The Jersey Bird's website, described this particular Saturday as being a "steely grey day", departing Portsmouth at 09:00, we would certainly agree with this assessment. A quick, but hearty, breakfast was consumed before we were escorted to the bridge and introduced to Captain Steven Leake and his officers. The crew steered us out of harbour affording excellent views of the Royal Navy's two aircraft carriers. As we moved out to sea, the calm waters and our elevated view from the bridge afforded excellent viewing conditions across the Channel, Stephen and l both recognising what a privilege it is to be permitted to survey from the bridge of these vessels.
We quickly set to work recording many of the usual avian suspects: Common Gull, Herring Gull and both Black-backed Gull species. Passing Gannets joined the gulls trailing the ship. An hour into our crossing and we recorded two Red-throated Divers, intermittent flapping and shearing (a term used to describe the rising and falling flight of a bird gliding across the wind) aided in the identification of the trip's only Fulmar. Stephen's sharp eyes and extensive survey experience would see us add individuals of Little Gull and Puffin, the latter became our third auk species along with Guillemot and Razorbills.
As we approached Alderney, a combination of tides and sheltered waters, between the Channel Islands and the French mainland, would see the sea state drop to near–perfect conditions for spotting cetaceans. We didn’t have to wait long for dorsal fins. At 13:39 we both had a pod of dolphins through our bins, several of the animals were throwing their heads clear of the water, affording them a view of the ferry and showing us the yellowy/gold flanks that marked them out as Common Dolphin. They approached the ship to engage in a spot of bow riding, Stephen counted five whilst I fired off a few shots with the camera. No time to check the resulting pictures as the blunt dorsal fins of Harbour Porpoise began to break the surface to port and starboard at regular intervals.
Before too long we were steered past Sark and had begun our approach into St Peter Port and Guernsey. As we approached the harbour walls, the captain encouraged us not to put away our survey equipment yet, just in case. This turned out to be the right call as we both got onto three Bottlenose Dolphins tracking a local fishing boat just offshore in the hope of an easy meal.
The fading light was to prevent us from surveying between Guernsey and Jersey on this occasion. A quick coffee break whilst in port and then back up to the bridge to see Guernsey lit up at night, and to thank the crew for their hospitality. Then to the mess for dinner whilst we sailed over to Jersey, both of us were pleased with our species-list in what is often a trickier time in the survey calendar. We agreed we'll be volunteering for this survey route again, once the longer days arrive and extend our survey-time; allowing us to see what else we can find in these waters.
Stephen Boswell and Owen Crawshaw, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Weather: wind N, sea state 3, visibility good
Summary of sightings
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus 25
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 12
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 50
Razorbill Alca torda 49
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 22
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Shag Gulosus aristotelis 7
Auk spp. 54