Newhaven-Dieppe survey report 13 August DFDS Côte D’Albatre
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 284
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 27
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 38
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 3
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Unidentified Gull sp. 9
Unidentified Larus Gull sp. 13
Outbound: Clear and sunny, very good visibility (>20 km), wind E 4, sea state 2-3, some glare later.
Return: Clear and sunny, very good visibility (>20 km), wind NE 3-4, sea state 3-4, no glare.
Surveying in the heatwave, even with a 10 o’clock start the heat was already building as we boarded the ferry at Newhaven passing a Cormorant perched atop a post in the port which seemed to be feeling the heat like everyone else as it fluttered its gular pouch to pant. On starting the survey an initial flurry of gulls close inshore soon subsided and Gannet numbers began to build. Three-quarters of an hour out I had my first glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise, though sadly a single tantalising glimpse of a fin from a single surfacing – exciting to see but frustrating not to have better views.
Shortly after this came the “one that got away” moment of the survey as out beyond the 2km bird survey limit we could see a big Gannet feeding frenzy. Sadly we were just too far away for this either to make it into the survey data or for us to see if there were any associated cetaceans – I would speculate there might have been from the size. Alas, it was not to be and we were left wishing our course had been just that bit further west or the activity a little further east.
A few Fulmar began to appear and about the halfway mark a Great Skua came through. I would be fascinated to know if this is a non-breeder or a failed breeder that has returned from the north, I would also love to know why the skuas like this area so much – it seems whenever I do this survey Great Skua are in the French half of the channel here irrespective of the time of year, but almost never on the English side.
As we got further in towards the French coast the highlight of the survey occurred with more feeding Gannet, this time much closer than before. We watched in anticipation and this time were rewarded when Joshua spotted two Harbour Porpoise. I managed to see them too and we got nice, though brief, views of them surfacing as they fed. Another single Harbour Porpoise sighting came soon after but this time again a single brief glimpse. Gull numbers began to build once again inshore with Black-headed and Herring Gulls supplemented by a few Mediterranean Gulls whose presence here seemed very appropriate for the heat of the day and the feel of the sun-bleached coast we were approaching.
After a brief stroll in Dieppe we returned to the ship for the return leg of the survey. We enjoyed a challenging array of gulls to identify with six species present including a Yellow-legged Gull whose mantle colour stood out clearly as slightly darker than the numerous Herring Gulls we had been seeing but not nearly so dark as the Lesser Black-backed Gulls we had also seen. Our return crossing was overall quieter than outbound with numerous Gannet but this time very dispersed with single Gannet diving in to feed from time to time but never any large or sustained feeding and no cetaceans.
The views in the distance were fascinating as the heat created mirages all around. Some of the mirage effects we saw included weird blurring and stretching of the coast and cliffs as we left France and then seeing inverted ships floating above the horizon mirroring their counterparts below whilst at times we could almost imagine we were seeing the English coast despite being far too far south for this. Though at sea it started to grow cool, as soon as we got in towards Beachy Head gusts of hot dry air began to be noticeable coming off the parched land. Bird activity continued but as we passed the Seven Sisters dusk forced us to end the survey.
Our thanks to the Captain and crew of Côte D’Albatre for making us welcome and looking after us throughout the survey.
Tom Forster and Joshua Clancy, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)