Graham Ekins Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Eastbound: Force 2-5 E/ENE variable cloud with occasional rain; Westbound: NW Force 2-4 with some significant fog patches.
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 20
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Common (Harbour) Seal Phoca vitulina 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 160
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 154
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Great Skua Stecorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 21
Common Gull Larus canus 50
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 49
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 674
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 24
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla 275
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 70
Razorbill Alca torda 11
Coot Fulica atra 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 12
Swift Apus apus 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Migrant Birds (on
Whimbrel Numernius phaeopus 1
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 10
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 2
On arrival at the DFDS Office I was handed my tickets by the
very helpful and friendly check-in manager. I was then
chauffeured to the Hafnia Seaways whose staff had all my details on
their computer system. Captain Ringis Eduardas and his fellow
officers and crew made me very welcome and immediately invited me
up on to the bridge. It was a most impressive sight to watch
him navigate his large ship out of the Harbour through such a
narrow canal and lock gate system.
As we passed east down the Humber Estuary I was delighted to see a juvenile Mediterranean Gull amongst a feeding flock of immature Common Gulls. By the time we were off Spurn Point I had added 2 Grey Seals, one Common Seal and a very obliging Harbour Porpoise. Land birds included a Swallow and a Carrion Crow flying north across the Humber mouth. This was a great start to the survey. During the evening as we travelled east into the North Sea I noticed increasing numbers of adult Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Gannets, further out I added Razorbills, Fulmars and another Harbour Porpoise.
The following morning we were 30nm north of the West Frisian Islands. Gannets, Kittiwakes and increasing numbers of adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls and By 10:30 3 small groups of Harbour Porpoises were observed. Some 27 nm north off the island of Nordeney, Ostfriesland, Germany I was amazed to see a Coot sitting on the sea. It seemed perfectly at home and 10nm further east I noticed a second bird, I guess both were resting before continuing their migration. If this was not strange enough I then heard the familiar "chak chak" call as a flock of Jackdaws alighted briefly on the deck before flying off SE. I also noticed a northern type grey coloured Willow Warbler flitting around the superstructure and 3 Swallows purposely flying north towards Scandinavia.
After picking up the Pilot we passed close to the important mudflats of the Wattenmeeer. On the sea off the mud flats I could see several small flocks of Eider Ducks and had a group of summer plumage Ringed Plovers fly past, then another group of Harbour Porpoises and both Grey and Common Seals as well as the only Black-headed Gulls, Sandwich and Common Terns of the survey.
After docking Captain Eduardas gave me permission to leave the ship so I decided to walk along the shore, grassland and scrub near the entrance to the docks where I was surprised to see a flock of 13 Common Sandpipers, this seemed quite late for so many to be still migrating north. I also observed several impressively plumaged male Shelducks displaying to their partners and Close by I photographed a female Black Redstart that was collecting food for her young in a hole in the sea wall. By now it was very warm and so I put away my jacket, a little different from the weather I had left behind in the UK.
Near the entrance to the port is a long line of bushes, these were alive with Lesser Whitethroats, Reed and Willow Warblers as well as a female Red-backed Shrike on the perimeter fence and an Icterine Warbler singing in the nearby Osiers, then to finish off the walk a male Golden Oriole sang beautifully from the mature trees just east of the gravel workings.
At dawn the following morning visibility was good and the sea conditions excellent and I started to see Kittiwakes, Gannets and the occasional Fulmar. The fog then descended and proved persistent until late morning and It became so dense that I could not see the funnel of the ship, then as the skies cleared late morning a Willow Warbler dropped on to the deck and later a Whimbrel flew in from the stern, circled the ship and landed on one of the containers. It stayed with us for about 15 minutes before flying off north. By early afternoon I had 3 more sightings of Harbour Porpoises and a single Bottlenose Dolphin travelling rapidly north. During the early afternoon I noticed a beam trawler in the distance. This coincided with the water depth increasing to 50m. I noticed a line of birds behind the boat and decided to count them using my telescope. As I started my count I was delighted to see 2 Storm Petrels flitting around some way behind the boat. The seabird total was impressive with 120 Fulmars, 350 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 15 Greater Black-backed Gulls, 70 Kittiwakes, 30 Gannets and 5 Guillemots.
By now we were moving at 20knots in order to reach Immingham at the revised time of 20:00, this meant I would see the Humber Estuary and dock area in daylight. As we approached Spurn Point a large group of immature Common and Herring Gulls were seen feeding in the rough water and passing Spurn Point I had another Grey and a Common Seal and a little later my last sighting of a single Harbour Porpoise.
Captain Eduardas allowed me to stay on the bridge to watch him negotiate entry to the narrow lock and manoeuvre the ship onto the berth, a most impressive feat of seamanship.
I would like to thank Captain Eduardas and the crew for making me feel very much at home on the Hafnia Seaways. I would also like to thank the chef for the excellent meals and the concierge for the well-appointed cabin.
Graham Ekins, Research surveyor for MARINElife