Helen Swift and Tom Forster, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outbound: Dry and sunny; little cloud: very good visibility; wind NE 4-6; sea state 3; much glare.
Return: Dry and sunny; little cloud; good visibility; wind NE 6-7; sea state 3-5; little glare.
Summary of sightings:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 44
Gannet Morus bassanus 125
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 4
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 41
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 8
Skua sp. 1
Gull sp. 18
Tern sp. 5
Auk sp. 1
Our survey began with bright sunshine hinting at the summer to come, set against a chill north-easterly wind reminding us of the winter just gone. This proved appropriate for a survey that from a bird perspective had a strong transitional feel with the wintering birds largely gone and many species on passage up the channel.
Almost the first birds of the survey were Little Gull with a flock of 13 heading east soon followed by another eight. A few Arctic Skua appeared again heading east, one stopping briefly to piratically grab a mid-flight snack by harassing a passing flock of Sandwich Tern who scattered before its attack. Isolated Gannet circled around, apparently searching for fish, while Fulmar kept passing us, singly and even in small flocks - rather unusual since we usually only see singles.
First summer Great Black-backed Gull (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)
A lull followed mid-channel with little activity until we started to see distant fishing boats off the French coast and again the Gannet gathered, wheeling and gliding high in their search for lunch. We got the impression that there must be fish around but widely scattered. A few first summer Great Black-backed Gull greeted us as we came in to Dieppe Harbour, their presence reminding us of the surprising lack of any of the commoner large gull species on this survey.
Our return from Dieppe was a bit easier on the eyes with the glare much reduced. Gannet and Fulmar again seemed to be searching the area for food and we soon came across a large raft of Gannet resting and looking as if they had recently fed in the wake of a nearby fishing boat. We hoped there might be some associated cetaceans but scanned the sea in vain.
The Gannet numbers seemed to diminish and as we resigned ourselves to a mammal-less survey I suddenly spotted shapes flashing through the water beneath the approaching waves. Two Common Dolphin angled in, giving us views from right above as they came in under the bridge to pass into the wake where we then again glimpsed them a few moments later as they breached and splashed in the waves.
Bottlenose Dolphin (Library photo: Carol Farmer-Wright)
Our excitement was probably noticeable as several minutes later one of the officers approached to ask if we had seen anything - with the sort of timing that only wildlife can achieve I immediately spotted more dolphins angling in. As the sleek grey shapes approached it rapidly became apparent that these were Bottlenose Dolphin and we all shared great views of them.
Dusk gradually approached and though a constant stream of Fulmar and smattering of Gannet continued, activity eased as we started to see the English coast approach.
Our thanks to Captain and the crew of Seven Sisters for making us welcome and looking after us throughout the survey.