Poole-Jersey survey 13 May
Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 44
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 3
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Auk sp. 1 Gull sp. 1
Terrestrial Birds Swift Apus apus 3
Outward - overcast, good visibility, wind NNE 4 to 5, sea state 4 to 5
Return - brighter, good visibility, wind mostly NNE 4 turning NNW 4 to 3 later, sea state 4 to 3
This was the first survey that we had undertaken with Condor Ferries since Covid stopped all our surveys in March 2020. So, it really felt special to be on board the Condor Liberation again, even if it was cloudy and rather cold for May. It was one of the earliest times on our schedule of surveys, hence the delicious bacon and egg rolls and hot coffee from Casquets Bistro, were most welcome and set us up to the day.
Shortly after getting on the bridge and introducing ourselves to Captain Crowe and his crew, we commenced the survey. It wasn’t long before we had our first bird sighting, a Guillemot, closely followed by a Gannet. But then it went quiet, and it wasn’t until almost an hour later that we spotted three Swift, heading towards the mainland. We suspected that bird sightings may be sparse, possibly due to many being on the nest at this time.
An hour and a half into the survey, Alderney loomed out of the mist on the port side with a great view of Ortac Rock dead ahead and Casquets lighthouse on the starboard side. The Gannet numbers definitely seemed to be less than usual around Ortac, presumably having been affected by the bird flu epidemic.
On our approach to Guernsey, we saw that the cruise ship Silver Wind was anchored and ferrying passengers in small tenders into St Peters Port, not for the faint hearted in cold windy conditions. We also noticed that the Castle Breakwater Lighthouse looked odd because apart from the lantern, it was shrouded in plastic sheeting, presumably for repairs or renovations. The Liberation then made a quick turnaround in Guernsey before continuing to Jersey.
On our approach to Jersey, the Liberation slowed down by La Corbiere lighthouse and the captain explained that as only one berth was working, we had to wait for the Condor Ferries ‘Commodore Goodwill’ to depart before we could dock. As we approached the berth, we noticed one of the curious amphibious vehicles, locally known as the Jersey ‘Duck’, which ferries people to and from Elisabeth Castle, which is situated on a tidal island just offshore at St Aubin’s Bay.
We had lunch whilst the Liberation was berthed in St Helier and when we resumed the survey, the weather had improved with sunny spells and the wind had dropped, making it easier to hopefully spot the odd fin or two. We occasionally looked back to the frothy wash from the engines because in the past we have spotted dolphins using it as a jacuzzi, but no such luck this time.
It was interesting to see Condor Ferries ‘Condor Voyager coming out of St Peter Port before we docked there. After another turnaround in Guernsey, it was clear blue skies all the way back. However, our sightings were limited to patches of thong weed and quite a few cuttlefish bones floating on the surface. That was until about 8 miles out of Guernsey, when Rick was alerted to splashes in the water. It was from 2 Grey Seal, which was rather unusual to spot them so far from land, so they were probably feeding.
After that, bird sightings did improve slightly with 2 Puffin, with their little white cheeks and signature orange beak, being spotted on the water. Gannet numbers increased as they flew to and from Ortac rock as they (and the guano on Ortac Rock!) was highlighted in the sunshine. Great Black-backed Gull were also spotted as well as Fulmar and the occasional Shag.
In Poole Bay, we eagerly scanned the water because a pod of 20 Bottlenose Dolphin has been seen recently in that area. However, we only spotted Sandwich Tern as they dived for food.
Approaching the entrance to Poole Harbour, we encountered the Bramble Bush Bay chain ferry loading vehicles as this is the shortest route between Poole and Swanage, saving over 25 miles on a return journey.
Then it was a case of ending the survey, packing up our bags and returning to our seats for the last of our journey through Poole Harbour, watching the yachts and the sun twinkling on the water.
Our thanks go to the support of Condor Ferries, and Captain Crowe and his crew on the Liberation who made this an enjoyable crossing.
Rick Morris and Glynis Northwood-Long, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)