Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
The weather forecast for the day ahead suggested a day of two halves, with the morning promising the best of conditions. Joining passengers in Ilfracombe harbour in fair weather we embarked for a 10am sailing.
A quick scan of the outer harbour revealed a distant Great Black-backed Gull along with a few Herring and Black-headed Gulls.
Leaving the shelter of the harbour, our vessel set course for Ilfracombe into a heavy swell. Looking out for the Harbour Porpoises which are a feature of Ilfracombe’s coast, I picked up a single individual modestly breaking the water revealing its triangular fin. I was able to share this sighting with several other passengers.
Chatting to passengers it was clear there was an expectation of encountering dolphins. The bright conditions were good for viewing, but this benefit was offset by the swell and associated wavelets. A few of my fellow travellers enjoyed distant encounters with single dolphins but it was clear these marine mammals weren’t going to be obvious today. Seabird numbers were low too, with virtually all species, including Gannet and Kittiwake, remaining in single figures. Some Gannets provided close views and interest for passengers. Only Guillemot broke into double figures as isolated individuals punctuated our journey.
Despite the relatively challenging weather conditions, our skipper Jason still brought us to the island in good time. Approaching the Landing Bay, a few Shag scuttered across the water away from our path and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over the vessel.
The island’s Grey Seals never fail to lift the spirits and today visitors enjoyed good views of adults and growing white pups around the coast virtually wherever they looked. The mammal watching wasn’t all one-way traffic as several ‘bottling’ Grey Seals were seemingly inspecting the new human arrivals from the comfort of their marine domain.
Ascending the island, I was keen to see some of the migrant birds - including winter-visiting thrushes - which had been the talk of the previous week when a record-number of 4000 Fieldfares had been counted. A scan of the pastures just beyond the end of the village gave me distant views of both Redwing and Fieldfare in dispersed flocks joined by the island’s ever-present Starlings. These were my first sighting of these winter thrushes this side of summer.
The island attracts many visitors – both human and bird – so you never know what or who you are likely to see. For me, Saturday was a time of catching up with long-lost friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen for around 30 years. A slow ‘bimble’ back to the boat through Millcombe provided good but fleeting views of one of the island’s Yellow-browed Warblers frantically catching insects for the rest of its journey. The birds should really be heading to south-eastern Asia from Siberia. How they land up in the UK in such relative abundance is a bit of a mystery. And where they go once they are have left our shores is equally little understood.
The voyage home differed to our voyage out. The passage was much calmer with far less swell, but the forecast weather system came in from the southwest bringing some wind and quite intense and unpleasant periods of rain.
Some seabirds were seen, including the obligatory Guillemots and a solitary Razorbill among them. One passenger also noted a single Manx Shearwater.
Looking back at the island as it disappeared into the distance, reinforced the feeling that I wouldn’t set foot on Lundy again for another few months. This voyage was the last Saturday sailing and the last one this season attended by a MARINElife volunteer.
Before arriving back in Ilfracombe, there was just time to thank Jason and his crew for a great trip and a wonderful season. I’m sure my fellow MARINElife volunteers would join me in thanking the Landmark Trust and all their island and shore staff who have made us so welcome while gathering valuable data or helping passengers to get the most out of their trips by showing them the special wildlife of the North Devon coast. We are already looking forward to another great season next year.
MARINElife/Lundy WLO Grahame Madge