Dover-Calais 3 December 2022
Summary of sightings:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 26
Gannet Morus bassanus 908
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 42
Guillemot Uria aalge 30
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 1073
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 27
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 103
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 6
Outward - easterly force 4-5, visibility moderate
Return - easterly force 4-6, visibility moderate
Upon boarding the DFDS ferry Cote des Flandres, we were quickly shown to the bridge, where we were welcomed by the Captain and crew. Sea conditions appeared favourable, although visibility was only moderate. The cloudy conditions at least meant that glare would not be a problem.
On leaving Dover harbour, we observed Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls at first, followed by Cormorant and Guillemot. Around 15 minutes into the survey three Harbour Porpoise were spotted and the first Gannet after a further five minutes. The sighting of Kittiwake pushed the gull count to four species.
A lone Grey Seal put in an appearance mid-crossing and soon afterwards, we came across hundreds of Gannet resting on the sea - we had likely just missed out on a feeding frenzy, or the passage of a fishing boat. There were regular sightings of Gannet and gulls as we approached the coast of France, though the highlight was a fly-past by a Red-throated Diver.
A brief pause in Calais allowed time for some close observation of the gulls flying around the harbour and some useful revision of their various winter and immature plumages while the ferry was swiftly unloaded and loaded up again. Six Harbour Seal were observed on the nearby beach, some adopting their classic “banana” pose.
The conditions remained stable throughout the return leg. Soon after leaving Calais, three separate sightings of Harbour Seal at sea were recorded, with a Grey Seal almost ten minutes later, followed by Harbour Porpoise after a further ten minutes. Half an hour into the crossing a fishing vessel crossed in front of us heading north, blanketed by birds, including hundreds of Gannet and different gull species. Some of the Gannet were diving, although most were on the sea.
Overall the general pattern of seabird distribution to that of the outward trip was repeated, with gulls giving way to Gannet and Kittiwake then back to other gulls as we neared Dover.
Thanks to DFDS, the Captain, bridge officers and other crew for their hospitality.
Stephen Hedley and Barny Hobbs, Research surveyors for MARINElife (registered charity no.: 1110884, reg. company no.: 5057367)