, Gannet and Kittiwake. As the light began to fade we left the bridge but not before seeing a beautiful sunset over an almost calm sea.

Tuesday 25th April 2017

We had an excellent overnight sleep as the winds were fairly light.  The almost flat calm conditions and beautiful sun set of the previous evening had been replaced by thick cloud, luckily the winds were still only force 3.  We had expected it to be from the NW but it was blowing from the east and this continued all day. We were now in Central Biscay, initially we had the occasional patch of drizzle but before long the rain became constant but luckily only the occasional heavy burst and the visibility remained good. Within a few minutes of getting on to the bridge we had spotted a blow from a Fin Whale on the Starboard side as it dived. At the time I had been watching a group of 50 Arctic Tern roosting on the sea, something I had only seen previously in the South Atlantic. A few minutes later 2 more Fin Whale showed well on the port side before diving out of sight.

Fin Whale Graham Ekins 01

Fin Whale (Graham Ekins)

Almost as soon as the rain started just after 07.30 the first passerines dropped on to the boat and during the first hour we logged several Willow Warbler, Woodlark and most unexpected a Quail that came rocketing in and dived under one of the containers. Seabirds included our first Yellow-legged and a few Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Then the first of several Whimbrel flew in and landed on the containers.  Initially they just stood with wings drooping suggesting that they had flown a long way but after an hour they looked more alert and later they took off and joined a passing flock. We then had another great Fin Whale sighting with 3 showing well on the port side. We managed to get images of this group. Two hours later three more were seen well before they disappeared below the waves, this brought the total to eight for the morning.  We had been travelling down the 2,000 metre deep St Nazaire Canyon and this was clearly a popular location for these large Cetaceans.
As the morning progressed we continued to have birds drop on to the boat, this included a totally unexpected Sardinian Warbler which showed briefly on deck before diving amongst the containers, we also found a grey continental Song Thrush and a Sedge Warbler while 2 Swallow and 2 Sand Martin battled their way east.  The Cetacean activity continued with 4 Risso's Dolphin showing off on the starboard side quickly followed by our first bow-riding Short-beaked Common Dolphin. Over the next few hours we had several hundred Short-beaked Common Dolphin approach the boat to bow-ride, this included a pod of 300 that we estimated had about 50 youngsters with them.

Whimbrel Graham Ekins

Whimbrel (Graham Ekins)

Then mid-afternoon we spotted a group of Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gull circling over a pod of Cetaceans, they prove to be 10 Striped Dolphin and the first of the survey. During the afternoon yet more birds appeared on deck, this included Yellow Wagtail, Goldfinch, Common and Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat and a Grasshopper Warbler.
While many flocks of Meadow Pipit and 2 Tree Pipit passed east and 5 Linnet flew over heading North. Then as another rain shower started a superb male Greenland Wheatear dropped out of the sky along with a near summer plumage Turnstone and a Female Kestrel.  Another Turnstone then made a brief appearance and a Dunlin flew around the ship before heading east. Into the evening pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin continued to appear and bow ride, then Steve picked up a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphin that did the same. We counted 35 with both adults and young present. As we approached Bilbao towards dusk it was gratifying to see many of birds that had arrived during day lifting off and heading towards the Spanish coast.

Whitethroat Graham Ekins

Whitethroat (Graham Ekins)

Several birds had found the large number of Silver Y moths that were on board an excellent food source. Even the tiny Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were eating them.  This was one of the most memorable MARINElife survey days that either of us had experienced.

Wednesday 26th April 2017

We were moored overnight in the new harbour at Bilbao and awoke to heavy rain and a forecast that suggested this would continue into the afternoon.  After breakfast and during a short interlude we scanned the nearby hillside and saw the local Red Kite, Raven and Spotless Starling. It then started to rain heavily again and so we abandoned our plans to get a taxi to the summit and walk down through the small fields, allotments and woodland. Instead we concentrated on entering the data from the previous few days.  This was great as it would save me a lot of time on getting home. By mid-afternoon the rain had eased and the sun started to come out. With the warmth the first Black Kite started to soar with the local Yellow-legged Gull over the nearby hills as did White Stork and Raven.  In the nearest fields were more Spotless Starling as well as Iberian Stonechat and a White Wagtail.  A few hirundine started to move including a flock of Swallow flying low north over the harbour. Over dinner we said goodbye to Captain Vitaly Shutov, he and his officers had made us very welcome since we left Liverpool. He was going home for a well-earned break. Towards dusk the loading of the containers was completed the pilot came aboard and the Endeavour left the port for its trip back to Liverpool.

Thursday 27th April 2017

The morning dawn dull with rain showers and a cool NW wind.  We met Captain Vladimir Gornev who had arrived on board, he had arrived the previous evening and was very interested in our MARINElife sightings. It proved to be a very busy day with superb views of several of the 8 Fin Whale, 4 Risso's and 17 Striped Dolphin. We also logged 20 Bottlenose and 537 Short-beaked Common Dolphin.  The seabirds were quite scarce for the early part of day but as we headed north Manx Shearwater became more common as did Gannet and Kittiwake. We also had a few summer plumage Puffin.

BND Graham Ekins 02

Bottlenose Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

Waders were very much in evidence during the afternoon with flocks of 15 summer plumaged Knot and Grey Plover and 6 Whimbrel all heading NE.  We also had 2 Storm Petrel which could have been from the Spanish breeding population. This was another varied and enjoyable day.

Friday 28th April 2017

Steve and I arrived on the bridge just as it was getting light.  The sky was overcast but the winds were just a light NW. As the morning progressed the cloud started to thin, all day the visibility was excellent.  At 06.00 the Endeavor had passed north between Lands End and the Scilly isles, we were now in the southern edge of the Celtic Sea and soon to enter the area of the Celtic Deep with 90+ metres of water. We started to log Gannet heading out west, presumably from the large colony on Grassholm to the NE. We also had many Manx Shearwater travelling in the same direction. A phenomenon observed the southward leg of the survey.  With such light winds we were able to pick up small pods of Short-beaked Common Dolphin in groups of up to 20.
One group near the ship was so busy hunting for fish in a tight group that it totally ignored the Endeavor.  It was also pleasing to see that most of the pods contained adults and young. The westerly movement of Gannet and Manx Shearwater continued most of the morning with the occasional Fulmar, Guillemot and a few summer plumaged Puffin.

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 08

Common Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

In the afternoon the numbers of Puffin steadily increased with groups as large as 12 being recorded. Late morning a flock of 5 Whimbrel overtook the ship heading NNE while several Great Skua rapidly overtook the ship also heading north.   We also had our only Harbour Porpoise of the day when 2 were spotted only 250 metres from the ship. As we steadily headed north the temperature started to rise and for the first time on this survey the winds went around to the south-west.  By now the numbers of birds recorded had slowly decreased but we did start seeing summer plumaged Razorbill, they had until now been a scarce bird. We continued to record the occasional Manx Shearwater, Puffin and Gannet as we headed towards Anglesey.  The visibility was so clear that we could see the Isle of Man 70kms to the north.  At dusk we packed away our equipment for the last time and thanked Captain Vladimir Gornev for the way he and his officers and crew had made us so welcome on the M.V. Endeavor on the northward journey. We also thanked Oscar the chef who has supplied us with such excellent meals.

We arrived in Liverpool in the early hours of Saturday morning.  After an enjoyable breakfast we left the ship for the long journey home. It had been an incredibly successful survey with 1,547 Cetaceans and 5,100 birds logged.

Our thanks to Captains Vitaly Shutov (southbound), Vladimir Gornev (northbound) and the officers and crew as well as to J.R. Shipping for supporting this important survey route.


Graham Ekins and Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Liverpool-Bilbao 'MV Endeavor' 13th-20th February 2017

Posted 26 February 2017

Philip Dutt, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward:E7-4  Return: W3 with some dense fog

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 42
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet  Morus bassanus 51
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 2
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 3
Yellow Legged Gull  Larus michahellis 2
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 47
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 35
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 3

I arrived at Seaforth Dock gates late Sunday evening and was taken to the M/S Endeavor by the shuttlebus.  The crew took me straight to my cabin and I tried to get some sleep before the ship sailed at 23:30.

I met Captain Vitaly Shuthov at breakfast the next morning (13th).  The sea was very rough but I headed up to the bridge at 7:50 to assess the surveying conditions.  We were level with Bardsey Island and heading SSW through St George's Channel.  The ship was laden with a high stack of empty containers and proceeding against a 3.5 knot northerly current with a strong easterly crosswind, causing the ship to yaw, roll and pitch.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 02

Great Black-backed Gull (Peter Howlett)

The seastate was 7 and conditions were marginal for surveying although the swell at 3 metres was better than the 7 metre swell of the previous week. Only 3 species of bird were recorded. By 14:00 the conditions were getting worse and when the Irish coastguard gave an imminent gale warning I decided to abandon it for the day. On Tuesday at 08:00 the conditions were markedly improved and it could have been a summer's day, warm with seastate 2 and good visibility.  We were level with Concarneau on the southern Brittany peninsula.  We had an escort of Great black-backed Gull riding the pressure wave at the bow created by the container stack.  They disappeared later in the morning as we neared some fishing boats and we then picked up some Kittiwake followers at the stern.

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 01

Common Dolphin (Rick Morris)

As we approached the Gulf of St Gascoigne and the canyons there were 4 sightings of Common Dolphin and after mid-morning it went very quiet.

Due to not being able to unload at Bilbao we were advised that we would only be able to anchor outside the port on arrival.  As we weren't going to be unloaded  on arrival the ship reduced speed to 11 knots which was disappointing as I had hoped to cover at least the northern half of the Bay on the outward journey.

We anchored early Wednesday and remained for 2 days west of the outer harbour wall with a good view of the town of Laredo further down the coast. Despite scanning the skyline for several hours each day there was no sign of raptors so I had to be content with Yellow Legged Gull and sunbathing.Unloading finally started after breakfast on the Friday and the hope was that we might be away by 6am the following morning.


I headed out of the port area for a walk up Mt. Serantes which overlooks the container port.   On another glorious day there were lizards basking on rubble with hoverflies and butterflies on the wing including Red Admiral and the more orange southern form of Speckled Wood. Just above a new housing development with a prepared Nordic walking track there were plenty of Meadow Pipit and wagtails in the open grassland.  A huge wasp's nest hung on one of the trees overlooking the path so I'm not sure I'd want to be walking that route later in the summer. Higher up there were small areas fenced off to revert to the original habitat type and supporting amphibians and wetland vegetation.

Speckled WoodPerez FrogSpeckled Wood & Perez Frong (Phil Dutt)

The occasional Perez Frog could be seen in one of the ponds.By early Saturday morning prior to departure two of Endeavor's sister ships, Enforcer and Ensemble, had moored across the harbour.  It was another warm sunny day (18˚C) with sea state 3, little swell and excellent visibility.  The ship was loaded with full containers so the stack was much lower with more sea visible in front of the bow. I had more sightings of Common Dolphin, singles or small groups of no more than 3 shortly after.

At about 15:30 there was a huge flash of cascading water about 3 km dead ahead and I just got time to make out a large rectangular blunt form leaping out of the water pointing westward.  After much deliberation, I concluded that this must have been a Sperm Whale breaching.   I scanned the area for another 15 minutes in the hope of a confirmatory sighting but unfortunately it never showed again and knowing they dive for 45 to 60 minutes, this was not unexpected.

Sperm Whale_Tim Melling

Sperm Whale (Tim Melling)

There were a few more dolphin sightings, mostly Common Dolphin but some were too far away to be sure. As the sea was so calm I hung on hoping for something near to the ship and was rewarded 20 minutes later by the silhouettes of 2 Minke Whale ahead on the port side doing a slow distinctive roll.  On the bird front there had been little of note apart from a solitary Little Gull it had been mainly Gannet and Kittiwake.

On the Sunday morning the survey started off Brittany, south-west of the Île d'Ouessant.  Conditions were not quite so good and we ran into fog after crossing the Channel so I never saw Wolf Rock or the Scillies.  Up to that point there were 8 Common Dolphin sightings and 2 Great Skua.

On the Monday morning the survey started north of Anglesey in reasonable conditions at seastate 3 but not quite calm enough for Harbour Porpoise.  A few single Puffin passed in front of the ship on foraging trips.  I concluded the survey when the Liverpool pilot came aboard at 11:30. After going through the lock gates and mooring up I left the ship at 14:30.

Puffin Peter Howlett 03

Puffin (Peter Howlett)

I hadn't been sure what to expect on a Biscay trip in the winter - certainly not a breaching Sperm Whale - but after the severe weather of the previous and the subsequent weeks I probably got off pretty lightly!

My thanks to Captain Vitaly Shutov, the crew and to the cook, Oleg Krasovskyi for keeping me fed and watered with an amazing array of dishes throughout the trip.

Philip Dutt, Research Surveyor for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Dublin-Bilbao-Dublin 'MV Endeavor' 14th-20th November 2016

Posted 27 November 2016

Carol Farmer-Wright and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 167
Common or Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale  Ziphius cavirostris 2
Unidentified Cetacean Sp. 1
Unidentified Dolphin sp  2
Tuna species  Thunnus sp. 2

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 145
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 4
Gannet  Morus bassanus 246
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 497
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 16
Common Gull  Larus canus 2
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 19
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 34
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 49
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 7
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 58
Auk sp. 7
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 6
Guillemot  Uria aalge 55
Razorbill  Alca torda 3
Larus sp. 64

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 5
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Finch sp. 1

Robin and I met up in Oxfordshire and proceeded to Liverpool to catch the overnight ferry to Dublin. We arrived early on Monday morning and joined JR Shipping's vessel MV Endeavor by 6am in the morning and settled in ready for our survey to begin the following day.

Day 1 Southbound continental shelf.  Cloudy Sea state 3-4 decreasing 2, swell up to 2 metresOur survey started due west of Bideford and we travelled 137 miles in the day south on the continental shelf. Gannet were the most evident bird of the day with occasional sightings of Fulmar, larger gull species and two Guillemot and a single Puffin recorded. We also observed 4 separate encounters of Common Dolphin that day coming in to bow ride.

Guillemot Martin Gillingham

Guillemot (Martin Gillingham)

Day 2 Southbound on abyssal plain Sea state 3-1, swell 1 metre or below.

Today would be our opportunity to see the whales that inhabit deeper waters. We started surveying at the foot of the Sables d'Olonne Canyon on the abyssal plain. The plain is around 4000 metres deep and specialists such as the Cuvier's Beaked Whale hunt among the canyons for squid. We didn't see any large whales but we were rewarded with 2 encounters of Cuvier's Beaked Whale, Common Dolphin, two distant cetacean species and recorded a couple of Tuna breaching. We spotted Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill in small numbers and a small group of Little Gull still on migration.

Cuviers BW Adrian Shephard 01

Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Adrian Shephard)

Day 3 & 4 in port at Bilbao followed by severe weather.

Day 5 Northbound continental shelf.  Cloudy Sea state 3-4 decreasing 2, swell up to 1 metre.Today was a day for recording pelagic specialists. Fulmar and Gannet were recorded in reasonable numbers. Puffin, Guillemot, Kittiwake and the larger gull species were seen. The big surprise was to record 4 Manx Shearwater that hadn't migrated as yet. Cetacean sightings were regular with 30 different encounters totalling 145 animals, all Common Dolphin.

Common Dolphin Endeavor

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 6 Liverpool Bay. Cloudy, Sea state 4 decreasing 2, no swell.We awoke expecting to be in Liverpool Dock, however, issues with the lock mechanism at Gladstone Lock had resulted in delay and we were moored north of Prestatyn awaiting the pilot to take us in to port. Work was being done to one of the wind farms and we watched a sweep being attached to a turbine.

Wind Farm Robin Langdon

Wind Farm Construction (Robin Langdon)

We surveyed for another hour and a half before manoeuvring into the Mersey.  At this time of year Liverpool Bay could be renamed European Shag Bay for almost 500 birds were recorded in that short time. Our last mammal sighting was a single Harbour Seal hauled up on a sandbank south of the Mersey. We left the ship at Liverpool having thanked Master Vitaly Shutov for his hospitality. Our thanks go to JR Shipping for enabling us to survey on board their vessel.

Carol Farmer-Wright and J. Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Dublin-Bilbao-Dublin 'MV Endeavor' 14th-19th June 2016

Posted 07 July 2016

Carol Farmer-Wright and Cheryl Leaning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Force 1 - 7

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncates 17
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 741
Cuvier's Beaked Whale  Ziphius cavirostris 11
Fin Whale  Balaenoptera physalus 1
Striped Dolphin  Stenella coeruleoalba 3
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 20
Unidentified Whale sp. 1

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 115
Cory's Shearwater  Calonectris diomedea 3
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1816
Balearic Shearwater  Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Gannet  Morus bassanus 597
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 30
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 65
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 158
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 8
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 2
Guillemot  Uria aalge 39
Razorbill  Alca torda 1
Auk sp. 1
Shearwater sp. 2
Larus sp. 12

Terrestrial birds seen
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1

Cheryl and I arrived in Dublin early on the Sunday morning. We then had an opportunity to visit some of the beautiful countryside south of the city before joining the ship that evening. We visited Glendalough Monastic Site, an early sixth century Christian settlement located in a valley in the Wicklow mountain range. The MV Endeavor docked around 7pm that evening and we completed formalities at the terminal and made arrangements to join the ship. We were invited on board, taken to our spacious cabins and then given a safety tour around the vessel. We were not due to leave dock until the ship's containers had been unloaded and the new cargo stowed the following evening.

Endeavor Carol Farmer Wright

Endeavor (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Tuesday 14th June Weather predominately dry, sea state force 5 decreasing to force 3.
Our survey began early on the Tuesday morning. By that time, we were 24 miles due west of Ramsey Island off the Pembrokeshire coast heading towards the Celtic Deep. Immediately we began recording Gannet and Manx Shearwater. These were to be the main birds seen on that day with over 1000 Manx Shearwater and almost 250 Gannet seen. Other birds recorded that day were Fulmar, Kittiwake, and both Lesser and Great Black-backed Gull. We worked until 9.30pm that evening but despite travelling 276 miles that day, we didn't record any cetaceans. This was soon to change.

Wednesday 15th June Weather occasional rain showers, sea state force 1 to 5 decreasing force 3.
We began the day on the northern continental shelf break due west of Les Sables-d'Olonne, the start and finishing point of  the Vendee Globe round the world yacht race. Immediately we began recording Common Dolphin with 20 separate sightings of over 100 animals recorded within the first two hours as we navigated over water depths between 1250 and 3700 metres. The majority of these animals came in to bow ride.The sightings stopped for an hour and then the first of three sightings of Cuviers Beaked Whale were seen within 100 metres of the ship. The female and juvenile Cuviers have chestnut brown bodies with cream faces with the males being lighter grey owing to scarring in their battles over the females. These animals were located over the abyssal plain, swimming in an area where the water is 4250 metres deep and several canyons nearby can provide food.More Common Dolphin were recorded until a further group of Cuviers appeared at noon. First a male was seen rising through the water column and surfaced like a cork in water just over 100 metres from the ship, it exhaled deeply and was soon joined by three other animals, their breathing could also be heard as we passed by.

Cuviers BW Carol Farmer Wright 02

Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Sightings quietened down for several hours until 4pm when a distant whale-blow was seen. Fifteen minutes later the probable owner of the breath appeared 500 metres from the starboard side of the vessel. The light colouration of the right jaw line confirmed my suspicion that it was a Fin Whale. A few more sightings of Common Dolphin occurred before our last sighting of Cuviers Beaked Whale. Two animals rose to the surface in front of the vessel, only 21 miles from the Spanish coast, in water less than 1000 metres deep, the closest I've ever seen these animals to shore. Bird sightings had been relatively quiet all day with only 12 birds recorded the whole time. With the port in sight we stopped the survey and retired for the day.

We were not due to depart until Friday evening and so spent Thursday travelling to Bilbao and visiting the Guggenheim Museum. Friday was spent compiling our sightings for the southbound survey days.

Saturday 18th June. Weather: dry, variable cloud, sea state force 4-5 decreasing force 3.
We were on the bridge by 5.20 am and were immediately recording Common Dolphin.  These animals, together with a handful of Striped Dolphin were the only two species to be seen that day, 30 sightings totalling 500 animals. Again bird sightings were scarce with only 47 birds, 42 of them Gannet, being seen.

Striped Dolphin 01 Carol Farmer Wright

Striped Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Sunday 19th June Weather Fog or Rain with full cloud cover, sea state Force 2-7 decreasing force 3.
Our last day of surveying started when we were due west of Newquay Airport in Cornwall, heading towards the Celtic Deep. Visibility was hampered by fog and rain that didn't stop until 12 hours into the survey.

Today we were to record both Bottlenose Dolphin and Common Dolphin. The Bottlenose Dolphin groups were recorded within the first three hours and included a pod of 12 animals feeding where the Bristol Channel flows out to the Celtic Deep. The birds recorded at this time amounted to almost 100 sightings of over 460 birds, predominately Gannet and Manx Shearwater, the majority of whom were travelling westward towards the Deep. We then moved northward past the Pembrokeshire coastline into the St Georges Channel. Here we recorded three small groups of Common Dolphin and two final sightings of dolphin we were unable to identify. In addition to Gannet and Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull were recorded, six of the Lesser Black-backed Gull hunkered down on a container near the front of the ship and hitch-hiked for four hours.  As the visibility improved we recorded Guillemot, a few Common Tern and Cormorant, Herring Gull and a couple of Puffin.

LBB Gull 01 Carol Farmer Wright

Lesser Black-backed & Herring Gull (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Nearing Dublin, we left the bridge having thanked Captain Vitaly Shutov for his hospitality and went to our cabins to complete the data entry.

We were on board the MV Endeavor for eight days. Our heartfelt thanks go to JR Shipping for allowing us to survey on their vessel. The support and help with cetacean sightings by Captain Shutov and his officers whilst on the bridge was fantastic. This was further enhanced by the chef providing a constant supply of tasty food.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Cheryl Leaning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Dublin-Bilbao-Liverpool 'MV Endeavor' 18th-23rd April 2016

Posted 27 April 2016

Stephen Dunstan and Graham Ekins; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Southbound:  E 4 to 10 knots. South Biscay E 16 to 20 knots with frequent rains squalls.
Northbound NE 4 to 6 knots later increasing to 16, dry and mainly sunny with good visibility.

Summary of sightings
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 22
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 21
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 1059
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 22
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 3
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 6
Unidentified Large Whale sp 3
Unidentified Dolphin sp 5

Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 108
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 602
Storm Petrel hydrobates pelagicus 251
Gannet Morus bassanus 535
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 13
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 346
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 8
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Puffin Fratercula arctica 16
Auk sp. 20
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 119
Commic Tern sp 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 232
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Common Gull Larus Canus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 65
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 94
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 29
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Unidentified Larus Gull sp 226

Terrestrial birds seen during survey:
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 2
Dotterel  Charadrius morinellus 3
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 3
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 3
Sanderling Calidris alba 20
Dunlin Calidris alpina 29
Common Sandpiper Calidris hypoleucos 2
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus 1
Skylark Alauda arvensis 1
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 5
House Martin Delichon urbicum 3
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 2
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla 1
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaneus 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos 1
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 1
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flavissima 3
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 5
Linnet Linaria cannabina 2
Goldfinch carduelis carduelis 1
Serin Serinus serinus 1

MV Endeavor

MV Endeavor (Graham Ekins)

Mid-day on Monday 18th April we left our hotel in Blanchardstown and arrived at Dublin Harbour Marine Terminal, the staff were aware of our arrival and quickly organised our transfer to the MV Endeavor. The second officer showed us to our large and well-appointed cabins followed by a security and safety briefing and a tour of the ship. After an excellent evening meal we went up to the bridge where Captain Andrey Zuyonok and his first Officer made us very welcome.  We watched this large ship being manoeuvred and make its way eastwards out of the harbour, an impressive piece of ship craft.  As we left the harbour mouth we were able to see our last Pale-bellied Brent Geese and summer plumaged Black Guillemot.  From then until dusk we were kept very busy logging large numbers of auks, Kittiwake and large gulls. We even had a distant fly past of 4 Manx Shearwater, an Arctic Skua and also logged a single Harbour Porpoise.

Tuesday 19th April 2016

We were up on the bridge by 06.00 on a beautiful sunny morning with not a breath of wind.  Within minutes we started to see cetaceans, the first of which were Short-beaked Common Dolphin quickly followed by Bottlenose and 2 superb Risso's Dolphin. For the rest of the day we then had a steady stream of sightings of Common Dolphin, the majority coming into our bow-wave. As we approached the channel between Lands End and the Scilly Isles we were kept very busy recording a stream of Guillemot, Kittiwake, adult Great Black-backed Gull and Gannet.  We then started to see our first passerines which were a pair of Linnet heading north.

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 5

Common Dolphins (Graham Ekins)

As we continued south towards the Brittany Peninsular we recorded Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, 2 Yellow Wagtail, all 3 hirundine (Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin), Skylark and Blackcap, the latter landing on the ship. As we passed south circa 60 miles west of the Brittany Peninsular we had a steady stream of land birds either circling or passing the ship with some dropping on board, they included Redstart, Willow Warbler, Wheatear and unexpectedly a Nightingale.  This was almost certainly due to the strong easterly wind which blew all day. We logged an impressive six wader species heading rapidly north east low over the waves and across the bows. The highlights being 3 Little Ringed Plover and 3 Dotterel. It was a truly memorable and exciting day.

Meadow Pipit Graham Ekins

Meadow Pipit (Graham Ekins)

This was rather a quiet day with a strong Easterly wind blowing and frequent rain squalls making observation challenging.  At 06.20 Stephen picked up a Turtle Dove roosting in the shelter of one of the containers. We guess it had found the ship during the night. This bird stayed with us until we were just a km from Bilbao port when it took off, flew around the ship then headed off SW. We also logged small groups of Common Dolphin and a superb Risso's Dolphin to starboard.

Birds were few and far between with just the occasional Gannet, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gull.  A few adult Yellow-legged Gull came out to the ship as we approached the Bilbao breakwater.

After a very enjoyable evening meal we set up the telescope on deck to view the nearby hillside. We were not disappointed as both Red and Black Kite put in an appearance after just a few minutes. We also had a migrating Honey Buzzard and several views of Raven.  A search of the sky to the east resulted in finding 2 soaring Griffon Vulture and nearer to the boat a Southern Great Grey Shrike perched on a tall twig. For the rest of the evening I wrote up the blog and analysed images while Stephen entered data on the spreadsheet.

Griffon Vulture Graham Ekins

Griffon Vulture (Graham Ekins)

Thursday 21st April

After breakfast Stephen and I took the shuttle bus to the port entrance.  Here the staff kindly called a taxi for us.  The driver took us close to the telephone / radar tower on the top of the ridge viewable from the port.  It was a cool but clear morning which was great for walking.  Almost immediately we had superb views of migrating Griffon Vulture and the local Raven.  We then saw the first of many wall butterflies and Bath White, followed by a pair of Crested Tit that showed well in the first patch of conifers below the summit.  As we walked downhill we observed large numbers of Blackcap and Garden Warbler while below us 2 Black Kite drifted along the ridge.  Stephen then found a photogenic singing male Cirl Bunting while the female was busy nest-building in a large bramble clump.  By the end of the morning we had seen several pairs. We were delighted to see a Perez Frog, an Iberian speciality in a small pool by the side of the road.  The grassland was full of spring flowers while a nearby flowering cherry had a couple of Ilex Hairstreaks nectaring.   We also had great views of the Iberian alpinus form of Red Squirrel. This is much darker than our animals in the UK with longer tufts on the tips of the ears. In the more open areas we found a pair of handsome Iberian Stonechat and a couple of Serin, while in nearby trees a Pied Flycatcher.

Towards the lower end of the road a lot of tree planting has been completed, this semi-open area had Black Redstart and a pair of White Wagtail. After this very enjoyable walk we made our way back to the entrance gate where the security staff called the shuttle bust to take us back to the Endeavor.

Friday 22nd April

We had left Bilbao harbour mid-evening and by morning were over deep water in central Biscay.  This was another memorable day with almost flat calm conditions until mid-afternoon when a light NE breeze started up.  It was also the warmest day at 24oC by 13.00. We started with groups of Common Dolphin all around us with hundreds logged by evening, many were fishing and attracted in groups of migrating Arctic Tern and the occasional Common Tern. We also found an energetic group of Striped Dolphin. We then had a pod of 6 small whales on the starboard side.  We identified them as the rare Cuvier's Beaked Whale.  Shortly afterwards we picked up 2 adult Purple Heron that came in from the SW and continued their leisurely migration north east, we were 120 miles off shore at the time.

Shortly afterwards, another group of Striped Dolphin rapidly passed the ship and then Stephen picked up a distant large whale.  An hour later this was repeated with more Striped Dolphins and I then found 2 large whales which were almost certainly Fin at a distance to the south east. Frustratingly I could not find them through the scope or pick up the blow.

As we continued north we had Meadow Pipit, Yellow and White Wagtail passed the ship, all seemed to take a quick look and then continue their migration. For a couple of minutes late morning a female Merlin roosted on one of the containers before setting off rapidly north in the light breeze. Early afternoon saw the arrival of an exhausted Woodpigeon that dropped onto a container and drank from a puddle.

Merlin Graham Ekins

Merlin (Graham Ekins)

Later that afternoon, a Collared Dove appeared and for a while the pigeon and the dove roosted together. During the afternoon we continued to log large numbers of Common Dolphin, many of the adults had well grown calves with them.  As in the morning feeding groups of dolphins attracted passing flocks of Arctic Tern. We were then amazed to see a black mass of small birds in the distance.  Through the scope we could clearly see it was a group of c.100 Storm Petrel roosting in a tight group on the sea, something we had never seen before.  As we approached they took flight and rapidly dispersed.  We came across another roost of 100 about 20 minutes later followed by a smaller group of 20.  We also had distant views of several others.

We also logged several Great Skua including an interesting bird in full wing moult which proved to be in its second calendar year. Towards evening, 10 Sanderling flew past heading north east while several more Common Dolphin were recorded as well as a few Puffin.

Puffin Graham Ekins

Puffin (Graham Ekins)

Saturday 23rd April

This was to be our last full day surveying. We were in the Celtic Sea steadily moving north.  From first light the sea was alive with Manx Shearwater zipping across the bows. There were also many Gannet and Guillemot passing to and from distant Grassholm and Skokholm Islands.  Stephen picked up several small groups of Common Dolphin, then as we headed into the Irish Sea they were replaced by Harbour Porpoise.  The further north we went the quieter the seas became.

With a light north east and clear skies we had several land birds pass the ship, they included Meadow Pipit, Swallow and a House Martin. In the evening as we rounded the north-western tip of Anglesey the wind picked up and we started to see increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Kittiwake a Sandwich Tern and a Harbour Porpoise.

That night we anchored off Liverpool and in the morning passed up river and through the lock to Gladstone Dock.  This was the end of our very enjoyable and fascinating survey.  Before we left the MV Endeavor we thanked Captain Andrey Zuyonok and his crew for their friendliness and hospitality.  We also thanked the cook for providing such superb food.

Stephen Dunstan and Graham Ekins; Research Surveyors for MARINElife