MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways "Cote des Flandres" Dover-Calais (1 October 2018)

Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward - dry, increasing cloud, good visibility: north, north-westerly wind force 4-6.
Return - mainly overcast, good visibility with glare at times: north, north-westerly wind force 6

Marine Mammals
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Auk Sp. Alcidae 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 31
Common Gull Larus canus 19
Diver sp. Gaviidae 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 109
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 34
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 548
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 37
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 17
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 10
Razorbill Alca torda 5

Terrestrial Birds
Brent Goose (Dark bellied) Branta bernicla 1101

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday I was disembarking from a survey to Spain in brilliant sunshine and temperatures of 22 degrees, Saturday the temperature was under 10 degrees and the staff loading the vessels at Dover were wrapped up to keep themselves warm.

Once on board the Cote des Flandres, I was taken to the bridge to prepare for the survey. We left Dover dock at 12.30pm and followed behind another DFDS vessel sailing to Dunkirk. A moving vessel always attracts the gull population, that rest on the outer harbour wall, to follow a wake prospecting for food. Sure enough, around 500 large gulls followed the other vessel and then turned towards us to see if we had churned up any food for them.

Leaving the prospecting gulls behind, the vessel turned to head for Calais. Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, the occasional Common Gull and Kittiwake were seen during the survey with Black-headed Gull appearing as we neared Calais harbour. As the ship turned parallel to the shore a dark mass just above the waves attracted my attention. Looking through my binoculars I identified a large ragged skein of Dark-Bellied Brent Geese. These birds have returned from their breeding areas in the high arctic to the wintering areas of coastal France and Southern England. Many of them will over-winter around the Solent and Chichester harbour, A further four skeins of geese were seen before we entered Calais Harbour.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 12

Little Gull (Peter Howlett)

An hour later the ship set sail for Dover. Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Kittiwake and Great Black-backed Gull accompanied us on our return journey. A quarter of an hour into the return leg I recorded a small group of Little Gull that included two juveniles. These birds were dwarfed by a Kittiwake flying with them just emphasising how little they are. An hour into the return leg I recorded my only marine mammal for the day, a seal was bottling half a mile away, too far away to make positive identification.

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 12

Kittiwake (Peter Howlett)

Reaching the outer harbour arm the ship was again visited by the prospecting gulls and at that point I closed the survey down.

I would like to thank both captains, their officers and crew for making me feel so welcome and DFDS Seaways for allowing MARINElife to survey on this very busy route.

Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyor for MARINElife