MARINELife Report: DFDS ‘Dover Seaways’ Dover to Dunkirk 5th August 2017

Graham Ekins, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity no: 1110884, reg company no.: 5057367)

Weather
Outbound: initially light SW with very good visibility and light, high cloud, later wind veered W but still very light.
Return: Skies were clearing and the wind was still a very light westerly with excellent visibility but cloud built quickly and wind freshened followed by heavy rain squalls.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 3

Seabirds
Common Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Common Scoter Melanitta niger 52
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 7
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 35
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 55
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 281
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 49
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 12
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 86
Little Gull Larus minutus 6
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 103
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 66
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2

Terrestrial birds
Coot Fulica atra 3
Turnstone  Arenaria interpres 3
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 5
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 3
Woodpigeon  Columba palumbus 5
Swift Apus apus 5
Yellow Wagtail   Motacilla flava 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 3

At the DFDS terminal my tickets were issued rapidly and I was allotted a place where I could be quickly directed to a reserved space for my car on deck 5. Once at the information desk on board I was taken by one of the officers straight to the bridge where Captain Cockerill and his officers made me very welcome.

Kittiwake Graham Ekins 01a
Kittiwake (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

As we left Dover I could photograph the Cormorant and Kittiwake roosting on the south wall. Most of the young Kittiwake had already fledged. As we headed east I spotted several adult Gannet heading mainly north with a few resting on the sea. Mid-channel was quite busy with many small flocks of Arctic Tern, Little Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, an Arctic Skua and a Balearic Shearwater all heading south. I also had a small flock of Swallow and a Yellow Wagtail pass the ship. As we neared the shallower water off the French coast I saw the first of seven Harbour Porpoise busy feeding in the turbulent shallow water. As we headed north, parallel with the coast, flocks of male Common Scoter, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, and a few more Little Gull passed the ship heading south. I then picked up a large flock of terns feeding over a turbulent shallow area. I was surprised to find that nearly 100 of them were Arctic Tern with smaller numbers of Sandwich and Common Tern. I also had 3 Common Seal busy diving for fish nearby.

Whimbrel Graham Ekins 04
Whimrel (Graham Ekins)

As we entered Dunkirk harbour I saw the first of many Cormorant flying into roost on the gantries while large numbers of young Herring Gull were begging for food around the buoys. Amongst them was a single adult Mediterranean Gull in heavy moult. I was surprised to see how few Lesser Black-backed Gull were present. I suspect that some had already started their southbound migration. As we docked a bull Grey seal came close to the ship. The Captain said that he had become a fixture in the harbour in recent weeks.

Arctic Skua Graham Ekins 02a
Arctic Skua (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

After an enjoyable meal, I started to enter data and before long we were heading back across the Channel. We passed a Great Skua heading purposefully south then a little later the feeding tern flock seen on the outbound trip came into view but all the Arctic Tern had continued their migration and just a few Sandwich and Common Tern were left. A flock of 4 Swift then overtook the ship heading rapidly south while a few more Little Gull were also logged. As we head further west I picked up another Arctic Skua, several more Gannet and Kittiwake but with the approach of squally rain showers the seabird movement virtually ceased apart from a few adult and juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull heading purposefully south.

Gannet Graham Ekins 05
Gannet (Graham Ekins)

On reaching Dover harbour I thanked Captain Cockerill and his officers for their support and interest in this short but interesting survey, it had been a very enjoyable day.

I would also like to thank DFDS Seaways for their support and for making this survey possible.