MARINElife survey report: DFDS 'Corona Seaways' Immingham to Cuxhaven 10th to 12th April 2015

Cheryl Leaning and Kate Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of Weather
Day 1: Constant light mist. Very limited visibility. Sea state 2-3. Wind, force 7-8.
Day 2: Constant light mist. Very limited visibility. Sea state 2-3. Glare ahead. Wind, force 6-7
Day 3: Overcast, good visibility until evening. Sea state 4-8.  Wind, force 6-10

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 12
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 18
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 21
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus Fuscus 66
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 49
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 55
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 8
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 9
'Commic' Tern Sterna Hirundo/paradisaea 63
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Teal Anas crecca 3
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 8
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 4
Auk sp. 23
Larus sp  27
Gull sp.  373
Tern sp.  2

Terrestrial Birds
Small passerines 27
Chiffchaff 1
Rock Dove 2
Wood Pigeon 4

We arrived at the DFDS port gatehouse at Friday lunchtime, where Cheryl, our team leader, was really helpful in getting me orientated as the was my first MARINElife survey. The DFDS port team were quick to arrange our tickets and before we knew it we were being driven by  port security straight on to the ship. We were met by a member of Corona Seaways crew who walked us to the top of the ship, kindly helping us with our bags as he did so. We were shown to our comfortable, well-appointed cabin by the steward and given information on how we could access the bridge once we were underway.

We departed in good time and once we had manoeuvred into the Humber we were able to begin our survey. The first hour was quiet with a few Herring Gull wheeling around the ship and a fleeting glimpse of some fast-moving auks - likely Guillemot or Razorbill. Later, after a tasty dinner, we moved out on to the North Sea and were treated to our first Gannet and Kittiwake, including some Kittiwake in their very attractive first year plumage. We also had our first sighting of a Great Blacked-backed Gull as we travelled further from the coast.

The weather was quite misty, with the sea showing some small wavelets so conditions were not ideal for marine mammal spotting. There were plenty of birds to keep us entertained and as we finished at sundown we had high hopes for the following day. In the evening we decided to spend some time inputting the data together, while treating ourselves to a Cornetto, courtesy of our kind steward. We headed to our cosy cabin for an early night to be well rested for the morning.

On Saturday we began at 06:00 as the sun was starting to rise. The mist we had experienced the day before was still hanging in front of the horizon and we speculated that it could be the effect of Saharan dust, which the Met office had recently reported blowing in our direction.

Brent Geese-Carol Farmer-Wright
Brent Geese (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Although long-range visibility was restricted it was a beautiful, warm day with a gentle sea state and no swell. Continual glare meant most sightings were silhouettes, leaving positive identification impossible. Our first sighting was a Rock Dove, which was unexpected, then some more typical sea-faring birds in the form of Gannet, Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull and Red Throated Diver. Later, Brent Geese made an appearance, eight in all,  flying fast in formation across the path of the ship and we also recorded Cormorant and Common Scoter. Around lunchtime we were alerted by the crew to the presence of a bird; not on the sea but on the bridge! A small Chiffchaff had made its way inside  and was darting around the various instrument stations. The bridge crew were very good humoured and offered us time to get a look at our 'friend'. A crew member gently caught the Chiffchaff in a towel and released it.

Chiffchaff (Kate Jones)

Shortly after this excitement I sighted my first cetacean for MARINElife, a Harbour Porpoise surfacing three times as we entered the Elbe. The final hour brought Common Scoter, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull and a large number of geese, not identifiable at such distance, flocking across the sunlit mudflats of the estuary. With the ship ready to commence port manoeuvres we left the bridge for the comfortable lounge area to input and discuss the day's sightings. A substantial cloudburst coinciding with our arrival convinced us not to venture into the town.

The following morning we were on the bridge at 5.30 to witness a spectacular sunrise. The visibility was improved and although it was slightly overcast we had a good view without the glare of the previous day's sun. The day started with both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull, a number of which stayed with us for hours, following the ship. More Kittiwake, then Little Gull appeared. At the same time we sighted our first tern, which became a feature of the day, with both Arctic and Common Tern sighted in good numbers. It was wonderful to see these fast, delicate birds with their acrobatic flight patterns. Other spots included Teal, Gannet, Red Throated Diver and Common Scoter.

At around 10am we had our second cetacean sighting and my first dolphin.  Noticing a number of gulls circling in one area we trained our binoculars on it and were rewarded with the brief, but confirmed sight of a Common Dolphin swimming fast, just below the surface.

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

As the day continued we were pleased to add Great Skua, Guillemot and Razorbill to our list.

By mid-afternoon we observed a change in conditions, with wind speed picking up considerably. This made it  tricky to watch for marine mammals and harder to spot birds resting on the water. We persisted however, and were rewarded with a number of Fulmar over the next few hours, gliding masterfully over the increasing waves. As 18:00 approached we agreed that it was best to stop the survey as the wind had risen to a force 10 according to the instruments and the corresponding wave action made observation difficult. Despite the weather conditions the Corona Seaways was very stable and little effect of the waves could be felt. We thanked the helpful and friendly bridge officers, and Captain Adamson, for making us so welcome on the Corona Seaways and made our way downstairs to the lounge to complete our data recording.

We would very much like to extend our thanks to DFDS for their continued support for this survey route, which is providing excellent data on the marine mammals and birds of the North Sea.

Cheryl Leaning and Kate Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife