MARINElife survey report: DFDS Seaways ‘Flandria Seaways’ Felixstowe-Vlaardingen survey 24-25 February 2014

Steve Morgan and Ali Quinney, Research Sureyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity no. 1110884; Registered Company no. 5057367)

Weather: sea state mostly 3-4, wind southerly and visibility moderate-good

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Gannet Morus bassanus 4
Great Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo 83
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 203
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 12
Common Gull Larus canus 56
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 360
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 53
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 9
Guillemot Uria aalge 40
Unidentified Gull sp 735
Unidentified Auk sp 2

Land birds
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 11
Greylag Goose Anser anser 16
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 15
Wigeon Anas penelope 629
Gadwall Anas strepera 117
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 11
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 44
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 13
Coot Fulicula atra 7
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 4
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 68
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 11
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 5
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Magpie Pica pica 3
Unidentified Duck Sp  77
Unidentified Wader Sp  10

When we boarded the Flandria Seaways at the Felixstowe terminal we were immediately taken under the wing of the helpful and friendly staff. We were fed and watered and shown to our very comfy cabins and after a good night's sleep at sea we arose in time to watch a stunning sunrise. After a filling breakfast we were shown to the bridge and set ourselves up for the survey on the starboard side.

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 01a
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

Despite a choppy start to the survey seabird numbers were steady with Guillemot, Kittiwake and Lesser Black-backed Gull making regular appearances over the next few hours. As the survey continued and we headed closer toward the Dutch coast the sea state improved and we saw a flock of adult Little Gull, a first for me. A Common Seal and 2 Harbour Porpoise were sighted before entering the mouth of the river, one Harbour Porpoise immediately below us only a few feet away from the bow of the ship. The sea state became calm and gulls started coming in thick and fast as we entered the river including large numbers of Black-headed, Herring and Common Gull. Numerous Cormorant and Oystercatcher were found standing on the sea wall whilst great rafts of Widgeon and Tufted Duck were alongside it. Great Crested Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese also made an appearance as we slowly made our way up the river toward port. As we berthed at Vlaardingen we enjoyed great views of gulls flying close to the windows of the bridge providing an opportunity for gull identification and plumage training for myself by Steve.

After some warm lunch and a few hours shut eye we took to our posts again on the bridge as the ship set sail for the second leg of the voyage. We were treated to heavy rainfall for a short time so with the windscreen wipers on we carried on and identified the gulls and ducks as well as we could. During one particularly heavy gull influx the Captain and his officer spotted a Common Seal right in front of the ship and, much to the Captain's delight, Steve and I didn't see it. We were preoccupied with counting large numbers of gull 'sp'.

The journey up the river provided great views of large numbers of Gadwall along the river bank, along with Grey Heron and corvids. At the mouth of the river along the sea wall another Common Seal was spotted 'bottling'. The journey back was calm and the sea state and light provided perfect conditions for spotting cetaceans. The last few hours of day light were quiet on the seabird front, a few auks here and there and the largest proportion of gull sp. recorded flying around a fishing vessel. We kept our eyes peeled, scanning the sea, questioning every breaking wave and hoping for signs of more cetaceans. By the time we lost the light 4 more Harbour Porpoise had been recorded.

Ali Quinney and Steve Morgan surveying
Ali and Steve surveying (Photo: Ali Quinney)

As the sun went down we thanked the captain and officer of the watch and left the bridge to collate all the data. My first survey was a great success and it was real a privilege to spend time on the bridge, the best location for watching seabirds and cetaceans as views of the ocean and its inhabitants don't get much better than that.

Very special thanks to DFDS Seaways and their crew for this fantastic opportunity.