Recent Sightings

MARINElife Survey report: Cobelfret Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes 6-15 July 2015

Posted 05 July 2015

This and forthcoming surveys have had to cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey report: Cobelfret Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes 15-24 June 2015

Posted 13 June 2015

Survey Cancelled for operational Reasons

MARINElife Survey report: Cobelfret 'Mazarine'; 'Catherine'; 'Vespertine' Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes 11-20 May 2015

Posted 27 May 2015

Rick and Sharon Morris, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

North Sea and Thames Estuary: Winds Westerly 1-4 good visibility. English Channel and Southbound: Winds WNW to ESE 1-7 sunny and calm in the Channel, large swell in Western Approaches and N Biscay with occasional showers. Northbound and English Channel: Winds NNW to SSW 4-6 some light and heavy rain in Biscay and some fog in Channel.

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 6
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 147
Common DolphinDelphinus delphis 147
Unidentified Dolphin Sp. 6

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 46
Manx Shearwater
Puffinus puffinus27
Gannet Morus bassanus 315
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 27
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 54
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 429
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 13
Common Gull Larus canus 21
Mediterranean Gull Icthyaetus melanocephalus 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 474
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 18
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 8
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 15
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 52
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Guillemot Uria algae 7
Common Scoter
Melanitta nigra8
Gull Sp. 506
Auk Sp. 11
Shearwater Sp. 1

Terrestrial and Other Birds:
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
House Martin Delichon urbica 5
Swift Apus apus 3
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 2
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 18
Rook Corvus frugilegus 7
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1
Feral Pigeon 13
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 4
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 6
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Pochard Aythya ferina 2
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2
Passerine Sp. 8

Monday 11th

We arrived at Euroships offices in Purfleet and were met by Sheryn (office manager) who obligingly drove us across the port to the 'MV Mazarine', our ship to take us to Rotterdam. On board, we met Aleksandr, who showed us to our excellent cabins, then during dinner, Aleksandr showed us some beautiful photos of his home city of St Petersburg.

We had some daylight after departing Purfleet, so went up to the bridge beforehand to familiarise ourselves with the ships instruments, then surveyed down the River Thames as far as Canvey Island before sunset.

Tuesday 12th

We were heading into Rotterdam at day break and not really enough time to survey this section. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast of rice porridge followed by eggs and bacon and then entered Monday's data into the laptop whilst we waited for the 'MV Catherine', our ship to take us to Leixoes in Portugal.

We transferred to the 'Catherine' after she had berthed and were welcomed by Sergei who, after giving us a tour of the ship, proceeded to instruct us on the evacuation procedure.

As we weren't scheduled to leave until midnight, we spent some time on the outside deck observing the various seabirds and terrestrial birds that frequented the port. We enjoyed a lovely three course evening meal and then settled in for the night.

Gannet Rick Morris 07Wednesday 13th

We started surveying at dawn, still in the North Sea and we were soon under blue skies and with a calm sea.
It was a very quiet start to the day, but we started picking up Gannet, Kittiwake, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Fulmar and the odd Auk species that were just too distant to make a positive ID. A collared Dove was seen flying down the starboard side and we discovered that it stayed with us all the way to Portugal!

Our first cetacean sighting came in the form of a Harbour Porpoise a little after 2.30pm, we were expecting to see good numbers of these undemonstrative little cetaceans in the Channel as we had a near flat calm sea throughout the day, but alas, we only managed to record 4 animals before we retired for the evening off the Sussex Coast.

Thursday 14th

We were back on the bridge at day break with a sea state of 3 and fog, west of the Channel Islands. The weather continued to deteriorate with occasional showers and a strengthening wind. Gannet were the most prominent birds seen, with small numbers of Manx Shearwater and Fulmar and the highlight of the day being an Artic Skua. We were also joined by 5 House Martin that stayed with us throughout. With an increasing westerly wind speed up to force 8 and a 4m+ swell we finished the survey for the day some 35 miles off Ile de Ouessant.

Striped Dolphin Rick MorrisFriday 15th

Up on the bridge again at first light, surveying commenced with a 2-3m swell, although the sea state had settled down a little. The morning was very quiet to start with, just a few Gannet a Fulmar, 3 Kittiwake and a handful of Lesser Black-backed Gull. I went down for my break around 10:30 and upon my return found Sharon filling in the sightings sheet to record 50+ Common Dolphin. These were to be the first of a few groups to come into the bow for a bit of play. Our next dolphin sighting was a pod of 6 Bottlenose Dolphin, again coming into the bow before disappearing. Nearly an hour went by when the 1st mate alerted us to a lot of white water and splashing around a 1000m dead ahead, even at this distance we could see by the way these animals were swimming that they were Striped Dolphin approximately 50 in number and once they were nearer to us this was indeed confirmed. These dolphins don't normally bow ride and true to form they came rushing in toward us and went down the side leaping clear out of the water.

Saturday 16th

We had just an hour and a half to survey in the morning before our arrival into the port of Leixoes with only Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gull being seen.

It was a very sunny and warm day and once berthed, we decided to take a walk along the beach, which was very busy with a surfing competition being held, so we then spent the next few hours exploring the town of Matosinhos.

Back on board, we enjoyed dinner and put some more data into the laptop. We waited until just after we left the inner harbour and commenced surveying just before 7pm which gave us a little time.

Sunday 17th

Surveying commenced off the coast of Spain with a sea state of 4-5 and some light rain at times. Seabird sightings were very low with just a few recorded all morning! The long quiet spell ended at 3.30pm when we had the first of three separate Striped Dolphin encounters, then to our excitement at 5.21pm we saw a very large blow, then another, this time the roll of the back and dorsal fin of the animal confirmed it to be the world's second largest mammal - a Fin Whale.

Fin Whale Rick Morris
Then to our amazement a second different blow was seen, this one being much lower and bushy and again we were able to confirm this as a Sperm Whale as the head was clearly visible on the next blow as it was 'logging', probably re-oxygenating its blood before going on a dive. Also in close proximity to these two animals was a group of dolphins, but frustratingly we were unable to confirm the species. Our last surprise of the day came at 7.45pm when a Sparrowhawk appeared on one of the containers, presumably it joined the ship in Portugal! We concluded the day at sunset feeling very content.

Common Dolphin Sharon Morris 03Monday 18th

We arrived up on the bridge to be greeted by fog and the wind had picked up overnight giving us a sea state of 5-6 all day. Seabirds consisted of Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar and Gulls. Even though the sea state was a 5 we still managed to pick up 4 Common Dolphin that hastily made their way to the bow. The rest of the day was fairly quiet, we were hopeful of picking up Risso's Dolphin around Hurds Deep, but the sea state made this too challenging.

Tuesday 19th

We still had a stiff Westerly wind blowing up behind us resulting in sea state of 6. We were off the Belgium coast when we started the final day on our run in to Rotterdam. As well as recording Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Auks and Larus gulls, we started to pick up a few Arctic and Common tern.

As we drew nearer to the Nieuwe Maas River, Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers increased. Heading up the river toward our berth gave sightings of Lesser, Herring and Common Gull, Artic and Common Tern as well as Oystercatcher, Cormorant, Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebe, Pochard and a variety of terrestrial birds.

Once berthed, we said our farewells to Captain Aleksandr Koloedov, his officers and to Sergei for looking after us so well. We disembarked the 'Catherine' and made the short walk to the MV Vespertine, our ship to take us back to Purfleet. Once aboard, we were greeted very warmly by the ships steward, Sergei. We were treated like VIP's and dined in the officer's mess and was offered the use of the ships Wi-Fi in the officer's lounge before retiring for the evening in our very smart cabins.

Wednesday 20th

We were shown to the bridge at 5am by the officer of the watch and commenced surveying shortly after. We were off the Kent coast looking at the Isle of Sheppey ahead on the port side and ahead of us on the other side of the Thames estuary we could see Southend.

We were hoping to see Harbour Porpoise, especially as we had calm water, but none were obliging. Seabirds seen were mostly of Black-headed Gull, which seemed to be flying back and forth between the Kent and Essex coasts.

We concluded the survey at 8am thanking the captain and crew and went down to enjoy a full English breakfast before leaving. Sheryn met us at the ship and dropped us back to where we had parked the car, we had a chat about the trip, said our farewells and made our way home.

We would very much like to thank Cobelfret and Euroships for supporting MARINElife's research, also our thanks to all the Captain's and their Officers for making us very welcome and well looked after aboard the 'Mazarine', 'Catherine' and 'Vespertine'.

Rick and Sharon Morris, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Photo credits:
Gannet: Rick Morris
Striped Dolphin Pod: Rick Morris
Fin Whale: Rick Morris
Common Dolphin Pod: Sharon Morris



MARINElife Survey report: Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes April 2015

Posted 23 April 2015

Trip cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey report: Cobelfret 'Mazarine'; 'Catherine'; 'Vespertine' Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes 9-18 March 2015

Posted 23 March 2015

Peter Howlett and Kevin Bainbridge, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: winds mainly 4-5 with calmer spells, occasional rain in the Channel, large swell in Biscay. 
Northbound: mainly light winds some light rain in Biscay and otherwise bright but visibility often poor.

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Fin Whale (probable) Balaenoptera physalus 7
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 5
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 7
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 83
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 108
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 36
Unidentified Dolphin sp.  3 

Red-throated Diver Gavia immer 2
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 28
Gannet  Morus bassanus 656
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 61
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 135
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 448
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 158
Common Gull Larus canus 10
Mediterranean Gull Icthyaetus melanocephalus 5
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 228
Duck sp.  5
Larus sp.  397
Auk sp.  76

Terrestrial birds (at sea)
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria 1
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 2
Stock Dove Columba oenas 1
Pied Wagtail   Motacilla alba yarellii 2
Meadow Pipit   Anthus pratensis 6
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 1
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 17
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 3

Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 March 2015

We boarded the m.v. Mazarine in Purfleet on Monday afternoon and enjoyed a smooth and comfortable overnight crossing to Rotterdam. The m.v. Catherine docked from Leixoes at midday and we transferred across to her and settled into our comfortable cabins. We were welcomed aboard by Nikolai, the extremely helpful steward, who was to do a fantastic job of looking after us over the next six days. There were precious few birds to be seen from the ships as we waited for departure. Unlike the February survey there was not a hint of migration happening, the cold NW breeze no doubt putting a dampener on that. We did manage to see three Peregrine overhead, looking like they probably bred in the dock area. The Catherine left Rotterdam under cover of darkness at around midnight.

Leixoes survey Peter Howlett 01

Wednesday 11 March

Dawn saw us about 50 miles west of Rotterdam and following the traffic separation route southwest towards the Straits of Dover. The brisk northwest wind made it difficult to see cetaceans but as the winds eased mid-morning the Harbour Porpoise sightings started in earnest. We were a little surprised that most of the sightings were in the busy seas just east of Dover and by the time we reached the Straits we had logged 32 but then, despite calmer seas, saw none once we were past Dover. Birds seen were a mix of Herring, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Fulmar and Gannet. Strangely, the very first bird recorded wasn't a seabird at all but a Woodcock flashing past the bow on its way northeast. Another odd sighting was a Stock Dove which stayed with us all day. We ended the day some 16 miles southwest of Beachy Head.

Thursday 12 March

Rissos Dolphin Peter Howlett 02

First light saw us back on the bridge, now 40 or so miles west of Guernsey. We enjoyed a sea state of 4 all morning but a freshening breeze pushed this to 6 by the end of the day with frequent light showers. Despite this we had a good range of cetacean sightings with small groups of Common Dolphin making frequent appearances at the bow.


A slightly blurry shot of the Risso's Dolphin taken through the bridge window (Peter Howlett)

Variety came in the form of two Minke Whale and a solitary Risso's Dolphin which passed close by the starboard side.

Gannet were the most frequently encountered bird but along with them came an impressive 34 Great Skua. There was a little evidence of migration with Robin, Redstart, Pied Wagtail and a diminutive Goldcrest seen flying alongside the ship. Rather ominously - for the bird - the Stock Dove was also still with us, now a long way from where it should have been. Sunset saw us just over 50 miles west of Ile de Ouessant, still over 60 miles from the northern shelf break.

Friday 13 March

Striped Dolphin Peter Howlett 01At the start of the day we were slap-bang in the middle of the mouth of Biscay and we ended it 40 or so miles northwest of the corner of Spain. We awoke to a run-of-the-mill 3m Biscay swell, topped off with a sea state 6 from the stiff NW breeze, which made looking for cetaceans a bit challenging.


A typically fleeting glimpse of a Striped Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Sightings were sparse but we had two decent sized groups of Striped Dolphin and a few smaller groups of Common Dolphin.

Towards the end of the day we had a series of whale blows, 7 in total, which were all frustratingly distant, such that we couldn't clinch their identification. They were most likely Fin Whale but it would have been nice to know for sure. Birds were few and far between today with just a handful of Gannet, a few Great Skua and the odd gull to record.

Saturday 14 March

A beautiful sunrise welcomed us into Leixoes and within a few minutes of coming alongside we were off ashore. The warm spring sunshine had certainly got the resident birds going and the seafront was alive with the sound of Serin song, they seemed to be singing from almost every building and tree. However, spring migration hadn't advanced much since the February survey as the only migrants we could find were Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher. A very dapper adult male Black Redstart was very nice to see. We had been looking forward to trying to find colour-ringed gulls but, unfortunately, although there were still a huge number of gulls around the beach was now too busy for them to use and they were all roosting on buildings around the docks. Our efforts looking through the gulls weren't in vain though as we turned up a first year Iceland Gull (likely the same one seen last month) and a third year Glaucous Gull.

Leixoes birds Peter Howlett 01

Sunday 15 March

The Catherine sailed early evening so by sunrise we were some 24 miles east of where we had finished surveying on Friday evening. Conditions were awkward to start with a stiff NW breeze blowing but this eased during the day and by close of play conditions were good. Unfortunately, particularly this early in the year, wildlife watching can be a bit hit and miss and today was one of the misses. There were very few birds to record and we only had two sightings of Common and one of Striped Dolphin. There was a bright spot at the end of the day when we caught up with a group of 5 Pilot Whale, including a mother with a juvenile.

Monday 16 March

We were now back in the shallower water of the Channel, starting the day 30 miles north of Ile de Ouessant and ending it 45 northeast of Cherbourg. Sea conditions were good and we had a reasonable run of Common Dolphin sightings through the morning. Sighting of the day was a group of six Risso's Dolphins in the deeper water of Hurd Deep, some 20 or so miles north of Alderney. It would just have been nice if they hadn't been 2km away! Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull were the order of the day amongst the birds. The latter mainly clustered around fishing boats. Another 17 Great Skua meant we finished the survey with a very healthy total of 61.

Leixoes survey Peter Howlett 02

Tuesday 17 March

We started the day 73 miles southwest of Rotterdam so had several hours of surveying before arriving back. Conditions were ideal with a sea state between 1 and 2 but despite this there were very few Harbour Porpoise to be seen and the three we did see later in the morning were in an area full of shipping. Gulls were the order of the day again, mainly Lesser Black-backed but also a few Herring and Common. A brace of Grey Heron loped past the ship and we debated whether they had crossed over from the UK or were just following the Dutch coast. Once docked, we transferred to the m.v. Vespertine for the return leg to Purfleet, arriving back the following morning.

The m.v. Catherine is a lovely ship to survey from and the fact it is home for 6 days makes it all the more special. Our thanks go to Captain Aleksander Koloedov and his officers for welcoming us on board and a special mention must go to Nikolai for looking after us so well during the trip. Thanks also to Cobelfret for allowing us access to the ships for such an extended survey. It is going to be interesting to see what turns up in the coming months.

Peter Howlett and Kevin Bainbridge, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey report: Cobelfret 'Adeline'; 'Catherine'; 'Amandine' Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes 7-16 February 2015

Posted 23 February 2015

Graham Ekins and Andy Gilbert, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Southbound: mainly light winds, variable cloud.
Northbound: Squalls and large swell in Biscay, light winds and fair weather in the Channel.

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 5
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 124
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 34
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 99
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Unidentified Whale sp  1
Unidentified Dolphin sp  3

Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla bernicla 58
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 4
Red-throated Diver Gavia immer 2
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 4
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 4
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Gannet  Morus bassanus 1103
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 14
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius  pomarinus 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1619
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 253
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 656
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 209
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Mediterranean Gull Icthyaetus melanocephalus 31
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 519
Puffin Fratercula arctica 32
Guillemot Uria algae 57
Razorbill Alca torda 145
Larus Sp.  90

Waders and passerines landing on or passing the survey ships
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 2
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarellii 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 2

Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 February 2015
We started this survey by joining the M.V. Adeline at Purfleet and enjoyed seeing the large numbers of gulls, waders and ducks in the late afternoon as we travelled down the Thames towards Southend. After an excellent night's sleep in our comfortable cabins we went up on deck to view Rotterdam Harbour on a crisp early spring morning. From first light we were astonished to see huge numbers of White-fronted Geese starting their spring migration. By the end of the day we estimated 4,500 birds had passed north along the coast. During the morning we transferred to the impressive M.V. Catherine, moored nearby. After being welcomed on board we were shown to our large and well-appointed cabins.

Monday 9 February.

After a very restful sleep and a very enjoyable cooked breakfast we were welcomed on to the bridge by Captain Sergey Loik and his officers who made us very welcome. The sea state was slight and the sky overcast giving ideal viewing conditions. We were surprised by the numbers and variety of bird species, the majority migrating north towards the Dorset and Sussex coasts, the numbers increasing as we passed the Cherbourg Peninsular. Highlights included flocks of summer plumaged Razorbill, Guillemot and Puffin as well as three groups of Dark-bellied Brent Geese. We also had brief visits from two Meadow Pipit and a lone Pied Wagtail.

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

As we moved towards the Western Approaches three pods of Common Dolphin briefly bow rode before diving under the ship, providing us with tremendous views. Later a fourth pod appeared to be actively fishing in apparent association with a large beam trawler, a superb end to a very enjoyable day.

Tuesday 10 February
The day started with a light southwesterly wind and variable light cloud, this continued for the rest of the day and made for an enjoyable crossing of western Biscay. We were travelling southwest circa 500kms west of the French coast over water 4,500m deep. Very soon after starting the survey we had a pod of Long-finned Pilot Whale that gave great views as they crossed the bows before continuing north. To our surprise we had a steady stream of adult Gannet and summer plumaged Lesser Black-backed Gull heading purposefully northward. This was clearly the start of the spring migration for both species. We also had distant views of a Great Skua heading northeast. In the afternoon a large group of Striped Dolphin bow-rode before heading off giving excellent opportunities for taking images as they energetically porpoised their way past the ship. Shortly after this Andy saw a repeated distant blow from a large cetacean. After an excellent meal we spent the rest of the evening entering data before we retired to our cabins.

Pilot Whale Graham Ekins 01a
Pilot Whale (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

Wednesday 11 February
At dawn we were off Cape Finistere heading south 50kms offshore. It was another wonderful start to the day with the sea almost calm with light cloud and great visibility. Very soon we had Striped Dolphin coming into the ship bow-riding, they then swam under the ship and away to the east. Over the next few hours further pods of both Striped and Common Dolphin approached the ship, sometimes bow-riding or just swimming alongside. Mid-afternoon a group of 9 Bottlenose Dolphin were seen off the starboard side of the ship, they afforded great views as they leisurely passed by.

We were kept very busy noting seabirds with numbers steadily increasing as we passed into the shallower waters of the Iberian continental shelf. Adult Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull were migrating north for most of the day while each fishing boat passed had increasing numbers of adult and immature yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gull as well as a few mainly immature Kittiwake. Both Great and Pomarine Skua were also found associating with these large groups of gulls. During the last two hours before entering Leixoes we found several groups of auks. The commonest being Puffin, most in winter plumage, the rest were winter plumaged Razorbill.

Iceland and YL Gull Graham Ekins

Leixoes has a large fishing community and so the harbour was alive with gulls, amongst these we found a first winter Iceland Gull, a rare visitor to Portugal from the Arctic and several colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull marked in Norway, Holland and the UK.

Thursday 12 February
After breakfast we decided to explore the local town of Leixoes as Captain Sergey Loik had kindly arranged permits for us to leave the harbour. On the nearby sandy beach we saw the large and impressive bronze memorial to the many lives of fishermen lost in a severe gale in December 1947. At the southern end of the town near the fort we watched 3 Black Redstart and by the nearby lake several fly-catching Chiffchaff, spring migration was clearly underway. After an enjoyable lunch in a cafe near the beach we wandered past many small shops selling all manner of fresh fish. In the small park near the harbour we watched many Spotless Starling in summer plumage as well as several Serin and in the harbour White, Pied and Grey Wagtails. An enjoyable end to our day out.

Black Redstart-Spotless Starling Graham Ekins

Friday 13 February
We left Leixoes Port at 09.00 with light winds from the southwest and increasing cloud, we were travelling parallel with the Portuguese then Spanish coasts. Almost immediately we had a small pod of Common Dolphin briefly bow-ride before heading off south. Shortly afterwards some Striped Dolphin did the same but this time they were accompanied by several gulls and Gannet as well as 2 Balearic and one Manx Shearwater. We were kept busy recording the large numbers of Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gull we encountered as we travelled north circa 15kms offshore with an additional Cory's Shearwater to add to our growing total. We also encountered groups of Mediterranean Gull as well as the occasional Puffin, most in summer plumage. During the afternoon we were treated to prolonged views of a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphin who were so busy feeding that they appeared to ignore the ship. As we moved into deeper water the cetacean and bird sightings decreased.

Bottlenose Dolphin Graham Ekins 01a
Bottlenose Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

Saturday 14 February

We spent the day travelling north across western Biscay. We woke to low cloud and an increasingly heavy swell, by mid-morning this had increased to 5 metres with rain squalls. We were very impressed that the MV Catherine rode the swell with limited rolling. Even with reduced visibility we saw that adult Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull were still moving north. As the day progressed the visibility improved, a superb Fin Whale showed well off to starboard before diving into the depths, at the time we were in waters 4,600m deep. As we travelled into shallower water we had several more sightings of both Striped and Short-beaked Common Dolphin through to dusk as they came to bow-ride. Andy was also able to see the dolphins doing the same on a ship to our east. In the shallower water and before dusk we had several more sightings of Great Skua, Kittiwake and Lesser Black-backed Gull. The setting sun was a beautiful backdrop.

Sunday 15 February
We started the day in the Channel off the Channel Islands. It was another beautiful morning with a very light wind. Our last Yellow-legged Gull followed the ship briefly then for the rest of the day we had a steady passage of adult Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull passing the ship heading north east. Numbers of Great Black-backed Gull, Gannet and Kittiwake fishing or following trawlers increased dramatically as we came close to the Cherbourg Peninsular. We also had several sightings of summer plumage Puffin and Guillemot. Several small pods of Common Dolphin gave great views as they came in to bow-ride. Off the Cherbourg Peninsular we also saw a Harbour Porpoise, surprisingly scarce on this survey. The red of the sunset that evening over a calm sea was truly spectacular, a fitting end to a superb survey.

We would like to thank Cobelfret for continuing to support this important survey route. We would also like to thank the Captains of the 'Adeline' and 'Amandine' for transporting us to and from Rotterdam. Our special thanks go to Captain Sergey Loik, his officers and crew of the 'Catherine' who made us very welcome throughout our stay onboard.

MARINElife Survey Report: Cobelfret ‘Valentine; Catherine; Mazarine’ Purfleet-Rotterdam-Leixoes 19-27 January 2015

Posted 28 January 2015

Carol Farmer-Wright and Cheryl Leaning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Wind: SE-SW to NW 0-5

Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 3
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 6
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 84
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 23
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked)  Delphinus delphis 391
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Unidentified Whale sp. 1
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 19
Unidentified Cetacean sp. 3

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 57
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 374
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 47
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 23
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 191
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 420
Puffin Fratercula arctica 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 110
Red-throated Diver (Loon) Gavia stellate 1
Black-throated Diver (Loon) Gavia arctica 1
Auk sp. 42
Larus sp. 82
Skua sp. 6
Diver sp. 1

We arrived at Purfleet on Monday to be transferred by the "Valentine" to Rotterdam. At this time of year it is too dark to survey on this leg, so we retired to our cabin after dining. On Tuesday morning we boarded the Catherine as soon as she arrived in port and settled into our comfortable cabins. The survey would begin in earnest the following day.

Day 1 Sea state 4-2 wind SSE to S, cloudy but dry.We were off the coast of Suffolk by morning. Fishing vessels were attracting many seabirds including Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake and the occasional Herring Gull. Our first marine mammal, a Grey Seal observed us within the first forty minutes. A Common Seal appeared at lunchtime and we recorded our first Harbour Porpoise shortly after. We closed the day with the white cliff of Beachy Head in our sights.

Day 2 Sea state 2-3 with moderate swell, wind SW, improving cloud cover, dry.At first light we were south of Devon heading into the Western approaches. We had a promising start almost as soon as we arrived on the Bridge with a passing Harbour Porpoise. Lunchtime was postponed slightly when a large group of Common Dolphin, around 300 animals, raced to the bow and then charged past, with juveniles for almost ten minutes. The afternoon provided us with two sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin coming in to bow ride. Gannet and Guillemot were the main birds of the day, the latter in small rafts of two to five. We were off the French coast turning in to Northern Biscay by sunset.

Striped Dolphin Carol Farmer-Wright 01

Striped Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 3 Sea state 2-4 with moderate swell, wind SE-SW, cloudy with rain early afternoon.Travelling through Biscay in daylight is always going to be rewarding. We started surveying with 4800 metres of Southern Biscay water beneath us. This is big whale territory. Our first record was a Striped Dolphin, a front-heavy bulky animal, coming toward us. An hour later there were two large blows. A pair of Fin Whale, the second largest animal on the planet, slowly rolled and swam along the port side. A further large whale blow was recorded a short while later. Mist and rain closed in at lunchtime and lasted for three hours. Despite the reduced visibility we were able to record a small group of Common Dolphin. The only birds to be seen all day were a handful of Kittiwake.

Day 4 in port

Fin Whale Carol Farmer-Wright 03aDay 5 Sea state 3-0, wind northerly, overcast but dry.Sea conditions were ideal as we travelled north through Biscay. Sightings of birds were sporadic but included a Cory's Shearwater, not usually seen in Biscay at this time of year, Herring and Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Gannet, and Puffin.  We recorded five different species of marine mammal during the day, Common, Striped and Risso's Dolphin, Fin Whale and Long-finned Pilot Whale. Our Striped Dolphin encounters included two large groups of 40 animals. The first came in to bow ride. The second group were resting ahead of the ship, when alerted to our approach, came in to bow ride and leapt energetically alongside our vessel for some minutes.

Day 6 Sea state 4-5, wind north-westerly, overcast but dry.Returning along the Brittany coast in the morning we recorded Bottlenose and Common Dolphin in small numbers regularly for an hour. Throughout the day bird sightings were more frequent with good numbers of Gannet, Kittiwake and some Great Skua.

Day 7 Sea state 3-4, wind north-westerly, cloud cover lifting, dry.Heading towards Rotterdam we were amazed to see the number of vessels ready to enter Europort. Despite the marine traffic, two Bottlenose Dolphin entertained us briefly; leaping energetically out of the water before heading towards our ship to bow ride. We were able to add a further two bird species to our survey list when Red-throated and Black-throated Diver passed by the vessel. Two brief sightings of Harbour Porpoise were recorded before the survey ended. By one o'clock we had left the North Sea and were heading into Rozenburg to disembark the "Catherine" and join the "Mazarine" for our return to Purfleet.

Fin Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Our thanks on enabling this survey go to Cobelfret, the Captains and crew of the Valentine and Mazarine for transporting us to and from Rotterdam. Our special thanks go to Captain Sergey Loik, his officers and crew for looking after us so well whilst on board the "Catherine" for this survey.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Cheryl Leaning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife