MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Finlandia Seaways Rosyth-Zeebrugge 27-29 October 2017

Duncan Fyfe and Peter Crossley surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather: Southbound - fair, winds 4-5. Northbound - wind 5-6 inc. 8 later.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 5
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 28
Eider  Somateria mollissima 4
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 24
Red-throated Diver  Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 10
Gannet  Morus bassanus 566
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 41
Pomarine Skua  Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 12
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Common Gull  Larus canus 8
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 52
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 12
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 31
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 70
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 162
Guillemot  Uria aalge 109
Razorbill  Alca torda 111
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 2
Skua sp.  1
Larus sp.  24
Auk sp.  198

Terrestrial birds
Dunlin Calidris alpina 1
Sanderling Calidris alba 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris   27
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 2
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1
Small wader sp.  2
Thrush sp.  1

It was a pleasure to be able to get out on a  MARINElife survey again after a short time away for parental duties and to do so on one of my favourite routes. I met Pete at Rosyth station and we boarded the ship shortly after it arrived in port around 22:00 which allowed us to get some much needed sleep.

Day 1: South-bound
We started the survey at 07:47 when it was just about light enough by which time we were approximately within sight of the Tyne estuary. The conditions were fair with a steady sea state of 4 to 5 for most of the trip and no rain or fog.

This was a relatively quiet day with no cetacean sightings but a reasonable number of bird sightings to keep us busy. Gannet and Kittiwake were amonsgt the first to be sighted and indeed some of the most numerous on this trip. A Pied Wagtail and migrating thrush were the terrestrial bird interests of the morning.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 11
Bonxie (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

A number of Bonxies were seen, including one feeding on a dead Kittiwake as it came in towards to  bow. Numerous auk species were also seen, either flying away in the distance or into the glare of the sun making a positive identification difficult. Fortunately I did have a positive sighting of 2 Puffin shortly after Pete had gone down for a quick break (how often does that happen?).

As the light faded the sea state started to drop to 2 giving us hope for some even better sightings the next day.

Day2: North-bound
The night crossing was nice and smooth and we awoke in Zeebrugge. After breakfast and a refreshing spell on the outer deck we started the north-bound survey at 08:29, the ship having left port a little earlier than expected. Sadly our smooth overnight crossing didn't translate into a mirror calm return leg with a force 6 being the order for much of the day. The first and only positive Harbour Porpoise sighting was 45 minutes into the survey with 3 animals appearing within 300m of the boat and almost surfing the waves.

Pomarine Skua Peter Howlett 01
Pomarine Skua (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The birds kept us busy with some Common Scoter and Brent Geese sightings early on and some notable flocks of Little Gull. Bird highlight was a Pomarine Skua mid-survey but with lots of Gannet, Razorbill and Guillemot as well we were kept busy the whole trip.

Two further fleeting 'possible' Harbour Porpoise sightings in association with Little Gull and/or Kittiwake feeding added to the total of mammals but these small cetaceans are often hard to spot (but not impossible) in sea conditions above 3 or 4.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 12
Little Gull (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

As we finished the survey just before 18:00 the sea state had got to a steady 8 with the forecast for 9 overnight but the ship was comfortable and despite the banging of the waves it wasn't much of a problem.

Day 3: North-bound
Luckily we managed to fit in almost an hour of survey time before approaching the Forth Road Bridge which meant we started just east of the island of Inchkeithe. Herring and Black-headed Gull added to the species number as did Shag, Red-throated Diver and Eider. A male Grey Seal was also spotted before we completed the survey.

Once again we extend our thanks to DFDS, the Captain and crew of the Finlandia Seaways for making this all possible.