Dover-Calais survey 18 March DFDS 'Cotes des Flandres'
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Gannet Morus bassanus 55
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 19
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Gull sp. 3
Auk sp. 3
Outbound: cloudy with occasional rain, wind SW backing SSW force 5-4, sea state 4-3
Return: improving visibility, less cloudy with occasional glare, wind SW force 5, sea state 2-3
A weather front was moving eastwards along the south coast, and it was raining as Andy and I headed down the motorway to Dover. By the time we arrived at the port, the front had passed, and the continual rain gave way to intermittent showers. The low cloud meant that the French coast was hidden from view. Once on the ship, we headed to the information desk, introduced ourselves, completed formalities and arranged with them to head up to the bridge to survey.
We started our survey once we left Dover harbour. Bird sightings were slow, comprising of Gannet, Kittiwake, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Guillemot, a solitary Mediterranean Gull, and a handful of Cormorant. Several of these were in breeding plumage with white heads and bold white thigh patch contrasting from to mainly black winter plumage.
With less than five miles to the Calais outer breakwater and a mile offshore, we encountered our only cetacean of the survey, a brief glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise near the bow of the ship, trying to evade the vessel as it headed to the harbour.
When traveling between Dover and France the Dover Coastguard alerts all vessels in the area to be on the lookout for large animals and vessels in distress in the Dover Strait. Today there was an alert about an eight-metre vessel with fifty people onboard, whereabouts unknown.
Whilst moored in Calais we watched four Harbour Seal hauled out on the beach next to the mooring jetty. A further two Harbour Seal could be seen on a sandbank to the north of the port. In addition there was evidence of bird migration with a flock of four hundred Starling flying east over the vessel heading to their breeding grounds in Europe.
Loaded with England-bound freight and passengers, we left Calais and headed towards Dover. Again, bird sightings were slow but a few more auks were seen, including a small group of three Puffin heading north, their distinctive bills making identification of these small birds possible at a distance.
We left the bridge as we passed the Dover outer breakwater.
We would like to thank the Captain, Officers and crew of the Cote des Flandres for their help in making our survey possible and enjoyable. Also my thanks go to the shore staff for their kind and courteous manner towards MARINElife.
Carol Farmer-Wright and Andy Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)