UK/Ireland - Bilbao

Sightings Archives: August 2018

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

Posted 27 August 2018

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

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

Fish
Sunfish Mola mola 1
Tuna

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

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

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

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

LBBG Rob Petley Jones 02

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

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

Day 1 Seabirds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eider Rob Petley Jones 01

Eider (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Dolphin Rob Petley Jones 04

Common Dolphin (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

Day 3 Marine mammals

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

Day 3 Seabirds

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

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

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

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

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

Sooty SW Rob Petley Jones

Sooty Shearwater (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

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

Green Flash Rob Petley Jones

Green Flash (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

Day 4 Seabirds

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

Day 4 Terrestrial Birds
Warbler sp. 2

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

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

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

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

Butterflies Rob Petley Jones

Butterflies (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

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

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

Day 5 Wildlife seen on Serantes Hill - Birds
Booted Eagle
Kestrel
Chough
Melodious Warbler
Stonechat
Linnet

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

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

Fin Whale Faeces Rob Petley Jones

Fin Whale Faeces (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

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

Overcast skies ended a good day of cetacean surveying!

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

Day 6 Seabirds

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

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

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

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

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

Fin Whale Rob Petley Jones 01

Fin Whale (Rob Petley-Jones)

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

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

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

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

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

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