Karen Francis & Sara Bisset, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outward: Wind ESE 4-5 veering SW 1-2, sea state 3-5 dropping to 1, slight rain, becoming dry with good visibility
Return: Wind ESE 0-2, sea state 2 or less, fair with visibility reducing in the afternoon
Summary of Species Recorded:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Seal sp. 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 5
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 20
Gannet Morus bassanus 322
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 22
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 70
Guillemot Uria aalge 323
Razorbill Alca torda 62
Diver sp. 34
Shearwater sp. 2
Gull sp. 102
Auk sp. 40
Stock Dove Columba oenas 1
Sara and I met in Edinburgh on the Thursday night, before heading to Rosyth Port. There, we were escorted onto the Finlandia Seaways and shown to our spacious cabin, ready for a good night's sleep and an early start.
Day 1, southbound
Gannet (Library photo: Steve McAusland)
The survey began at dawn as we exited the Firth of Forth and we were immediately busy recording many Gannet and Guillemot, interspersed with Great Black-backed Gull and the occasional soaring shearwater and Fulmar. As we progressed down the coast of Northumberland the sea state increased, and bird sightings became less frequent. This quieter period was reinvigorated by the sight of a beautiful 'Blue' Fulmar. Our first cetacean sighting was a single grey dolphin that crested the top of a big wave, just off the starboard side, which was most likely a Bottlenose Dolphin.
The wind and sea state increased between late morning and early afternoon, which brought more of the same bird species, with a notable increase in Fulmar and the addition of Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Cormorant. Conditions greatly improved towards sunset and we found ourselves cruising towards the Cromer windfarms on a sea state 1 as dusk fell. We ended the survey at 6pm and retired to the ship's mess to summarise what we had seen.
Day 2, northbound
The day started bright with light winds and, following casual sightings of two Egyptian Geese and Black-headed Gull on the quayside, we were on the bridge of the Finlandia at 9am as she left the port of Zeebrugge. The morning's conditions were perfect for survey, with a sea state of 1-2 and no swell. We recorded Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull, followed by many rafting Razorbill, Gannet and Kittiwake - a notable contrast to the previous day, when most birds had been observed in flight. At 9.50am, close to the Bligh Bank Windfarm, Sara spotted our first marine mammal of the day - a Harbour Porpoise off the starboard side, where she also notched up three more by lunch time.
Harbour Seal (Karen Francis)
The afternoon gave us five seal sightings: two Grey Seal, one Harbour Seal and two unidentified. Birds consisted mainly of auks, Kittiwake and juvenile gulls, but the highlight was a spate of divers recorded off the Norfolk coast. This species group was a first for both of us, but with reference book to hand we were able to identify those at close range as Great Northern and Red-throated Diver. Their frantic efforts to become airborne with their huge wings and feet were fascinating to watch.
In late afternoon, the sea state dropped to 0 and we marvelled at the flat North Sea. This coincided with increasingly reduced visibility, as a mist descended over the horizon. There was an almost total absence of birds, except for sporadic ones and twos of rafting Guillemot and Razorbill. The exception was an impressive juvenile Great Black-backed Gull that repeatedly circled the bridge.
Our final cetacean sighting of the survey was a casual one made in the late afternoon by Captain Nagaitis; a quick scramble over to the port side recorded a possible Common Dolphin moving fast alongside the ship.
Sunrise behind the Forth bridges (Karen Francis)
Day 3, Firth of Forth
On Sunday morning the clocks had gone forward and at dawn we were already in the Firth of Forth approaching the bridges. We spent the last part of the journey on deck watching the spectacular sunrise and hoping for a Humpback Whale sighting, as two have recently been seen in the firth. This was a lovely way to end an enjoyable survey and we would like to thank DFDS, Captain Julius Nagaitis and his friendly officers and crew for their hospitality on board the 'Finlandia Seaways'.