Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
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:
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
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
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 (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 Whales (Graham Ekins)
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.
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.
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)
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
Graham Ekins and Steve Boswell; Research Surveyors for
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.
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
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
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)
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.
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)
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
Philip Dutt, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward:E7-4 Return: W3 with some dense fog
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.
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)
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 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)
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)
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
Carol Farmer-Wright and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
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
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)
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.
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 (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 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
Carol Farmer-Wright and Cheryl Leaning, Research
Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Force 1 - 7
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)
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.
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.
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 (Carol Farmer-Wright)
Sunday 19th June Weather Fog or Rain
with full cloud cover, sea state Force 2-7 decreasing force
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.
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
Stephen Dunstan and Graham Ekins; Research Surveyors for
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 (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 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)
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)
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)
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)
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