MARINElife blog: P & O Ferries (Pride of York) Hull - Zeebrugge (25th – 27th April 2015)

Cheryl Leaning and Angela Needham, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of Weather and Species Recorded

Outward: variable. Mainly calm. Visibility mostly poor. Wind: Northerly. Sea State 3.
Return: variable. Mainly calm. Visibility good. Wind: North Westerly. Sea State 3-4.

Marine Mammals
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 3

Gannet   Morus bassanus 10
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Great Skua Stercorarious skua 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 191
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 104
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 15
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 21
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 10
Common gull Larus canus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 46
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 14
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 176
Little Tern Sternula albifrons 11
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Common guillemot Uria aalge 11
Auk sp. 3
Gull sp. 61

Terrestrial birds
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 3
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flava 2
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3
Feral pigeon Columba livia 3
Passerine sp. 2
Hirundine sp. 1
Wader sp. 36

As soon as we had settled into our comfortable cabins, we went to the bridge where we were warmly welcomed by Captain Kevin Alcock and his crew. We began to survey as soon as were on the estuary. In the last hour of usable light we were able to observe a variety of gulls and a solitary Starling.

The next morning we were on the bridge at 5.30am to greet the dawn. Unfortunately it was a foggy morning and poor visibility affected our ability to survey. A number of terrestrial birds were seen around the ship including three Meadow Pipit, a Robin and two Yellow Wagtail that appeared to be demonstrating courting behaviour on the foredeck for quite some time. They were positively identified as a male and female of the flava or continental race (not the British race flavissima).

We also had the dubious pleasure of watching a Great Skua successfully harassing a pair of tern. There were a number of other tern, though we were unable to determine whether they were Common or Arctic. Most of the birds seen were gulls, especially Great Black-backed. Six Common Scoter put in a brief appearance as did one adult Gannet. As we approached Zeebrugge in improving light we spotted three Harbour Seal.

Common Seal Graham Ekins 01

Harbour seal (Archive Photo: Graham Ekins)

Thanks to the hospitality of P&O we travelled into Bruges on the visitors' bus where we passed an enjoyable day exploring its amazing architecture. At 5.30pm we returned to the ship and, for the remaining daylight hours, we watched the steady passage of lots of Great Black-backed Gull interspersed with the occasional view of Herring Gull and a few Common Tern. In addition to a single Gannet we observed a flock of 30 waders flying fast into the greying light.

Common Tern Peter Howlett 01

Common Tern (Archive Photo: Peter Howlett)

Visibility was greatly improved on our final morning. Our first sighting was of a small group of Arctic Tern. After these most of the terns were not easy to positively identify. We did spot a few Little Tern. We had a goodly number of Fulmar, a handful of Guillemot, some Gannet and a Puffin. Being so close to the coast the gulls we saw were mainly Herring Gull.

Puffin Peter Howlett 02

Puffin (Archive Photo: Peter Howlett)

The strangest sighting was that of a Whooper Swan in the mouth of the Humber. We watched anxiously as this large bird struggled to get out of the way of the ship. Small numbers of Whooper do winter on and around the Humber estuary but usually migrate together and this is late in the year. A trio of Shelduck were the final spot before we disembarked.

We would like to thank the Captain and crew of the Pride of York for their consistent friendliness and helpfulness throughout the trip and we look forward to the possibility of sailing with them again.

Cheryl Leaning and Angela Needham, Research Surveyors for MARINElife