MARINElife Survey Report: Felixstowe to Vlaardingen 5th March 2019

Helen Swift and Tom Forster, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outbound: Dry with light high cloud, very good visibility (>20 km), South-westerly wind force 4-5, sea state 5 dropping steadily through survey, intermittent glare.
Return: Dry and sunny with some light cloud, good visibility (>20 km initially dropping to 11-15 km later), South-westerly wind force 5-6, sea state 3 rising to 4, intermittent glare.

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1018
Common Gull Larus canus 14
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 140
Eider Somateria mollissima 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 75
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 62
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 14
Guillemot Uria aalge 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 220
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 222
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 14
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 2
Unidentified Auk sp. Alcidae 33
Unidentified Diver sp. Gaviidae 2
Unidentified Gull sp. Laridae 173
Unidentified Larus Gull sp. Larus 911
Unidentified Skua sp. Stercorariidae 1

Terrestrial birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Coot Fulica atra 59
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 2
Gadwall Anas strepera 879
Greylag Goose Anser anser 34
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 22
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 16
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 4
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Wigeon Anas penelope 178
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1

Unidentified Duck sp. 12
Unidentified Corvid sp. 2

As this was our first survey on this route, we headed to Felixstowe early to get our bearings (and enjoy the amusement arcade at the Pier!)  We checked in at about 10:30 p.m. and made our way to our cabins for a few hours of sleep.

We were up on the bridge for dawn.  Conditions were slightly choppier than ideal.  However, it could have been much worse - fortunately, we had missed the brunt of Storm Freya which had passed through the previous day.  And the sea state did start to calm down as we headed towards Vlaardingen. Once the Sun had fully risen, we were somewhat hampered by glare for much of the survey.

After going on effort, we instantly started recording birds - Gannet, auks and a variety of gulls.  The majority of birds were now in their breeding plumage but a few auks and Kittiwake were hanging on to their winter feathers. There continued to be a steady trickle of birds until we reached the Dutch coast. Highlights were a pair of Red-Breasted Merganser and two Little Gull, the latter seen actively feeding. We were also surprised to spot two Jackdaw flying across the North Sea!

Razorbill Peter Howlett 04
Razorbill (Peter Howlett, 2014)

As we headed upriver into the Netherlands, the birds came thick and fast, making it a real challenge to record them all! We followed a tip from Carol, the route coordinator - Tom took the right side and I took the left, which seemed to work well.  This stretch of the survey added a variety of new species to our tally.  In particular, there were large populations of ducks on the river, with Gadwall the predominant species and smaller numbers of Wigeon.  Gulls were ever-present, in huge quantities, including around 500 Black-Headed Gull.  Being the geeks we are, we keep a record of the number of species seen on each survey, and this was the largest number of birds we had recorded on a single survey to date.

Of course, while recording birds we also kept our eyes peeled for cetaceans.  Carol had informed us that a Humpback Whale had been seen on the Dover-Dunkirk survey a few days previously (wow!), so we kept a look out in case it was heading north.  Sadly, it didn't materialise and the survey was, overall, light on marine mammals, with just two Harbour Porpoise seen on the outbound journey.

Once we arrived in Vlaardingen, we took advantage of the few hours in port to enter data into the spreadsheet (Tom) or have a nap (me).

We departed at about 15:30 local time and resumed our count of river birds, mainly the same species being present.  A White Stork on an industrial site beside the river was a surprise - presumably either very early arriving or an over-winterer, but we couldn't count it as it fell outside the survey area. Once we headed out to sea, it was very quiet, with just occasional auks and Gannet, and a couple of divers of unidentified species.   We had about three and half hours of survey time, then as darkness fell we headed back to our cabins to complete our data entry.

We would like to thank DFDS for making this survey possible. Our particular thanks to Captain Kekus and the crew of Anglia Seaways who were extremely welcoming and accommodating throughout the survey.