Ecologist Andy Bunten is one of our expert guest lecturers and he joined Aegean Odyssey earlier in the year on her British Isles sailing. Andy offered several interesting talks, but he also spent a lot of time out on the open decks, chatting with guests and looking for seabirds and marine life. We have a wide array of guest lecturers who each specialise in different areas, but we’ve always wondered what cruising is like from their point of view. To get a glimpse into ‘lecturer life’, we asked Andy why he enjoys it so much.
Eyes open in bed and first thing I see? Gannets gliding effortlessly a few feet from the bedroom window. Is there a better way to start the day? These fantastic snow-white birds with their 5 foot wingspan soar so close to the ship that at times you feel you can reach out and touch them. Of course it’s not just gannets we got such amazing views of on our British Isles cruise. Fulmars, like little albatrosses, zoom around everywhere – first on the port side, then the starboard, now behind us and now, all of a sudden, riding the air of our prow. And all this without seeming to flap a wing or break sweat (if birds could sweat).
Our British Isles are sometimes overlooked as we dash to foreign climes in search of exotica but the wildlife, and particularly the sea life, they sustain is truly remarkable. Part of my role as a lecturer on board the Aegean Odyssey is to help show and explain a little of this wonderful natural beauty as we sail along past countless scenes of astonishing beauty.
Everyone loves Puffins – and everyone wants to see one! They were nearing the end of their breeding season at the time of the cruise, but they could still be seen with luck and patience. These fantastic little birds breed in their thousands around the British Isles and our trip sailed us past a number of their breeding sites. Tucked at the end of long burrows their fat little chicks, ‘pufflings’, wait for mother and father to bring along lunch in the shape of sand eels and other small fish until, in late July, the parents stop being a food delivery service. The young one lives on its fat for a number of days until it emerges, at night to avoid predators, and takes off for the sea and to start fending for itself. No stay at home with mum and dad for this species.
So we spend lots of time gazing out to sea and looking at breeding sites for these wonderful birds. Those who’ve put the time in are lucky and we have some great views of these ‘sea parrots’ as we sail serenely around our beautiful coast. Seeing any form of wildlife is a delight but from my perspective the vicarious delight one gets from sharing the thrill of a first time sighting by a fellow passenger is electric. “There’s one –I’ve seen it – I’ve seen a Puffin –I’ve always wanted to see a Puffin –it’s wonderful” And I remember and relive the first time I saw one of these comical, engaging and magical birds.
It’s not just Puffins of course. Indeed it’s not just birds. We gather at the bow or stern looking for anything we can find – gelatinous, red Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Compass Jelly, the flash of a big fish’s fin (it may have been a shark we think), Dolphins circling and leaping around our tenders and other small boats as we sail into Guernsey.
Our land trips produce delights too in brilliantly coloured butterflies – Red Admirals, Peacocks , Small Coppers and Woodland Ringlets to name but a few. But back at sea it’s always the sea birds that command attention – our constant companions of Fulmars and Gulls. Neat little Kittiwakes with their inky-black wing tips; Guillemots, father teaching the chick how to go about the vital process of catching fish; jet-black Razorbills flying across our bows with food for young and Gannets plunging into the sea from heights of over 40 feet before bobbing back to the surface like huge snow- white bath toys. We could watch them for hours. We do watch them for hours.
The wonderful thing about Aegean Odyssey is one can eat the delicious food on a sheltered outside deck – breakfast, lunch and dinner and no need to ever miss a thing that may fly, swim or float past us. Heaven!
The wildlife is fantastic, but the real joy comes in sharing the experience with others. And particularly others who really want to know. At lectures the attention is wonderful, the questions intelligent and pertinent and the enthusiasm contagious. There isn’t a university lecturer in the world who wouldn’t give his eye teeth to have as interested and lively an audience as this. The interest spills out onto the deck as we share photographs of butterflies seen on our land trips or birds that have appeared briefly by our port bow and then vanished. It spreads to pictures from back home and the mouth-watering, wonderful creatures seen there. I realise my happiness will not be complete until I visit Australia.
So, what a fabulous thing to do. Cruise around the marvellous wildlife-filled British Isles in the company of interested, enthusiastic friends, watching fabulous birds, mammals, insects and plants to the accompaniment of some of the best landscapes you could ever wish to see. And some of the nicest food too!
it’s not uncommon to spot many of the birds mentioned above during our visits to Norway and Iceland, and Andy will be joining Aegean Odyssey on her July 2019 ‘Iceland, Faroes & Shetlands‘ sailing (which is a no-fly option for our UK guests) to look for more bird and marine life from the open decks, as well as lecturing on various related topics.