MARINElife Blog: P&O Ferries (Pride of York) Hull to Zeebrugge 26 – 28 May 2018

Helen Swift and Tom Forster, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - First leg (evening of 26th May) - Wind force 5-6; sea state 2-4; very good visibility.
Second leg (morning of 27th May) - Wind force 5-7; sea state 3-4; good to very good visibility with glare at times.
Return - First leg (evening of 27th May) - Wind force 3-5; sea state 1-3; good to excellent visibility with glare at times.
Second leg (morning of 28th May) - Wind force 4-5; sea state 1-3; moderate visibility, declining to low visibility as entering the Humber Estuary.

Summary of Species Recorded:
Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Unidentified Cetacean sp. 1

Auk sp. Alcidae 11
Black-Headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundulus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 24
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 10
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 50
Great Black Backed Gull Larus marinus 76
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 22
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 27
Larus sp. 122
Lesser Black Backed Gull Larus fuscus 52
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Tern sp. Sternidae 10

Terrestrial Birds seen on survey
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Curlew Numenius arquata 2
House Martin Delichon urbicum 1
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon Columba livia 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Swift Apus apus 2

Terrestrial Birds in/en route to Bruges
Blackbird Turdus merula
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Coot Fulica atra
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Magpie Pica pica
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
Robin Erithacus rubecula

Owing to the timing and location, Tom and I are normally unable to survey this route.  However, this particular survey fell on a bank holiday weekend so we were pleased to be able to volunteer for the first time.

Despite the inevitable bank holiday traffic, we arrived at Hull Ferry Port in good time and were soon able to board the Pride of York.  While waiting to depart, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet meal, kindly provided by P&O (so good, in fact, that it was a highlight of the trip!).  After dinner, we were taken to the bridge and introduced to Captain McFadyen, who recommended that we kept our eyes peeled as he had previously seen Harbour Porpoise (living up to their name) within the docks. Sadly however, there was no sign of them on this occasion.

BH Gull Adrian Shephard 01

Black-headed Gull (Adrian Shephard)

With the long hours of daylight at this time of year, we were able to survey for approximately 2.5 hours on the first leg towards Zeebrugge. Seabirds recorded were predominantly gulls, with the occasional auk also seen. Having failed to see any marine mammals in the first couple of hours, we wondered if our luck would change as we crossed the Silver Pit, a much deeper channel in the seabed.  Unfortunately, time wasn't on our side at this point, with the light rapidly fading.  Just as were about to call it quits for the night, Tom had a brief view of a small cetacean heading away from us - probably a Harbour Porpoise, but he could not rule out the possibility of it being a dolphin.  (Unfortunately, I didn't manage to see the cetacean - a trend that would continue throughout the survey with other marine mammals spotted by Tom!).

We were back on the bridge at sunrise.  Gulls continued to dominate our sightings, but Gannet were now also present (mostly adults, with occasional immature birds).  Tom also spotted a probable Harbour Seal as we approached the Belgian coast.  After approximately three hours of survey time, we left the bridge, grabbed a quick breakfast and disembarked in Zeebrugge.

Gannet Peter Howlett 06

Gannet (Peter Howlett)

P&O had kindly arranged for us to transfer to Bruges with the other foot passengers.  We had a lovely day wandering the cobbled streets, admiring the mediaeval architecture and enjoying some Belgian specialities (namely, beer, waffles and chocolates!).  We were thrilled to see a Peregrine land on the tower of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), where it sat and had a good preen.

Peregrine_Tom Forster

Peregrine (Tom Forster)

We caught the bus back to Zeebrugge and re-boarded the Pride of York in the late afternoon, ready for the return journey to Hull.  While we ate another lovely dinner, we were entertained by a large number of Common Tern catching fish in the harbour (stirred up by the ferry manoeuvring), which we were able to watch through the restaurant window.  This evening we had another three hours of survey time before darkness fell.  We saw the same species of seabirds as on the outbound journey, with the addition of a small flock of Common Scoter.  No marine mammals were seen on this part of the journey.

We were back on the bridge at 4:30am for the final leg of the survey, Tom spotted another seal - this time a Grey Seal - which promptly dived.   Kittiwake were more numerous compared to previous parts of the survey, and a Great Skua was also spotted.  A small group of Shelduck, seen as we entered the Humber Estuary, added further variety to our bird sightings.

Grey Seal Martin Gillingham 01

Grey Seal (Martin Gillingham)

We would like to thank P&O for making this survey possible, and kindly providing us with a cabin, meals and return transfer to Bruges.  Thank you in particular to Captain McFadyen and the crew of the Pride of York, who looked after us very well and took a keen interest in our work.

Helen Swift and Tom Forster, Research Surveyors for MARINElife