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Dover-Dunkirk survey 26 February DFDS 'Dunkerque Seaways'

Summary of sightings:


Common Gull Larus canus 7

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 148

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7

Guillemot Uria aalge 231

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 56

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 107

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2

Razorbill Alca torda 1

Auk sp. 60

Gull sp. 50

Larus sp. 32

The last survey we completed on this route was in January 2020, so many things have changed since then! We've left the EU, been isolated by COVID and researchers haven't been able to go out and survey owing to travel restrictions.

In the previous week the jet stream had brought over three winter storms, so it was delightful to drive down to Dover in bright sunshine to join the Dunkerque Seaways for a round trip to France. Formalities were completed at the port and I found an area on the starboard side of the outside deck where I could commence the survey. The journey to Dunkirk would take around 2 hours.

Guillemot (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Leaving the shelter of the harbour I started to record Kittiwake, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Guillemot. Twenty minutes into the survey I recorded my first Gannet. Three birds were circling and diving into the water for food. The same five species were recorded throughout the survey. As we neared the French coast we encountered a large raft of over 100 auks resting on the water. Most of these birds appeared to be Guillemot, there may have been a few Razorbill amongst them but the sun's glare made identification difficult. The vessel arrived at Dunkirk shortly afterwards.

Travelling back to England I was looking north away from the French coast. There are several sandbanks west of Dunkirk which are a good feeding area for birds, sure enough, small groups of Kittiwake, Gannet and Guillemot were encountered feeding there. I could see new birds flying in to join these groups as we headed offshore towards the main shipping lane.

Aggregations of birds: red=feeding, green=resting

The sun had almost set by the time we returned to Dover and I returned to my car to head back home. Despite not being able to see any cetaceans or pinnipeds on this survey, it was encouraging to see so many birds feeding in the waters between England and France.

I wish to thank DFDS for allowing us to return to their vessels enabling us to survey across the English Channel once again.

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

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