MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS vessel Delft Seaways Dover-Dunkirk 7th September 2013

Graham Ekins, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Sightings Summary

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 9
Common Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Wigeon  Anas penelope 22
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 76
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 291
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 75
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 18
Balearic Shearwater  Puffinus mauretanicus 11
Great Skua   Stercorarius skua 9
Pomarine Skua  Stercorarius pomarinus 2
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 10
Long-tailed Skua  Stercorarius longicaudus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 19
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 379
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 58
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla 98
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 108
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 299
Black Tern  Childonias niger 4
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 47
Guillemot  Uria aalge 1

Birds recorded in Dunkirk Harbour
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio 1
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata 1
Stonechat Saxicola torquata 2
Skylark Alauda arvensis 5
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 9

Weather: Eastbound: Force 5, SSW with scattered light, high cloud and some slight haze;
Westbound: Force 5, SSW clear with scattered light, high cloud.

Some rare Channel sightings of a range of skua species and other birds, as well as Harbour Porpoise, made for an exciting survey on this autumn crossing…

After a pleasant sunny drive down from Essex in light traffic, the DFDS staff issued my boarding documents very rapidly at the Dover terminal.  On board the Delft Seaways I was taken up to meet Captain Ryan Booth and his officers, who made me very welcome.  I then organised my record sheets before an enjoyable lunch in the staff canteen.

Pomarine Skua Graham Ekins 01a
Pomarine Skua (Photo: Graham Ekins)

As we left the harbour I could see a flock of Kittiwake feeding at the entrance as well as a fast-flying Manx Shearwater heading south.  With good visibility it looked as if it was going to be an interesting survey.  For the next 20 minutes I logged increasing numbers of Gannet and Kittiwake passing the ship as well as the first of nine Harbour Porpoise.  Approximately 5km east of Dover came the first of 24 skua seen on this excellent survey, they were a group of four Arctic Skua closely followed by two Great Skua, all heading south. I then saw two lightly-built ones that were greyish brown in colour with no obvious wing flashes - these were juvenile Long-tailed Skua. An excellent find in the Channel but expected as there had been many records further north after the recent gales.  A few minutes later a pale-phase Pomarine Skua still with its tail spoons passed close to the ship also heading south.  If this was not enough, a group of shearwater came rapidly into view: seven Balearic Shearwater and three Manx Shearwater.  The former species only breeds in the Mediterranean and then migrates north to UK waters for its post-breeding moult. It was great to see them in The Channel.  A few minutes later three more Balearic Shearwater flew past as well as several more Manx Shearwater.

Approximately 8km off the French coast I started to see small groups of tern heading south.  With the telescope they were identified as Arctic Tern and Sandwich Tern with the occasional small group of Common Tern and two Black Tern.  It was pleasing to see so many young birds in the migrating flocks.  As we turned north a few km from the French coast a flock of 22 Wigeon passed the ship heading south as well as increasing numbers of Common Tern.  I also had several more sightings of Harbour Porpoise in the rough water over the coastal sand banks.

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

As we approached Dunkirk Harbour we saw a dredger pumping out sand excavated from the harbour.  It was surrounded by an impressive array of seabirds that included 250 Common Tern, 40 Arctic Tern, 25 Sandwich Tern, an adult Arctic Skua and many Herring Gull; an impressive sight.

In the harbour I counted 75 Great Crested Grebe and over 250 Cormorant on the groynes and a female Common Seal close to the ship.  Once we had docked I went up on deck and scoped the bushes and fences close to the ship.  I was delighted to find a Red-backed Shrike and a Spotted Flycatcher perched on a perimeter fence while a pair of Stonechat were sitting on nearby Gorse bushes.   I then searched through the gulls but could only find a few Black-headed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull and large numbers of the locally breeding argenteus Herring Gull.  I presumed that the large northern argentatus Herring Gull would arrive from Scandinavia in the next few weeks.

As we left the harbour I had two more Black Tern migrating south along with several more Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns.  On the western crossing I had several more Great and Arctic Skua as well as a third juvenile Long-tailed Skua and another adult pale-phase Pomarine Skua.  Several more Manx and one more Balearic Shearwater were also recorded. As we approached Dover harbour I saw the only Guillemot of the survey and the last of the Harbour Porpoise.

Dover White cliffs 01 Graham Ekins
White cliffs of Dover (Photo: Graham Ekins)

I thanked Captain Ryan Booth and his officers for their excellent hospitality and interest in what I had been seeing on the survey.

We would like to thank DFDS for providing continued support for this important survey route.