Saturday, September 03, 2011

Bay of Biscay:"Pont Aven" Ferry Aug/Sept 2011

After the cancellation of the Cornwall Pelagic out of St Ives on Saturday 27.August with Kevin and Dan I enjoyed the long August Bank Holiday weekend up at the caravan with Teresa before on Tuesday morning heading down from Llangors to Richard Smith's house in Llantrisant for Sue to drop us both at Cardiff Central station to join up with 10 other participants on the Brittany Ferries "Pont Aven" from Portsmouth-Santander-Plymouth in the hope of encountering plenty of quality sea birds and cetaceans.The scheduled train to Portsmouth Harbour was on time but points problems at Bristol meant a 1 hour delay with Great Western deciding to terminate the journey at Fareham,which was really good of them,it's no wonder that the rail system in this country gets such bad press !!
Some quick thinking by the lads had 3 pre-booked taxis waiting for us at Fareham station and we were whisked quickly to the ferry with about 15 mins to spare,we quickly dumped our gear in our cabin and then had a couple of hours up on deck sea-watching as we made our way out into the English Channel picking up some Common Terns and Gannets.
I was sharing a 4 berth cabin with Richard,John Wilson and Alan Rosney and after a brisk wash and brush up we joined the others in the A La Carte restaurant for a sumptuous evening meal and a few drinks.
Wednesday morning saw us rise early if not bright for a full day's seawatching in the lower half of the Bay of Biscay before arriving at Santander at 6.00pm.
Myself and John jumped the gun and it was still dark as we arrived up on Deck 6 (Promenade Deck) which we had sussed out the evening before,we were soon joined by Richard and Alan and Joex Roex and Steve Howcroft soon arrived as did Cliff "Tiger" Woodhead,Alan Hughes,Nigel Fairney,Steve Hinton,Nigel Addecott and Nigel's nephew Tom.
We enjoyed a fantastic day picking up huge numbers of both Cory's and Great Shearwaters,10 Little Shearwaters,with Manx,Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters in good numbers.
50+ Sabine's Gulls were also seen as were Storm Petrels,Gannets,Fulmers and an assortment of gulls and terns,we also picked up both Arctic and Great Skuas and a couple which may have been Pomarine or Long Tailed but distance ruled out exact identificationWe started to enter the deeper canyon areas of the Bay of Biscay and after a slow start we picked up cetaceans in good numbers and at regular intervals,a lone Sperm Whale blew and gave brief if distant views and we also had good numbers of Fin Whales which blew and gave good views and the opportunity of a couple of photographs.Pilot Whales were also encountered as were Striped Dolphins and a couple of Cuvier's Beaked Whales surfaced only for myself,Richard,John and Alan to miss the encounter having slipped off for a coffee and a late light breakfast,sod's law as they were only a 100m or so out from the ship !!
We sailed on and passed raft after raft of Great Shearwaters which also held Manxies,Sootys and some Little Shearwaters,what a bonus !! A number of passarines also passed the ship and a Turtle Dove landed on one of the upper decks after flying past us a couple of times,a couple of Pipit sp were seen and we were told by some other birders that a Sedge Warbler had also sought the sanctuary of the ship on it's jouney south.
We soon reached Santander and had to leave the ship and "enjoy" Spain for a couple of hours which we did sat outside a bar in one of the squares opposite the cathedral.
On the way back myself,Richard and "Tiger" caught up with Joex,Steve,John and Alan who had added Wood Warbler,Spotted and Pied Flycatcher,Chiffchaff and a possible Bonelli's Warbler plus a couple of local Peregrines to the trip list in a small but very busy lacal park.
We had put in a good 12 hour shift and all retired to our cabins well pleased with our efforts although some of us were more than a miffed at "dipping" on the Cuvier's !!
After a nice evening meal in the not so expensive self service restaurant and a quick drink we enjoyed a reasonably early night looking forward to what the upper part of the bay would bring in the morning.
I struggled to get up as early as I had hoped and missed part of the first hour when wave after wave of dolphins came into the ship,a conservative estimate was 1500,I still saw quite a few and managed some pics of Common Dolphins and whilst watching a pod dashing in we spotted a few Minke Whales "rolling" just behind them.
The upper half of the bay I am told is never as good as the deeper lower half and we encountered some quiet periods which unfortunately are inevitable at some point.
The trip soon came to an end as we reached Plymouth at 4.00pm on Thursday afternoon,unfortunately our pre-booked train to Cardiff didn't leave until 6.25pm,yet again a good excuse to go to a local pub for a pint and compile the "trip list".
We made good time to Cardiff and Sue was bang on time to pick us up at the station,after dropping off Alan at Nantgarw and picking up my car I was soon on my way home having enjoyed a fantastic few days.
The company was great,the price negotiated by "Slaphead" fantastic,a ferry as good as most cruise ships I've been on,fabulous food and drink,great weather and sea state and brilliant sea-birds and cetaceans.
I can't wait until next year and with the lads planning a possible "mini-cruise" Plymouth-Santander-Plymouth combined with a couple of days land birding in the Picos de Europa what a prospect !!


Wayne said...

Nice one Randy! Sounds like a terrific trip and some cracking images there.

Dan said...

Sounds like birding heaven, Jeff - birds, beers and . . . erm, big marine mammals! Top pics too.