MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Seaways 'Dunkerque Seaways' Dover-Dunkirk 7 July 2013

Graham Ekins & Ross Wheeler, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather: Eastbound: Force 3, NNE clear but with some haze; Westbound: Force 3, NNE, clear with some haze

Summary of sightings:

Cetaceans
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5

Seabirds
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 125
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 8
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 17
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 209
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 223
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 138
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 54
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 62
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 51
Guillemot Uria aalge 1

Harbour Porpoise and Great Crested Grebe were among the many highlights of this summer crossing…

On arrival at the Dover Eastern terminal we were issued with boarding documents by the very efficient DFDS booking staff.  The boarding staff then contacted the ship to organise parking on deck 5 for our car.  Once on board we were issued with our electronic passes and taken to the staff canteen for an excellent lunch.

Kittiwake 02 Graham Ekins
Kittiwake (Photo: Graham Ekins)

As we left the Dover harbour entrance, Captain William Londesborough welcomed us on to the bridge. We observed the large flock of adult Kittiwake twisting and turning over the colony on the southern harbour wall, where most nests appeared to have well-grown young.  As we headed rapidly east, we came across a Guillemot and several more adult Kittiwake travelling west, presumably to the Dover colony.  Small groups of mainly adult Gannet were heading either north or south.  These may well have originated from the large colony on France's Normandy coast.

As we approached the French coast and turned north towards Dunkirk, we saw several Harbour Porpoise in the rough water flowing over nearby sand banks.  We also had our first flock of 75 Common Scoter: all were males and were watched out of sight heading rapidly south. Small flocks of adult Kittiwake were actively fishing in the turbulent waters alongside Sandwich, Common and a few Arctic Tern.

Arctic Tern 03 Graham Ekins
Arctic Tern (Photo: Graham Ekins)

As we approached Dunkirk Harbour we came across increasing numbers of the uniformly dark-backed intermedius race of Lesser Black-backed Gull and many adult argenteus race Herring Gull.

In the huge harbour we found eight Great Crested Grebe, several of which were in full summer plumage.  We also had over 200 Cormorant fishing just west of the entrance or roosting on the groynes and jetties in the harbour. Scanning a flock of roosting gulls resulted in discovering an adult summer-plumaged Yellow-legged Gull, followed by a fly past of a first summer Mediterranean Gull.

While we waited for the ship to unload the cars and lorries we managed to complete some of the administration work for the survey. As we left the harbour we were again on the bridge and almost immediately found more Harbour Porpoise apparently fishing in the rough water a few hundred metres offshore.  We also had another flock of Common Scoter, this time with several in female or immature plumage.  A few nautical miles further south another Yellow-legged Gull, this time an immature, passed the ship, as did our only Great Black-backed Gull of the survey, an adult and an immature.  We found many Sandwich and Common Tern feeding with yet more Kittiwake as we turned to head west back to Dover.  On this crossing we found another Mediterranean Gull in full summer plumage sitting on the sea 5 nautical miles offshore as well as more Fulmar, mainly immature Gannet heading north and more fishing Kittiwake.

Harbour Porpoise 01a Mike Bailey
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Mike Bailey)

During the crossings the officers on the bridge told us of several recent sightings of seals off the French coast as well as occasional views of porpoises.

As we neared Dover Harbour we finished recording and then thanked Captain Londesborough and his officers for their excellent hospitality. We would like to thank DFDS for providing continued support for this survey.