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Felixstowe-Vlaardingen survey report 6 September

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Common or Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1


Gannet Morus bassanus 8

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 421

Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 781

Common Gull Larus canus 22

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 405

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 237

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 72

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8

Common Tern Sterna hirundo 84

Unidentified large gulls 64

Unidentified mixed gulls 180

River Birds

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1

Mute Swan Cygnus olor 193

Greylag Goose Anser anser 74

Gadwall Anas strepera 10

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2

Coot Fulica atra 11

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 3

Redshank Tringa totanus 25

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3

Weather Outbound – bright sunlight, with glare on the starboard bow, and little cloud wind SE force 4-6, sea state 4

Return – bright with more cloud and good visibility, wind NW backing to SW, force 2 increasing to 5 at the end of the leg sea state mainly 2.

We negotiated the maze of Felixstowe docks and were guided on board the Suecia Seaways by the helpful DFDS staff and settled into our berths for a 6.a.m. start. Sea conditions were very good, and the overall visibility excellent, but the 300 m. box views on the way out were hindered by bright sun glare on the starboard bow.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Library photo: Graham Ekins)

At sea we were accompanied by many large gulls, especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which seemed to be gathering for their southbound migration. Our journey upriver to the dock showed the usual numerous Cormorants, Mute Swans and the more shore-bound Black-headed Gulls.

After our 4-hour reloading in Vlaardingen the repeat journey along the river showed many of the same birds, and numbers were remarkably similar, which suggested some consistency of counting.

Common Tern (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Back at sea there was a scattering of terns, mostly Common, with a few Sandwich Terns. The large gulls were again present in good numbers, and towards the mid North Sea, we saw the first of our very few Gannets. Unusually, we saw no auks, no Great Skuas, and only a couple of Kittiwakes. The UK colonies of these seabirds have been devastated by avian flu this summer with large numbers dying, and I suspect our numbers reflected this.

Sandwich Tern (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The avian highlight of the trip was a brief, but good view of a small all-dark Skua, with no obvious pale primaries in the upper wings, heading south. This was likely to be a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, an unusual but regular North Sea autumn migrant from its breeding grounds in the high north.

Our only mammal sighting was a Common or Harbour Seal, which initially gave an impression of a Harbour porpoise, but popped its head up beside the ship, for a confirmatory ID. Light gave out at 19:30, as the sea state started to deteriorate, and we docked at 22.15, with the unusual (this summer) sight of rain.

Many thanks to Captain Peter and the very helpful bridge staff and crew of the Suecia Seaways, who looked after us very well.

Michael Bamford and Kim Stephens, Research Surveyors for MARINELife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367

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