Sightings Archives: March 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Immingham-Cuxhaven 'Hafnia Seaways' 16 - 18 March 2012

Posted 19 March 2012

Nigel Symes and Graham Ekins Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Eastbound: SW2-4; Westbound: N8-3

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 17
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Common (Harbour) Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 15
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Gannet Morus bassanus 463
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 11
Greylag Goose Anser anser 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 14
Wigeon Anas penelope 81
Teal Anas crecca 33
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 13
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 27
Common Gull Larus canus 121
Little Gull Larus minutus 29
Ross's Gull Rhodostethia rosea 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 12
Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 203
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 12
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla 273
Guillimot Uria aalge 105
Razorbill Alca torda 126
Puffin Fratercula arctica  6

Terrestrial Birds
Bar-Tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 7
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola

Migrant Birds (on ship)
Dunlin  Calidris alpina 3
Woodcock  Scolopax rusticola 6
Wood pigeon  Columba palumbus 1
Sand martin  Riparia riparia 1
Meadow pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Rock pipit  Anthus petrosus 1
Pied wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 1
White wagtail Motacilla alba alba 2
Black redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros 2
White-spotted Bluethroat Luscinia svecica cyanecula 1
Robin  Erithacus rubecula 1
Blackbird  Turdus merula 13
Redwing  Turdus iliacus 2
Fieldfare  Turdus pilaris 8
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1
Chaffinch  Fringilla coelebs 2
Starling  Sturnus vulgaris 25

Hafnia Seaways

This was the inaugural MARINElife survey travelling from Immingham to Cuxhaven on the DFDS freighter Hafnia Seaways, passing through the mid-North Sea. The Hafnia Seaways is a modern RoRo freight carrier, with what can only be described as perfect survey facilities; a forward located bridge with all round views, handy access to navigational data, and a very hospitable crew.

16th March 2012 Eastbound: Dry, slight haze, SW 2-4
We joined the ship at 11am after a very efficient check-in at the DFDS facility at Immingham, and, after witnessing the consummate skill of the Captain manoeuvring the Hafnia Seaways through the lock, we started the survey in mid channel in the outer Humber Estuary. We were surprised and delighted to record our first cetacean, a Harbour Porpoise only 20 minutes later, whilst still inside the Humber. Seabirds, occasional Harbour Porpoise and three pelagic Grey Seals kept us busy throughout the rest of the day.

Gannet ad 317th March 2012 Eastbound: Dry, slight haze, SW 3-2
The day began dry and cold 35nm north of the Dutch Coastal Islands of Terschelling. Seabirds dominated the survey, with a small concentrated passage of Little Gulls amongst the Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks. Then, mid-morning a small pale gull sitting on the sea attracted attention with a posture that differed from the Kittiwakes and Little Gulls, when it flew it revealed white secondaries and inner primaries contrasting with the pearly grey upperwing and dusky underwing meaning a winter Ross's Gull, a very rare visitor to the North Sea.

Cuxhaven lies at the mouth of the Elbe, and the approach is along the deep water channel which meanders through the massive mudflats of the Wattenmeer, part of the largest intact mudflats in the world. Scanning the edge of these mudflats revealed thousands upon thousands of birds but too distant to identify with certainty, and 70 Harbour Seals hauled out on the flats.

With the ship tied up alongside at 2.30pm GMT, we went to explore the locality. Despite it being mid March and spring clearly someway behind England, there were plenty of migrant land birds in the grassland scrub and woodland near the dock; with Song Thrushes, Chiffchaffs, and Black Redstarts in particular evidence.


18th March 2012 Westbound: Fog, rain, S 2, then clearing N 8-3
At dawn 40nm north of the Dutch Island of Ameland, we were enveloped in mist and with visibility of less than 1km. This had its compensations as several land migrants were on the ship, including a superb male White-spotted Bluethroat, Black Redstarts and several Woodcock and a couple of Dunlin. The fog thickened to total opacity before the wind backed north and quickly built up to F7-8 as a cold front lifted visibility, before easing back during the course of the day.

This was a highly successful inaugural survey for this route with DFDS Seaways, with 17 Harbour Porpoise, 1650 seabirds and a good selection of migrants, proving the importance of this part of the North Sea for marine wildlife.

We are genuinely indebted to DFDS Seaways, to all of their people who made this first survey between Immingham and Cuxhaven run so smoothly and enjoyably, and in particular to the Captain and crew of the Hafnia Seaways for giving us the freedom of their ship so willingly.

Nigel Symes and Graham Ekins, Research Surveyors for MARINElife