Dover-Dunkirk survey 25 February
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Unidentified Seal sp. 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 37
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 16
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 34
Gannet Morus bassanus 113
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 142
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 28
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 60
Auk sp. 136
Gull sp. 209
Larus Gull sp. 14
Outbound: wind NNE 6-8, sea state 4-6, scattered cloud with occ. rain, visibility very good, some glare at times.
Return: wind NE 6-8, sea state 4-5, scattered cloud, visibility very good, significant glare.
It was a joy to be out surveying again, our first time as a team since the COVID-19 pandemic. After the usual efficient departure from Dover, we started the survey from the bridge with high expectations – these were soon rewarded, but not in the way we expected.
On leaving the harbour at Dover we were almost immediately greeted by the sight of divers flying east – we had hoped for these given the season, however the numbers were stunning. Initially, we noticed one distant Red-throated Diver in flight and were enjoying this when we noticed another, and then another…..
Scanning soon revealed this was a scattered flock of 34 Red-throated Divers all flying east. This was already more Red-throated Diver than we have ever seen in a single survey, but it soon turned out that this was not a one-off as further small groups and flocks followed, for a total of 60 Red-throated Diver all moving eastward.
Gulls and auk were scattered everywhere we looked and they seemed to be searching for food. Full of hope, we scanned looking for cetaceans but got distracted by a Great Skua that flew in towards the feeding Kittiwake – happily, however, this proved a very helpful skua as it landed amidst the kittiwake, and whilst we were watching this a Harbour Porpoise popped up right behind it!
The bird activity continued, at times with so much happening over such a wide area that it was quite a job to try to keep up. Fulmars proved unexpectedly numerous, even appearing in small flocks at times, though they seemed to be always trying to confuse us by constant circling. Everywhere we looked appeared to be birds searching for food, feeding or heading over to join other areas of activity.
We strongly suspect there must have been more cetaceans present, but sadly with north-easterly winds of unexpectedly high strength (compared to the forecast) the waves were quite significant, making spotting hard. I managed to spot a single seal, however this was the only other marine mammal that we saw.
After stopping in Dunkirk our return was relatively quieter, with activity again concentrated more on the English side of the channel. Species were similar to the outbound leg and again feeding activity was significant.
The highlight was one of the “might have been” moments where we passed close to a feeding frenzy of Kittiwake, Gannet and auks. We estimated at least 50 auks, 50 Kittiwake and 10 Gannet were feeding together, but try as we might we could not spot any cetaceans with them.
Our thanks to the Captain and the crew of Delft Seaways for making us welcome and looking after us throughout the survey.
Helen Swift and Tom Forster, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)