Steve Boswell and Mandy Bright, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Weather: Intermittent rain; cloud cover 8; visibility variable, sea state 4
Summary of sightings:
Gannet Morus bassanus 746
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 41
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Guillemot Uria aalge 1
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Gull sp. 1
As I arrived at the port the clouds were gathering and the air was crisp. The forecast for the day was not great but I was looking forward to the survey. I met with Steve and we had time for a cup of tea and a chat in the café before we boarded. We were welcomed aboard and quickly escorted to the bridge to begin the survey.
There were a lot of birds around the port and as we formally began surveying, we saw Herring Gull and Common Gull along with some Razorbill. As we progressed further away from Newhaven we saw the first of many Gannet.
Gannet (Library photo: Peter Howlett)
About two hours into the crossing, we spotted a dark coloured bird resting on the water and were able to identify it as a Great Skua. These birds often steal fish from other birds but unfortunately we were not treated to such a spectacle on this trip. However, as we were discussing the skua it became clear that there were some potential targets for its piracy ahead, when we saw about thirty Gannet resting on the water.
This surprised us and, on further careful examination of the water ahead of us we realised that we were entering a huge flock of Gannet, all resting on the water. The flock of birds stretched all about the ship and very few took flight as we moved through the group. Counting the gathering in units of ten to attempt to make the job easier, we estimated at least 400 birds.
It was an impressive sight and not one we had anticipated in the middle of the Channel. This large sighting began a busy period on the survey with many more Gannet being seen, as well as Fulmar and Kittiwake. This kept us busy all the way into Dieppe where a small group of Black-headed Gull were gathered just outside the port.
Black-headed Gull (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)
We disembarked and despite the quick turnaround had time to walk into Dieppe and get a coffee. We found that the town was very busy with stalls lining the streets and barbeques outside every café and restaurant, and further investigation told us that the town was celebrating their annual Herring and Scallop Festival!
This was the 48th year that Dieppe has given over the weekend to celebrating its fishing heritage and despite the wind and rain the streets were packed with people. We enjoyed a walk through the stalls admiring the fresh seafood and the slightly random collection of other items for sale. If this is the time of year that Dieppe celebrates a bounty of herring, maybe those 400 Gannets were having a feeding festival of their own!
We returned to the ship for the return journey but, as usual at this time of year, it was too dark to survey on this part of the trip. We would like to thank DFDS and Captain Conquet and his crew for the warm welcome we were given and for the continued support by DFDS for MARINElife's work.