Dover-Dunkirk

Sightings Archives: October 2013

MARINElife survey report: DFDS vessel ‘Dover Seaways’ Dover-Dunkirk 5th October 2013

Posted 11 October 2013

Graham Ekins and Jack Allum, MARINElife Research Surveyors (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 4
Common Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 135
Gannet Morus bassanus 152
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Great Skua   Stercorarius skua 8
Pomarine Skua  Stercorarius  pomarinus 1
Arctic Skua   Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 34
Common Gull  Larus canus 12
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 74
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 13
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 61
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla 73
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 1
Sandwich Tern   Sterna sandvicensis 6
Guillemot  Uria aalge 2
Razorbill  Alca torda 2

Birds recorded in Dunkirk Harbour
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 35
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 124
Redshank Tringa totanus 2
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 3
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 45
Dunlin Calidris alpina 100
Sanderling Calidris alba 8
Stonechat Saxicola torquata 1
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 2
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 9
Magpie Pica pica 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 10

Land birds recorded from ship
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 4
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 1

Weather: Eastbound: Force 1-3,  E-NNW with light, high cloud and some slight haze; Westbound: Force 1-2, NNW clear with light, high cloud and a slight haze.

Some fascinating and surprising sightings of both dolphins and birdlife were among the highlights of a very busy survey.

After a trouble-free drive down to Dover from Essex I met Jack at Dover station and then drove to the DFDS terminal. In just a few minutes we were enjoying a coffee while waiting to board the DFDS Dover Seaways. Once on board we had a very enjoyable lunch in the staff canteen before joining Captain Daniel Cook and his officers on the bridge where we were made very welcome. As we left Dover harbour we were able to see the first of many Gannet and a flock of mainly adult Kittiwake feeding a few hundred metres from the breakwater.

Kittiwakes Dover Graham Ekins 01
Kittiwakes on Dover breakwater (Photo: Graham Ekins)

A few minutes later we had views of the first of eight Harbour Porpoise. Viewing conditions were ideal with little wind and a lightly overcast sky. Mid-channel we had a Balearic Shearwater closely followed by a Great Skua, both heading steadily south. Then about 500m ahead we saw a small group of seabirds circling with a Great Black-backed Gull on the sea. This was the first sign of a feeding group of cetaceans. As we moved closer to them we realised that they were four Common Dolphin, a rare sight on this survey route. They swam towards the ship before diving into the depths.

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 03
Common Dolphin (Photo: Graham Ekins)

As we turned north a few kms off the French coast we had the first of 140 Common Scoter migrating south. Some of these birds may winter as far south as the shallow waters off the north-west African coast. We also came across several small groups of adult Little Gull, their grey underwings clearly visible in the excellent light conditions. Close to Dunkirk harbour we passed an adult Pomarine Skua still with tail spoons closely followed by a juvenile Arctic Skua, an Arctic Tern and several Sandwich Tern. All of these birds were heading determinedly south. We also had several views of Harbour Porpoise and a Common Seal before were entered the dock.

Once the Dover Seaways had docked we went out on deck to check the harbour with the use of a telescope. On the southern side of the dock we saw 35 Great Crested Grebe, some were still in summer plumage. The number of Cormorant had decreased from the previous month, presumably as this continental sinensis race are highly migratory and many had left for wintering grounds in southern Europe and north Africa. We were surprised to see 155 waders of five species, the most common were 100 Dunlin and most unexpected were three Bar-tailed Godwit and eight Sanderling.   Close to the ship were saw a Stonechat, a few Starling and several Jackdaw.

Gannet Graham Ekins 01
Gannet (Photo: Graham Ekins)

As we left Dunkirk harbour four Meadow Pipit briefly flew alongside while a superb male Peregrine Falcon passed the bridge before heading south, presumably a northern migrant. As we travelled south parallel with the French coast we saw two Razorbilll and a Guillemot while several more Little Gull passed the ship. By mid-channel the number of Gannet heading south had greatly increased, a high proportion of which were brown juveniles. We also saw several more Great Skua, adult Great Black-backed Gull and four Little Gull heading steadily south-west.

After finishing the recording we thanked Captain Daniel Cook and his officers for their excellent hospitality and interest in what we had been seeing on the survey.

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