MARINElife Blog: P&O Ferries (Pride of Bruges) Hull to Zeebrugge 8 – 10 September 2018

Cheryl Leaning & Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Fair and dry with moderate to good visibility. Wind: SE/SW/WSW. F2-F5. Sea State 4 and below, with no swell.

Summary of Sightings:
Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 24
Commic Tern  Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 46
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Gannet  Morus bassanus 2
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 37
Gull sp.  Laridae 66
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 26
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 5
Larus sp. Larus sp.  2
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 2
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Shearwater sp.  Shearwater 1
Tern sp.  Sternidae 2

Terrestrial Birds:
Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos 1
Curlew  Numenius arquata 14
Meadow Pipit  Anthus pratensis 2
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 1
Harris Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus (incidental sighting)

Owing to the ferry timings, this four-part survey was conducted during the first and last hours of the day, over three days. The survey commenced from the P&O Terminal at the King George Dock in Hull on a very wet, autumnal Saturday evening. By the time the Pride of Bruges departed from her berth however, conditions were much improved with no precipitation and a Sea State 2, and we looked forward to some good sightings.

We were escorted out of the sea lock by a few Black-headed Gull in winter plumage and by a flock of Curlew in flight.  As we progressed down the Humber we were joined by a few Great Black-backed Gull (including several juveniles with their distinctive plumage), and the occasional Herring Gull.

With the light fading fast after only 45 minutes on the bridge, we thought the first day's sightings were over. We were then surprised by the appearance of a single Harbour Porpoise, just 150m ahead. The cetacean re-surfaced before disappearing under the ship's bow. This was our penultimate sighting of day 1, with a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull closing the show at Spurn Point.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 08
Harbour Porpoise (Peter Howlett)

After a lovely late supper in The Kitchen restaurant, courtesy of P&O, we were up on the bridge bright and early on Sunday morning to catch the sunrise. We had a full two hours surveying as the ship made her approach to the Port of Zeebrugge. Bird sightings were frequent and included large numbers of Commic Tern, a couple of adult Gannet and, just outside the port, two impressive rafts of mixed Gull species.

After catching the P&O courtesy bus into Bruges, we spent the day in beautiful 30-degree sunshine. We strolled around the atmospheric UNESCO Beguinage, founded in 1245 AD, where a community of lay-women embraced a life of simplicity and prayer. On a boat-trip through the city we encountered the Bruges Whale - a 38' Humpback sculpture breaching from the canal at Jan Van Eyck Square. Constructed entirely from plastic waste found in the ocean, the whale is a physical example of why we need to change how we use and dispose of plastic in the world today.

Towards the end of the day, we were walking back through the city when we had the most incredible encounter; a Harris Hawk down on the pavement feasting on a Feral Pigeon! What a privilege it was to see this bird of prey so close - the bird was completely oblivious to its audience of excited onlookers.

Buzzard_Karen Frances
Harris Hawk (Karen Francis)

We were back on the bridge that evening for the return to Hull. With a rapidly increasing Sea State 2-4 and Force 3-5 winds, sightings were very quiet, with only a handful of seabirds logged in total and with nothing seen at all in the hour before sunset.

Our final part of the survey commenced at first light on Monday morning. Despite the moderate visibility, bird sightings were good, and we were kept busy recording mostly Commic Tern and Great Black-backed Gull, with lesser numbers of Herring Gull and Kittiwake. As on day 1, while I was at breakfast, Cheryl caught sight of a Harbour Porpoise close to Spurn point. Our return up the Humber was accompanied by avian fly-bys from a single Oystercatcher and, more surprisingly, a pair of Meadow Pipit. This was a lovely way to end the survey, before we disembarked at Hull.

We would like to thank P&O Ferries for facilitating this survey. We are especially grateful to Captain Van Der Wal, his crew and the staff of the Pride of Bruges for making us feel so welcome on board and for taking a genuine interest in MARINElife's work.

Cheryl Leaning & Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife