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Dover-Dunkirk 12 November

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals

Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 4


Common Gull Larus canus 1

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 145

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 54

Guillemot Uria aalge 12

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 142

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 34

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 7

Razorbill Alca torda 18

Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1

Diver sp. 2

Larus sp. 845

Gull sp.4


Outbound: sea state 2-3, wind SSW, cloudy with mist on the French coast

Return: sea state 2, wind SSE, foggy at first

Surprisingly calm weather meant a very smooth crossing from Dover to Dunkirk on the DFDS ferry Delft Seaways. With minimal swell and pretty good visibility the spotting was fairly straightforward. It was heartening to see that, despite the ravages of bird flu over the breeding season, there were significant numbers of Gannet of all ages making their way along the Channel flyway. As always, the challenge of aging them as they sped past kept us both busy, especially as they tend to travel in convoys. It’s always lovely when one or two decide to take a break, to ride the airstream over the ship and swoop round and round above our heads – although you do have to remember to only count them the once!

A 3-year-old Gannet (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The Gannets were supplemented by some lovely sightings of Razorbill and Guillemot, both species in their winter plumage Always eye catching in their flight with a strong fluttering wingbeat and low trajectory over the water.

No cetaceans were seen on this survey, but we were lucky enough to see four Harbour Seals. The one thing it was heartening not to see was any flotsam, only one large piece of plastic detritus in the water for the whole trip – a definite improvement on previous journeys.

Dover-Dunkirk Harbour Seal sightings

On the return trip the captain and his officers did a sterling job manoeuvring us out of Dunkirk harbour. The fog which had been drifting in meant it was almost impossible to see the breakwaters as we left. With the foghorn blaring we made our way out into a cotton wool world. Five kilometres from the French coast we were rewarded with sunlight and were able to resume the survey with a beautiful bronze disk of a sun, burning its way through the clouds and casting a ripple of light across the sea towards us. As you would expect from the trip, we also saw many gulls in their winter plumage and a variety of juvenile birds, their plumage challenging at times.

1st year Lesser Black-backed Gull (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The sunset, an hour later, was spectacular but unfortunately meant any passing birdlife was cast in silhouette. So, regrettably we had to pack up for the day.

Thank you, as always to Captain Maciej Szymanski, his officers, staff and crew for looking after us. The Captain and Officers on the bridge made us feel welcome and the catering staff fed us royally. Thank you so much for allowing MARINElife access to sailings to collect bird and cetacean data. We could not do it without you.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Julie Ackroyd, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

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