Newhaven-Dieppe survey 12 August
Having arrived at Newhaven Ferry Terminal I was met with glorious sunshine and a moderate south-westerly breeze. It was my first official Volunteer Seabirds at Sea Survey (VSAS) and I was pleased to say that I had yet to spill anything down my gleaming white MARINElife polo shirt! I was very excited at the prospect of being stationed on the bridge of a huge passenger ferry, and more in hope than expectation, could not help but wonder if those south-westerlies might blow something unusual down the channel - after all, the Isles of Scilly had recently landed a South Polar Skua and a Red-footed Booby!
The port staff were extremely helpful and were so good as to print off a couple of extra survey forms for me. We were shortly boarded onto The Seven Sisters, and once the crew had manoeuvred her out of port, I was shown to the bridge where I was met by the captain, engineers, and a number of the ship’s officers. All were very friendly, and I am relieved to say their English was far better than my remnant GCSE French! I was given a prime spot at the starboard side of the ship, complete with a desk onto which I unloaded survey forms, range finder, GPS, timer, and camera - everything I would need for the four-hour crossing.
The outbound journey saw me record occasional Gannet, mostly adults with a single immature bird. A single distant Manx Shearwater not too far out of port was to be the only one for the day, and other birds included Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. Several passing Fulmar were a nice addition and I recalled having seen the species nesting in Newhaven several years ago. A flock of six Common Tern required some scrutiny to make sure they were not something less common as they passed in front of the ships bow.
No cetaceans were seen on the outbound journey, and sadly none on the return either, as the slight swell made for tricky conditions in which to pick out any dorsal fins. However, the crew assured me this has been one of the best years for spotting dolphins on this route.
After an hour and half turnaround in Dieppe, during which time I was allowed to remain onboard, the ship’s crew once again skilfully guided The Seven Sisters out of port, and I commenced the second of my two survey legs.
Gannets were more numerous on the return journey, and as we passed several birds sitting on the water, they would eventually take flight and circle round to the stern. At one point I looked back down the length of the ship to see we had picked up at least ten individuals, including one juvenile. Whilst they may not have been the pelagic mega species I had hoped for, I could not help but enjoy watching these birds escort us out of French waters. Gannet is a species which has been so badly affected by avian flu and our largest resident seabird, and I am very fond of them.
A couple more Fulmar were added to the list, and after two more hours fatigue began to set in, at which point I called time on the survey, saved my GPS files, packed up my gear and thanked the crew for having me onboard. The voyage ended with a few hours below deck amongst the returning holiday makers before we sailed back into Newhaven at 21:00.
Owen Cranshaw, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Wind moderate SW, slight swell, visibility clear and sunny
Summary of sightings:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 6
Larus sp. 5