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

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

Summary of sightings:

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

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

Landbirds seen offshore
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 3

Day 1

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

Day 2

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

Kittiwake Graham Ekins 05

Kittiwake (Graham Ekins)

Day 3

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

Day 4

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

Fulmar Mike Bailey 07

Fulmar (Mike Bailey)

Day 5

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

Striped Dolphin 2

Striped Dolphin (Mike Bailey)

Day 6

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

Tawney Owl Stephen Dunstan

Tawny Owl (Stephen Dunstan)

Day 7

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

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 13

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

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

Pilot Whale Stephen Dunstan 02

Pilot Whale (Stephen Dunstan)

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

Day 8

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

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01

Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

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

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

Stephen Dunstan and Jan Ozyer; Research Surveyors for MARINElife