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

Posted 26 February 2017

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

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

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

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

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

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 02

Great Black-backed Gull (Peter Howlett)

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

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 01

Common Dolphin (Rick Morris)

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

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

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


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

Speckled WoodPerez FrogSpeckled Wood & Perez Frong (Phil Dutt)

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

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

Sperm Whale_Tim Melling

Sperm Whale (Tim Melling)

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

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

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

Puffin Peter Howlett 03

Puffin (Peter Howlett)

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

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

Philip Dutt, Research Surveyor for MARINElife


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

Posted 27 November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guillemot Martin Gillingham

Guillemot (Martin Gillingham)

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

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

Cuviers BW Adrian Shephard 01

Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Adrian Shephard)

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

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

Common Dolphin Endeavor

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

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

Wind Farm Robin Langdon

Wind Farm Construction (Robin Langdon)

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

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

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

Posted 07 July 2016

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

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

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

Terrestrial birds seen
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1

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

Endeavor Carol Farmer Wright

Endeavor (Carol Farmer-Wright)

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

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

Cuviers BW Carol Farmer Wright 02

Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

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

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

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

Striped Dolphin 01 Carol Farmer Wright

Striped Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

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

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

LBB Gull 01 Carol Farmer Wright

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 27 April 2016

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

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

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

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

MV Endeavor

MV Endeavor (Graham Ekins)

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

Tuesday 19th April 2016

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

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 5

Common Dolphins (Graham Ekins)

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

Meadow Pipit Graham Ekins

Meadow Pipit (Graham Ekins)

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

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

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

Griffon Vulture Graham Ekins

Griffon Vulture (Graham Ekins)

Thursday 21st April

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

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

Friday 22nd April

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

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

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

Merlin Graham Ekins

Merlin (Graham Ekins)

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

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

Puffin Graham Ekins

Puffin (Graham Ekins)

Saturday 23rd April

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

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

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

Stephen Dunstan and Graham Ekins; Research Surveyors for MARINElife