Sightings Archives: June 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Dover-Dunkirk, “Delft Seaways” 3rd June 2012

Posted 04 June 2012

Graham Ekins: MARINElife Research Surveyor

Weather: Eastbound 2 E variable low clouds Westbound 1-2 E-NE variable low cloud with a few scattered mist patches with rain later

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 37
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 10
Gannet Morus bassanus 130
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 86
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 286
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 90
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla 128
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 46
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 44
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 4
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 21
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2

Terrestrial Birds
Crow Corvus corone 2
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 4

Migrant Birds (around ship)
Swift Apus apus 3

The DFDS staff were very efficient in processing my booking and directing me to the very modern DFDS Delft Seaways. The boarding staff checked my ticket and allowed me to be the first to drive on board. The concierge then arranged for Dover breakwaterme to meet Captain Piero Marenco and his officers before starting the survey as we left Dover harbour at 14.00. Almost immediately I started to log seabirds with Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and Fulmars passing north within sight of the chalk cliffs of Dover. I was also pleased to see 2 sub-adult Mediterranean Gulls just as we left the harbour entrance.

I continued to log good numbers of seabirds, these were mainly Gannets and Kittiwakes but with the occasional Manx Shearwater and Great Skua. Half way across the channel I started to see Harbour Porpoises, the largest numbers being close to the Ridens de Calais sandbanks off the French coast. The duty officers told me that this area was a regular location for cetacean sightings by the crew, with the largest numbers being seen in January and February. 

On entering the massive Dunkirk Harbour I was delighted to see many Sandwich and Common Terns. The former were catching Sand Eels apparently disturbed by dredging operations in the port. It was also surprising to see 4 Eiders and 21 summer plumaged Great Crested Grebes as it seemed very late for migration to still be in progress as this grebe species only uses saltwater on migration or during the winter.

After a very enjoyable meal I started to enter data on my laptop and within the hour the ship had been re-loaded and we were underway. As we left the harbour mouth I observed many more Sandwich Terns heading south carrying Sand Eels as well as a pair of Arctic Terns flying purposely northward. I then noticed a great area of unsettled water with many seabirds flying over it and as I checked through the throng with my telescope I saw 2 Harbour Porpoises actively fishing in the churning water. Captain Marenco informed me that this tidal race was due to the water flowing rapidly over shallow sand banks that are common on this part of the French coast.
Harbour Porp by GE
Amongst the seabirds I noticed a pale phase Arctic Skua and 2 Great Skua's harassing the Kittiwakes and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the group. This sighting brought the Harbour Porpoise total to 10, far more than I had initially anticipated.

I continued to record seabirds during the rest of the crossing and the density increased as we approached the Kent coast and upon entering Dover harbour it started to rain but this did not stop me admiring the many Kittiwake nests on the outer harbour wall.

As I left the bridge I thanked Captain Marenco and his officers for their hospitality and friendliness during this inaugural survey. I was also delighted that I was able to speak to several of the crew about MARINElife surveys and what had been seen on this Dunkirk sailing.  

I would like to thank DFDS for providing the support for this new survey.  

Graham Ekins: MARINElife Research Surveyor.