Stuart Murray and Phil Dutt, Research Surveyors for
Outward: SW5. Return: SW-W8-9
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 39
Gannet Morus bassanus 23
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 17
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 63
Guillemot Uria aalge 46
Unidentified Auk Sp. 116
Our first bird of the survey was a Barn Owl that flew through our headlight beams as we approached the entrance to Immingham terminal. As a record it was perhaps not strictly within the survey parameters but they are unknown where I come from (Highland Perthshire) so they are a notable personal record. If it had been alongside the dock then it would have been a first for this route I'm sure.
Our vessel for the trip was the 'Begonia Seaways' one of a half-dozen sister ships named after flowers; sharing the route was the 'Petunia Seaways' and we met her in the mid-North Sea both coming and going. These are immaculately kept, recently built vessels and they always impress, particularly at night when you are driven aboard into a brilliantly lit, white cavern. As soon as we were aboard we lost an hour, the ship keeping Central European Time. Thus, it instantly became 3am and we felt consequently more tired than we had been a minute before at 2am! Sleep was welcome and instant, until my alarm sounding at 7.15 woke me to a pitch-black morning.
We were off to a promising start with the first day's weather, low swell heights, little wind to speak of and occasional breaks in the overcast letting the sun through. The area of most interest for us was the Dogger Bank and sure enough, activity was greatest here and most of the auks, pretty much all Guillemot in winter plumage, were found here.
Otherwise, there were only low numbers of Gannet and Kittiwake, not unexpected at this time of year as they have the sense to move well south for the winter. The day ended early, 16.00 GMT (survey time) but 17.00 CET (ship's time), the sun being indifferent, set on both at the same time!
Guillemot (Graham Ekins)
Approaching the coast in the dark we saw nothing of Norway until next morning in the dock at Brevik. Heavy rain didn't lighten the prevailing overcast and it seemed to have affected local sea-fowl, because nothing was apparent in the harbour all day. Overnight we sailed south to Sweden, docking in Gothenburg in fine, dry weather at breakfast time. The sun shone all day and it was positively warm in the lee of the funnel, watching the channels and skerries for signs of life. We didn't mention them but I think we were each half hoping the Killer Whale would suddenly pop up. They caused quite a sensation the previous week, a pod having come up the fjord as far as the outer harbour. Apart from no Killer Whale we didn't quite have no birds to show for our efforts, mixed flocks of large gulls and Hooded Crow went to roost on the skerries edging the deep water channel, the gulls to bare rock, the crows to a birch covered islet overlooked by 18th century cannons on the walls of the restored fort.
Once again we sailed in the dark, and by the time it was light enough to work, the land, Denmark this time, was well astern. Unfortunately conditions were too severe to conduct a meaningful survey but nonetheless we stayed on the bridge all day, logging the weather and still hoping for a winter rarity blown south with the gale. No luck there either, but we did see our hardy locals, a few Kittiwake, auks, Gannet (always adults) and as ever the Fulmar, a bird you have to admire for its effortless handling of even the wildest weather.
We would like to thank our captain Jonas Tunstad and his bridge officers, Josephine Ytterberg, Stefan Dahlberg, Henrik Holtebo, Robin Glomsten and Ole Brun for the very friendly welcome they gave us to their ship. We were treated not as passengers but as crew and invited into to their mess to eat and socialize with them, which was much appreciated.
Stuart Murray and Phil Dutt, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Janet Shepherd and Angela Needham, Research Surveyors
Outward: Variable 1: Return: SE 1-3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 16
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris 13
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 21
Gannet Morus bassanus 54
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 168
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 34
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 436
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 604
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Unidentified Auk Sp 1
Unidentified Gull Sp. 54
Meadow Pipit 2
On arrival at Immingham docks we were met in the car park by one of the staff cars and were immediately offered a lift straight to the ship, Petunia Seaways, where a member of the crew checked our confirmation letter and passport and welcomed us aboard. We were then taken up to our very comfortable quarters, and settled into our cabins. This was to be the first survey on this voyage and we were looking forward to the experience and to looking into the possibilities for the day in Gothenburg.
Breakfast the next morning was at 7:30 and as dawn was not until about 8:30, we were able to have breakfast before starting the survey.
The ship departed at 4am so we were already well on our way as we took our place on the bridge. The sea was very calm, the visibility very good and we were hopeful for cetacean sightings. As we approached the Dan gas fields this proved to be justified. One pair of White-beaked Dolphin was immediately followed by a second pair. This was Angela's first sighting of this species, so this was a great beginning to the trip.
We also saw a number of Harbour Porpoise shortly afterwards.
White-beaked Dolphin (Graham Ekins)
The most common birds were Kittiwake and Guillemot, over 300 of the latter, in small numbers throughout most of the day. We were interested to be able to observe a variety of plumages of several species in relation to their age and to seasonal changes.
Other birds included Little Gull, Gannet, Puffin and Fulmar. Except for a brief sleet/snow shower around the middle of the day the weather remained very calm and quite clear and the sightings were much fewer as dusk approached. On the bridge we were made exceedingly welcome by the Captain, Lars Gade Olesen, and all his crew, who were very interested in what we were doing. When we explained about going into Gothenburg they went out of their way to help us find out how to do this, one crew member actually printing out bus and tram numbers and times.
The Captain kindly allowed us onto the bridge early the next morning to watch the ship docking. Soon after 7:00 we were able to observe the brilliant manoeuvring of this huge ship, reversing in between the Nya Alvsborgs Fastning, with its floodlit Elfsborgs Fortress, and the dock.
The Captain then escorted us back down to join the drivers to be escorted off the ship. Gothenburg was covered in a fine layer of snow and it was quite cold but we enjoyed the opportunity to look around.
After an excellent day in Gothenburg we were back on board for about 18:00 where we were enthusiastically greeted by the cook who informed us dinner would be in half an hour. The Captain came down at about 7:30 to make sure we were back on board and we really appreciated his support throughout the survey.
Next morning we were on the bridge soon after 8:30am as it began to get light. We again had very calm seas although there was more cloud cover than there had been on the first day. It was very cold with some ice on deck. The first few hours were fairly quiet, although as we approached the gas fields' area, White-beaked Dolphin put in an appearance. This time we saw a total of nine animals, accompanied by an assortment of birds. Clearly they were feeding in the area.
A number of Harbour Porpoise were again seen, in ones and twos during the rest of the day.
By mid-afternoon, after a fairly quiet period, suddenly a huge number of birds rose from the water in front of the ship and flew off to port. We observed a Grey Seal in the water, and overhead 200+ Kittiwake, less Herring Gull, and some Great Black-Backed Gull and Gannet. We were not able to ascertain what they had been feeding on and suspect that there was more activity under the water, including maybe cetaceans, but we were unable to see them.
Kittwake (Helen Turnock)
We also had a number of birds taking a lift on the ship. We observed a Starling, two Meadow Pipit and both a male and a female Brambling at various times.
We suspected they had overnighted on the ship, finding a warm air outlet near their roost and then found themselves, on waking, out to sea!
As dusk fell we were presented with an amazing dark storm light and cloud pattern, however we had no precipitation throughout the voyage. This was quite an amazing voyage in terms of weather and sea conditions, which at times were quite mirror-like. The crew were pleased to have a respite from gales, but the gales were due to return for them the following day!
We watched the ship dock at Immingham from the passenger mess window. At 10pm we were collected along with the drivers and escorted off the ship. A car arrived within minutes to take us to the gate.
We were very impressed by the attention and support we were given by all the crew and ground staff throughout the trip and the ease with which everything was enabled.
Our very heartfelt appreciation is extended to the captain and everyone else we met.
Janet Shepherd and Angela Needham, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)