UK/Ireland - Bilbao

Sightings Archives: February 2020

MARINELife Survey Report: ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 23rd February – 3rd March 2020

Posted 09 March 2020

Nuala Campbell and Jan Ozyer; Research surveyors for MARINElife

Marine mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 5
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 65
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 2
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 3

Seabirds
Auk sp. Alcidae 113
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 18
Gannet Morus bassanus 688
Goose sp. Anatidae 9
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 275
Gull sp. Laridae 323
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 422
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 101
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 21
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Shearwater sp. 3

Terrestrial Birds
Passerine sp. Passeriformes 2

22nd February    Liverpool Port

Our welcome aboard the mv Endeavor was by the very friendly first officer, who gave us a brief tour of the facilities. Every member of the crew we met on that first boarding, from deckhand to cook was equally enthusiastic.

We spent the daylight hours while the ship was loading noting the birds to be seen within the lock and harbour area. An impressive array of small waders, which included Knot, Turnstone and Godwit.  The many Black-headed Gull were performing their usual aerobatics and varied between winter and summer plumage. There were the usual Herring Gull, both adult and juvenile, but what impressed us were the clear signs of breeding plumage in the Cormorant. There were Canada Geese, Shelduck, Mute Swan and Oyster Catcher, but the best came near sundown with the Starling flocks settling for the night.

23rd February    Liverpool to Greenock (Firth of Clyde)

Weather: Starting with blue sky and sunshine turning overcast with grey skies, winds varying between 17-25 Knots from the West.

We steamed past the vast Windfarm array and then once the Pilot had navigated the Endeavor past the sandbanks of the Mersey mouth, the Captain invited us up to the Bridge to commence logging our seabirds and cetaceans.

Jan Ozyer_Nuala Campbell

Jan Surveying (Nuala Campbell)

We sighted Kittiwake, Razorbill, Guillemot and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. A memorable moment came as we sighted a Welsh speaking Teddy bear… This appeared from within the Pilot's rucksack and was on holiday from his son's primary school. The Teddy takes turns going away with the class mates, later, on return to school, relates his adventures in Welsh, what a brilliant learning aid. Now a young boy will be able to tell, with photographic proof, how Teddy went to sea.

Our own logging went on, the skies turned grey but sighting went on and Fulmar, a lone Herring Gull and a couple of Manx Shearwater made an appearance, along with a Great Black-backed Gull. One solitary dolphin cruised past the Bow of the ship, displaying only a dorsal fin and the curve of the back, hard to positively identify the species, but definitely too large for a Harbour Porpoise.

Fulmar Nuala Campbell 01

Fulmar (Nuala Campbell)

The Bridge crew asked questions about the importance of logging seabirds, and just why they were relevant as 'birds are everywhere' we explained about feeding patterns, abundance of food stock and changes in location of species due to warming seas. It helps us too to be able to share the reason we go out on ships and the importance of sharing the data MARINElife collates.

24th February   Greenock Port

A period of unloading and loading in Greenock gave we keen MARINElife observers a chance to spot the local wildlife.

Cormorant Nuala Campbell 01

Cormorant (Nuala Campbell)

Though the day was grey and foggy, with the occasional burst of light rain, we managed to identify a gamut of the usual birdlife, with a few lovely additions. We sighted both adult and immature Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull in both winter and summer plumage; a single male Eider duck; Cormorant and Shag in both breeding and non-breeding plumage; Common Gull, which in spite of their name are not so common; Red-throated Diver in winter plumage and Black Guillemot. All these set against a background of snow-capped mountains, the final icing on our cake were the several sightings of Grey Seal.

Tuesday 25th February   Greenock to Stranraer, from Firth of Clyde into the Irish Sea

Weather:  Sea state 2-5. Mainly cloudy with light rain occasionally.  Visibility mainly good.

Whilst the ship finished loading we spent a lovely morning on the bridge in the company of Black Guillemot, male and female Eider Duck and Red-throated Diver. Once the pilot had left the ship we were invited to commence our survey which started just north of the Isle of Arran.

Gannet Nuala Campbell 02

Gannet (Nuala Campbell)

Immediately we had two fishing vessels to the port side which produced a total of some 60 gulls, unfortunately a little too distant to positively identify and age.  At the same time a skein of 9 geese passed by, probably Canada geese but again a little too distant. Steady numbers of Kittiwake, Guillemot, and Shag were recorded, along with three beautiful Gannet and a Red-throated Diver. As we passed well to the west of Ailsa Craig the last rays of sunshine shone on its western slope and one solitary gull was seen.

26th February   Celtic Sea

Weather: Blue skies and rough seas for the first half of our session, turning grey and overcast with a rolling swell, but quieter wave action towards the end.

Today, transiting the Celtic sea, we had our first dolphin sightings and by 12pm we logged a total of 13 Common Dolphin, with one group of five joining a feeding frenzy of Kittiwake. Much later in the afternoon our Watch Officer made an eagle-eyed sighting of a further 3, leaping then cruising under the body of the ship, alas they surfaced into the Port glare, so we two 'experts' missed them. I have noticed that many sea-farers have really good long-sight, possibly due to the many hours looking out for danger when on watch.

We logged Guillemot, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake and Gannet today and were delighted to be in 'real' seabird realms.

Thursday 27th February Celtic Sea to Northern Biscay

Weather:  Sea state 8 - 6. 3+ swell.  Mainly cloudy.  Visibility good.

Common Dolphin Nuala Campbell 02

Common Dolphin (Nuala Campbell)

We ventured onto the bridge and observed an amazing rolling sea before us, not for the faint hearted!    We started recording the usual seabirds and it wasn't long before we had our first much awaited Great Skua which was being buffeted along in the wind.  A nearby fishing vessel produced another 3 Great Skua along with approx. 200 Gannet both circling the vessel and sitting on the water fully fed.  A total of 9 sightings of Common Dolphin were our cetaceans for the day including a great spot of 10 from our Captain.

Sunday 01st March         Bilbao into the southern Bay of Biscay.

The Endeavor departed Bilbao our safe harbour from the Biscay storms. Though the storm had died down, the swell stayed high as we headed North. A few Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull flew with us and the skies fluctuated between a grey overcast, clearing to tantalizing sections of blue where the sun shone through.

A sighting of a pair of Striped Dolphin, leaping and diving under the keel of the ship, kept us on alert as we headed over the deep-water canyons. They are often seen on the edge of the continental shelf and love the deeps of Biscay.

Alas the whales of the deep-blue made no appearance today.

2nd March           Northern Biscay into the Celtic Sea

North West wind, Sea State 8, Clouds 6, Swell height 3.

Great Skua Nuala Campbell 01

Great Skua (Nuala Campbell)

This was a Rainbow Day. We were surrounded by rainbows, in the skies and in the sea-spray. Again, we had high swells and strong waves, with occasional Sea Fog patches and intermittent rain. The Cumulus clouds formed high towers into what there was of blue skies, and the ship continued to cleave through the swell.

A group of Lesser Black-backed Gull escorted us out of Biscay and into the Celtic Sea. We sighted only Gannet, Kittiwake and a couple of auks during the morning plus a single Common Dolphin made a couple of leaps and under the ship and away.

Later in the survey, the sun shone on the water turning it a beautiful Jade-green, and clear enough for Jan to sight 3 Common Dolphin surging underwater through the waves to leap, then dive beneath the ship, crossing paths with a 4th individual moving in another direction.

We steamed on, in and out of rain showers, which we discovered were great for cleaning the Bridge windows of the accumulated salt spray.

Rainbow Nuala Campbell

Rainbow (Nuala Campbell)

Towards the end of our 'Rainbow Day' we watched a Circular Bow, showing clearly against sky and sea, but alas too wide a span for any of our cameras.

3rd March           Milford Haven to North of Anglesey

Weather: Sea state 5 - 3.  Light winds and good visibility.

We started our day just south of Milford Haven and as hoped for we had a steady flow of auks and Manx Shearwater, probably from the not too distant islands of Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey.

Welsh Coastline Nuala Campbell

Welsh Coastline (Nuala Campbell)

An unexpected Grey Seal was quite far out to sea but not in the slightest bothered by how close it was to the container ship. A good number of Gannet caught our attention and sure enough Nuala then spotted 5 Bottlenose Dolphin leaping towards where the Gannet were feeding. A short while later, another group of Gannet lead our eyes to a single Harbour Porpoise and another basking Grey Seal.  Our last dolphin was a distant sighting but again with several Gannet.

Our sincere thanks go to Captain Ivalo, his officers and crew for all their kindness and for making us so welcome.

Nuala Campbell and Jan Ozyer; Research surveyors for MARINElife