MARINElife Survey Report: Rosyth-Zeebrugge "Longstone" 9 - 11 August 2013

Duncan Fyfe and Nick Adams; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Mainly clear, winds force 4 or less, sea state 2-4

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 34
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 13
Rorqual sp 1
Seal sp 3

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 15
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis  41
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus   297
Gannet Morus bassanus 10,000+
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo   5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua  10
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus  4
Skua sp 1
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 24
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 88
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 27
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 25
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1179
Large Gull sp 8
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 34
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 12
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 32
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 15
Guillemot  Uria aalge 307
Razorbill  Alca torda 16
Auk sp 127 

Terrestrial Birds
Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 24
Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 3
Plover sp 1.

This was a survey we were both looking forward to given the exciting recent sightings from the east coast of Northumberland and Yorkshire in recent weeks.

We were fortunate enough to board our survey vessel the night before the survey at around 10pm to allow us time to get some much needed rest before the early start the following day. We were grateful to the crew of the Longstone for making us welcome and providing us with such spacious accommodation.

The ship departed Rosyth between 3 and 4 in the morning but it was still dark at that hour so the south-bound survey began at around 5.30am and fortunately (in some respects) south of Bass Rock. Counting several thousand Gannets whilst trying to wake up at that hour might have been difficult!

The bridge on the Longstone is set mid-ships rather than towards the bow so for this survey our 300metre bird recording box was just off the starboard beam rather than the bow. We had wondered if this would affect our data recording but we needn't have worried because we still had some fine views.

Minke Whale Peter Howlett 02The journey south was a pleasant one, mostly within sight of the mainland. Weather remained clear for most of the survey with good visibility and sea state barely getting above a force 4. This helped us to spot our first Minke whale somewhere south of Dunbar and were awarded a fine sighting as it arched its back and dorsal fin out of the water. There was also the welcome sight of two large flocks of Manx Shearwater.

As we continued south the Farne Islands were clearly visible and we were expecting a flurry of sightings but a little unusually there were very few birds in the vicinity except for a handful of Kittiwake and auks.

Minke Whale (Pete Howlett)

We had both heard reliable firsthand accounts of a variety of cetacean species having been spotted off the North Yorkshire coast in recent months so anticipation grew as we got closer. Sure enough, with the cliffs of Bempton and Flamborough Head within sight, we had our second encounter with a Minke Whale. This time it surfaced and rolled less than 200m from the bow of the ship, a great view indeed!

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 02aAs the survey continued we spotted several Harbour Porpoise, the total of 25 on day 1 no doubt helped by the sea state. Several of the porpoises were moving quite quickly (and porpoising) to get out of the way of the ship, almost recalling Common Dolphin for an instant. However, with the distinctive triangular dorsal fin on view and their small size there was no doubt as to what they were.

Harbour Porpoise (Mike Bailey)

A few Grey Seal sightings added to the days mammal total.  Bird highlights included a Greenshank, a Grey Heron and 3 Whimbrel.  There was also a steady movement of white butterflies to further interest us throughout the day. We ended the south bound survey around 8.40pm when the light just got too dark to identify anything.

After a welcome lie-in on Saturday morning we commenced the survey once the pilot had guided the ship most of the way out of the shipping lane. We had a few Common Scoter sightings, Great Skua, Fulmar and Guillemot but overall not as many birds as the previous day. We did have the company of a racing pigeon for a few hours as it rested atop the containers before continuing on its way. However, it was noticeable that bird numbers increased the further north we went and during the last couple of hours of survey the huge flocks of birds heading west to the Yorkshire coast was quite spectacular. Unfortunately most of the really large flocks were too far away to identify - well over the 2000 metre recording range for bird surveys - although we surmised that the majority were Kittiwake and possibly Little Gull.

Gannet SquadronWe woke up on Sunday morning to the not too distant view of Bass rock and managed to get to the bridge for a final couple of hours survey effort. It was certainly challenging counting all those Gannets! Since the MARINElife surveys are of birds at sea we ignored those birds sat on or immediately above Bass Rock and estimated those seen to be a conservative total of 10,000+ birds!  A few Common Tern and a couple of Cormorant added to the variety.

We made good time and were back to the car park by 8.20am. We are both grateful to DFDS and the Captain and his crew for making us feel welcome throughout the survey and look forward to doing this route again soon.


Duncan Fyfe and Nick Adams; Research Surveyors for MARINElife