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Dover-Dunkirk survey report 23 September

After the blazing hot first week in September followed by unsettled stormy weather, it was lovely to drive down to Dover port under clear skies and moderate winds to begin our survey.

After completing formalities, we boarded the DFDS ferry Dunkerque Seaways and were taken to the bridge to begin our work.

Whilst waiting to set sail we were able to watch 500 large gulls just outside the harbour entrance taking advantage of the food that was being churned up by the various ferries entering and exiting the harbour, the majority of these being Herring Gull both adult and juvenile together with Great Black-backed Gull.

Sightings were slow, the main birds encountered were Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull and a solitary Guillemot. Some of the Gannet had been born this year which was encouraging.

Half an hour out of Dover we started to encounter cuttlefish bones floating on the sea and also rafts of Thongweed (a seaweed with a spaghetti like appearance that floats on the surface of the sea once dislodged by storms) This weed can often be seen with small fish sheltering underneath it. At one point we spotted an edible crab using the seaweed as a pontoon.

Sandwich Tern (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Halfway across the Channel we encountered a Great Skua closely followed by a Fulmar. As we neared the French coast, we started to see Sandwich Terns in small numbers heading out to sea to feed. Whether they were remnants of the breeding colony or birds migrating to their winter quarters was unknown. In either case the birds had reverted to their non-breeding plumage with their black cap of summer receding.

Whilst watching the terns we were able to see several people enjoying the weather participating in a sand yachting competition. We watched European Shag whilst entering the harbour then, having completed our outbound survey, we returned to the mess and awaited the return trip.

Razorbill (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Returning to the UK bird sightings were fewer with only six species seen. Gannet and Great Black-backed Gull were the main species but as we neared Dover we saw 3 Razorbill now in winter plumage fly past the bow of the ship.

Sadly, no marine mammals were seen on this survey.

We left the bridge as we neared the harbour arm. Our thanks go to DFDS Dunkerque Seaways master Russell Smith, his officers and crew for being so welcoming and enabling our survey to be completed.

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


Outbound – wind WSW-SW 3-6, good visibility, dry with glare at times

Return – similar conditions, wind WSW-SW force 6.


Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 29

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 29

Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1

Guillemot Uria aalge 1

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1

Razorbill Alca torda 3

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 23

Scoter Sp. Melanitta sp. 3

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3

Auk sp. 2

Large gull sp. 500

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