MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS ‘Finlandia Seaways’ Rosyth-Zeebrugge 12-14 June 2015

Janet Shepherd and Allan Carpenter, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Outbound: W 1 backing NE 3 with occasional fog patches in the afternoon
Return: SW 5 decreasing NW 2 with occasional rain then light winds and light rain on final morning

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 19
Dolphin sp. 1

Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 63
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 3094
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 12
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Gull Larus canus 53
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 72
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 101
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 807
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 1
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 18
Puffin Fratercula arctica 206
Guillemot Uria aalge 1773
Razorbill Alca torda 97
Gull sp.  4

Terrestrial Birds
Domestic Pigeon Columba livia 3

We arrived in Rosyth after one of the hottest days in Scotland this year and were made very welcome by the staff at the port office and then by Liubove, our stewardess for the voyage on Finlandia Seaways. We made arrangements with the Captain for our early morning visit to the bridge and, after supper, managed a few hours' sleep.

Daybreak was early and the survey started at 04.40hrs just before passing the Bass Rock with its vast Gannet colony. Two Pink-footed Goose flew overhead and then Gannet, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot were in seen in fairly large numbers. Most were flying either to or from their nesting sites to their feeding grounds, east or west. Some could be seen with sand eels in their beaks.

Guillemot Rick Morris 03a
Juvenile Guillemot with parent (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

Kittiwake and Fulmar were often sighted and seabird numbers were, unsurprisingly, greater near St Abb's Head, Farne Islands and Flamborough Head. Other birds sighted on the first day included a solitary Manx Shearwater, a Common Scoter and several Sandwich Tern. A highlight was a juvenile Guillemot with its parent, the first we'd seen on the water this year.

A Grey seal was spotted near the Bass Rock and then later we were pleased to see Common Dolphin and a Harbour Porpoise east of the Farne Islands. Hopes were high when we spotted a large group of seabirds in a fishing frenzy, east of Flamborough Head, our they were fulfilled when we had good sightings of 2 Minke Whale come up in amongst them. Soon after the sea mist came down very thick and so we were able to catch up on what we had seen so far and delight in the whale sighting whilst having some 'down time'.

Minke Whale Peter Howlett 04b
Minke Whale (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Surveying continued into the evening with more sightings including Kittiwake and Fulmar, and several Sandwich Tern on the approaches to the Humber. However, there were noticeably far fewer birds seen than further north.

We awoke docked in Zeebrugge port, where there was a stiff breeze blowing from the SW but at least the sea mist had cleared. After breakfast the ship was fully loaded and we departed early with the survey recommencing just outside the harbour walls.

Common Tern, Gannet, Fulmar and Lesser Black-backed Gull were our main sightings. After a while three pigeon were seen flying forward of the vessel and we decided they were racing pigeon. Sometime later we saw another three, but think they were the same three taking a lift, or rest, on the ship. Later we saw a dark figure coming in from the east and were pleased to see it was a Great Skua. Sandwich Tern were again spotted later in the afternoon, also Guillemot and Kittiwake in large numbers as we sailed north along the English coast. We saw three more juvenile Guillemot, with their parents, on the water and birds returning with sand eels to their nesting sites.

WB Dolphin James Phillips 01a
White-beaked Dolphin (Archive photo: James Phillips)

As we passed the Humber Estuary we saw a number of Grey Seal often solitary, and some lying like logs on the surface. Soon after we were delighted to sight White-beaked Dolphin, their tall, scythe-like fins unmistakeable - as in Graham's photograph in the March 2015 report. This spurred us on, in spite of such a long day, and we finished surveying at 21.30hrs.

Day three's survey started at sunrise, 04.30am, as the ship was sailing past St. Abb's Head. There were Guillemot, Puffin, and Razorbill all flying east-west to and from their nest sites and breeding grounds and Gannet flying northwest back towards the Bass Rock. The 'Bass' was spectacular with many Gannet sitting on the water just north of the island. It was particularly good to see so many Puffin north of Craigleith, where they have recently returned in large numbers after volunteers have worked to clear the tree mallow from the island. Shag and 'Commic' Tern were seen along the Forth and small groups of Grey Seal hauled out on the tiny islands and on one of the buoys.

We had excellent views of the three Forth crossings, especially the high towers of the new one, as we approached Rosyth.

Another excellent survey with good sightings. Our thanks go to Captain Julius Nagaitis and his crew for being so helpful and accommodating and to DFDS for the opportunity.