MARINElife Survey Report: Felixstowe to Vlaardingen 'Selandia Seaways' 15th May 2018

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound - at dawn a strong northerly wind was blowing with a thick mist; later skies cleared and wind backed NE force 3, very warm in Vlaardingen.  Inbound - sunshine with light-high cloud and a Moderate N wind, becoming cool. Later heavy mist and strengthening N wind.

Marine animals
Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 2

Eider Somateria molissima 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 19
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 141
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 15
Common Gull   Larus canus 8
Mediterranean Gull larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 146                                                                                        
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 211
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Common Gull Larus canus 14                                                          
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Large Gull   Larus sp. 240
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 56
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 15
Commic Tern  S.hirundo /S. paradisaea 4
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 27

Terrestrial birds
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1272
Black Swan Cygnus atratus 1
Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla 65
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 11
Greylag Goose Anser anser 91
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Teal Anas crecca 1
Garganey  Anas querquedula 3
Mallard  Anas platyrhynchus 21
Gadwall  Anas strepera 193
Tufted Duck aythya fuligula 1
Great-crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 3
Coot  Fulica atra 12
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Common Sandpiper  Actitis hypoleucos 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 11
Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus 2
Jackdaw  Corvus monedula 22
Carrion Crow  Corvus corone 6
Magpie  Pica pica 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 3
Greenfinch  Chloris chloris 1

When Robin and I arrived at the Dooley terminal in Felixstowe the Selandia Seaways had already docked. The DFDS staff quickly checked our passports, issued our tickets and took us to the ship.  The first officer welcomed us aboard and then took us to the driver's deck where we were shown to our comfortable cabins. It was great having access to a lift rather than climbing the many stairs.

After a good night's sleep we awoke at 04.30 to find the ship surrounded by a thick mist and a strong northerly breeze.  This continued for the next 3 hours with just the glimpse of an occasional gull. However, at mid-morning the mist quickly lifted to reveal a blue sky with much improved visibility. We started to see passing Sandwich Tern and many adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, the latter moving west into the North Sea presumably from coastal colonies. As we neared the Dutch coast we had a flock of 65 Dark-bellied Brent Geese pass the ship heading northeast; no doubt on the next stage of their long journey to Siberian breeding grounds. We also saw a pair of Arctic Tern follow the  same route. As we neared the coast, sizeable flocks of adult Lesser Black-backed and a few Herring Gull followed the ship while around us Common and Sandwich Tern were busy fishing.

Common Tern Graham Ekins 01

Common Tern (Graham Ekins)

As we neared the entrance to the Nieuwe Waterweg (Canal) we came across a pair of Eider Duck and 2 Harbour Seal, the only sea mammals recorded on this survey.  On the grassy embankments to the north were hundreds of pairs of Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull, while on the breakwater were dozens of immature Cormorant.As we moved east along the canal we recorded Mediterranean Gull, Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, many broods of Greylag and Egyptian Geese and a single Black Swan amongst the many Mute Swan.  Numerous Jackdaw were flying to and fro with their crops full of food for their young, while amongst the Swan were dozens of Gadwall, a single Teal, Shelduck, Tufted Duck and a few Great Crested Grebe in summer plumage.  As we docked the propellers stirred the mud and attracted in Common Tern, as well as several adult Common and Lesser Black-backed Gull.

After an excellent meal in the Officers Mess we entered data and wrote the first stage of the blog.

Around mid-afternoon the Selandia Seaways headed back down the canal to the open sea in warm sunshine.  Many people were on the canal banks sitting in the sun enjoying the warm weather and watching the many ships pass by.  As we travelled west we caught sight of 3 Garganey, the female being pursued by 2 superbly plumaged males; the first I have seen on a MARINElife survey.  We also recorded Greenfinch, another Swallow and numerous gulls and Common Tern. At the mouth of the Nieuwe Waterweg we found 2 more male Eider close to the breakwater and just offshore many fishing Sandwich Tern.  As we headed west we encountered many adult Lesser Black-backed Gull flying east, presumably returning to their colonies.

We then started to see the first of several Gannet, all heading purposefully north, this included several immatures, the first of this survey. Further west we came across small groups of Arctic Tern heading north, as well as a stunning group of 12 that came quite close to the ship.

Common Seal Graham Ekins 01

Common Seal (Graham Ekins)

To our great surprise we recorded 2 Mute Swan sitting on the sea 55 miles out; something neither of us had never seen before. Mid-channel we were still encountering adult Gannet heading north, as well as an impressive adult Great Black-backed Gull and several immature Lesser Black-backed Gull overtaking the ship and heading towards the UK coast. By now the sun was becoming hazy and before long the first wisps of mist started to appear. Within minutes we were engulfed and visibility decreased to less than 100 metres.  We logged off and waited 20 minutes to see if the skies would clear, but to no avail.  We decided to close the survey and after thanking Captain Torben Sekjaer and his officers for their excellent hospitality, we retired to the Officers' Mess to continue writing the blog and entering the data.

We would like to thank Captain Torben Sekjaer, his Officers and Crew for making this survey so enjoyable. We would also like to thank DFDS Seaways for their ongoing support and for making this survey possible.

Graham Ekins and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife