MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS ‘Britannia Seaways’ Felixstowe to Vlaardingen survey 8th October 2019

Carol Farmer-Wright & Jeff Higgott, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Outward - overcast, good visibility, early morning shower: westerly wind force 5-6.
Return - brighter, good visibility with glare at times; heavy evening shower: south-westerly wind force 7-8.

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 598
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 2
Common Gull Larus canus 50
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 450
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 14
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Gull sp. Laridae 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 757
Larus sp. Larus sp. 115
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 24
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Skua sp. Stercorariidae 1

River Birds
Coot Fulica atra 156
Duck sp. 16
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 1
Gadwall Anas strepera 142
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 10
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 54
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 158
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 53
Teal Anas crecca 3
Wigeon Anas penelope 25

Terrestrial Birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 67
Curlew Numenius arquata 7
Finch sp. Fringillidae 11
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 5
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 80
Magpie Pica pica 2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 2
Pipit Sp. Anthus sp. 4
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 3
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 32
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris 60
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 4

After a trouble-free late Monday night check-in to the Britannia Seaways it was time to head to the cabins to get some sleep.  With a departure from Felixstowe at 02:30, the boat was over half way to the Dutch coast by daybreak and we were welcomed onto the bridge by the very helpful crew at 06:30 to begin the survey.

With a force 4 to 5 wind and a good swell, it was always going to be a challenge to see the diminutive Harbour Porpoise - the most expected cetacean - and so it proved, with no sightings as we headed to the Dutch coast.  October is a month of transition for the bird life.  The breeding terns have started their migration south, and the wintering wildfowl are still on their way into the southern North Sea. We did spot a group of 12 Common Scoter, small numbers of Gannet and Great Skua as well as a couple of divers.

View from Britannia Seaways
View from the Britannia Seaways out to sea (Jeff Higgott, 2019)

The river approach into Vlaardingen is always busy from a recording perspective. Large numbers of Cormorant were perched on the rocks of the breakwater and Mute Swan were feeding in the water along both shores. Small numbers of wintering Wigeon and Gadwall were seen alongside Mallard, Coot and Great Crested Grebe, now in their winter plumage. Wading birds were represented by groups of Lapwing, Oystercatcher and several Curlew on the shoreline. There was evidence of passerine migration with several groups of Greenfinch and Common Starling, as well as a single Northern Wheatear heading south over the boat.

Following the mid-afternoon departure from port in Vlaardingen the birds along the river were (unsurprisingly) similar to the eastbound leg; though, we did spot a Red-throated Diver and a female Common Eider (which were new birds for the survey) and a single Grey Seal made a brief appearance.

Reaching the open sea the wind had picked up further and reached force 8 for the crossing back to Felixstowe, which again hindered our attempt to record cetaceans.  It was hoped that the wind may improve the chance of seeing Tubenoses and Skuas, but other than a couple of the latter it was left to just a few Gannet sightings for our recording sheets before nightfall.

Many thanks go to the staff and crew of the Britannia Seaways who made this a very enjoyable crossing.