MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways ‘Cote D'Albatre’ Newhaven-Dieppe 15 September 2018

Helen Swift and Tom Forster; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward: Wind force 4- 5; sea state 2-3; light swell; very good visibility though with some glare through much of the crossing.
Return: Wind force 1-4 (dropping as evening fell); light swell; sea state 3; good visibility.

Marine Mammals

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 79
Great Black Backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 37
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 1
Larus sp. 4
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 1
Skua sp. 18

Terrestrial Birds seen on survey
Swallow Hirundo rustica 3

This was a very memorable survey, during which we unexpectedly saw a whale shark, a turtle and several blue whales!

Following a break from surveying over the summer, we were raring to go again.  September is a key time for migrating birds in the UK and we hoped that this would be evident on the survey.   To whet our appetites, we looked in the MARINElife Sightings archive for last September's sightings and saw that an impressive array of birds, including 47 Great Skua, were recorded on this route.  Would we have a similar experience?

To begin with, it didn't seem like it, with just one Fulmar and one Gannet seen in the first half hour.  Sightings then slowly picked up and by the time we reached the middle of the Channel there were indeed plentiful Great Skua, this surprisingly the most abundant species recorded on the outbound journey.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 04

Great Skua (Peter Howlett)

Some birds had to be recorded as simply 'skua species' as they were too distant to definitely confirm species but were mostly likely Bonxies from their size and shape.  The skuas seemed to be migrating through the Channel with the vast majority flying westward on both legs of the crossing.  We also spotted a few migrating Swallow and had a lovely view of a Red-Throated Diver which flew right past the bow.

Upon arrival in Dieppe, we disembarked and headed into the town centre.  En-route, we were delighted to see a very cute fledgling Black Redstart, apparently waiting for its parents to come back and feed it.   It had gone by the time we returned but we did see an adult male and female nearer the ferry terminal, which might have been Dad and Mum.

Following lunch at the creperie, we headed towards the beach as we had discovered that a very special event was taking place.  This is where we must make a confession.  The aforementioned shark, turtle and whales were of the man-made variety - more specifically, they were giant kites!

Marine wildlife Kites_Tom Forster

Kites (Tom Forseter)

We had been lucky enough to arrive in Dieppe during the International Kite Festival, and the sky was filled with hundreds of colourful kites, ranging from Superman to submarines and marine creatures.  The streets were buzzing with people enjoying the spectacle but sadly we had to tear ourselves away and head back to the ferry terminal for our return journey to Newhaven.

On the way back, Gannet were more abundant and a few of these seemed to be actively searching for food near some fishing boats.  We hoped this meant that there were cetaceans in the area but sadly did not see any.  Great Skua were again seen in good numbers throughout the return journey.

As we approached the English coast, Tom spotted a skua which looked quite different.  Even in the fading light, this was an obviously slimmer bird with a more active flight, and we happily realised that this was a dark morph Arctic Skua, a very nice bird to end the survey with.

Arctic Skua Peter Howlett 01

Arctic Skua (Peter Howlett)

We would like to thank Captains Jaunet and Fontenit and the crew of the Cote D'Albâtre for their hospitality throughout the survey.

Helen Swift and Tom Forster; Research Surveyors for MARINElife