Cheryl Leaning and Fraser Paterson: MARINElife Research
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
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.
As 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.
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.
Another 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