MARINElife Blog: P&O Ferries (Pride of York) Hull to Zeebrugge (16 – 18 September 2017)

Jon Butterfield and Kate Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward - overcast, decent visibility but hampered by significant glare from the setting sun: primarily north-westerly wind at force 5-6.
Return - overcast with occasional breaks in the cloud cover, visibility fair. On final morning towards Humber cloud cover was lighter, visiblity was good but restricted within estuary: North north-westerly wind at force 5-6.

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise - Phocoena phocoena - 1

Great black-backed gull -Larus marinus - 2
Gannet - Morus bassanus - 4
Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo - 3
Lesser black-backed gull -Larus fuscus - 8
Herring gull - Larus argentatus - 215
Great Skua - Catharacta skua - 4
Kittiwake - Rissa tridactyla - 7
Common Tern - Sterna hirundo - 13
Commic Tern -  Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea -3
Large Gull sp. - 2

Terrestrial Birds
Curlew - Numenius arquata - 14

We arrived at Hull ferry port with no difficulty, parking was easy to find and P&O kindly provided a parking pass to us as MARINElife volunteers. We checked in with ease and were soon through passport control and on our way.

Once on board the impressive Pride of York we were shown to our well-appointed cabin and then introduced to the Captain, Kevin Alcock, and Chief Officer, Simon Young, who welcomed us on to the bridge as soon as the ship left.

As we passed down the River Humber we spotted some seabirds, primarily gulls, as we headed towards Spurn Point at the mouth of the estuary. The late time of year meant we had to stop surveying as we entered the North Sea but we had a good opportunity to 'get our eye in' and familiarise ourselves with the ship's instruments. We thanked the bridge team and headed down for dinner, followed by an early night.

PoY Bridge Survey_Kate Jones

Surveying from Bridge (Jon Butterfield)

We were up at 6am local time and enjoyed breakfast as we waited for the sun to rise. As it began to get light we were escorted to the bridge again and were excited to start surveying on the approach to Zeebrugge. We noted a variety of gull species and there were a number of juvenile gulls seen; it was a great opportunity to practice identifying these younger birds. We were treated to sightings of Gannet and Cormorant, as well a number of Tern elegantly circling with great skill. Approaching the Belgian coast, a large number of gulls appeared heading quickly in the same direction. As we followed behind it was no surprise to find them flock around a fishing vessel, wheeling around in numbers into the hundreds! With Herring Gull comprising the majority, along with Lesser Black-backed Gull. Shortly after this we had our first marine mammal sighting; a Harbour Porpoise surfaced briefly just off the starboard bow of the ship and was observed a second time making another characteristically short appearance as it swam away at right angles to us. Another sighting of particular interest was two Great Skua. One was sighted flying fast and low over the water and as we tracked it, it landed on the water beside another bird of the same species. The glare made it difficult to be sure on approach, but as the ship moved past them we were able to look back and in the full light of the sunrise the warm brown plumage and distinctive white flashes near the wing tip were clear to see. As we neared port we ended the survey and let the crew get on with the precise task of docking.

Harbour Porpoise Adrian Shephard 07

Harbour Porpoise (Adrian Shephard)

Once docked in Zeebrugge we left the ship for the day, enjoying the sights of Bruges before re-boarding for the early evening departure. Once again the time of year meant limited light but we made the very best of it and headed to the bridge as soon as we left the harbour mouth. We saw a similar selection of birds as on the way in, with Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull along with the always delightful Tern. We also noticed two Great Skua again, just as we had on the way out, in around the same area. We speculated it may have been the same pair of birds, but it was impossible to know for sure. We finished just as the sun was going down as substantial cloud cover and low light conditions had finally made it impossible to see.

We awoke early on Monday morning and waited for the light. We were further ahead than expected and could see the lights of Spurn Point before sunrise. Although we could only survey within the estuary we made our way to the bridge and began to survey at first light. We saw Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull but the highlight was the 14 Curlew heading from the north bank of the Humber to the south, their fantastic long beaks silhouetted clearly against the morning sky.

As we left the bridge we thanked the Captain and his officers for their hospitality and friendliness during the survey on the excellent Pride of York.

Pride of York_Kate Jones

Pride of York (Jon Butterfield)

We would like to thank P&O for their support for this survey.

Jon Butterfield and Kate Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife