MARINElife Survey Report: Felixstowe Vlaardingen “Flandria Seaways” 6th June 2012

Graham Ekins and Carol Farmer-Wright: Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Eastbound 2-4 SE variable low cloud and occasional rain showers; Westbound 5-6 SW-W occasional showers

Cetaceans/ Seals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 81
Gannet Morus bassanus 52
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 535
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 131 
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans 1
Common Gull Larus canus 149
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 748
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2657
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla13
Little Tern Sterna albifrons 1
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo139
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 46

Terrestrial Birds
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 4
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1269
Greylag Goose Anser anser 140
Canada Goose Branta Canadensis 5
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 5
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 12
Gadwall Anas strepera 38
Coot Fulica atra 7
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 37
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 2
Crow Corvus corone 7
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 7
Magpie Pica pica 2
Woodpigeon Columba polumbus 3
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1

Migrant birds on/around ship
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Swift Apus apus 1

On arrival at Felixstowe Dock we were issued our tickets and rapidly transported to the DFDS Flandria Seaways, where upon boarding we were shown to our cabins and offered the opportunity of a meal before we retired for the night. We went up on the bridge at 04:00 the following morning to a cloudy dawn and a little mist, however this did not stop us seeing seabirds, of which the majority were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Gannets and Fulmars with the occasional Kittiwake. Two Dutch beam trawlers added to the interest with dozens of birds following in their wake. 

Captain Thomas Stephensen was very knowledgeable as to the sightings of Cetaceans on this crossing. He said that "on the Dutch side of the North Sea he and his officers regularly saw Porpoises and Dolphins while on watch". It was shortly after this discussion that we started to see our first Harbour Porpoises. 10nm off Vlaardingen the officer of the watch then brought to our attention a message from the captain of a nearby ship asking for those vessels in the vicinity to slow down as they had just seen a Whale off their starboard side, at this point we were 2.5nm miles to the west of this sighting and we believe it was most likely a Minke Whale, however any large Cetacean is notable in this area of the North Sea. 

Vlaargingen canalAs we approached the vast canal leading to Vlaardingen Harbour we observed more Harbour Porpoises and 2 bull Grey Seals. The work then began in earnest to record the many species seen along this tidal section and amongst the hundreds of gulls, Greylags, Gadwall, Great-crested Grebes, Mute Swans, Oystercatchers and Common Terns was a juvenile plumaged Caspian Gull. This bird flew across the river in front of Carol, landed and started to eat a fish on the foreshore. As the ship passed, great views were obtained through a telescope of the bird, its white head and belly,  flattened crown, small dark eyes, long straight bill and long legs and neck all helped to confirm the ID. As we neared Vlaardingen Harbour we saw increasing numbers of adult Common and Black-headed Gulls which up to now had been missing on the crossing, so by the time the Flandria Seaways had docked we had logged almost 2,000 birds.

After a delicious meal Captain Thomas Stephensen gave us permission to leave the ship so we decided to walk a circuit involving grassland, woodland and a stream adjacent to the grounds of a college and close to the Vlaardingen harbour entrance and in spite of the cool, showery conditions we managed to log the following summer visitors; Golden Oriole, Spotted Flycatcher, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff and at one point a Song Thrush and a Golden Oriole were singing almost in unison. 

We left our berth at 14.00 with the weather conditions greatly improved compared to our arrival but   as the skies cleared the wind increased to force 6 which made Cetacean watching very challenging.  As we moved down the Vlaardingen Canal it was alive with birds from Little Ringed Plovers to Egyptian Geese as well as hundreds of Cormorants, Mute Swans, Common Terns, Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls. On reaching the open sea we encountered many Sandwich Terns successfully fishing for Sand Eels and small fish as well as a party of 4 Arctic Terns heading northwards. As we steamed SW towards Felixstowe we had a Whimbrel fly rapidly past the ship apparently unaffected by the strong head-wind. We continued to see Gannets and Fulmars as well as a single Manx Shearwater and on approaching the Suffolk coast, sightings of Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls steadily increased.

Approaching Felixstowe docks at 21:15, we left the bridge and thanked Captain Thomas Stephensen for his hospitality and the friendliness shown by him and all of his crew during our stay on board his ship.

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

Graham Ekins and Carol Farmer-Wright: Research Surveyors for MARINElife