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Dover-Dunkirk survey 27 April

Reporting to the information desk aboard the Delft Seaways we received the usual friendly welcome and were quickly shown to the bridge, where we were greeted by Captain Ryan Booth and the bridge crew. Once they had manoeuvred the ship away from its berth and out of the harbour, we took up position and the survey began. One of us took the first set of readings, including ship’s position, speed and bearing, sea and weather conditions, while the other started recording birds and looking out for seals and cetaceans. Conditions appeared fair for spotting marine mammals, with no appreciable swell and small waves with few whitecaps.

Sandwich Tern (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The survey was notable for the number of terns we encountered, with Sandwich Tern the most numerous and both Arctic Tern and Common Tern also recorded. Kittiwake was by far the most numerous of the gull species, most of them adults in their smart breeding plumage.

Gannets were seen throughout the crossings of the Channel, with fewer near the French coast. We saw a fair number of young birds, including the full range of immature plumages, which enabled us to practice differentiating between them, and may perhaps be a positive sign following the ravages of bird flu. Auks were seen just once; a group of three Guillemots on the water shortly after leaving Dover.

An hour into the outward crossing, with the French coast in sight, we were treated to a quick succession of Harbour Porpoise sightings. First, three animals together followed by two sightings of single animals, all within the space of ten minutes.

Harbour Porpoise (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

This was followed by a succession of sightings of less commonly seen bird species. A lone Little Gull was spotted in front of the ship, fluttering just above the sea as it paddled the surface with its feet, resplendent in its breeding plumage. Then a skua was observed at distance; too great a distance to be certain of species but we considered it something other than Great Skua. Ten minutes later, a flock of 50 dark ducks flew rapidly by, low to the water - always a pleasure to encounter Common Scoter out at sea.

After a swift turn around in Dunkirk, we set sail once more for the return voyage. A second flock of Common Scoter flew by shortly after departure, this time numbering 40 birds. Kittiwakes and terns again predominated throughout the crossing, joined by Gannets around midway.

Arctic Skua (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The highlight of the return leg was certainly the Arctic Skua we observed sitting on the water close to the ship around mid-Channel, allowing good views as it took flight and moved away from our vessel.

We wish to thank Captain Booth and the officers and crew of the Delft Seaways for their welcome, their hospitality and for allowing us to conduct our survey aboard their vessel.

Pat Hatch and Ptolemy McKinnon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Outbound: wind NE, sea state 2-3, good visibility with moderate to heavy cloud cover, light rain nearing Dunkirk

Return: wind NE, sea state 2-3, moderate to good visibility with heavy cloud cover


Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5



Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 4

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 101

Common Tern Sterna hirundo 4

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 36

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4

Guillemot Uria aalge 3

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 10

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 110

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 15

Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1

Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 78

Skua sp. 1

Gull sp. 1

Larus sp. 36

Tern sp. 21

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