MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways "Cote des Flandres" Dover-Calais (19 October 2019)

Helen Swift and Paul Radford, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: sea state 5, south westerly force 6, visibility - good.  Return: sea state 3-5, south westerly force 5-6, visibility - good.

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Auk sp. Alcidae 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 104
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Gull sp. Laridae 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 17
Larus sp. Larus sp. 35
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 7
Razorbill Alca torda 3

Terrestrial birds
Passerine sp. Passeriformes 3

Heavy rain greeted us at Dover, as we arrived in plenty of time to make it through the rigorous checks at the port.  By the time it came to prepare for boarding, things were looking up, as the sky cleared, and Helen even spotted three late Swallow standing out against the backdrop of the white cliffs.  We were escorted to the bridge by Christine (just one of the many very helpful and friendly staff of the DFDS Cotes Des Flandres), where we were introduced to Cedric Guilbaut; our captain for the outward leg.

We allowed Captain Guilbaut to safely exit the port before beginning the survey from the starboard side of the bridge.  Very little was spotted for the first half hour, with a strong starboard ahead glare adding to the challenge of seeing much apart from the unmistakeably silhouette of Gannet, which made up the majority of the birds seen during the survey.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 07

Little Gull (Peter Howlett)

Things did then pick up, with an increasing number of Gannet and gulls being encountered circling and sitting on the water.  Soon after, Helen spotted two Harbour Porpoise crossing the bow from port to starboard, who proved that a species that is often described as a "slow rolling tyre", can rival the more energetic dolphin species when needing to avoid a 28m wide ferry travelling at 20 knots.

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 04

Mediterranean Gull (Rob Petley-Jones)

Another flurry of birds (including Kittiwake and a winter plumage Razorbill) followed, before a large bull Grey Seal was spotted nonchalantly swimming ahead of us.  All our cetaceans had hatched at once, as this would prove to be our last sea mammal spotted during the survey.  However, the changeable weather and steady stream of birds would prove to be more than enough to keep us busy.  During the latter stages of the outward leg we were able to add Great Black-backed Gull and Common Gull to the species encountered.  We were even treated to a handful of Little Gull - distinguishable by the dark underwing - who are often seen on this route around this time of year, as they head for their wintering grounds in Western Europe and the Mediterranean.

With the Cotes Des Flandres coming to a standstill outside of Calais, whilst awaiting permission to enter the port, it seemed sensible to draw the outward survey to a close and enjoy the rainbow that greeted us on our approach to France.

The weather in Calais was even worse than on our arrival into Dover, to the point where the view of the town, usually easily visible from the ferry, was momentarily completely shrouded by heavy rain.  The rain continued as our new Captain - Roger Alexandre - got our return leg underway.

It only took about 30 minutes for the clouds to part, the rainbow to reappear, and the birds to come out of hiding.  Gannet, of the full range of ages, were still the predominate species, but other notable sightings included Mediterranean Gull and Kittiwake.  A few passerines were also spotted, but the fact they were propelled by a force 6 South westerly wind meant they zipped past the bridge too quickly to be identified.

Although we did not spot many marine mammals, as always the cross-channel route provided plenty of avian interest for the two hours of survey time to go by in a flash.   The Cotes Des Flandres treated us to one more rainbow as we waited to return to the car; this time in the form of an impressive looking cake.  Regrettably we didn't sample it on this occasion, but it did almost look too good to eat.

As always, we would like to thank both captains and all the crew of the DFDS Cotes Des Flandres, for the significant contribution they made to what was an extremely enjoyable survey.

Helen Swift and Paul Radford, Research Surveyors for MARINElife