MARINElife Survey Report: Hull-Zeebrugge 'P&O Ferries Pride of York' 26-28 April 2014

Stuart Murray  and Mark Archer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Southbound, SE 5, Northbound, no wind. Good visibility and calm seas but thick fog on the 28th

Summary of species recorded
Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 68
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 46
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 47
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus  3
Common Gull Larus canus 23
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 11
Unidentified wader species 12
Unidentified gull sp. 6

Terrestrial Birds
Coot Fulica atra 1
Curlew Numenius arquata 1
Bar Tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1

Birds from the ship while docked
Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides 1   (Hull)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo c50   (Zeebrugge)

The 'Pride of York' was a new survey experience for both of us, never having joined a passenger ferry as surveyors before. Checking in at reception with the queue of happy holiday-makers we waited our turn to explain who we were and what we were onboard to do. It was then rather gratifying to be escorted straight to meet the Captain, Mark Rolie, who could not have been more friendly and welcoming. After coffee and an engaging conversation in his cabin we were taken up to the bridge and shown around, even invited to watch the ship maneuvering out of the dock. The chance to see a 30,000 ton vessel going through a lock system with only 10cm of clearance on either side was not to be missed.

Iceland Gull Stuart Murray

Iceland Gull (Stuart Murray)

While I peered down taking pictures, Mark was being more conscientious and carefully scanning a scrum of gulls around us. He was well rewarded when one turned out to be an Iceland Gull. Although not quite fully adult, it was very pale grey, almost white in the bright sunshine, strongly contrasting with the much darker grey of the adult Herring Gulls. This was an excellent start but once out in the Humber river things became much quieter, gulls seemed to prefer life in the docks and there were very few of them down to Spurn Point, where the estuary becomes the North Sea proper. By then we were not far off sunset and had to finish for the day.

The following morning saw us early on the bridge, but it took until 5.30am for the light to be good enough to work. The run into Zeebrugge gave us steady numbers of Gannet and good numbers of terns, most were Common with a few Sandwich Tern mixed in. The more distant and less certain identifications probably included Arctic Tern also.

Once inside the dock we had good, close views of the terns. Attracted by the surge of the bow thrusters churning the water they swooped and dipped below our cabin window; all 50 or so of them were recognizably Common Tern.  

LBB Gull Stuart Murray 01Once berthed we reverted to being holiday makers for the day and were whisked off to Bruges with everyone else to enjoy the town. It certainly is a beautiful city, but as first timers we hardly had time to do it justice before returning to the ship in the afternoon. We quickly made our way to the bridge to take advantage of all the available daylight as soon as we sailed. We followed the same track as our inward route but bird numbers had dropped considerably, with fewer Gannet and many fewer gulls and terns. Hints of migration came with a line of waders led by a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit and small numbers of Common Scoter, all flying north. The latter probably the remnant of the large numbers that winter off the Dutch and Belgian coast.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Stuart Murray)

Our final morning saw us up early but frustrated by fog so dense we couldn't survey. Peering into it as it slowly started to disperse Mark topped his sighting records for the trip by spotting a Coot right under the bows. A waterbird yes, but totally unexpected to find one bobbing on the open sea. Minutes later the fog cleared and we found ourselves just off Spurn Point and were able to resume surveying for the last lap into Hull. The Humber was as quiet as it had been on the way out but we did get a Grey Seal and a last few Common Scoter to end the trip.

We would like to thank our Captain Mark Rolie and his bridge officers Aaron Nicholls, Davis Houston and Richard Brindle for the warm welcome they gave us to their ship, not forgetting the excellent coffee and sea stories that went with it.

Stuart Murray  and Mark Archer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife