MARINElife Survey Report, Felixstowe to Vlaardingen, “Selandia Seaways” 7th June 2016

Robin Langdon and Tibor Beetles, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of Weather and Species Recorded

Out - Wind: Light-Gentle NE Breeze / Sea State: 2 /Slightly hazy visibility improving, high cloud cover, strong Ahead glare
Return - Wind: Gentle-moderate NNE breeze / Sea State: 4 dropping to 2 / Good visibility, low cloud cover increasing to high, strong ahead-starboard ahead glare

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Gannet Morus bassanus 19
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 615
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus ridibundus 172
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 45
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 7
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 17
Cormorant Phalacrocoracidae 324
Gull sp.    398
Tern sp. 111
Larus sp.  81
Auk sp.   6
Skua sp.  1

Terrestrial and River birds:
Swift Apus apus 2
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 566
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 14
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 9
Greylag Goose Anser anser 129
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 10
Gadwall Anas strepera 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 3
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1
Wigeon Mareca 2
Duck sp.  73
Pigeon sp.  5

As this was my first cargo ship survey, I met Robin at a nearby supermarket to follow him through the busy port to park and check-in at the DFDS offices. The security team escorted us to the "Selandia Seaways" and we watched the team expertly loading the vessel before being shown to the driver's mess and given the key to our clean cabin. Robin and I discovered a shared experience aboard a Hebridean research yacht, chatting about our wildlife adventures before grabbing a few hours of sleep. Unfortunately, my "too smart for its own good" phone proceeded to wake us up a whole hour before I'd anticipated - top tip: check if you're on ship or port time!

Cormorant Peter Howlett 02Cormorant (Peter Howlett)

Weather conditions were good as we started our survey at 6.45am, although as the morning progressed the glare increased ahead. The sightings were sporadic on the open sea, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gull, terns and Gannet. Other birds included 6 auks and a glimpse of a skua.

The route is known for having a challenging river section. I was ready to do my best with the river and terrestrial birds but my knowledge of these is still developing. There seemed to be birds everywhere, a mixture of Mute Swan, Duck species and Greylag Geese sitting on the water, Cormorant on the rocks and hundreds of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull. A few Crow, Pigeon and later Jackdaw were also added. There were many terns (often feeding) which were a mix of Sandwich, Common and Arctic; though it was so busy we often had to resort to simply listing them as tern species. Just as we entered the River, Robin also spotted our first marine mammal; a solitary Grey Seal swimming in one of the small bays.

Just before final manoeuvres to the berth we thanked the crew and left the bridge. After a late breakfast, we entered the morning's data. Robin looked through his pictures and was able to make some more specific IDs, including Great Crested Grebe, Gadwall and Wigeon.

JackdawGrahamEkins2012Jackdaw (Graham Ekins)

After lunch we began our return journey back up the river where we spotted a similar mix of river birds. The bird activity dropped dramatically only minutes after leaving the river mouth, so Robin and I both reverted to cetacean mode. The glare and slightly rougher seas made it tricky, although just minutes after leaving the river another Grey Seal was spotted.

Twenty minutes later a synchronised movement caught the corner of my eye, with two Harbour Porpoise swimming in tandem away from the boat. It made me think of an article I had just read about the 90% hunting success rate of these shy little cetaceans - who'd have thought they are better at hunting than most other predators. Just minutes after a conversation about the lack of some of the usual favourite seabirds, a couple of Kittiwake and a few Fulmar were sighted.

Not long before reaching Felixstowe whilst scanning with binoculars I suddenly saw a shape swimming quickly towards the boat. The big black eyes of a Grey Seal peered up curiously as we passed close by.

As the port entrance neared we both hoped for one more cetacean sighting, perhaps framed beautifully in the sunset, but alas it was not to be. We thanked Captain Stephensen for his and his crew's hospitality and DFDS's continued support of our work. We were appreciative of a swift escort back to our cars and both headed home after another enjoyable survey.

Robin Langdon and Tibor Beetles, Research Surveyors for MARINElife