Sightings Archives: June 2015

MARINElife Survey Report, Felixstowe-Vlaardingen, "Anglia Seaways" 30th June 2015

Posted 03 July 2015

Fraser Paterson and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Outbound (am): wind a light easterly, warm with no cloud cover, increasing glare during morning, dry. Return (pm): wind remaining light and mainly east-north-easterly throughout, no cloud but increasing heat haze and strong glare throughout, dry.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5

Gannet Morus bassanus 80
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 231
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 3
Gull sp.  644
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 6
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 22
Tern Sp.  6        
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 11
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 32

Passerines passing the survey ship:
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1

Birds seen on the Nieuwe Waterweg:
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 11
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 5
Coot Fulica atra 37
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 714
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 5
Greylag Goose Anser anser 121
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 2
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 11
Feral pigeon  2
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 2
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima 1
Pipit Sp. 2


On a warm summer's evening we arrived at Felixstowe Dock 2 where the Anglia Seaways was already berthed alongside Dooley's dock.  After a passport and ticket check by the efficient and friendly DFDS staff we were taken onto the ship where the purser showed us to our comfortable cabins.

After a coffee, we made our way up to the bridge where we were welcomed by the officer of the watch. Viewing conditions were excellent with large expanses of dead calm, clear skies and a light easterly wind.  As we set up on the bridge we passed a fishing vessel on the starboard side and, although too late to catch most of the birds, two Great Skuas were seen moving ominously towards the flock and a few Fulmars, Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls kept us occupied for around 30 minutes. We caught sight of Harbour Porpoises in the area just north of the Greater Gabbard wind farm; the first one swam close to the front of the ship whilst four more appeared over the next half an hour or so. Sadly there was lot of flotsam, mainly inflated party balloons but also plastic containers, in this area on both legs of the survey.

Gannet FaserPaterson
Gannet (photo bySteve McAusland)

We enjoyed regular sightings of Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, alongside a solitary Starling flying west, until we reached the Dutch coast.  Here we spotted a few grey seals and another sighting of three Harbour Porpoise including a juvenile. We also encountered Common Scoter, Common Terns and Cormorant in amongst the swirling flocks of gulls.

As we entered the "river" (the Nieuwe Waterweg), a Purple Sandpiper was seen on the groyne on the port side while the only other waders/shorebirds seen on the trip were three Oystercatchers and two Lapwings. We did not try to count the predominant gull species, due in large to the glare from the sun, continuous movement and moulting hindering identification efforts, and instead concentrated on the other birds. For the next 1.5 hours we were kept busy recording bird species as we travelled east up the canal. The numbers of Mute Swan, Greylags, Coot and Mallard appeared to have diminished since the previous survey and there were no Little Egrets or Hirundines. However, there were a few Common Terns, a family group of Shelduck (13 juveniles) and five Egyptian Geese.  We left the bridge shortly before berthing to grab a power nap and some lunch.

Due to the intense glare from the sun throughout the return leg of the trip, we decided to wait until the Anglia Seaways was close to exiting the river before re-establishing ourselves on the bridge. We quickly passed through a lot of gulls, cormorants and terns, including several Sandwich Terns in the Dutch inshore waters, and passed a rather distant fishing vessel with c. 170 gulls. We passed several other vessels heading west; one of these was a medium sized tanker, the Bowfin, which was on fire. Fortunately, the fire was at the rear of the ship and away from the tanks and was quickly extinguished before we overtook it.

BOWFINFraser Paterson
Bowfin (Photo by Steve McAusland)

Following that burst of excitement, the number of sightings declined as we headed west along the shipping lane. There was lower bird activity here, partly due to the breeding season and no significant migrations; however, the intense glare meant that we may have missed some birds and those that we did see were often just visible in silhouette, making identification and ageing impossible at times. We still picked up regular Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, especially once we reached the area north of the windfarm again, with occasional treats such as a lonesome Fulmar and a single Swallow. Unfortunately, sea and light conditions conspired against any sightings of cetaceans in the afternoon.

We called a halt to the survey at 9pm, tired but satisfied with a good range of observations. We would like to thank Captain Henry Luffe as well as his officers and remaining crew of the Anglia Seaways for their continued generosity, hospitality and support.

Fraser Paterson and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife