Sightings Archives: October 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Dover-Dunkirk, “Delft Seaways” 7th October 2012

Posted 14 October 2012

Graham Ekins and Claire Trew, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Eastbound: Force 1/2 NNE with scattered clouds and good visibility; Westbound: NNE Force 1-2, light, high cloud with good visibility.

Seals and Cetaceans
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena   2
Grey Seals Halichoerus grypus   3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis   6
Gannet Morus bassanus    177
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo   150
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis  1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata  1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua   4
Pomarine Skua Stecorarius pomarinus     2
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus   34
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus   1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus  102
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus   157
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus   6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla    162
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis    2
Guillemot Uria aalge    26
Razorbill Alca torda   3
Puffin Fratercula arctica  1

Terrestrial Birds
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus  12
Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla bernicla  671
Eider Somateria mollissima   1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra    110
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus   25
Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus  1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis   2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus   10
Curlew Numenius arquata  1
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus   1

Hundreds of birds on their south-bound migration and an interesting range of species spotted were highlights on this trip.

Common ScoterThe weather on the drive down to Dover was clear with light winds, suggesting we would have ideal conditions for the survey.  On arrival at the DFDS check-in our tickets were rapidly processed before we were directed to the upper deck of the very smart "Delft Seaways".  With our passes from the purser at the information desk, we were then taken to the staff mess for an excellent early lunch.  As the ship started to leave the harbour we were taken to the bridge to meet Captain Piero Marenco and his officers who made us very welcome.   We started the survey and immediately started to record Gannet, Kittiwake and Common Scoter all travelling south.  This suggested that they were migrating in the calm conditions after the gales of the previous 10 days.

Within a kilometre of leaving the harbour we had our first Harbour Porpoise and attendant Gannet. As we crossed The Channel we continued to see evidence of south bound migration with a flock of 24 Common Scoter and 2 adult Great Skua and a pale phase Pomarine Skua.  We also had good view of a bull Grey Seal that seemed totally unconcerned by all the nearby shipping. As we travelled north a few kms off the French coast we had a steady stream of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and the occasional flock of Common Scoter all travelling south.

Brent GeeseAs we entered the vast Dunkirk Harbour we saw many Great-crested Grebe, among them a single Slavonian Grebe and 2 Little Grebe. We also saw a first winter Shag and an immature male Eider.

We stopped recording but noticed that the southerly Brent Goose migration was continuing. We estimated several hundred birds travelled south in just under the hour as the ship was loaded and unloaded. As we took the opportunity to scan the birds in the harbour, we noted that the majority of the Herring Gull were big northern argentatus birds with heavy bills and well streaked necks.

Little GullWe also saw another Harbour Porpoise and a little later 2 more Grey Seal including another huge male.  As we travelled south down the French coast we saw more Common Scoter and Brent Geese.   We also had good views of a juvenile Pomarine Skua travelling rapidly SW. 

As we left the harbour we found an adult winter plumage Mediterranean Gull and just offshore a delightful adult Little Gull.

During the rest of the crossing we found Razorbill, Guillemot and a single juvenile Puffin.  It was also clear that Gannet were still moving south even in mid-Channel.  In sight of the white cliffs of Dover we had a Red-throated Diver, 2 Sandwich Terns, a lone Brent Goose and, unusually, a flock of 12 Pink-footed Geese all travelling south.  We were also surprised to see that the Kittiwake colony on the southern outer breakwater at Dover Harbour still had 120 mainly adult Kittiwake.  We had thought that they would have dispersed for the winter.   Within sight of the harbour and closure of the survey we had our last Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull

As we left the bridge we thanked Captain Piero Marenco for his hospitality and gave him a brief summary of the survey sightings.  He and his officers showed great interest in what we had seen and commented on some of their own observations in recent weeks.   We would like to thank DFDS for providing continued support for this survey.

Graham Ekins and Claire Trew, Research Surveyors for MARINElife