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Felixstowe-Vlaardingen survey 6 February

This was to be the first survey on this route for 2024. I travelled down to Felixstowe to join the Magnolia Seaways on Monday evening. Whilst listening to the radio on the 5th February I heard that the Greenwich time signal, the pips, had started being broadcast 100 years ago to the day.

I completed the formalities at Felixstowe port, obtained my ticket from the Booking office at Dooley terminal and awaited transportation to the ship. Once on board, I met the stewardess and was able to go to my cabin and settle down for the night.

Harbour Porpoise (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

By the time I arrived on the bridge the following day the ship was 25 miles from the Dutch Coast. I was welcomed by the officer on watch and was later greeted by Captain Torben Sekjaer. Bird identification was somewhat difficult, as fog was muting the colours around us. Initially, as we approached the coast, Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull were seen in small numbers together with a couple of Kittiwake and a small group of Razorbill. Less than three miles off the Nieuwe Maas Waterweg river entrance I was able to record two Harbour Porpoise. The first appeared as a short dark line in the water that finally revealed its full body, the second, a minute later, showed just its dorsal fin.

We have been recording terrestrial birds in addition to seabirds along the 15 mile stretch between the North Sea and Vlaardingen since we started researching in partnership with DFDS on this route in May 2008.

Gadwall (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

It takes just over an hour to negotiate the river section. In the summertime many breeding gulls and Mute Swan are in evidence, however the count during the winter months is dominated by Gadwall and other river species. Certainly, this was to be the case this month. The tide was high, and the majority of birds were congregating on the river banks or swimming close by.

Eventually the ship neared the port in Vlaardingen, I thanked Captain Sekjaer and returned to the accommodation area, to rest before the return journey.

Sadly, circumstances necessitated a delay in leaving Vlaardingen and the sun had already set before we made our return transect to Felixstowe.

My thanks go to DFDS, Captain Torben Sekjaer, the officers and crew of the Magnolia Seaways for allowing this survey to be completed and the staff at Dooley terminal for assisting in this important work.

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


Weather: overcast with continual light fog or mist, wind SW-SSW 7-8, sea state 7, 4 near land

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2


Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 116

Common Gull Larus canus 2

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 72

Gannet Morus bassanus 5

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 280

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 328

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 3

Razorbill Alca torda 3

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1

Diver sp. 1

Gull sp. 53

River Birds

Coot Fulica atra 41

Gadwall Mareca strepera 807

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 2

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 62

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 13

Teal Anas crecca 2


Terrestrial Birds

Carrion Crow Corvus corone 5

Greylag Goose Anser anser 15

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 105

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 41

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