MARINElife Survey Report: ‘Enforcer’ Tilbury-Helsingborg-Gdynia 9th -16th April 201l

Sightings Archive

2019

Graham Ekins; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather conditions: throughout the survey the wind was from the NE to East with good visibility and winds force 2 to 4 with temperatures close to freezing and in the Baltic regular snow showers. A maximum temperature of 12C was achieved on the 16th April in the southern North Sea.

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal                             Halichoerus grypus 31
Harbour Porpoise                  Phocoena phocoena 22
Harbour Seal                        Phoca vitulina 15
Minke Whale                         Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
White-beaked Dolphin            Lagenorhynchus albirostris 5

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver                 Gavia stellata 12
Black-throated Diver               Gavia artica 6
Great Crested Grebe               Podiceps cristatus 4
Little Grebe                            Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Guillemot                               Uria aalge 177
Razorbill                                Alca torda 31
Puffin                                    Fratercula arctica 7
Artic Skua                             Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Gannet                                  Morus bassanus 259
Fulmar                                  Fulmarus glacialis 18
Common Tern                        Sterna hirundo 67
Sandwich Tern                       Sterna sandvicensis 227
Arctic Tern                             Sterna paradisea 72
Mute Swan                             Cygnus olor 72
Whooper Swan                       Cygnus cygnus 2
Cormorant                             Phalacrocorax carbo 298
Shag                                     Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Goosander                             Mergus merganser 12
Red-breasted Merganser         Mergus serrator 33
Coot                                      Fulica atra 42
Eider                                     Somateria molissima 55
Shelduck                               Tadorna tadorna 12
Long-tailed Duck                    Clangula hyemalis 1991
Scaup                                   Aythya marila 5
Tufted Duck                           Aythya fuligula 13
Gadwall                                 Anas strepera 20
Mallard                                  Anas platyrhnchos 186
Velvet Scoter                         Melanitta fusca 23
Common Scoter                     Melanitta nigra 10,233
Greylag Goose                       Anser anser 90
White-fronted Goose              Anser albifrons 6
Taiga Bean Goose                  Anser fabalis 25
Dark-bellied Brent Goose        Branta bernicla bernicla 42
Barnacle Goose                      Branta leucopsis 3055
Canada Goose                        Branta canadensis 16
Egyptian Goose                      Alopochen aegyptiaca 5
Herring Gull                           Larus argentatus 2109
Lesser Black-backed Gull         Larus fuscus intermedius/graelsii 122
Baltic Gull                              Larus fuscus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull          Larus marinus 127
Mediterranean Gull                 Larus melanocephalus 2
Black-headed Gull                  Larus ridibundus 629
Common Gull                         Larus canus 743
Kittiwake                               Rissa tridactyla 562
Little Gull                               Hydrocoloeus minutus 587

Terrestrial Birds recorded on or around ship
Common Crane                      Grus grus 2
Grey Heron                            Aedra cinerea 11
White Stork                            Ciconia ciconia 1
Oystercatcher                         Hemotopus ostralegus 9
Lapwing                                 Vanellus vanellus 20
Dunlin                                    Calidris alpina 12
Knot                                       Calidris canutus 35
Curlew                                    Numenius arquata 3
Bar-tailed Godwit                     Limosa lapponica 7
Black-tailed Godwit                  Limosa limosa 7
Brambling                               Fringilla montifringilla 12
Red Kite                                 Milvus milvus 13
Marsh Harrier                          Circus aeruginosus 1
Northern Goshawk                   Accipiter gentilis 4
Sparrowhawk                          Accipiter nisus 7
Buzzard                                  Buteo buteo 10
Eurasian Hobby                       Falco subbuteo 1
Peregrine                                Falco peregrinus 1
Rook                                      Corvus frugilegus 100
Carrion Crow                           Corvus corone 22
Raven                                    Corvus corax 4
Jackdaw                                 Corvus monedula 13
Jay                                        Garrulus glandarius 1
Kingfisher                              Alcedo atthis 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker      Dendrocopus major 1
Stock Dove                            Columba oenas 2
Collared Dove                         Streptopelia decaocto 3
Woodpigeon                           Columba palumbus 18
Skylark                                  Alauda arvensis 2
Meadow Pipit                           Anthus pratensis 14
Rock Pipit                                Anthus petrosus 1
Redpoll:sp                               Carduelis cabaret/flammea 12
Snow Bunting                          Plectrophenax nivalis 3
Reed Bunting                           Emberiza schoeniclus 2
Corn Bunting                           Emberiza calandra 2
Siskin                                     Carduelis spinus 5
Linnet                                     Carduelis cannabina 2
Chaffinch                                Fringilla coelobs 35
Hawfinch                                Coccothraustes cocchthraustes 2
Crossbill                                 Loxia curvirostra 4
Greenfinch                              Chloris chloris 3
Starling                                  Sturnus vulgaris 18
Great Tit                                 Parus major 2
Song Thrush                           Turdus philomelos 3
Fieldfare                                 Turdus pilaris 20
Redwing                                 Turdus iliacus 5
White Wagtail                         Motacilla alba alba 24
Swallow                                 Hirundo rustica 31
Sand Martin                            Riparia riparia 3
Robin                                     Erithacus rubecula 2
Goldcrest                               Regulus regulus 1
Sedge Warbler                       Acrocephalus schoenobaneus 2
Whitethroat                           Sylvia communis 1
Blackcap                               Sylvia atricapilla 2
Lesser Whitethroat                 Sylvia  curruca 1
Willow Warbler                       Phylloscopus trochilus 5
Chiffchaff                               Phylloscus collybita 1

Bird species recorded in Kiel Canal
Great Crested Grebe                 Podiceps cristatus 4
Little Grebe                              Tachybaptus ruficollis 2
Common Crane                        Grus grus 2
Grey Heron                              Aedra cinerea 10
White Stork                             Ciconia ciconia 1
Mute Swan                              Cygnus olor 70
Whooper Swan                        Cygnus cygnus 2
Cormorant                              Phalacrocorax carbo 156
Goosander                              Mergus merganser 12
Red-breasted Merganser           Mergus serrator 33
Coot                                       Fulica atra 42
Shelduck                                Tadorna tadorna 12
Tufted Duck                             Aythya fuligula 13
Gadwall                                   Anas strepera 20
Mallard                                    Anas platyrhnchos 169
Greylag Goose                         Anser anser 90
White-fronted Goose                Anser albifrons 6
Taiga Bean Goose                    Anser fabalis 25
Canada Goose                         Branta canadensis 16
Egyptian Goose                       Alopochen aegyptiaca 5
Oystercatcher                          Haemotopus ostralegus 4
Lapwing                                  Vanellus vanellus 20
Herring Gull                            Larus argentatus 201
Lesser Black-backed Gull         Larus fuscus intermedius/graelsii 35
Great Black-backed Gull           Larus marinus 122
Black-headed Gull                    Larus ridibundus 184
Common Gull                          Larus canus 395
Brambling                               Fringilla montifringilla 7
Red Kite                                  Milvus milvus 13
Marsh Harrier                           Circus aeruginosus 1
Northern Goshawk                    Accipiter gentilis 4
Sparrowhawk                           Accipiter nisus 6
Buzzard                                   Buteo buteo 10
Eurasian Hobby                        Falco subbuteo 1
Rook                                       Corvus frugilegus 100
Carrion Crow                            Corvus corone 17
Raven                                      Corvus corax 4
Jackdaw                                   Corvus monedula 13
Jay                                          Garrulus glandarius 1
Kingfisher                                Alcedo atthis 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker       Dendrocopus major 1
Stock Dove                             Columba oenas 2
Collared Dove                          Streptopelia decaocto 3
Woodpigeon                            Columba palumbus 7
Skylark                                   Alauda arvensis 2
Redpoll:sp                               Carduelis:sp 12
Reed Bunting                           Emberiza schoeniclus 2
Corn Bunting                           Emberiza calandra 2
Chaffinch                                Fringilla coelobs 28
Hawfinch                                Coccothraustes cocchthraustes 2
Crossbill                                 Loxia curvirostra 4
Greenfinch                             Chloris chloris 2
Starling                                  Sturnus vulgaris 6
Great Tit                                Parus major 2
Fieldfare                                Turdus pilaris 20
Redwing                                Turdus iliacus 5
White Wagtail                        Motacilla alba alba 18
Swallow                                Hirundo rustica 31
Sand Martin                           Riparia riparia 3

I was delighted to be on this inaugural MARINElife survey from Tilbury to Helsingborg, Sweden and Gdynia, Poland on J.R Shipping M.V. Enforcer. Tim Harvard, Ships Agency Manager had kindly organised my parking at the John Good Logistics Centre and my early evening lift to Tilbury dock. I was met by Captain Martien Al who introduced me to the ships' officers over a very enjoyable meal. I was then shown to my well-appointed cabin where I unpacked and sorted out all the items I would need to start surveying the following morning.

We left the berth at Tilbury at 06.00 and by the time we passed Foulness Island heading east had logged a Harbour Porpoise that surfaced just off the starboard side as well as 2 immature Mediterranean Gull, a flock of Black-tailed Godwit and several pairs of Oystercatcher plus large numbers of Black-headed and Herring Gull.  Further east I had great views of the striking looking WW II Maunsell Forts which were abandoned by the MoD several decades ago.

WW2 Forts Graham Ekins

Forts (Graham Ekins)

As we travelled east off the Kent coast we passed a massive sandbank with a delightful group of both adult and young Grey Seal clearly visible.

Grey Seal Graham Ekins 03

Grey Seals (Graham Ekins)

From here to North Foreland a steady stream of adult Common Gull passed the ship heading North. It is likely that these are Baltic breeders that have wintered in the southern UK and NW France.

As we continued east a steady passaged of adult Gannet heading north was logged as well as increasing numbers of primarily adult Kittiwakes, some fishing but the majority heading east or south.

This continued as we changed the heading towards NW Holland. For the next 8 hours a fascinating variety of species were logged including another Harbour Porpoise mid-way between the UK and Holland.  By now the numbers of Kittiwake and Gannet recorded was decreasing while the numbers of Auks was increasing. The Razorbill were all in summer plumage while many of the Guillemot were winter plumaged birds. I was delighted to also find several Puffin, all in summer plumage and all heading rapidly north.

As we continued north east, the numbers of Little Gull massively increased with many quite large flocks either feeding or heading rapidly north east.

Little Gull Graham Ekins 01

Little Gull (Graham Ekins)

Later they were replaced by increasing numbers of Arctic and Sandwich Tern as well as a dark phase Arctic Skua attacking a small group of terns.  As dusk approached I left the bridge to write the blog and start to enter data.

The following morning we were 40kms off the west coast of north west of Denmark with overcast skies and light winds. The conditions were ideal for finding Cetaceans and luck was with me as within the hour, a Minke Whale showed on the port side. 30 minutes later a large flock of Gannet attracted my attention to a pod of 5 fishing White-beaked Dolphin that showed well but briefly as the boat approached their location. During the rest of the morning I had 2 small groups of feeding Harbour Porpoises each with attending seabirds.

WB Dolphin Graham Ekins 04

White-beaked Dolphin (Graham Ekins)

Land birds were limited to 3 very special birds that were totally unexpected; Snow Buntings that overtook the ship heading north towards southern Norway. The seabirds logged were primarily Gannet with some Guillemot and one Puffin as well as 2 Velvet Scoter amongst a small group of Common Scoter. However, this was to be eclipsed when we reached corner of Denmark where a large sandy bay which included Tannis Bight and offshore Skegbank held vast numbers of primarily Common Scoter.

Common Scoter Graham Ekins 02

Common Scoter (Graham Ekins)

The loose flock extended in the southern half of the bay for 3kms and I estimated 10,000 birds within the 2km survey limit but even more eastwards towards the coast. At one point they were disturbed and large numbers flew past the ship.

As we started to turn east around the most northerly Danish headland we were met by hundreds of gulls associating with the many small fishing boats. This consisted primarily of Adult Common Gulls, Great Black-backed and hundreds of Herring Gulls both adults and immatures. It certainly kept me busy recording. The beautiful sunset over northern Denmark was the trigger for me to close down recording for the day.

Overnight we had docked in Helsingborg Harbour and I awoke to a heavy snow shower.  By mid-morning the weather had improved and I made arrangements to visit the Botaniska Tradgarden, part of the Fredriskdals Museer. This superb area is preserving a cross section of classic Swedish habitats including Alder Carr, boggy marshland as well as Birch and Beech forest. The ground was covered in wild woodland flowers.

It was however cold and the only migrant arrivals were Chiffchaff. It was also great to see that Fieldfares had returned in good numbers while the superb Hooded Crow were remarkably tame as were the beautiful little Red Squirrel.

Fieldfare Graham Ekins 01

Fieldfare (Graham Ekins)

We left harbour late afternoon and as we headed south I logged a Red-breasted Merganser and a steady stream of Eider and Common Scoter heading north.

As we approached the remarkable Copenhagen to Malmo bridge that joins Denmark and Sweden we disturbed a flock of 20 mainly drake Velvet Scoter roosting on the open water. We also had a steady stream of adult Common and Black-headed Gull heading north.

Once passed the bridge the cloud thickened and the light began to fail.  I finished recording after what had been a varied and very interesting and enjoyable day.

Denmark Sweden Bridge Graham Ekins

Denmark to Sweden Bridge (Graham Ekins)

Saturday morning we were travelling east in the Baltic just north of the coast of Poland.  Initially the wind was light and the overcast skies made it ideal conditions for finding cetaceans. Then at 06.30 a Harbour Porpoise surfaced close to me on the starboard side. This was my first Baltic cetacean.

As we continued east I logged increasing numbers of Long-tailed Duck, eventually the total reached a staggering 1,100. This gives some idea of the importance in spring of the Polish Baltic coast for this species.

LT Duck Graham Ekins 01

Long-tailed Duck (Graham Ekins)

Accompanying them were a few Scaup and Common Scoter. It seemed strange not to see Gannet or Kittiwake but the occasional Black-throated and Red-throated Diver were some compensation. By the time we turned south to Gdynia I was starting to see both Guillemot and Razorbill as well as 2 dainty adult summer 'Baltic' Lesser Black-backed Gull that passed the ship heading north. A few miles north of Gdynia I found small flocks of feeding Little Gull as well a small flock of Arctic Tern heading rapidly east. The dock was alive with Herring, Common and Black-headed Gull, the latter the first of the day.

 

Early evening I spent at the superb Tropical Aquarium where they have amazing displays of many Amazonian fish species. It is very well displayed with notes in Polish and English. I also stopped at Kepa Redlowska, a small reserve on the south of the city but it was very quiet as the evening temperature was close to freezing. I returned to the ship and had a very enjoyable evening meal before completing the log and entering data.

Sunday morning dawned clear and frosty. We were delighted to hear that the Gdynia engineers had replaced a hydraulic piston and we could soon leave the port.  We soon headed out North and almost immediately was picking up small flocks of adult Little, Common, Black-headed and Herring Gulls all purposely heading east. This passage continued for the next 2 hours.  I also had 2 adult summer Baltic Gull cross the bows heading North, amazing to think that these birds winter in East Africa as far south as Durban and breed far to the North in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Baltic Gull Graham Ekins 01

Baltic Gull (Graham Ekins)

Late morning I started to record Long-tailed Duck and within 2 hours had logged another 900. The numbers of sea ducks rapidly decreased the further west we went but I still kept recording mainly Common Gull. For the rest of the day the numbers of birds recorded continued to decrease but I did get brief visits from White Wagtail, Brambling and Meadow Pipit. Although I tried hard I could not find any Harbour Porpoise, the only Cetacean likely to be seen in these waters.

White Wagtail Graham Ekins 01

White Wagtail (Graham Ekins)

By 10.00 Monday morning we reached the entrance lock of the Kiel Canal. On the way we had a steady stream of Common Scoter pass the ship and several sightings of Black-throated Divers. The winds were lighter and so land birds were more in evidence with White Wagtails, Linnets, Bramblings and a Sparrowhawk all heading North. As we approached Kiel an immature White-tailed Sea Eagle powered its way eastwards, an impressive site but sadly outside the 2km recording zone.

By late morning we had entered the huge canal that runs for over 90 kms to the Elbe Estuary and then the North Sea.  This would save half a day travelling via the conventional North Denmark route.

Kiel Canal Graham Ekins 01

Kiel Canal (Graham Ekins)

The canal passed through some fabulous scenery and past many majestic houses in their own grounds. The wildlife was exceptional with many sightings of Roe Deer in the vast woodland edged grass fields. With the warmer weather Goshawks, Buzzard and Red Kite were very much in evidence, may displaying.  We also had increasing numbers of Swallow and the occasional sand Martin heading steadily North.

Accompanying them was a continuous stream of adult summer Cormorant, Herring and Common Gull that seemed to be using the canal as a route north. By mid-afternoon we were in more open country where some of the fields had pools and narrow ditches. This was superb for birds with Common Crane, Taiga Bean Geese and Whitefront present. I also had my one and only White Stork feeding in one of the ditches.

We reached the final lock early evening and as we travelled down the Elbe to the open sea I had the delightful spectacle of 3,000 Barnacle Geese flying parallel with the ship.  A little later on a small group of Common Seal were spotted on a sandbank and towards dusk a Harbour Porpoise appeared close to the Starboard side of the ship. The end of a marvellous day and one I will long remember.

Kiel Canal Graham Ekins 02

Final Lock (Graham Ekins)

This last morning at dawn we were off the coast of the Frisian Islands with a stiff breeze. A steady passage east of Common Gull, Sandwich and Arctic Tern was occurring while increasing numbers of Little Gull were either flying east or north. It was also great to record Harbour Porpoise close to the ship, some were feeding with associated Gannet or gulls. The numbers of passerine birds continued to increase, especially as the wind dropped and light cloud developed.

Most were warblers of 6 species that stayed for a while before towering up and away.  Others included White wagtail, Song Thrush, Robin and a very active Goldcrest.  One of the Blackcaps stayed until Tilbury feeding on a vast arrival of Diptera that occurred mid-North Sea.

As we continued to head SW we passed increasing numbers of Guillemot and Razorbill, many in full summer plumage. I was also delighted to see both Black-throated and Red-throated Divers also in summer plumage. As we neared the Thames Estuary the numbers of seabirds decreased considerably and only increased as roosting gulls passed us heading east as we neared the dock at Tilbury.

BT Diver Graham Ekins 01

Black-throated Diver (Graham Ekins)

I then closed down the recording for the last time, thanked Captain Martyn Li and his officers for their incredible hospitality and the cook for his superb food of great variety.

Enforcer Graham Ekins

Graham Surveying (Graham Ekins)

I would also like to thank J.R Shipping for allowing MARINElife to survey from their ships on this incredible route.

Graham Ekins, Research Surveyors for MARINElife