2018-05-08 - Aberdeen–Lerwick
The team met at Aberdeen ferry terminal, all excited as the weather was good.
After settling into our suberb cabin and finding our feet around the MV Hjaltland the Purser Claire Sweetin took us to the bridge to start our survey at 1640 as we were due to depart early. The captain Iain Williamson and first officer Richard Wild greeted us warmly and we waited very quietly on the port side of the bridge whilst they manoevered us though the very tight harbour, where we could see a couple of bottlenose dolphins in the distance.
As soon as we were able to start we were almost leaving the breakwater and quicky saw 3 common dolphins heading for our bow plus 3 of the local bottlenose dolphins feeding at the harbour entrance, also a distance away behind the common dolphins, a harbour porpoise, what a start, our hopes were high for a brilliant survey.
The sea state was 3 with a light swell, so about an hour and a half later we started to see more sightings of harbour porpoise and a seal and then the first officer Richard jumped up as 2 minke whales were spotted, surfacing close to the ship, what a sight.
We ended our sightings for the night with a couple more seals. After a good nights sleep we awoke before dawn with Fair Isle on our Starboard side.The sea state remained at 3 but the swell was now heavy and unfortunately no sightings. Once the ship had docked, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the mess.
We had a wildlife trip booked for the day in Lerwick which had been cancelled due to bad weather forcast and engine problems so we walked to the bus station and caught the bus to Sumburgh airport where the driver dropped us as close as he could to the headland.
As we started the 2 mile walk up to RSPB Sumburgh head and the lighthouse where orca can often be seen and puffins nest, (unfortunately not today), we stopped at an inlet where a juvenile Great northern diver was fishing. Although there was a chilly wind, it remained dry and sunny, allowing wonderful views of nesting Fulmar, and Guillemots. Please be aware if you come here, that the cafe closes on a Wednesday during term time.
Skylarks, Pipits, Twite and Wheatear made the walk there and back very pleasant with their songs and the noisy Oystercatchers and overhead Bonxies made it interesting.
After getting off the bus early for a lunch stop at a cafe near the south of Lewick we walked back to the terminal and had an hours rest before starting our evening survey.
Once leaving Lerwick harbour a seal was spotted and it was quiet in the shelter of the island but as we approached Sumburgh head the sea state rapidly increased to 4 and then continued to increase along with the swell until, with a heavy swell and a sea state increased to 7 with rain we had to abandon this transect.
The final transect was very short as we were early arriving back in Aberdeen, but as we started a seal was spotted, the sea state had improved back to a 3 with a moderate to light swell and we were hopeful to see more sightings.
However the tide was out and just as we were about to stop surveying on approaching Aberdeen we managed to see a bottlenose dolphin at the breakwater, a final sighting which encouraged one of the team to walk there after we left and join the RSPB dolphin watch whilst he waited for his train. Thank you John for the attached photo.
We would like to thank Northlink ferries for this opportunity and especially the captain and his wonderful crew who made us so welcome and were so hospitable.
Also I want to thank the ORCA team for their hard work.
Minke whale x2
Grey seal x1
Unidentified seal x4
Red throated diver, Great Northern Diver (juvenile), Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Comic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Great Skua, possible Artic Skua,
Common Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Manx Shearwater. Collared Dove
Rock Dove, Wood Pidgeon, Feral Pidgeon, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin
Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Dunnock, Wheatear, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Raven, Jackdaw, Magpie
probable Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Eider, Tufted duck, Goosander, Moorhen, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Twite.
Whimbrel, Curlew (numerous sightings of both very positive for rapidly declining birds) Common Starling, Blackbird, House Sparrow
Survey team members
Mary Hill, Marta Soeffker, John Crosbie, Chris Stevenson