Monday, September 21, 2009

Bay of Biscay

As I write this, I am floating. Not because I am ecstatically happy - though I did have a very good long weekend - but because my body thinks it is still on a boat.

I've finally been on the Pride of Bilbao from Portsmouth to... you guessed it, Bilbao. We didn't go for the bingo, the boozing or the cabaret, but to look for whales, dolphins and seabirds. Our gang spent most of its time on the helicopter deck near the top of the boat and we weren't disappointed.

Even though it was quite a quiet trip by recent standards (no Orcas!) we saw Minke, Pilot and Sperm Whales, Harbour Porpoises, Common, Striped and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Seabird-wise, Sabine's Gulls, Kittiwakes, Great and Cory's Shearwaters, Storm-petrels, Great and Arctic Skuas battled the waves and wind to fly past.

I didn't get any good photos, but you can see some from a recent crossing on Weedon's World of Nature.

Migration never ceases to amaze me. As we headed out into the Bay of Biscay, we were joined by a procession of Robins, a Redstart, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, White and Yellow Wagtail, Meadow Pipits, Swallows and a Song Thrush. I hope they managed to find somewhere on the ship to roost overnight and left when we arrived in Spain on Saturday morning...

As we rounded the Brittany coast on the way home, what I am sure was a Jack Snipe shot past the obs lounge at high speed before disappearing from view. Apparently it'd be a first for the boat, but our views were just too brief to clinch identification.

Apart from still having my sea legs, and missing the Guggenheim museum on a quick visit to Bilbao itself, the only downer is that my feet really, really hurt by the end of the trip. Next time I'm taking something to sit on...


  1. I did the same trip several years back and also the Plymouth-Santander route. Best sea trips this side of the Atlantic, great cetaceans, we had species I had never even heard of at the time like Risso's Dolphin. Oh and Little Shearwater, incredible, made the hairs stand up on the back of my kneck. A migrating Hoopoe was the best passerine.Your post brought it all back.

  2. Brilliant well done on going on the Birding cruise, it is a trip I have wanted to do for some years, there is someting special about being on a boat trip during migration.

  3. That sounds like a really, really interesting cruise. We did once see quite a few albatross from a cruise going round South America.

  4. "First record for the Boat"?
    That's so funny.

    I can't wait for the publication of "The Avifauna of the Pride of Bilbao, with notes on distribution and seasonality and prefered passerine roost habitats on deck"
    And then of course the "First breeding record of White Wagtail [or any other given European species] on the Pride of Bilbao, comprising the first recorded pelagic breeding of the species" in British Birds or even Science of Nature. I mean, who knew passerines would use the ocean's shipping routes as breeding habitats.


    Cheers, Katie, this sure was a great trip and any day with a Sabine's is bound to be a good day (I have never seen one, so I should really know)!