MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS ‘Suecia Seaways’ Felixstowe to Vlaardingen survey 5th November 2019

Robin Langdon & Jeff Higgott, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Outward - overcast, good visibility.  SW wind force 4.
Return - brighter, good visibility with glare at times; heavy evening shower. SW wind force 4.

Sea mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Auk sp. Alcidae 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 21
Common Gull Larus canus 6
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 375
Gannet Morus bassanus 35
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 14
Gull sp. Laridae 570
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 129
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca 1

River birds
Coot Fulica atra 131
Duck sp. Anas sp. 173
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca 7
Gadwall Anas strepera 229
Gannet Morus bassanus 35
Goose sp. Anatidae 7
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 140
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 22
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 113
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6
Wigeon Anas penelope 61

Terrestrial birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 9
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris 1
Finch sp. Fringillidae 1
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 1
Pipit Sp. Anthus sp. 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 55

The 2:30am departure of the Suecia Seaways meant a late night check in at Felixstowe's Dooley terminal.  A quick minibus ride to the boat and we were able to board quickly and get some sleep ready for an early morning start to the surveying.

After getting up for 6:30am (GMT) and having finished a tasty breakfast we were welcomed to the bridge to begin the survey.  As usual for this route the North Sea proved to be quiet initially but as the Dutch coast began to come distantly into view the sightings increased.  Small groups of Guillemot were a sure sign that winter is approaching.  No Auk species were seen on the last survey in mid-October and these cliff-breeding Alcids (the other name used for Auk species after their family name Alcidae) move into the open seas at this time of year. A small group of Common Scoter flew past the bow.  Obvious amongst this group of dark-winged sea ducks were the white wing panels distinctive of a slightly larger and much scarcer Velvet Scoter.  There were a few other seabirds spotted, including several Gannets and Kittiwakes and just a single Red-throated Diver.

The calm inshore waters were ideal for picking out Harbour Porpoises and there were two sightings, both were two animals together and close to the boat.  A single Grey Seal was also seen as we approached the river mouth.

Grey Seal Martin Gillingham 01
Grey Seal (Martin Gillingham, 2019)

The breakwater on the north side of the river approach to Vlaardingen is always a good place to see Cormorants, and we counted over 240 as we headed slowly inland.  Mute Swan were dotted along both shores and winter ducks were starting to increase, with groups of Wigeon and Gadwall frequently spotted.  A couple of small groups of Starling heading south over the boat were signs of the autumn passerine migration still under way.

The Suecia Seaways departed Vlaardingen at 3:30pm local time.  The sun appeared for the first time and the resulting glare left most of the feeding ducks as silhouettes as we headed toward the open sea.

With only a couple of hours of daylight on the return leg there was limited time to add to the records at sea before nightfall.  Another Porpoise was a welcome addition to the totals.  Two seals were also recorded - one in the bay and another a little further out - but little else seen before the setting sun coincided with a heavy rain shower which made visibility difficult. So, we decided it was time to draw a line under the survey.

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