Peter Jones and Helen Swift, Research Surveyors for MARINElife(Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Weather: Overcast and dry, visibility very good-good, sea state 6-5
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 740
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 65
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 51
Common Gull Larus canus 14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 20
Guillemot Uria aalge 115
Razorbill Alca torda 35
Diver sp. 2
Gull sp. 2
Auk sp. 2
Peter and I met at Newhaven Ferry Terminal where we spent a few minutes chatting about our previous wildlife encounters over a cup of coffee, and before long we were called to board the Côte d'Albâtre. The crew showed us to the bridge ready for departure and we started recording as soon as we had cleared the harbour.
Guillemot (Library photo: Peter Howlett)
To our surprise, most birds recorded in the first hour were auks, predominantly Guillemot with a few Razorbill. Many of these were sitting on the water as individuals or in small groups, and interestingly these had the full range of plumages. Most birds were in winter plumage or starting to transition into their summer breeding plumage, but a few were already in full breeding plumage. I had learnt something new, as I hadn't previously realised that auks may already be in breeding plumage this early in the year.
Subsequently auk numbers reduced, and Gannet numbers started to build, and at one point we encountered approximately 300 Gannet prospecting around a fishing vessel, although none were seen actually diving.
Other birds seen in small numbers throughout the survey included Fulmar, Great Skua and Kittiwake, as well as Common Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-Backed Gull.
In theory the overcast conditions favoured us spotting marine mammals but only one cetacean was seen, this being a solitary Harbour Porpoise which I spotted when we were mid-way across the Channel. As is often the case with this species, it surfaced only briefly so Peter did not manage to see it.
Great Northern Diver (Library photo: Steve McAusland)
My personal highlight of this survey was seeing several divers which we spotted as we neared the French coast. Peter reliably informed me that these were Great Northern Diver, a species I had not previously seen in its winter plumage so another new thing that I have learnt! We also saw a single Black-throated Diver as we headed closer to Dieppe.
As we drew into Dieppe we were greeted by hundreds of gulls. There were far too many to record individually, but we noted that these comprised a mixture of Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-Backed Gull in a range of ages and plumages.
We disembarked in Dieppe and had lunch at a wonderful crêperie I had discovered on a previous survey, before returning to the port and re-boarding the ship. Unfortunately, it was not possible to survey on the return leg due to short day length at this time of year. Our thanks to the Captain and crew of the Côte d'Albâtre for making this survey possible.