MARINElife blog: DFDS ‘Hafnia Seaways’ Immingham-Cuxhaven 5-7 June 2015

Graham Ekins and Phil Dutt, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Day 1: pm clear with light winds from WNW; excellent visibility and only a slight swell.
Day 2: am Light, high cloud with good visibility, wind W-WSW 2-3 decreasing during morning; pm wind W-NW 2-3 with excellent visibility and no cloud, slight swell from NW.
Day 3: am wind W-WSW 2 with little cloud and excellent visibility and little swell; pm wind decreasing to almost flat calm; visibility excellent.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 54
Short-beaked Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 7
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 85
Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 10

Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 16
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 4
Guillemot  Uria algae 119
Razorbill  Alca torda 10
Dark-bellied Brent Goose  Branta bernicla bernicla 10
Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos 1
Eider  Somateria mollissima 93
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 31
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 69
Gannet  Morus bassanus 139
Pomarine Skua  Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 38
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 403
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 4
Common Gull  Larus canus 34
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 65
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 512
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 9
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 4
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 126
Little Tern  Sternula albifrons 5

Other species landing on or passing the survey ship
Osprey  Pandion haliaetus 1
Collared Dove   Streptopelia decaocto 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 5

After a trouble free drive up from Boreham, Essex via Stamford, Lincolnshire we arrived at Immingham early afternoon. We left our car at the DFDS car park and had our passports and tickets processed by the very efficient DFDS staff in a couple of minutes. We were then taken to the impressive Hafnia Seaways. The first officer showed us to our cabin after which we had a very enjoyable lunch.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 02
Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

We were then shown to the bridge where Captain Stefan Albertsson and his officers made us very welcome. Almost immediately after leaving the dock we saw a Harbour Porpoise in the bay just west of Spurn point. We also had several small flocks of immature Common Gull as we left the mouth of the Humber. A few minutes later we had an Osprey carrying a fish across the bows heading south towards the Lincolnshire coast, a totally unexpected species for a June survey. As we continued eastward we picked up small groups of Sandwich Tern, Kittiwake, a summer plumaged Puffin and increasing numbers of adult Gannets. We then noticed a group of rapidly moving cetaceans off the bows, which proved to be seven Common Dolphin. This species is being seen more regularly in the North Sea, especially in the summer months, an excellent start to the survey. As we travelled further east we recorded two Harbour Seals as well as a steady stream of Kittiwakes and Gannets. One of the adult Gannet sitting on the sea had a dark bird sitting next to it, an immature Pomarine Skua that then took off and crossed the bows giving an excellent photographic opportunity. It proved to be a first summer bird in full moult. An unusual age to be in the North Sea, most summer off West Africa. By dusk we had logged an excellent variety of cetacean and bird species.

The following morning conditions were very similar with excellent visibility, light winds and a mild temperature of 18°C. We were surprised to find a migrant Dark Sword Grass moth Agrotis ipsilon flying around the bridge as well as several Ichneumon wasps and the Hoverfly Eristalis tenax. We added Little and Great Black-backed Gull, two dark phase Arctic Skua and several groups of Eider migrating NE as well as a short staying Collared Dove to the species list.  As we passed 40kms N of the island of Schiermonnikoog we logged increasing numbers of fishing Sandwich Terns, these sightings continued until we approached Cuxhaven. Two nearby shrimp trawlers attracted our attention as they had large numbers of Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed gulls and a few Sandwich, Little and Common Terns in attendance. We also had a few Swallow heading rapidly NE towards Denmark. On the edge of the sandbanks near the harbour we had views of two large groups of Grey and a smaller group of Harbour Seals.

Pomarine Skua Graham Ekins 02
Pomarine Skua (Graham Ekins)

Captain Albertsson had arranged for us to leave the ship and we took the opportunity of an afternoon walk in bright, windy but very sunny conditions. We saw and heard several interesting bird species including Fieldfare, Black Redstart, Common Rosefinch, Icterine and Marsh Warblers. We also recorded many insects feeding on purple-flowered Comfrey including Brimstone, Painted Lady, Orange-Tip and Speckled Wood.

That evening as we left Cuxhaven we had a flock of 10 Dark-bellied Brent Geese fly NE past the ship, the first time we had seen this species migrating in June. We also recorded several more Sandwich and Common Tern as well as further small flocks of Eider and Common Scoter.

Common Seal Graham Ekins 04
Harbour Seal (Graham Ekins)

The following morning dawned bright and clear but quite cool with a light W-WSW wind. As we passed north of Terschelling on the Dutch coast we had a steady stream of Sandwich Tern and Lesser Black-backed Gull heading NW out to sea. Presumably they were breeding birds from the West Frisian Islands, we also logged increasing numbers of Guillemots, Fulmars and Kittiwakes. In the early evening we started to find Harbour Porpoises including a superb pod of 8 close to a large gas rig south of the Dogger Bank. As the sea became flat calm we continued to record Harbour Porpoises until dusk. The final tally for the day being an amazing 53. We also found and photographed nesting Kittiwakes on a manned control rig in the Clipper Field. While recording the Harbour Porpoise we also found many small flocks of summer-plumaged Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Gannets as well as the occasional Razorbill and Puffin often in close association with the cetaceans. At 21.15 we took the last GPS reading and packed away our equipment. It had proved to be a memorable survey with more Harbour Porpoise seen by either of us on any of our previous surveys.

As we left the bridge at dusk we thanked Captain Stefan Albertsson and his officers for their hospitality on this highly successful survey.

We would like to thank DFDS for their continued support of this survey route.

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 04a
Common Dolphin (Graham Ekins)