MARINElife Survey Report, Felixstowe-Vlaardingen, "DFDS Anglia Seaways" 25-26th May 2015

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: 25th May late pm; wind a light NW, mild with scattered high cloud; dry. 26th May am; wind a light N increasing to force 2 near Dutch coast; scattered cloud, excellent visibility; pm very light winds from SW then flat calm; light and scattered cloud increasing slowly from SW.

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise   Phocoena phocoena 10
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncates 7
Grey Seal  halichoerus grypus 3
Common or Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds
Eider  Somateria molissima 1
Guillemot   Uria algae 1
Razorbill   Alca torda 1
Fulmar    Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Gannet    Morus bassanus 40
Herring Gull    Larus argentatus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Larus fuscus 178
Great Black-backed Gull   Larus marinus 17
Common Gull   Larus canus 1
Kittiwake   Rissa tridactyla 10
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 3
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 3
Sandwich Tern    Sterna sandvicensis 38
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 2
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 2

Passerines /waders landing on or passing the survey ship
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1

Birds seen on the Nieuwe Waterweg.
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 86
Great Crested Grebe  Podiceps cristatus 6
Coot  Fulica atra 12
Mute Swan  Cygnus olor 961
Greylag Goose  Anser anser 214
Mallard Anas platyrhynchus 18
Gadwall  Anas strepera 107
Teal Anas crecca 2
Little Egret  Egretta garzetta 1
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo 1
Herring Gull    Larus argentatus 164
Lesser Black-backed Gull   Larus fuscus 232
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Common Gull   Larus canus 44
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 27
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 2
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 11
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 107
Dunlin  Calidris alpina 1
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 12
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 1
Jackdaw  Corvus monedula 15
Carrion Crow  Corvus corone 5
Woodpigeon  Columba polumbus 2
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Swift Apus apus 2
Swallow  Hirundo rustica 1
Sand Martin   Riparia riparia 2
Greenfinch  Chloris chloris 1

On a mild spring evening we arrived at Felixstowe Dock 2 where the Anglia Seaways was already docked.  After a passport and ticket check by the efficient and friendly DFDS staff we were transported to the ship where the purser showed us to our comfortable cabins.

We were up at 4.30am and, with a hot drink in hand, carried out a check of the deck for migrant birds. We found a Collared Dove roosting on one of the ramp supports, this bird stayed with the ship until we reached the Dutch mainland.  We then made our way up to the bridge where we were welcomed by Captain Orpheus Kekus and the First Officer.   Viewing conditions were excellent with a little cloud and a light northerly wind.  Almost immediately we caught sight of two Harbour Porpoise. We also recorded several Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gull, the majority of the latter being immature birds.  We saw the occasional Fulmar; these all had mottled wing coverts indicating they were moulting their bleached old feathers and growing slightly darker newer ones. Photographs later showed that several were also in wing moult. We also recorded a steady stream of adult Gannet, with some sub-adults, heading north; presumably to Norwegian breeding colonies.  At 06.55am Robin spotted 2 large Bottlenose Dolphin close to the Port side of the bows, they showed twice before diving out of sight. Bottlenose Dolphin are a real rarity on the eastern side of the North Sea and the first for us on a Vlaardingen survey.  As we approached the Dutch coast we observed 2 more Harbour Porpoise and a Common Seal, while many Sandwich Tern were fishing in the turbulent waters offshore.

BND Graham Ekins 01a

Bottlenose Dolphins (Graham Ekins)

As we entered the Nieuwe Waterweg we saw a Dunlin, with summer plumage, fly over the ship, a Whimbrel on the rocks and several Oystercatcher.  For the next 1.5 hours we were kept very busy recording the bird species as we travelled east up the vast canal.  The number of Mute Swan, mainly immature, and family parties of Greylag have increased since the April survey while Coot, Gadwall and Mallard numbers have reduced significantly.  Both Common and Arctic Tern were present in good numbers; both species nesting on the many islands and groynes found along the canal.   As the ship manoeuvred into the dock many gulls and terns were attracted to the turbulent water.

Grey Seal 02_Graham Ekins

Grey Seal (Graham Ekins)

On reaching the berth at Vlaardingen we had time to start entering data before our superb mid-day meal.  Data entry was completed just as the ship set sail again mid-afternoon.  We continued to record bird species as we travelled east to the mouth of the Nieuwe Waterweg.  We saw several more Common Tern and an occasional Arctic Tern, all busy fishing on the falling tide.  We were surprised to see just two Swift, one Swallow and two Sand Martin, by this time in previous years Swift and Hirundine were a common sight. In the sea to the north of the breakwater we had further views of Harbour Porpoise in almost perfect light conditions.  We also had a surprise visit from a Dutch Air-Sea Rescue helicopter whose crew practised dropping 2 of their team on the ship.

As we travelled west we had views of 2 more superb Bottlenose Dolphin, observed quite close to the morning sighting suggesting that they may have been the same animals. Thirty minutes later we had three more, quite an incredible run of sightings for a species that is not commonly seen in the southern central and eastern North Sea. We also had great views of a large bull Grey Seal that was spyhopping quite close to the ship.

The numbers of seabirds recorded decreased as we travelled west.  Even the fishing beam trawlers had few birds compared with those boats seen earlier in the spring.  As we neared the Suffolk coast we observed the occasional Gannet and Fulmar, one Razorbill (summer plumage), two Arctic Skua (dark phase) and several Kittiwake presumably from the Sizewell colony.

Bridge Surveyors_Graham Ekins

Survey Team (Graham Ekins)

With the light beginning to fade we thanked Captain Orpheus Kekus for his hospitality on-board his excellent ship the DFDS Anglia Seaways.  We packed away our equipment and went below for another delicious meal.  By the time we docked at Felixstowe, Robin had entered the last of the data on this truly memorable and very enjoyable survey.

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

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife