MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS ‘Finlandia Seaways’ Rosyth-Zeebrugge 23-25 February 2018

David Doxford and Mike Duckett, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather: Outward we had wind force 3-4, slight sea and visibility of 10km+. The wind increased overnight to force 5-6 with a moderate to rough sea and visibility of 8-10km. There were occasional light showers going south but no precipitation on the return leg.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 2
Unidentified dolphin sp.  4
Unidentified seal sp.  1

Seabirds
Eider  Somateria mollissima 10
Goldeneye  Bucephala clangula 4
Great Northern Diver  Gavia immer 16
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 20
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 3
Balearic Shearwater  Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Gannet  Morus bassanus 205
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 13
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Long-tailed Skua  Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 170
Common Gull  Larus canus 50
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 5
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 31
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 89
Guillemot  Uria aalge 191
Razorbill  Alca torda 79
Auk sp.  105
Larus sp.  28
Skua sp.  1
Gull sp.  56

Terrestrial Birds
Goosander  Mergus merganser 10
Shelduck  Tadorna tadorna 1
Wigeon  Anas penelope 2
Golden Plover  Pluvialis apricaria 26
Carrion Crow  Corvus corone 1

Mike and I boarded the ship in Rosyth at 10pm on the 22nd.  After a quick tour we took to our cabins.  The vessel sailed at 4am as we slept on. Due to the time of year we were limited by daylight to a surveying window of 7:15am to 5:15pm. We surveyed from the Farnes to the Norfolk coast on the way south and then from Zeebrugge to the Norfolk coast on the way north. On the final day we were on the bridge for daybreak as the ship steamed up the Firth of Forth and returned to Rosyth.

Observing conditions were excellent heading south although we had some glare off the port side.  Our recording commenced with lots of auks around the Farnes. Around an hour after starting the survey, Mike noticed splashes around the bow of a fishing vessel off our port bow - we were just able to see the silhouettes of four dolphins bow-riding before the boat changed course.  These were likely to be Bottlenose Dolphin.

GN Diver Peter Howlett 02
Great Northern Diver (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Sightings fell away for a while although we had a Long-tailed Skua fly directly over the bridge while we were off the North Yorkshire coast. This was a first for both Mike and I and prompted considerable discussion before we arrived at an identification. We also sighted both Manx and Balearic Shearwater. Bird numbers picked up off Bempton Cliffs and then fell away again until we reached Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm. This impressive windfarm was the centre of feeding activity by auks and Gannets.

As dusk fell we came "off effort" and headed below to enter data and relax. Overnight the wind picked up and leaving Zeebrugge next morning we had a more typical February sea state. Just offshore we had a frantic period with Golden Plover and Goldeneye flitting past, a seal sighting, a large assemblage of Common Gull and multitudes of auks, Gannet and Kittiwake around the serried rows of wind turbines. It was noticeable that each group of auks had a Kittiwake 'minder' tagging along. Twice on the way north Mike observed the quick flash of a disappearing Harbour Porpoise.  They both followed their species stereotype and did a rapid vanishing act.

The most notable sightings on day two were a collection of Great Northern Diver off the Norfolk
coast. Great to see! Overall the bird count was higher in the southern North Sea.

Mike surveying David Doxford 01
Mike Duckett recording sightings (David Doxford)

As the light faded we ended our survey and the ship progressed northwards through the gloom.  Dawn on day three found us already on the bridge as the Finlandia Seaways passed North Berwick on the way into the Firth of Forth. Three Humpback Whale had been frequenting the Forth and we were keen for a sighting.  Although this wasn't to be we observed four more Great Northern Diver and some Goosander instead.

As we slipped under the new Forth bridge we concluded out survey. We thanked Captain Andrej Oresko and his crew for their hospitality on a very enjoyable survey.