Robin Langdon; Researcher Surveyor for MARINElife
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
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)
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)
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.
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)
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 (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)
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)
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)
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 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
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
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
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.
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.
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…..
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!
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'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 (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
Small Heath 1
Meadow Brown 4
Plants of note
Autumn Lady's Tresses
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 (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 (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 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
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 (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)
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.
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 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.
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.
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)
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)
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 (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.
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.
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.
Maggie Gamble and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
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)
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)
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)
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 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.
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 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)
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)
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)
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!
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)
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)
Maggie Gamble and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
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