10 Jul 2024

3 Jul 24 - My first Wildlife Officer Role For Marinelife To Guernsey

Back at the end of Apr 24, I took part in my first Marinelife survey on the Condor Liberation bridge from Poole to Jersey, via Guernsey. It proved a lot of fun. Recently, Marinelife have asked for volunteers from their surveyors to support having a Wildlife Officer on the Liberation about once a week. I was pleased to be the first Wildlife Officer of this season. The Marinelife WLO role is very different to the surveying role. The main differences are, the WLO is on the top deck engaging with and pointing out to the public about the Birds, Cetaceans and other marine life along the route, as well as, to promote the important work that Marinelife does. However, there isn't any formal surveying during the crossing. Finally, there is the opportunity to get off in Guernsey to stretch the legs for a few hours, whereas, during the formal surveys, the surveyors stay on the bridge to Jersey.
We pulled out as the MV Pelican was coming towards the quay: The shipping channel is narrow in Poole Harbour, but the two bridge crews must have practiced this manoeuvre on many occasions
The check-in was very quick at the Poole terminal and soon we were being called to board the Liberation. I introduced myself to the information team on the ferry and they helpfully broadcast that there was a Marinelife Wildlife Officer on board. By that time, I was already on the top deck and chatting to passengers before our departure. The departure from Poole is always delightful, as the ferry passes the Dorset Wildlife Trust Brownsea Island lagoon: where there were distant views of the breeding Black-headed Gulls, Common and Sandwich Terns. This was when I felt a little bit guilty as normally I would be on Brownsea on a Wednesday. I will look forward to seeing my Red Squirrel mates this week.
The Brownsea Castle & quayside
Next we passed through the Poole Harbour mouth and the immensely beautiful Studland Peninsula, followed by Old Harry Rocks, before heading out to sea.
The Studland Ferry with part of my Studland patch in the background
There was a significant South West wind and I switched to the port side of the ship for the rest of the journey, along with a few other passengers who stayed on the top deck. There were nearby rain squalls as we left the Dorset coast, but we were lucky and the top deck stayed dry.
The weather looked ominous off Old Harry: This is the Southernmost point of my Studland patch. Fortunately, we missed the rain squalls
As the ship headed out to sea, there were a few Razorbills and Guillemots from the nearby breeding colony at Durlston and the adjacent Purbeck coastline. Surprisingly, the only other Seabird was a lone Gannet. About fifteen miles out from the Purbeck coastline, a party of five Swifts headed North: presumably a post-breeding dispersal?

Thirty minutes before we reached Alderney, I picked up a pod of three Common Dolphins jumping out of the water as they attempted to reach the Liberation before we were passed: unfortunately, they didn’t close the distance before we passed them. Another two Common Dolphins repeated the manoeuvre a few minutes later and presumably they were part of the same extended pod. It was good to be able to point them out to the hardy passengers who were still on the deck.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos on this occasion, as the sightings were brief & the priority was to point out the Dolphins to the passengers. This photo was taken during the West African Pelagic in the Bay of Biscay (9 May 18)
As we got closer to Alderney, we started to encounter feeding Gannets from the Gannet colony on Ortac Rock, which had about four hundred Gannets sitting on it.
I could see around four hundred Gannets on view on the Ortac Rock in my photos
Three hours after our Poole departure, there was a Mediterranean Gull feeding outside the harbour as we entered Guernsey’s picturesque St Peter Port.
This hazard buoy outside the St Peter Port harbour has seen clearly some grim seas
The Brehon Tower off St Peter Port: The fort is modelled on the Martello Tower design and it was completed in 1857
I joined the day tripping passengers for a look around the town. Some headed off to the shops and restaurants, but I had an enjoyable time exploring the historic Castle Cornet and its three museums. There was plenty of interesting history to see in the two hours I was there, before a gentle walk back past the harbour to the ferry terminal. There will be more on this to come.
St Peter Port: The weather had improved a bit compared to Poole, but it was still cloudy & windy
Castle Cornet: The Castle dominates and protects the St Peter Port harbour. Originally, the Castle was built on an island, but in 1860 it was connected to the main island of Guernsey and it is now connected into the breakwater
Oystercatchers: These two Oystercatchers are enjoying a nap on the outer edge of the Castle Cornet defences
After another quick check-in, I was back onto the top deck and engaging with the passengers before the prompt departure. The weather had improved for the return journey, except for the wind, but it was reasonably sheltered on the starboard side. The birds picked up as well with a Balearic Shearwater tracking alongside the ship for a few minutes, followed by two more distant Manx Shearwater and some feeding Gannets from the Ortac Rock. It was good to engage with the passengers who remained on the top deck and explain the migrations of these two species of Shearwaters and other Seabirds that occur along this route during the year.
Balearic Shearwater
The weather had improved a bit as we passed through Studland Bay. Plus, the local Marines were putting on a training session in the bay to entertain the passengers. It provided a good end to an enjoyable day which had allowed plenty of passenger engagement.
Old Harry on the way back
The Royal Marines on a training exercise
Thanks to Condor Ferries and the crew of the Condor Liberation for making me welcome on board and for their support to Marinelife.
South Haven & the Poole Harbour mouth