Helen Swift and Tom Forster, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outbound: wind variable 1-3 veering SW 5-6 for the second half, sea state 2 inc 4 later, visibility poor clearing to good
Return: wind NE 4, clear and dry
Summary of sightings:
Gannet Morus bassanus 201
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 32
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 15
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 1
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Unidentified Auk sp. 27
Unidentified Larus Gull sp. 10
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 70
Our survey began with a welcome to the bridge by the news that the crew had seen a seal just before we had come up! Frustratingly for us, this turned out to be the only marine mammal anyone on the bridge would see on the crossing.
Even if the mammals did not show, seabirds put on a good show with lots of Gannet soon about, and before long our first Great Skua feeding on what appeared to be a dead fish floating at the surface. Gannet and Great Skua turned out to be the theme of the survey with good numbers of both about.
Gannet (Library photo: Steve McAusland)
Early on poor visibility due to misty murky weather limited us, at times even making the gleaming white of the Gannet hard to pick out. However, as we crossed the westbound shipping lane the weather noticeably improved and revealed one of the tantalising 'what ifs' of this survey, as we came on a scattered group of around 70 Gannet resting on the sea, looking highly suspicious for the aftermath of a large feeding frenzy. We could see no cetaceans but were very suspicious that if this many Gannet had been feeding, then it was likely there might have been some sort of cetacean with them. As so often, we had the "if only we'd been here half an hour before" feeling!
Great Skua continued to be very frequent as we approached the French coast and not long before Dieppe we were slightly surprised to see two winter plumage Sandwich Tern, birds we thought would be off to warmer climes by now. We also had a lone male Common Scoter, not so surprising to see as a species but unusual in that this is the first time we have ever seen one on its own - they usually occur in small flocks.
Great Skua (Library photo: Peter Howlett)
In Dieppe we enjoyed our usual sampling of the local cuisine before returning to the ship for the return leg. Once again, this began with a slight frustration as we arrived on the bridge to find lots of Gannet scattered across the sea, resting as if just having fed! Yet again, we suspect we had arrived just at the wrong time.
Sadly, with the nights closing in and misty cloudy conditions beginning mid-channel, usable light swiftly dropped, so ending the survey. Our thanks to the captain and crew of Côte D'Albatre for making us welcome and looking after us throughout the survey.