Cruising the Bay of Biscay - 24th September - 1st October 2016

Published by Mark Graham (helen.graham7 AT


Just returned from a very pleasant cruise on the Oriana, an adult only P&O ship. Sailed between 24th September and 1st October 2016.

P&O have certainly upped their game since we were last on board the Oriana. No more pesky kids and now they include freedom dining, which means you can get a table for two more or less when you like-very handy on sail-out evenings. You can stay out till it goes dark when there is a better chance of seeing sea birds.

The Oriana's prom deck is ideal for seawatching - close to the water and it doesn't vibrate amidship. There are also some sheltered nooks and crannies at the rear-and it ain't far to get a cup of tea and a cake from the buffet restaurant!

There are lots of opportunities to do some bird watching ashore but having been to all but one of these ports before I didn't spend a lot of time looking for shore birds during the course of the week.

Bay of Biscay - outward leg

Generally when leaving Southampton you wake up as the ship is leaving the English Channel and rounding the north west coast of France. As we were heading for La Coruna, on the north west tip of Spain the ship took a south westerly direction and we would be going further away from land as the day progressed.

There were plenty of Gannets around and as the day progressed a few Cory's Shearwaters appeared and one whale. A fairly quiet day but things would be different on the way back!

La Coruna

This was the only port where I did any serious land based birdwatching. Just head for the monument at the port entrance and you are bound to see good numbers of Black Redstart, Stonechat [very tame!], Goldfinch, Linnet, Spotless Starling, White Wagtail, Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow and Meadow Pipit. There was a Willow Warbler in the scrub too.

There are impressive numbers of Shag on the rocks and hundreds of Yellow-legged Gull. This must be one of the best seawatching locations I have ever been to and certainly amongst the best when sailing out. The last time we sailed out I saw a huge number of birds including Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Great Shearwater but numbers diminished after a couple of hours as we were sailing in a north west direction away from land. This time round our next port of call, Gexto, was east along the spectacular Northern coast - with great views of the cliffs, inlets, coves and mountains. Because we were only a mile or two off the coast the birds stayed with us all the way till nightfall.

As we left the port there were hundreds of Yellow-legged Gull, a few Lesser Black-backed Gull and Mediterranean Gull as well as several Shag and Cormorant. Once I saw the first Gannet then the birds arrived in huge numbers. There were endless numbers of Gannet, many of them juveniles, a lot of Cory's Shearwater and impressive numbers of Sooty Shearwater, many crossing the bow of the ship.

I was to see Sooty Shearwater every day for the rest of the trip - many within close proximity. There were at least 10 Great Skua, and several species of tern as well as a few flocks of Guillemot skimming across the water. The Yellow-legged Gull were in abundance as well as a several Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
I must have missed a lot of birds because I was hunkered down on the Port side - who knows what I was missing on the Starboard side? The number of birds was unrelenting until I retired for dinner as darkness fell.


The only day of poor weather, drizzly rain, matched by a disappointing sail out. Apart from Yellow-legged Gulls in good numbers, a Ringed Plover on the beach, Spotless Starling around the promenade, and a Common Tern in the harbour there was little to report on land. A shame really - last time we were here, there were a lot of passing warblers in the bushes and waders along the shore. The persistent drizzle put me off so we headed back to the ship.

The weather cleared up for the sail out but apart from a few Yellow-legged Gull, Gannet, Cormorant, several Cory's Shearwater and a couple of Sooty Shearwater, there was little to report.

La Rochelle

I didn't do much birdwatching ashore but did see a Common Kestrel, Grey Wagtail, Spotless Starling, Yellow-legged Gull, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, some Meditteranean Gull and several Cormorant. The sail out was pretty good though. A Lot of Yellow-legged Gull, followed us out, giving way to many Gannet, a fair number of Cory's Shearwater, a few Sooty Shearwater. A good number of Cormorant were seen on posts and buoys.


When we arrived I noticed a huge sandbank on the starboard side. The tide was ebbing and I noticed more and more birds arriving. We decided to spend the morning on board and I settled down with my scope.

There were thousands of birds by the time the sand bank was fully exposed. Birds seen were Mallard, Greylag Goose, Common Magpie, Little Egret, Whimbrel, Curlew, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Oystercatcher, Grey Heron, Shelduck, Cormorant, Yellow-legged Gull,and Black-headed Gull.

The sail-out was good. A lot of Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a few Sandwich Tern followed us out, giving way to a decent number of Sooty Shearwater, a lot of Cory's Shearwater and many Gannet.

The Bay of Biscay and entering the English Channel

We awoke to fine clear weather, calm sea conditions as we rounded the north west coast of France. At this point I often look out for the last of the Cory's Shearwater and several were seen in diminishing numbers. The last of the Sooty Shearwater were seen around lunchtime by which time a serious number of Gannets appeared - in their hundreds and mainly adults, further south most had been juveniles. It had been a great voyage for seeing Sooty Shearwater. It wasn't a bad day for Great Skuas, all close to the boat and two resting on the water, then flying up,disturbed by the ship. Six were seen during the day. A few Guillemots were seen during the day as well as some tern species.

As we entered the English Channel a flock of Dunlin flew past and several Fulmar were spotted. A couple of Meadow Pipit passed by the Promenade Deck. The Gannets were unrelenting all day long, bomb-diving, flying in convoy or resting on the sea, but it was sad to see a dead adult floating in the sea - maybe it broke it's neck diving into the water? Some Dolphins passed by before lunchtime.