MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Seaways ‘Clementine’ Immingham-Cuxhaven 3rd - 5th October 2014

Carol Farmer-Wright and Angela Needham, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Day 1: Partial cloud, sea state 1-3 wind SSW-S force 7-5 visibility good.
Day 2: Sunny, sea state 5-6 wind SE force 5-6 with light mist on the horizon
Day 3: Partial cloud, sea state 3-1 wind WNW-SSW force 6-4 visibility good with afternoon glare.

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 29
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Unidentified Seal Sp. 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Gannet Morus bassanus 199
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 29
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarious pomarinus 1
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 53
Common Gull Larus canus 12
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 35
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus Fuscus 14
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 76
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 143
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 119
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus 1
Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides 5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 206
Razorbill Alca torda 80
Auk Sp. 48
Larus Gull Sp. 33
Gull Sp. 1701
Skua Sp. 1
Shearwater Sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 116
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 15
Blackbird Turdus merula 1
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 1
Wader Sp. 1
Duck Sp. 1

Little Gull Peter Howlett 09Carol came and spent the night before the sailing at my house, which was really lovely as it gave us a chance to get to know each other and it meant I didn't have to worry about negotiating the complexities of Immingham dock on my own.

Day 1
Friday dawned fair and we arrived in very good time to board the Clementine and get settled in before the ship was due to sail. The helpful steward showed us our cabins and we were invited onto the bridge as the ship left the dock. This was certainly an experience worth having as the exit is from a very tight lock and we watched and admired the skill of the captain and crew as they negotiated us out.

Once on the Humber in a gentle sea and pleasant sunshine we immediately began to see birds. At this point, unsurprisingly they were mostly gulls of the Black-headed variety though there were also a few Great Black-backed Gull in evidence.

We looked hopefully through our binoculars towards Spurn, but were not able to make out, at that distance, any of the more interesting migrating birds we knew to be there.

Iceland Gull Peter Howlett 01On this first part of the sailing across the North Sea the most frequent sighting was of migrating Little Gull. They were all in steady flight south and generally passed us in small groups of 1 - 5. It was very pleasant to observe so many of these dainty, fairy-like fliers. Otherwise the most prolific gulls were Kittiwake, presumably leaving their breeding areas around Flamborough Head. There were also a good many Great Black-backed gull as well as a number of Herring Gull.
The other bird which graced us with its presence in significant numbers was Guillemot. We also observed Gannet, in plumage to represent every stage of immaturity as well as many fine adults and we were able to observe them diving on a fair number of occasions. We also recorded one Pomeranian and one Arctic Skua.

We were not blessed with a visit from any cetaceans that day but we saw a Grey Seal, which rolled, just under the front of the vessel. Our absolute last visitor before the failing light was a Lapwing who flew once round the mast before disappearing away off the bow.

Day 2
On the second day, after an excellent nights sleep in the very pleasant single cabins, we completed the sailing to Cuxhaven.

Harbour Porpoise Carol Farmer-WrightWe spotted one Mediterranean Gull when we began to get back to Black-headed Gull territory as we came within the estuary waters of the Elbe. More surprisingly though were the little group of white gulls which were confirmed as Iceland Gull. Their longer wings as well as their lack of black fingers and general appearance of gentleness about the head left me convinced that they must indeed be they. More astonishing however was the large 'white' gull subsequently spotted. This seemed to have unusually broad long wings and to hold them with a greater angle than is usual with gulls. It was certainly the size of a Herring Gull, possibly larger. It was unfortunate we had not been able to get a photograph of this bird. There are only two possibilities, in my view. This was either a Glaucous Gull or a completely leucistic Great Black-backed Gull. The birds' demeanour did not fit with the latter.

Again we saw no cetaceans but we did see three seals, two of them Grey.

We docked in Cuxhaven in sunlight and calm waters. The Captain advised us that he planned to leave Cuxhaven early to reach Immingham by 7pm on Sunday evening.  This meant that we had much more of this crossing in daylight than usual.

Day 3

Brent Geese Carol Farmer-WrightOn the third day the sea became very calm, perfect weather for cetacean observation. And indeed this proved to be so. The first 6 sightings were of individual Harbour Porpoise at a distance. But then a pod of six appeared including one juvenile quite close to the boat, and then swam away fast down the starboard side.  This was my first ever view of a group of these animals really showing more than just their fins above the water. Later we had a second group of five and finally a group of 8 animals, five together and three a little separated from them, who also moved quite fast and clearly away down the starboard side. This was my fourth trip with MARINElife and very definitely the best ever for cetacean sighting. They were exciting to observe.

The latter part of the return journey was also good for birds. We saw a significant number of small groups of Razorbill flying purposefully just above the sea including one group of 16 birds. We also saw Fulmar as well as a goodly number of Gannet and Kittiwake during this time. Interestingly though, we did not see a single Little Gull on the return journey. We did however see a Great Skua and a significant number of migrating Brent Geese passing in mainly quite small skeins over a period of several hours.

Sunset on ClementineWe came into the Humber on a moderate tide and watched Spurn in hopes of some sightings but apart from gulls had little luck. The ship docked at Immingham by 7-30pm, we said our goodbyes to the friendly and helpful captain and crew and the as always cheery steward helped us on our way off the ship.

We had enjoyed a most pleasant trip with warmth and sunshine, a placid sea and some wonderful views of cetacean and birds alike.

Our thanks go to DFDS Seaways, Captain Vladimir Butromenko, his officers and crew for enabling and facilitating this survey.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Angela Needham, Research Surveyors for MARINElife