MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS ‘Finlandia Seaways’ Rosyth-Zeebrugge 13-15 March 2015

Steve Morgan and Stuart Murray, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Slight breeze, steady from the northeast both south and northbound, with good visibility

Summary of sightings
Cetaceans and seals
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3

Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 4

Eider Somateria mollissima 3
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 36
Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 26
Gannet Morus bassanus 137
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 179
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 54
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 35
Guillemot Uria aalge 391
Razorbill Alca torda 31
Unidentified auk species 105
Unidentified loon species 16

Terrestrial birds at sea
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1

Gannet Stuart Murray

Gannets (Stuart Murray)

We arrived in Rosyth on a blustery, wet and cold night just as our ship, the Finlandia Seaways docked; within minutes we were taken on board and handed over to our stewardess Luba, who pressed tea and cream cake on us before attending to the formalities of passports and such like. By morning, weather conditions had much improved, the wind had dropped, it had stopped raining and the sea held only the faintest hint of a swell.

We soon began recording Guillemot and Gannet, the former mostly in fresh summer plumage; the latter (as throughout the survey) were in fully adult plumage.

Passing the Farne Islands the first Kittiwake and one or two Puffin appeared but a glimpse of our first seal was insufficient to identify it as either Common or Grey; soon after another came into view - this time obligingly lounging about on the surface and revealing itself to be most definitely a Common Seal.

WB Dolphin Graham Ekins 04

White-beaked Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

As  the morning wore on, we started speculating when our first cetacean would appear, then there they were at last; a group of four White-beaked Dolphin moving quickly, their tall and falcate dorsal fins scything through the water. They surfaced four or five times before disappearing and no amount of desperate scanning could bring them back.

In the early afternoon a few Razorbill began to supplement the Guillemot and Puffin sightings, and a diver, probably Red-throated, sped away across the sea and a few Lesser Black-backed Gull materialized. Several more Common Seal crossed our path and, later, a probable Grey Seal briefly put its head above the waves.

The light eventually faded and by six o'clock it was too dim to carry on, but there was one last twist to the day's action. Returning to our cabins we found that a Robin had come on board and had become trapped inside. It took some energetic work to steer it towards an open door before it eventually won its release!

We awoke the following morning in Zeebrugge harbour to find bright sunshine and a moderate breeze. Departing at 09.30 am, we were soon recording various gull species, including good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull, a few Common Gull and several Little Gull, their dark under-wings clearly visible.

Little Gull Stuart Murray

Little Gulls (Stuart Murray)

A flock of more than 20 Common Scoter passed by, followed by a lone Shag, then a single Sandwich Tern, the first summer migrant seabird of the year. Our first cetacean came mid-morning, a single Harbour Porpoise that surfaced twice before disappearing. Two other porpoise sightings followed in the afternoon, both very close to the bows of the ship.

As the afternoon wore on the breeze stiffened a little and a gentle swell developed. However, visibility was still good and we gradually added Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwake to our list. The highlight of the afternoon was the movement of a dozen or more divers out towards the open sea. A few we could see were definitely Red-throated; others might well have been Black-throated but were too distant to allow positive identification.

The day ended close to the position at which we had drawn stumps on the outward leg the previous day. Our final day saw us up before sunrise for the last leg into the Firth of Forth but it was too dark to see much and a thick overcast prolonged the gloom. Nonetheless, we managed about an hour of survey time and recorded a modest number of birds, adding Eider and Cormorant to the trip list and only our second terrestrial species, a single Carrion Crow that plodded across the bows.

As usual our thanks go to the DFDS Seaways officers and crew whose unstinting help made our task both easy and enjoyable.

Steve Morgan and Stuart Murray, Research Surveyors for MARINElife