Newhaven-Dieppe survey 16 April
Summary of sightings:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 12
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 28
Unidentified Seal sp. 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 96
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Guillemot Uria aalge 120
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 22
Gull sp. 2
Tern sp. 2
Auk sp. 47
Warbler Sp. 5
Outbound: wind W backing ENE 1-2, sea state 2, visibility moderate with light mist
Return: wind N backing W 2-4, sea state 2, visibility moderate with glare
It was still dark, with a hint of dawn in the east and an orange crescent moon showing above the South Downs as I made my way down to Newhaven to survey on the 7am sailing to Dieppe.
Barny had already arrived at the port, so we went to the information desk to collect our boarding passes and waited for the bus to take foot passengers to the vessel. In March DFDS had taken ownership of two new buses and the shore staff were thinking of giving them nicknames. “Fish” and “Chips” had been suggested, but when I asked no names had been given.
We were looking forward to this survey as weather conditions were favourable resulting in a calm sea, plenty of opportunity to spot Harbour Porpoise.
We were taken to the bridge and introduced to the captain and the bridge officers. The survey started just after 07:15 once the initial manoeuvres had been completed and the vessel had cleared the outer harbour wall.
Our first sighting of a Harbour Porpoise was spotted by Barny within 15 minutes of our survey beginning, a single animal swimming leisurely away from the ship. Further solitary Harbour Porpoise were recorded at regular half-hourly intervals until 09:50 when two animals were seen together swimming and feeding. This must have been a productive feeding area as two Bottlenose Dolphin then swam slowly towards our vessel from the starboard side. Less than 10 minutes later, two further sighting of solitary Harbour Porpoise were recorded. Forty minutes later we entered Dieppe Harbour.
Birds on the southbound transect were constant, Cormorant, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet were seen. Auks were also recorded, the majority Guillemot with a few Razorbill, although the bright daylight and misty conditions made positive identification of many difficult. Migration was also evident with several warblers heading north and Sandwich Tern moving along the French coast. The highlight of the southbound passage was a pale phase Pomarine Skua, that lifted off from the sea to display it’s long “spoon-shaped” tail feathers.
Once in Dieppe, we left the ship and found a café on the east side of the harbour and had a refreshing drink whilst enjoying the sunshine that had at last broken through the mist. We returned to the ferry terminal, bought ourselves another coffee and waited with the other foot passengers to re-join the vessel for our return to Sussex. It was the end of the Easter holidays and many foot passengers were returning to the UK.
We left Dieppe at 15:30 with clearer skies and within an hour we had recorded a further 10 Harbour Porpoise. Some officers and crew on the bridge helped us with spotting as the port side was subject to glare. A call of “Flipper” alerted Barny to walk to the port side of the vessel to verify the sightings whilst I wrote down the information. This helped us greatly as the sightings were fast and furious.
Within the next half hour, a further three Harbour Porpoise were seen and as we approached the northbound separation lane a group of 10 Bottlenose Dolphin was seen swimming slowly westwards accompanied by a Gannet. Shortly after this a seal was spotted, looking towards our vessel before submerging. In the last hour of surveying, we recorded a further three Harbour Porpoise.
Bird sightings were steady with Cormorant, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill and Gannet seen. Only two Fulmar were recorded on the whole survey, the light winds not conducive to their method of flight.
With light fading and the cliffs of the Seven Sisters in sight, we closed our survey and headed down to the passenger area to prepare for disembarkation.
Our thanks go to the Master, Officers and crew of the Seven Sisters for their help and support in helping us complete a very busy survey.
Carol Farmer-Wright and Barny Hobbs, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)