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Balearics and Baskers

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Ocean Wildlife Encounters (OWE) has recently expanded to include some new guest speakers and enthusiasts to their ranks. On the Scenic British Isles tour, Jeff and Laura were joined by OWE recruits Paul Hill and Julia Mottishaw, both of whom are experienced and travelled naturalists (on occasion with Jeff and Laura). Paul, like Jeff, is well known on the speaker circuit in the north-west of England.

The OWE Team for the Scenic British Isles Cruise. From left to right: Julia Mottishaw, Paul Hill, Laura Dennis and Jeff Clarke

7th September – Southampton and The Solent.

After checking in on the MS Bolette in Southampton, we all met up and went on deck, not wanting to miss any birds (or mammals) as we sailed out of Southampton and into the Solent. We were not the only ones on deck and we were soon observing various waders and gulls – over 60 Oystercatchers were roosting on the wooden jetties with Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls (little did we know at that time, they would be among the few Common Gulls we would see). Thirty Black-tailed Godwits and a single Curlew fed on the mudflats as we entered the Solent, but a fast-flying juvenile Peregrine Falcon that flew right over the ship, was the highlight of the evening.

Just before dark we deployed a static bat detector on the top deck near the front of Bolette. Would it be successful?

Anabat Swift bat detector deployed on deck 10 - © Jeff Clarke - OWE

8th September – St Peter Port, Guernsey

Guernsey Sunrise from Bolette 8th September 2023 © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Guernsey Sunrise from Bolette's Forecastle 8th September 2023 © Jeff Clarke - OWE

A stunning sunrise on the 8th September saw us docking at St Peter Port, for a day’s exploration of Guernsey. As we alighted the tender (a lifeboat deployed as a shuttle from the anchored ship to shore) we were greeted by a Rock Pipit, feeding on the ground beneath some picnic tables.

Rock Pipit on the tender jetty in St. Peter Port - Guernsey © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The OWE team jumped on one of the local buses and headed to L’Ancresse beach at the north of the island. The short, floristic, grassland here was full of butterflies – Common Blue (some were very diminutive in size), Small Heath, Small Copper, Wall, Meadow Brown, Large and Small Whites, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood were all seen, whilst migrant moths included Humming-bird Hawk-moth and Silver-y, hovering and nectaring, whilst Vestal and Rush Veneer were also seen dotted among flowers such as Hare's-foot Clover and Pink Sorrel, the latter a naturalised plant native of South America

Common Blue and Small Copper - Guernsey © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Hare's-foot Clover and Pink Sorrel - Guernsey © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The beach itself held several gull species, among them a single Mediterranean Gull. This species is now becoming a regular sight in the UK, and one we were to enjoy most days. Gannets, Cormorants and Shags were seen out to sea, the rockier shores also held a party of twenty Turnstone and a solitary Golden Plover called plaintively as it flew over the adjacent golf-course. The course itself and surrounding scrub held plenty of land birds. Of the three Northern Wheatear seen, one was of the larger, more upright and brighter Greenland race. Family parties of Stonechat were seen amongst the gorse bushes and flocks of Linnets and Goldfinches fed on the thistles.

From left: Barn Swallow juv.; Northern Wheatear; Goldfinch juv. on Wild Carrot - Guernsey © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Stonechat juv. Guernsey © Paul Hill - OWE

Once we were back onboard the ship, we headed forward on Deck 6. It was time to leave St Peter Port and head for the Isles of Scilly. With plenty of daylight left we had the opportunity to find a few seabirds and before long we encountered rafts of Balearic Shearwaters. This is one of the rarer shearwaters, long thought to be a dusky form of Manx Shearwater. Balearic Shearwater was formerly split from Manx in 1991 as Mediterranean Shearwater, along with its close conspecific Yelkouan Shearwater, before a further split in 2000 into two distinct species. Unsurprisingly this species breeds around the Balearic Islands. Sadly, its small population is declining at 7.4% per year and unless serious steps are taken to reduce human-induced threats it could go extinct in a little as thirty to forty years. Balearic Shearwaters were long thought to spend the winter in the Atlantic but have recently been discovered wintering around the Channel Islands and the south coasts of the UK in substantial numbers. We saw more than 500 Balearic Shearwaters, with a single Manx Shearwater thrown in for good measure. Gannets were also everywhere we looked, which was very encouraging – avian flu had taken its toll on Gannets in 2022, but the survivors (often identifiable by their dark eyes) and birds breeding for the first time have fared well. A close look at the gulls as we headed out to sea produced about 500 Herring Gull, 250 Black-headed Gull and three Mediterranean Gulls. Small numbers of Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls were seen, but no Common Gulls.

Balearic Shearwaters off Guernsey © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Before the end of the day we belatedly saw our first cetaceans of the trip - two Common Dolphins.

9th September – St Mary’s, Isle of Scilly

Our third day dawned with Bolette moored off St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly, in the middle of a stretch of water referred to as The Road. It was to be another, warm, dry day with the temperature in the low 20’s.

MS Bolette at Anchor in 'The Roads' from the Garrison St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - © Jeff Clarke - OWE

By the time we had been tendered to the island of St Mary’s we had missed the daily pelagic boat trip to Bishop Lighthouse, and with it the chance to see a vagrant Red-footed Booby. Undeterred, we decided to look for our own rarities around the Garrison. The ivy-covered lanes were attracting lots of butterflies and hoverflies, Humming-bird Hawkmoth and Ivy Bee.

Ivy Bee - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - © Jeff Clarke - OWE

As we walked around the Garrison, the passerine birds species included several Spotted Flycatchers, Pied Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Blue and Great Tits. Migration time always tantalises and we did find something a tad rarer in the form of one, possibly two, Icterine Warblers. After lunch we strolled out to Peninnis Head via Lower Moors, a Garden Tiger moth caterpillar was a notable invertebrate addition and bird-wise we noted Northern Wheatear, Stonechat, Linnet, Dunnock and Wren, but couldn’t find the reported Wryneck. Scanning the shore as we walked revealed Greenshank and Turnstone. Three Mediterranean Gull and at least 75 Sandwich Tern roosted on the rocks. Through the day Barn Swallows passed overhead treating the islands like a ‘drive-thru’ refuelling stop on their southwards migration, a single House Martin was amongst them.

Garden Tiger caterpillar - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - © Paul Hill - OWE

Dunnock and Linnet - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Mediterreanean Gull - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - © Jeff Clarke - OWE

We were back on the boat late-afternoon as the tender service, provided by the St. Mary’s Boatman’s Association, ceased operating by 5pm. However, we wouldn’t depart until 10pm, so we set up a watch from the back of the lido deck to show folks some of the rarer seabirds and hopefully a few cetaceans. We rapidly locked on to a couple of pods of Common Dolphin passing through St. Mary’s Sound between St. Mary’s and St. Agnes. We also spied a sizeable pod of 15 Harbour Porpoise and a distant Minke Whale. We were joined by many of the passengers, and we were soon showing them Cory’s Shearwaters, albeit at some distance, (in excess of 100 were seen during the day, most at dawn during the sail into St. Mary’s) out in the Northwest Channel, several Manx Shearwater and half-a-dozen Balearic Shearwater were also present. As dusk fell, over 20 Red Admirals flew over boat on their southerly migration.

Sunset and Samson - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - © Jeff Clarke - OWE

10th September- Celtic Sea and Irish Sea

The day started with a check of the moth-trap we had set-up on the staff deck at the top of the boat. We had taken a 30w actinic Skinner trap (considering a mercury-vapour trap, with a hot bulb, might be a bit risky if it was stormy). The moth trap yielded our first migrants of the day; singles of Delicate and Cosmopolitan, plus three Silver-Y. A single Hippolais warbler on Deck 9 remained unidentified, mainly because it flew out of view before the identification could be clinched.

Delicate from the moth trap aboard Bolette © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Today was a “Sea Day” as we cruised north to Belfast, filled with viewing from Deck 6, talks, official lunches and workshops and finally the evening log call!!

Celtic Sea crowd on deck 6 of Bolette © Laura Dennis - OWE

The day was to be an excellent one for seabirds with four species of shearwater seen – at least a dozen Cory’s, over 40 Great, 100+ Manx and a single Balearic. One young Manx Shearwater, possibly on the first flight from its nest burrow, was also rescued from the back of Deck 2, which was soon returned, none the worse for its misadventure, to the safety of the ocean, hopefully to live a long and productive life.

Great Shearwater - Celtic Sea © Jeff Clarke - OWE

A Storm Petrel (species unknown) had also been seen on Deck 3 during the night. We saw our first skua of the trip, a pale phase Arctic Skua. Gannets still featured strongly, and close scrutiny of the many Black-legged Kittiwake produced a single adult Sabine’s Gull. Several rafts of Common Guillemots and Razorbills were seen – an estimated 800 of the former and 200 of the latter, the calls of the young Guillemots could be plainly heard even up on Deck 6. We were also to experience passerine migration as over 400 Barn Swallows headed south-east over the ship, together with at least 25 Sand Martin. A diminutive passerine seen flying low over the waves, unexpectedly proved to be a Wren when the photograph was examined; a Blue Tit was also seen whilst we were cruising! Robin, Reed Warbler, the aformentioned Hippolais Warbler, Chiffchaff / Willow Warbler, Meadow Pipit and Grey and Pied Wagtails were all recorded on or passing over Bolette. In addition to the migratory birds, we also logged over 50 Red Admiral migrating south.

Black-legged Kittiwake, 1st winter - Celtic Sea - © Paul Hill - OWE

Jeff with rescued Manx Shearwater on Bolette 9th September 2023 - Celtic Sea © Laura Dennis - OWE

Ocean Wildlife Encounters repatriating a Manx Shearwater on Bolette - Celtic Sea - courtesy of © Jim Mason

Barn Swallows and Sand Martin migrating south-east over Bolette - Celtic Sea © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Even though we spent a long time looking at seabirds, we also saw over 175 Common Dolphin, an Atlantic Grey Seal, a Basking Shark was spied by a passenger and a breaching Atlantic Bluefin Tuna expanded our ‘fish’ list.

Common Dolphin from deck 3 of Bolette - Celtic Sea © Paul Hill - OWE

11th September – Belfast

RSPB reserve with Bolette in the background 10th September 2023 - Belfast Lough © Jeff Clarke - OWE

We were docked before dawn. Viewing Belfast Harbour from the back of Decks 2 and 3 produced several Cormorant, Shag, Greylag Geese, numerous gulls, wildfowl and waders, plus 16 Harbour Seal. The moth-trap was duly checked and held a single Vestal and three Angle Shades, we found a few others of the latter, along with Silver-y and Turnip moth dotted around the ship.

Great Cormorant - Belfast Lough © Paul Hill - OWE

Once ashore we headed for Belfast Lough RSPB Reserve and the surrounding area.

The freshwater lagoon on the RSPB reserve held plenty of waterfowl – Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Shelduck and Little Grebe.

Little Grebe - Belfast Lough © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The man-made islands held many pairs of Common Tern and young chicks were still present. The terns hadn’t arrived until June, missing the avian flu that had swept though the Black-headed Gull colony, so the breeding season was later than previous years and thankfully looked to be very successful. Roosting waders included Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin and a single Knot. A party of 18 Little Egrets, that briefly dropped into the reserve, was the largest group ever seen there according to the RSPB volunteers and staff.

Common Tern - Belfast Lough © Paul Hill - OWE

A walk round the Lough yielded several Black Guillemots (all in juvenile or winter plumage). Common Guillemot and a couple of Common Eider were also present. Wading birds on the shoreline included Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Knot, Redshank, Ringed Plover and Turnstone. The first of the wintering Pale-bellied Brent Geese had arrived, with several parties seen.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese - Belfast Lough © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Black Guillemots - Belfast Lough left © Jeff Clarke; right © Paul Hill - OWE

Common Guillemots left © Paul Hill right © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Eurasian Curlew and Oystercatcher left; Common Redshank right - Belfast Lough © Jeff Clarke - OWE

12th September – At sea to Inner Hebrides and Small Isles

Another sea day with plenty to keep us occupied so at least two of the OWE team (and most often all four of us) were on either Deck 6 or Deck 3 from dusk to dawn! The hours spent though were well worth it.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Bird-wise, several skeins of Pink-footed Geese, fresh in from Iceland, were observed passing over, their presence often betrayed by their evocative musical calls, an estimated 600 were seen in total.

Migrating Pink-footed Geese over the Sea of Hebrides © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Seabirds were dominated by Manx Shearwater, over 2,000 were recorded, alongside our first Sooty Shearwater of the trip. Also added to the list was our first Great Skua. A single Sabine’s Gull was noted, and Kittiwakes numbered in excess of 200. A similar number of Common Guillemot peppered our route north, together with three Black Guillemots and half-a-dozen Razorbills. Whilst we cruised around Loch Hourn we kept a beady eye on the mountain ridges, which eventually produced a couple of soaring Golden Eagles and numerous Red Deer. Harbour Seals were hauled out on the rocky islets in the Loch.

Leaving the Loch we headed towards Rum, where as dusk approached, a ring-tail Hen Harrier was watched as it flew across from Canna to roost.

With a full day at sea, cetaceans were very much in evidence, with over 837 Common Dolphin observed, many played in the wake of the ship, clearly enjoying themselves and providing some excellent photo opportunities. Five Harbour Porpoise were also seen and a total of eight Minke Whale, showed themselves to the stalwarts on deck 6.

Common Dolphins head for Bolette's bow around the Small Isles © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Common Dolphin alongside Bolette © Paul Hill - OWE

Evocatively backlit Common Dolphin in sparkling Hebridean waters around the Small Isles © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Passengers aboard Bolette on deck 6 enjoying the dolphin spectacular © Paul Hill - OWE

13th September - Stornoway

The day started off relatively calm, allowing Jeff to film some Common Dolphins alongside the ship as we approached Stornoway in the pre-dawn light. By sunrise Bolette was dropping her anchors and a short while later the tenders began ferrying passengers, in benign conditions, into Stornoway harbour – the journey back to the MS Bolette would be less placid!

Common Dolphins pre-sunrise on Bolette's approach to Stornoway © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Jeff and Laura headed to Tiumpan Head for a seawatch; Paul and Julia opted for a leisurely woodland walk. Four breaching Minke Whale and over 2,000 Sooty Shearwater made the trip to Tiumpan Head worthwhile. Over 600 Pink-footed Geese flew over, and a flock of 120+ Greylag Geese fed in the fields around the headland. Single Red-throated Diver and Great Crested Grebe were seen, along with the usual selection of gulls, waders and other seabirds. The woodland walk produced a typical selection of woodland birds.

Tiumpan Lighthouse looking out over The Minch © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The journey back to the boat was rather lively – the wind had risen to a Force 4 - 5, with a rather choppy sea that bounced the tenders around in unpredictable fashion. Sick bags and buckets were duly deployed by the crew as a precaution.

During spells on Deck 6 (or Deck 3 when it was too wet and windy), a single European Storm Petrel was seen, over 60 Sooty and 100 Manx Shearwater, 200 Kittiwake, a dozen Arctic Skua and a single Great Skua. Thirty-five Common Dolphin and one unidentified dolphin were seen, along with a single Atlantic Grey Seal.

We were due to head for Lerwick on the Shetland Isles overnight, but the forecasted storm meant that we wouldn’t be able to drop anchor and be tendered ashore. Instead, we spent the evening in the shelter of the Minch.

14th September – The Minch

An unscheduled sea day, the storm had passed but we were still left with a lumpy sea and a Force 6 NW wind, meaning that we cruised The Minch for the day, travelling up and down, with the OWE team alternating between Deck 6 and Deck 3 – the latter when we were heading into the wind.

Jeff started the day well with a breaching Humpback Whale ahead of the boat just after dawn (the rest of us soon joined him, but we were not quite quick enough).

Humpbacked Whale breaching in The Minch with Rua Reidh Lighthouse in the background © Jeff Clarke - OWE

During the day we made several passes of Tiumpan Head, so counts were best estimates. Most bird seen well were close in to the ship, the choppy seas with waves nearly 2.5 metres high made viewing distant seabirds and cetaceans difficult. Nevertheless, we still saw an estimated 100 Fulmar, 80 Sooty and 40 Manx Shearwaters, over 20 Arctic Skua, 3,000 plus Common Guillemot, under 100 Razorbill, a single Puffin and Black Guillemot, 300 Kittiwake, a single Sabine’s Gull and 40 Common Scoter. Over 300 Pink-footed Geese were seen flying over. Cetaceans were very difficult to see, often our first glimpse of them would be just as they appeared under the bow of the boat, approximately 140 Common Dolphin were noted along with a single White-beaked Dolphin, which was seen twice with a group of Common Dolphin. Two Minke Whale were seen and around 10 dolphins went unidentified.

Arctic Skuas - light and dark phases © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Pink-footed Geese off Stornoway © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Great Black-backed Gull 1st winter and adult Northern Gannet in The Minch © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Tiumpan Lighthouse from The Minch © Jeff Clarke - OWE

A rainbow in The Minch © Jeff Clarke - OWE

15th September - Kirkwall, Orkney

With the worst of the weather over, we had headed to Kirkwall in Orkney overnight and awoke anchored in the harbour. After breakfast we headed off the ship and walked round to Kirkwall town to meet Emma Neave-Webb and Russell Neave – also members of OWE. Walking round to the ferry terminal we saw Black Guillemots (‘Tysties’) and Common Eiders in the harbour, Julia captured a cracking image of one of the latter with a crab breakfast.

Common Eider female devours a crab in Kirkwall harbour © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

The local boating lake held Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Wigeon and Teal along with several Mute Swan. After a pub lunch we headed on foot towards Scapa beach, adding Reed Bunting and authentic looking Rock Doves to our trip list.

Rock Dove along the Crantit Trail, Mainland, Orkney © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The beach at Scapa held several species of feeding waders; Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank and a single Sanderling. Whilst scanning through a party of gulls on the shoreline, we found yet another adult winter Mediterranean Gull, a nice find amongst the Black-headed and Herring Gulls as it is still a scarcity in the islands. Hooded Crows (and some hybrids with Carrion Crow), Pied Wagtails, Meadow and Rock Pipits also fed on the beach. More Eider and auks, mostly Razorbills, were on the sea. A flock of Linnets attracted the attentions of a marauding Sparrowhawk, that with incredible dexterity secured a meal.

Roosting Redshank on Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney © Paul Hill - OWE

Ringed Plover on the run at Scapa Beach © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Turnstone at Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Oystercatcher at Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Pied Wagtail female at Scapa Beach © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Rock Pipit at Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Razorbills Mainland, Orkney; left © Jeff Clarke; right © Julia Mottishaw - OWE

Hooded/Carrion Crow hybrid on Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney © Paul Hill - OWE

The previous days storm had piled up the seaweed against the sea wall, dotted through it were the recently deceased corpses of Razorbills, 18 counted in total, together with a couple of Common Guillemot and an adult Gannet. This is commonly referred to as a ‘seabird wreck’, without an autopsy it’s not possible to know if they were victims of avian flu, or starvation, the latter was implicated in a large die-off of auks around the UK coast in the winter of 2021/22.

Deceased Razorbill at Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Back on deck we resumed our watch from Deck 6 as we left Kirkwall, over 200 Common Eider were seen from the boat as we departed, along with a single Red-throated Diver and small numbers of Common and Black Guillemots, and Razorbill. Two Arctic Terns were the only ones seen on the whole trip.

16th September – Invergordon

Bolette was moored in Invergordon, but most of the day was spent on board, either putting the Wildlife Review preparation together, ready to be displayed in the ‘Earth Room’, or on Deck 6 birdwatching!

As we approached the Cromarty Firth at dawn, 1,000’s of Pink-footed Geese were leaving their overnight roosts, and small numbers of Common Scoter were on the water. From our anchored position, looking at the exposed mud revealed flocks of Teal and Wigeon, waders included over 100 Oystercatcher, with twice as many Redshank and smaller numbers of Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Curlew and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. Over 500 Herring Gull were present in the harbour with a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

The Sutors at Comarty Firth © Jeff Clarke - OWE

As we headed back out of the Cromarty Firth and into the Moray Firth we lined Deck 6, eyes peeled for the UK’s largest fish, the Basking Shark. It wasn’t long before the first ‘Basker’ was spotted, but at quite a distance. The distinctive triangular dorsal fin was readily seen and occasionally the tip of the tail. As we made our way through the Moray Firth we started to see more Basking Sharks, some a lot closer to the boat. Over a period of barely an hour we had recorded a remarkable 25 Basking Sharks, along with three each of Common Dolphin and Minke Whale, plus seven Harbour Porpoise.

Basking Shark in the Moray Firth © Paul Hill - OWE

Basking Shark in the Moray Firth © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Birds noted included at least 300 Gannet, 500 Common Guillemot, 200 Razorbill and three Black Guillemot. The avian highlight of the day was saved for the last few minutes of useable daylight, when a blue-phase Fulmar, a rare visitor to UK waters from the arctic, closely paced Bollette on her port side.

2nd Calendar and adult Northern Gannet in the Moray Firth; left © Paul Hill; right © Jeff Clarke - OWE

'blue phase' Northern Fulmar in the Moray Firth © Paul Hill - OWE

Leaving the Moray Firth at sunset © Jeff Clarke - OWE

17th September – Homeward Bound

Our final day was mainly spent on Deck 3 – with Bolette travelling at around 20 Knots into a crosswind, standing on the front of Deck 6 was decidedly blowy! The more sheltered deck 3 provided the only reasonable viewing. Seabirds were to dominate the day, and before breakfast Jeff had already seen a single adult Long-tailed Skua. During the day we were to see at least 30 Great Skua, 10 Arctic Skua and a single Pomarine Skua. Parties of Kittiwakes were present on and off all day, with an estimated 200 seen, amongst them were small groups of Little Gull, 20 adults were seen but, surprisingly, no juveniles. Gannets played in the wind, occasionally harassed by the Great Skuas, around 300 Gannet were seen. We also had our highest count of Fulmar as we cruised south through the North Sea with at least 100 careening with characteristic stiff wings over the whitecaps.

North Sea migrants Pomarine Skua (left) & Great Skuas (right) © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Only small numbers of passerines appeared inbound from Scandinavia, including Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit, both of which took temporary refuge aboard Bolette.

North Sea migrants Pied Wagtail (left) & Meadow Pipit (right) © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The only cetaceans noted were two Harbour Porpoise, but given the number of Common Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale seen during the cruise, we didn’t hear anyone complain.

Bats above Bolette

Throughout most of the cruise we had deployed a bat detector on the top of Deck 10 just behind the glazed front windbreak. As it was migration time, we had gambled that we might intercept a few bats commuting from breeding areas to wintering sites.

The gamble paid out. In the early hours of the morning of the 8th September, as Bolette approached the Channel Islands, our detector picked up some commuting calls. The spectrograms show the presumed species involved to be either Nathusius' Pipistrelle or Kuhl’s Pipistrelle, their calls are often indistinguishable.

presumed Nathusias'/Kuhl's Pipistrelle above Bolette in the English Channel near Guernsey © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The following day, as Bolette waited at anchor in the Isles of Scilly another species of bat flew over after dark. This was a much bigger species, a presumed Leisler’s Bat, also known as Lesser Noctule, a species rarely recorded in the islands.

presumed Leisler's bat above Bolette in Isles of Scilly © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Finally, as we headed north up the Celtic Sea towards Belfast a third species was recorded, in the early hours of the morning, many, many miles from land. This was a Common Pipistrelle. We speculated that it was flying from Ireland to the UK, we had a total of 16 passes over a period of 45 minutes. Was this the same bat doing loops of the ship, or a series of bats passing on a similar route?

Common Pipistrelle bat above Bolette in Celtic Sea © Jeff Clarke - OWE

This is something we’ll repeat when we do the Migration themed cruise from Liverpool through the Straits of Gibraltar in September 2024.

18th September – Southampton

Bolette docked in Southampton before 06.00. Few birds were seen on disembarking, but nobody minded. An impressive 115 species of bird were recorded during the cruise, 13 mammals, including 5 species of cetaceans and 3 bats, and 3 species of fish.


Ocean Wildlife Encounters would like to than the following organisations and individuals for all their help and support that enabled us to put a team aboard MS Bolette for this superb cruise around the Scenic British Isles: Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, including the shoreside team from Joy of the Journey, as well as the onboard Entertainments Team and the Navigational Bridge team.

Our Agents at Peel Talent with special thanks to Sara Andrew who has done so much to support and promote the OWE project.

We would also like to thank the many passengers who joined us in exploring the wonderful diversity of nature we encountered and enjoyed during the cruise, including the lady passenger called George who discovered the stranded Manx Shearwater, and Jim Mason who contributed the video of its repatriation to the sea. It was lovely meeting you all and we hope you can join us again soon.

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We were passengers on board for this trip, and we really appreciated the generosity, help and knowledge of the OWE team. It really added an extra dimension to our wonderful cruise; thank you so much. Paul & Janet

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