Fraser Paterson and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Day 1: Generally clear but northwesterly wind building to force 7-8, sea state 7
Day 2: Good visibility with some squalls, northwesterly wind decreasing force 6-4, sea state 6-4
Day 3: Good visibility, passing showers and some fog nearer UK coast, northerly wind decreasing force 5-2, sea state 4-2
Summary of sightings:
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 12
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 139
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 23
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 182
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 12
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 3
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 50
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 29
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 519
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 273
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius 8
Auk sp. 3
Gull sp. 4
Skua sp. 5
Tern sp. 6
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Due to a change of schedule we travelled to Immingham port together and were greeted at the gatehouse by the DFDS staff, who efficiently checked us in and drove us to the vessel. We received a friendly welcome on-board and, having organised access to the bridge for a 06:00 am start, installed ourselves in our cabin.
We entered the bridge shortly after the ship had entered the river and Captain Poul Erik and the officer on watch helped us to settle into our position and familiarise us with the instrumentation. A few Arctic Skuas and one of several Long-tailed Skuas we encountered crossed our path heading south but Greater Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake predominated in the early morning light.
Pomarine Skua (Archive photo: Mike Bailey)
Once clear of the windfarm area, sightings picked up through the morning and, in addition to Kittiwake, we started to see good numbers of Fulmar and Gannet interspersed with more skuas, including the first of several Great Skua, and a Balearic Shearwater. As we proceeded east, we began to pick up groups of birds with Manx, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters mixed in with Kittiwake and mainly juvenile Guillemot. A lone Grey Heron that failed to land on the ship was something of a surprise; the only other terrestrial bird was a solitary Starling that struggled to stay on board and out of the wind.
Unfortunately, during the day, the strong northwesterly winds continued to build and, with no obstructions from Arctic waters down the North Sea, the swell steadily increased so that the probability of seeing any cetaceans disappeared completely. Despite the lack of any visible cetaceans, the birds continued to keep us busy with another Long-tailed Skua and a Pomarine Skua raising our spirits. We gave up as darkness fell and retreated to our cabin.
We arrived in Cuxhaven early Sunday morning but we decided to forego any birding opportunities around the port, opting to stay on board to rest ahead of the afternoon and evening survey. From the comfort of the ship we watched ducks, geese and waders head out to the exposed sand flats while Cormorant, terns and gulls milled around the river.
Conditions had abated a little by the time we pulled away from the dock and set off down river and we waited on the bridge while the pilot guided the ship through the busy channel. We did manage to see a group of seals hauled out on a distant sandbar but most birds were too distant to identify and we were temporarily stymied by what we assumed to be small flocks of eclipse plumage male Eider that flew close to the Selandia. In the end, we started our survey when it was clear that the pilot was unable to get off the vessel and had to accompany us all the way to Immingham!
Grey Phalarope (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)
A small flock of adult and juvenile Grey Phalarope that was feeding close in to the ship was the highlight of Sunday's survey; they had presumably been blown off their migration route and were sheltering southeast of Helgoland. Typical of our luck, the 'Minsmere' Black-browed Albatross which had been commuting between Helgoland and Denmark was a no-show and we had to be content with Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus some Commic Terns and Common Gulls. In fading light, we retired to our bunks and a slightly more comfortable night's sleep.
On Monday we were back on the bridge at sunrise and happy to see that the swell had reduced somewhat and the sea state for the remainder of the return leg bode well for seeing cetaceans. Fulmar, Gannet and Kittiwake predominated and we had great sightings of more Arctic, Long-Tailed and Great Skua as well as Manx, Sooty and Balearic Shearwater, which were often associated with several rafts of Kittiwake and Guillemot (a more balanced mixture of adults with juveniles than we had on Friday's leg). Once again, any cetaceans along the route made great pains to avoid being seen and we drew a blank for the whole trip.
Balearic Shearwater (Archive photo: Tom Brereton)
We stopped surveying as we entered the Humber and stayed on the bridge to watch the Selandia negotiate the dock. We thanked the ever-helpful and friendly bridge officers and Captain Erik for making us so welcome on board - and said goodbye to the German pilot who was going straight back to Cuxhaven!
We would very much like to extend our thanks to DFDS Seaways and the Selandia for their continued support for this survey route.