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MARINElife Survey Report: Ramsgate-Oostende, “Larkspur” 7th December 2012

Posted 11 December 2012

Mike Bamford and Cliff Morrison: Researcher Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Westerly, Force/sea state 4-5. Good visibility. Return: N.W./W.N.W 3, rising to 5. Moderate visibility

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis     8
Gannet Morus bassanus     264
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo   8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua     5
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus  1
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus   2
Common Gull Larus canus   1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus   85
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus   7
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus   258
Little Gull Larus marinus   2
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla    155
Unidentified Gull sp    250
Guillemot Uria aalge   106
Razorbill Alca torda    2
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata   8
Unidentified Diver Sp   1
Unidentified Auk Sp    3

Larkspur interiorWe were warmly welcomed, and escorted to the Larkspur by the terminal staff. The ship is a delightful and very comfortable vessel with some beautiful interior art deco design and wood furnishing. We were very kindly offered two comfortable cabins to stow our gear, and after an ample breakfast, the ship sailed and the available light was sufficient to start surveying.

We were welcomed to the Bridge by Captain Blasevic, and set up in the usual position to the right of the consoles. On the outward trip, we saw an excellent variety  of birds, and in greater numbers than we had anticipated, with surprisingly large numbers of Northern Gannet, Kittiwake, and Great Black-backed Gull, and with Great Skua, Little Gull and an Arctic Skua being the 'bonuses'.

We also saw 3 separate groups of Harbour Porpoise, close to the ship, 7 animals in all, in the high seas, suggesting that there were many more which could have be seen in calmer weather.

After a turnaround in Oostende, which gave a chance to total up the morning's numbers, plus a short nap and an excellent lunch in the truckers dining area, we returned to the bridge.

Herring GullThe wind veered from the NW round to the NE, and visibility became more variable with some rain. Birds became less frequent, but we recorded Red-throated Diver and Cormorant in the shallow offshore waters along the Belgian and French coast, and continuing frequent auks, large numbers of Guillemot, and large gulls.

On this trip the light faded at 4 pm, and we could regroup before leaving the ship at Ramsgate.

We were very hospitably treated on the ship by the crew, who showed great interest in our work on the bridge, and we look forward to another opportunity to do this compact and interesting survey.

Michael Bamford and Cliff Morrison; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


MARINElife Survey Report: Ramsgate-Oostende, “Gardenia” 16th September 2012

Posted 19 September 2012

Graham Ekins and Maria Smithies,  Research Surveyors for MARINElife.
Weather: Eastbound: Force 2/3 W/SW variable light cloud; Westbound: S/SW Force 2-4, variable high cloud.


Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5

Grey Seal    Halichoerus grypus  3
Common or Harbour Seal   Phoca vitulina  20

Eider Somateria mollissima     12
Common Scoter   Melanitta nigra   42
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus   1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis     5
Gannet Morus bassanus     184
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo   389
Great Skua   Stercorarius skua     9
Arctic Skua   Stercorarius parasiticus  5
Pomarine Skua   Stecorarius pomarinus  2
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus    16
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus   68
Herring Gull Larus argentatus   326
Yellow-legged Gull  Larus michahellis 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus   296
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus   10
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla    2
Gull:sp    7
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea   7
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo    27
Sandwich Tern   Sterna sandvicensis   16
Guillemot Uria aalge   1

Terrestrial Birds
Turnstone  Arenaria interpres    2

Jan, the Manager at the Trans European Ferries terminal at Ramsgate quickly processed our passports and also provided us with a welcome cup of coffee.  Within minutes we were on our way to board the Gardenia.  The Purser welcomed us and kindly provided a cabin for our belongings even though the return trip would be completed in one day. We were then taken to meet Captain Rahko Deldum and his officers.  He allowed us to stay on the bridge as we left Ramsgate Harbour at 07.00. 
LBBGAlmost immediately we started to log seabirds, mainly Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls with attendant Herring Gulls while we were still inside the harbour. To the south of us we noticed a large sandbank. Through our telescope we could clearly see a Bull Grey Seal with 2 presumed females.  300m further on we had great views of 20 Common Seals hauled out on the edge of the same sandbank.  As we travelled east towards the French coast we continued to log increasing numbers of Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and the occasional small group of Sandwich terns heading steadily SW.  At 08.30, we had our first sighting of a Harbour Porpoise off the starboard side of the Gardenia. For the last hour as we travelled north along the coast towards Oostende, where we noted small groups of Common Scoters and Eider Ducks heading south, all but one of the Scoters were jet black adult males.
A few kilometres from the harbour mouth we came across a fishing boat processing its catch, attendant seabirds included Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Gannets as well as Lesser and Greater Black-backed Gulls Cormorantsand Great and Arctic Skuas. Nearing the harbour entrance we had another sighting of a Harbour Porpoise. In the shallows we found large numbers of fishing Cormorants with every buoy we passed holding roosting birds. At one point we watched a Cormorant take off close to the ship carrying a large Garfish. As we passed Oostende harbour entrance we found 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls roosting amongst the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. 

After a superb four course meal we started the survey administration work over a cup of coffee. On returning to the bridge and commencing the second part of the survey, we started to see Little Gulls, the majority of which were adults, two of these still had the black hoods of breeding plumage. We saw a total of 16 of these delightful small gulls. After a few nautical miles we started to change course to travel west, it was then that we found another Harbour Porpoise with a couple of attendant Gannets. As we approached mid-channel, we encountered small groups of Arctic and Sandwich Terns as well as Arctic, Pomarine and Great Skuas. All were heading in a S/SW direction, presumably on their way to wintering grounds from West Africa southwards. A large group of circling Gannets attracted our attention, and with the telescope it was possible to see the small dorsal fins of 3 Harbour Porpoises who were busy fishing.  

We continued to record seabirds during the rest of the crossing, the density decreasing as we approached the Kent coast.  As we entered Ramsgate harbour, we found 2 Turnstones roosting amongst a mixed flock of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

As we left the bridge we thanked Captain Rahko Deldum and his officers for their hospitality and friendliness during this very interesting survey. During the two crossings several of the crew came and asked us what we had been seeing. They also shared their own Cetacean and seabird sightings over recent months. 

We would like to thank Trans European Ferries for their continued support for this survey. 

Graham Ekins and Maria Smithies; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Ramsgate-Oostende, “Gardenia & Larkspur” 11 - 12th August 2012

Posted 20 August 2012

Cheryl Leaning and Fraser Paterson: MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Eastbound 5-6 ESE-SE sunny  Westbound 1-0 E sunny 

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus alnirostris 4
Unidentified Dolphin sp 3

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 80
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 107
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 12
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Great Skua Stercoranus skua 2
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 3
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 45
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 158
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus mannus 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 38
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 4
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 68
Guillemot Uria aalge 3
Unidentified Tern sp 11 (inc. 1 possible Roseate Tern)
Unidentified Gull sp 104 (inc 1 small Gull sp)
Unidentified Petrel sp 1 

Terrestrial Birds
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Pigeon sp 2
Unidentified Duck sp 2

Having met up on the beach road outside the port at about 05:30 am, we parked outside the Transeuropa reception and quickly completed formalities. We were then escorted directly onto the Gardenia where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before being introduced to the Captain and crew. We established our working area on the bridge and its wings and practiced identification techniques on the Cormorants and mixed flock of Herring, Lesser Black-Backed and Black-Headed Gulls in the basin.

LBB 4 ad flight undersideAs this was the inaugural survey, we waited until the ship left port before starting our survey. Nothing new on the breakwaters and we were quickly among small groups and individuals of the aforementioned birds plus a steady flow of Sandwich Terns as we headed directly into the sun.  As we sailed further, we recorded some small groups of Arctic and Common Terns and Gannets, plus a flock of adult Scoters heading south immediately followed by three juveniles going north then a solitary Fulmar.

After crossing the first sea lane, we were soon over the South Falls trench in mid channel two 'small dolphins' were spotted on the starboard side heading directly away from us. These were definitely dolphin, not porpoise fins but they were too far away for a positive identification. A third animal was seen briefly behind a small boat and again consigned to the records as another frustrating example of "unidentified dolphin sp."!

There was a short lull in bird sightings as we crossed more shipping lanes, but after we turned off Dunkirk to sail parallel to the coast up to Ostend, we found an area where numerous gulls, terns and gannets feeding over quite a long area about 300 m off the port side. I left our position on the starboard side of the bridge and went onto the port wing to get a better count / identification. A quick scan produced two Harbour Porpoise.

White-beaked Dolphin 2 Turning back to where the action was resulted in 4 black fins framed by the binoculars - all 4 animals swimming low in the water, but then one showed a distinctive white beak and greyish band under the fin. Gotcha = dauphins à nez blanc on that side of the Channel - or what we would refer to as White-Beaked! Another sweep of the area and they had disappeared although some more Porpoise were briefly seen when counting the birds.

As we neared Ostend, it was back to the usual LBB (lesser black-backed gull), Cormorants and Terns, although a very welcome Whimbrel flew right over us on the port wing. We stopped surveying and thanked captain and crew as we entered the harbour to let them do their thing and park the Gardenia. Some Oystercatchers and Turnstone were on the beach just inside the entrance to the port.

We ate lunch on board - soup, pasta in 4 cheese sauce and osso buco (but passed on cake) - and waited for instructions to transfer to the Larkspur. We waited in the lounge for a couple of hours then walked across to the Larkspur which was taking us back the following morning. Unable to leave the boat and 'do' the town, after a light supper, we settled down to practising identification skills of Crows, Pigeons Cormorants, Common Terns and the mixture of Herring, Lesser Black-Backed and Black-Headed Gulls whirling around in the harbour as the evening drew to a close. A possible Mediterranean Gull and a probable Yellow-Legged Gull were the only distractions before we called it a day and retired for the night. 

Great Skua 2Another early start after breakfast on Sunday morning and, upon leaving the harbour, we were soon amongst steady numbers of LBBs, Cormorants and Commic and Sandwich Terns. Further out we started to encounter Gannets too but, despite the gentle seas and the better light conditions than the day before, it was a much quieter trip back to Ramsgate. A Great Skua, a couple of Fulmars and a Sooty Shearwater provided the highlights. We declined lunch as we neared our destination and, as the Larkspur docked on schedule, we thanked the captain and crew for their hospitality.

So, a great big thank you to the Captains and crews of the Transeuropa Gardenia and Larkspur for their assistance and the kind hospitality shown to us during our survey.  We are sure that this new route will provide many more interesting sightings!

Cheryl Leaning and Fraser Paterson: MARINElife Research Surveyors