Carol Farmer-Wright and Jeff Higgott, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outbound: Bright with some cloud, good visibility and some glare for most of the route. Sea state 3 reducing to 0; light SE wind Force 2-3.
Inbound: Cloudy with good visibility and little glare. Heavy rain mid North Sea. Sea state 0 throughout. Wind force 3-6 NE backing to NW, rising briefly to Force 10 mid North Sea.
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 109
Common Gull Larus canus 19
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 144
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 791
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 34
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 64
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 202
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 647
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 24
Unidentified Medium Gull sp. Laridae 2
Unidentified Tern sp. Sternidae 21
Unidentified Large Gull sp. Larus sp. 544
Canada Goose Broanta canadensis 7
Coot Fulica atra 6
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 15
Gadwall Anas strepera 71
Greylag Goose Anser anser 837
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 78
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus 1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 2022
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 16
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Teal Anas crecca 4
Unidentified Duck sp. 3
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 4
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 3
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 1
Magpie Pica pica 2
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 2
Unidentified Crow sp. Corvus sp. 7
Checking in at Felixstowe Docks on the Monday evening was straightforward with docks passes collected and a very efficient minibus shuttle to the waiting Anglia Seaways. After a far too brief sleep it was time to get up and head to the bridge for 4.30am. Here we were welcomed by Captain Kekus and his team and invited to take advantage of the coffee machine, which served a very good cup of coffee which was a welcome caffeine boost.
Summer in the North Sea is never going to be the busiest in terms of bird movements, and so it proved with little of note other than Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the deeper water, and a few Kittiwakes and Gannets. A single Harbour Porpoise surfaced a couple of times before vanishing and that was, disappointingly (especially for Carol, who missed it owing to a rest break) to be the only cetacean of the entire survey.
Sunset at Sea (Jeff Higgott, 2019)
As we approached the Dutch coast feeding Sandwich Terns became more evident, and this species was replaced by Common Terns as we entered the Nieuwe Waterweg which takes us from the coast to the Vlaardingen port. Recording in this channel is rather hectic year-round with lots of birds to note. Mute Swan (1000+), Greylag Goose (400+) and Cormorant (300+) were the most numerous species recorded here on both the inbound and outbound survey with smaller numbers of other waterfowl and wading birds. Land birds in this area included several crows flying across the channel and a female Marsh Harrier over the south shoreline, and there were two separate sightings of Grey Seals.
The four hours in port at Vlaardingen were spent transcribing data from the outbound leg into the MARINElife spreadsheets, taking lunch and grabbing a quick nap before being woken for a routine passport check by the Dutch authorities.
There was a change of crew in Vlaardingen and we headed to the bridge for the westbound survey leg where Captain Nielsen welcomed us. The return was largely uneventful from a wildlife perspective other than finding a large gathering of Gulls over the water with a few Gannets diving and a single Great Skua.
Shortly before 7pm the boat moved through the centre of a depression that had formed with a spectacular change in the weather. The wind, in a matter of a couple of minutes, increased from Force 3 to Force 10 and back again, peaking at 59 knots (67mph). This was accompanied by very heavy rain and a rapid change in wind direction. Not an ideal time to have been in a smaller sailing boat!
Arriving back at port in Felixstowe it was a short minibus ride back to the car park, a quick pause to admire the impressive number of gull droppings on the roofs of our cars and then make our way home.
Many thanks to Captain Kekus, Captain Nielsen and their teams for their help and support throughout this survey, and making us feel at home in their working environment (and allowing us to drink their coffee).