Heysham-Belfast

Surveys start February 2013

Recent Sightings

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia and Performer' 11th - 12th March 2017

Posted 18 March 2017

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound: Wind S-SE force 2-4; Eastbound: Wind SE Force 0-3

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Unidentified seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 5
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 9
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 90
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Shag Phalacrocoracidae 22
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 1
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 300
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 12
Common Gull Larus canus 19
Little Gull Larus minutus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 57
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 210
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 255
Razorbill Alca torda 141
Unidentified Larus sp. 70

Other species seen at sea during survey effort
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 15
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 01aWe left Heysham in good time and enjoyed fairly calm seas in Morecambe Bay. It was initially rather quiet, though a distraction was provided by a lone Whooper Swan on the sea, which had presumably interrupted its migration to Iceland. Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver were seen as we passed the Walney windfarm, and although the visibility was often very restricted a Common Dolphin was seen briefly.

From the port we got a cab to the Jury's Inn in central Belfast, where we were kindly given overnight accommodation. As we enjoyed a couple of beers in the hotel bar the atmosphere was a little subdued as the Irish rugby team were losing to Wales.

We hoped the return journey would have better visibility than the outward journey but in fact it was often worse and for a couple of hours we could barely see beyond the front of the boat.

Razorbill Peter Howlett 06Either side of this though we did see some good birds. At the mouth of Belfast Lough there were more Great Northern Diver, whilst at the other end of the journey a Little Gull was seen in the Lune Deep and an early Manx Shearwater was noted. It should also be mentioned that during the more inclement weather we did see some passerines weighing up whether to land on the boat, mostly Meadow Pipit, but also a single Pied Wagtail, whilst a fogbound Oystercatcher circled the boat several times.

As we neared Fleetwood and the approach to Morecambe Bay the survey concluded with three Harbour Porpoise, the largest number seen during the survey. Our thanks are due to the crew of both the Stena Hibernia and the Stena Performer, Stena port staff at both Heysham and Belfast and everyone at Jury's Inn Belfast.

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)




Harbour Porpoise Photo: Rick Morris
Razorbill Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Performer and Hibernia' 10th - 11th February 2017

Posted 15 February 2017

Carol Farmer-Wright and Jenny Ball, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Cloudy, dry, sea state 3-2, East North Easterly winds. Return: Cloudy dry to light rain, sea state 3-5 Easterly winds

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Eider Somateria mollissima 83    
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3    
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 6    
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3    
Gannet Morus bassanus 14    
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 11    
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 82    
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1    
Common Gull Larus canus 26    
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 70    
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8    
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 100    
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3    
Guillemot Uria aalge 130    
Razorbill Alca torda 81    
Larus sp. 52    
Auk sp. 39

One little duck, two little ducks… no, not the start of our survey from Heysham to Belfast, but the calls from the bingo session downstairs at our hotel in Morecambe - perhaps we should have joined in!  Instead, we had an early night, ready to join the Stena Performer early on Friday morning.  We were welcomed by the shore staff, given a much-appreciated lift right up to the accommodation deck, and were invited to make ourselves at home on the bridge shortly after departure.

Razorbill Peter Howlett 06A fairly benign sea state, and a cloudy but generally bright day meant that we were confident of seeing any mammals which might be around, and indeed we saw two Grey Seal during the crossing and a good number of Harbour Porpoise towards the mouth of Belfast Lough.  The ship appeared to startle a couple of the porpoise, which dived off in opposite directions, and a little later a group of four swam off together out of harm's way.  

Bird sightings were slow and steady, and apart from a quiet period in the middle of the crossing, we counted a reasonable number of Herring Gull, Common Gull, Guillemot, Razorbill and Eider as we approached Belfast.

After a very comfortable overnight stay at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, we made our way to the Stena Hibernia and were again welcomed by the ever-helpful staff and crew.  The day looked as though it would be rather more challenging for spotting mammals as initially the sea state was higher, but in fact things calmed down as we sailed into the lee of the Mull of Galloway sheltered from the NE wind.  

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 12However, a couple of Grey Seal were our only definite mammalian sightings though the birds almost made up for this lack.  A flight of Shag ahead of the ship, several rafts of Razorbill and Kittiwake, plenty of Eider still in their winter plumage and several Black Guillemot, a favourite bird in these waters.

This was an enjoyable and productive survey, and our thanks go to Stena Line, Captains Grzegorz Paciorek and Pavels Lipinieks of the Stena Performer and Stena Hibernia and to their cheerful staff and crews for making us feel welcome on their ships, and to the Jury's Inn for their generous support during the stop-over in Belfast.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Jenny Ball, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Razorbill Photo: Peter Howlett
Kittiwake Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast January 2017

Posted 11 January 2017

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Performer and Hibernia' 16th - 17th December 2016

Posted 22 December 2016

Robin Langdon and Mike Duckett; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound: Overcast;  Sea State 1-3;  Wind E force 3-4. Eastbound: Overcast;  Sea State 3-4;  Wind S Force 3-4

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 20
Unidentified cetacean sp. 1
Unidentified seal sp. 17

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocoracidae 29
Eider Somateria mollissima 774
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 75
Common Gull Larus canus 18
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 52
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 343
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 248
Razorbill Alca torda 34
Unidentified diver sp. 1
Unidentified auk sp. 289
Unidentified Larus sp. 1
Unidentified gull sp. 106

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 4

Great Skua Peter Howlett 11The usual array of birds was seen, with plenty of Guillemot, Kittiwake and Herring Gull.  However, the largest number were of Eider, seen in large rafts as we left Belfast port - presumably they were there for the pre-Christmas revels that the rest of Belfast seemed to be engaging in!   A single Great Skua was seen, confirming my personal theory that there is only a single Great Skua in the Irish Sea, as only one has been seen on each of the trips I have done this year!

On the return journey, there was one area where there were several groups of birds feeding, mainly made up of auks and gulls with a few Gannet, and there were about half a dozen groups spaced a couple of kilometres apart.

Several Harbour Porpoise were spotted on the survey, as well as a couple of Common Dolphin and an unidentified small cetacean that was seen feeding with one of the groups of birds.  A group of Grey Seal were seen basking on an island not far out of Belfast.   

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 05One of our sightings showed how tricky accurate recording can be.  Mike first spotted a couple of Harbour Porpoise but then lost them, but then I spotted what I thought was the same two animals which we watched go down the side of the ship.  However, when we discussed how far away our sightings had been - Mike's were about 200 meters, while mine were at least 500 metres away - it was apparent that these must have been two separate groups Harbour Porpoise.

We would like to thank the crews of both the Performer and Hibernia for making us welcome and looking after us while we were on board.

Robin Langdon and Mike Duckett; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Dolphin Photo: Rick Morris

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast November 2016

Posted 18 November 2016

Survey cancelled due to bad weather and gale warnings

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast October 2016

Posted 22 October 2016

Trip cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Precision' 16th - 17th September 2016

Posted 24 September 2016

Stephen and Sabine Dunstan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound: NW 3-4. Eastbound W 2-3.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 22
Unidentified cetacean sp. 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2119
Gannet Morus bassanus 427
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 31
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 22
Eider Somateria mollissima 534
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 133
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 139
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 266
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 18
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 38
Guillemot Uria aalge 433
Razorbill Alca torda 1201
Unidentified auk sp 263
Unidentified Larus sp 10

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1

It was a mid-morning departure from Heysham due to tides. We were efficiently transferred from the Stena freight office onto the Stena Hibernia and after a quick spot of breakfast joined the bridge after the vessel had left the harbour. Shaun the captain made us very welcome, and we were soon recording a lot of the expected seabirds.

Grey Phalarope Steve McAusland 01A couple of small groups of Harbour Porpoise were recorded and as we neared the Point of Ayre on the Isle of Man two or three Common Dolphin were seen just to the north of the boat. Manx Shearwater tallies were greatly increased by a large group on the sea. As we rounded the Mull of Galloway the highlight of the trip appeared as a Grey Phalarope flew in front of the boat, briefly paused on the sea and then resumed its journey. I have done many Marinelife surveys in the northern Irish Sea on six different routes and this is the first phalarope I have had on any trip.

We moved through Belfast Lough and onto the berth in lovely late autumn sunshine. Following a taxi ride we checked into our room kindly provided by Jury's Inn, then took in some cultural events that were going on in the town centre.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 12The following morning we boarded the Stena Precision. Once the vessel had left the berth we were welcomed onto the bridge by the captain and crew. The conditions were a lot calmer than the previous day, and as a result we recorded a few more Harbour Porpoise than on the outward journey. There were again some large flocks of Manx Shearwater and we also recorded singles of Great Skua and Mediterranean Gull which were the only ones of the trip.

We stopped surveying shortly before the ship entered the harbour at Heysham, after what had been two enjoyable and productive days at sea. Thanks to Stena and Jurys Inn for all their assistance.

Stephen and Sabine Dunstan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Grey Phalarope Photo: Steve McAusland
Manx Shearwater Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Precision' 19th - 20th August 2016

Posted 25 August 2016

Becky Gledhill and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - medium to light south easterly wind, sea state changeable 2-5, visibility fair to good. Return - strong south westerly wind, sea state 5-8, visibility fair to poor. Cloud cover 8 both directions.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Seabirds
Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 45
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1101
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 329
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 9
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 81
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 17
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 40
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 46
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified tern sp 3
Unidentified auk sp 2
Unidentified Gull sp 2
Unidentified Larus sp 55

Terrestrial Birds
Passerine sp. 9
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 18

We left Heysham harbour in cloud cover with fairly good visibility and a fairly flat sea state. Just under two hours into the trip Carol pointed out our first cetacean sightings - three Harbour Porpoise about 250m off the starboard side, two adults and a calf.  Being my first survey, this was very exciting and had me hooked. Up to this point we had already recorded numerous seabirds including Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake.

These sightings continued with our crossing and as we approached the Isle of Man I had a brief glimpse of my first cetacean, its size and behaviour suggesting another Harbour Porpoise. It only surfaced twice, revealing a small part of its back and fin but we both agreed on the certainty of the recording.

Storm Petrel Mark Darlaston 01The sea state remained good and for the rest of the survey we continued to record many seabirds. We observed some dramatic Gannet feeding dives and I was particularly happy to spot some Guillemot jumplings with their fathers.

In addition to the birds already mentioned we also spotted Chiffchaff, Fulmar, Razorbill and Sandwich Tern. We also spotted a Harbour Seal.

We spent the night in the luxury of Jury's Inn Hotel in Belfast and in the morning had plenty of breakfast from their buffet to get energy for the return survey. The weather forecast was for adverse conditions but up until the Isle of Man we were pleasantly surprised by the relatively calm waters and good visibility. The sun even came out briefly meaning our view was slightly impaired for a time with glare. In this time we spotted some male Eider in their eclipse plumage, together with females in Belfast Lough, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Herring Gull and Guillemot. It wasn't long before we got our first cetacean sighting of the day, this time a pod of five Common Dolphin which sped towards us together to try and play in the bow waves. Another hour passed before our next cetacean sighting, another Harbour Porpoise.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 10The initial sea state was very much the calm before the storm and after a large delicious lunch from the Stena Line crew we emerged from behind the shelter of the Isle of Man into increasingly strong south westerly winds and an increasing sea state. We continued to spot many sea birds, with several  Storm Petrel added to the list as they obviously enjoyed the exciting conditions. We also saw more Fulmar, Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Guillemot, Oystercatcher and Great Skua. Unfortunately the sea state and wind worsened and although it was exciting on the bridge we eventually had to abandon the survey as the rain and mist was stopping us continuing to gain accurate records.

On the whole it was a great two days surveying and a really enjoyable trip. Our thanks are extended as always to Masters Arkadiyusz Sobiecki and Pavels Lipinieks and the Stena Line crew and the staff of Jury's Inn for being so accommodating and friendly.

Becky Gledhill and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)




Storm Petrel Photo: Mark Darlaston
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Precision' 22nd - 23rd July 2016

Posted 28 July 2016

Steve Morgan and Sam Harper-Barber; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - light easterly wind, sea state mainly 2-3, visibility good. Return - light southerly wind, sea state mainly 3, visibility fair to good

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 13
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2487
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 395
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 16
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 10
Eider Somateria molissima 6
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 28
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 160
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 64
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 30
Guillemot Uria aalge 322
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 26
Razorbill Alca torda 19
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 171
Unidentified tern sp 7
Unidentified auk sp 59
Unidentified Gull sp 3

We left Heysham Harbour in hazy sunshine, the sea barely rippled by a very light wind, and conditions were nearly perfect for finding and observing cetaceans. Indeed, within an hour we had our first Harbour Porpoise, visible even at some considerable distance in the flat sea near the wind farms. It surfaced three or four times before disappearing from view.

Further out at sea we began to encounter good numbers of Manx Shearwater including some very sizeable rafts off the east side of Bahama Bank. With the Isle of Man now in sight we expected more cetaceans to appear, particularly around the Point of Ayre which has been reliable in the past. Though we did find a Grey Seal "bottling" in this area we had to wait a bit longer for the next Harbour Porpoise which finally arrived as we headed out into the Irish Channel off the Mull of Galloway.

Kittiwake Rob-Petley-Jones 02The open sea produced yet more Manx Shearwater as well as plenty of Gannet, Guillemot and a few Razorbill and Kittiwake. We were hoping for the dolphins or even Minke Whale which do sometimes stray into the Channel, but on this occasion our luck was out. In the late afternoon as we headed into Belfast Lough we did at least find some more Harbour Porpoise including a nice group of four animals which surfaced together in an impressive synchronised sequence.

In the Lough itself there were a few Black Guillemot and Shag and, not far from our berth, our last Harbour Porpoise of the day which surfaced only once, arching its back high out of the water before embarking on a prolonged dive.

After an excellent overnight stay at the Jury's Inn Hotel in Belfast we set out the next morning in conditions that once again were very conducive to spotting cetaceans. It was overcast but the wind had dropped to a mere zephyr and Belfast Lough was as flat as a mirror. The usual Black Guillemot, Common Tern and Eider were around, together with a lone Harbour Seal which cruised along a few hundred metres ahead of our bows, apparently acting as pilot.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 15Out in the Channel the wind picked up a little and we had to endure some squally rain. This soon passed and it did not stop us picking out two more Harbour Porpoise at over 1000 metres range. They surfaced briefly, their stubby black triangular dorsal fins contrasting clearly against the grey sea. Then as is usually the case they disappeared. An hour later as we approached the Isle of Man we had two more very brief sightings, albeit at slightly closer range.

Bahama Bank produced similarly huge numbers of Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Guillemot as the numbers recorded on the outward leg. Then, after a lull in activity we once more started encountering large numbers of birds as we approached the wind farms off Morecambe Bay.

This time, however, there was some frenzied feeding activity going on with numbers of Gannet plunging headlong into the water and Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake circling around in excitement.  We expected a cetacean to appear at any moment and, on cue, a single Harbour Porpoise duly obliged. The animal surfaced just once but its identity was clear as it arched its back high and went on a deep dive, obviously intent on plundering the shoal of fish that was present.

In Morecambe Bay things were very quiet indeed with just the odd Guillemot bobbing around on the surface and the occasional Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull circling overhead. Nevertheless it had been a very enjoyable and productive two days and our thanks go once again to the staff and crews at Stena and at Jury's Inn for making our work so pleasurable.

Steve Morgan and Sam Harper-Barber; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Kittiwake Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Harbour Porpoise Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Performer' 17th - 18th June 2016

Posted 30 June 2016

Karrie Langdon and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - overcast, good visibility; NW wind force 4. Return - bright; good visibility; glare at times; NW wind force 2

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Dolphin sp 3

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1214
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 217
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 35
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 50
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 100
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 14
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 64
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 30
Guillemot Uria aalge 211
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 2
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Common/Arctic tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 4
Unidentified tern sp 25
Unidentified auk sp 68
Unidentified Gull sp 155

Terrestrial birds seen on survey
Snipe Gallinago gallinago 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 2

We arrived early in the morning at the Stena office where the staff very efficiently sorted out our boarding passes for the first leg of the trip and escorted us to the ferry. The crew of the Hibernia were very welcoming and while the ferry was preparing to depart we fortified ourselves with an excellent breakfast. Fuelled and ready to go, we were taken to the bridge.

Gannet Rob Petley-Jones 05Passing the harbour walls the sea was calm and survey conditions were good. There was plenty to keep us busy with Manx Shearwater and Guillemot tuning our eyes into the conditions as they scurried low against the sea. There were numerous Gannet including a number of juveniles to test our identification skills, while to our surprise two Snipe also flew past. Our cetacean watching was a little frustrating despite the good conditions, where the wind ruffled the water causing tiny whitecaps which made viewing for cetaceans challenging.

 

At the end of the first day we came into the port of Belfast in glorious sunshine with a feeling that tomorrow would be even better. We caught a taxi to the Jury Inn, Belfast and had a very restful stay.

Fully refreshed the next morning, we made our way to the Stena office at the port of Belfast, where with typical Irish hospitality we were cheerily escorted onto the Stena Performer. The bridge was very bright with large glass panels with a number of planters full of tomato plants and herbs tucked against the bridge wall - with closed eyes you could imagine you were in the Mediterranean!

Suzie Miller - Heysham-BelfastSea conditions were very good, allowing for multiple sightings of Harbour Porpoise which were seen in small groups of up to five individuals that swam slowly passed the ferry. The dolphins we saw were a little shy keeping low in the water, and we watched them swim ahead of the ferry but were unable to determine the specific species. The Grey Seal and the Harbour Seal, on the other hand, were inquisitive and a delight to watch.

At the wind farm the sea was almost flat and there were many birds resting on the surface. Lines of Gannet in synchronised flying formations gave way to plenty of feeding activity and birds with beaks full of fish returning to their nests.

We would like to thank the Master Arkadiusz Sobiecki and crew of the Stena Hibernia and Master Jan Baker and the crew of the Stena Performer who were so helpful and made surveys so enjoyable.

Karrie Langdon and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Gannet (2-3 year old) Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Suzie Miller surveying from the bridge. Photo: Karrie Langdon

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Performer' 20th - 21st May 2016

Posted 29 May 2016

Carol Farmer-Wright and Alexandra Deamer-John; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: wind W 4 dec. 2, visibility good. Return: wind S 6 dec. WSW 4, good visibility with mist on the horizon

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 843
Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 23
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 38
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 62
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 180
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Shearwater sp. 1
Skua sp. 1
Larus sp. 32
Tern sp. 3
Auk sp. 9

Terrestrial Birds
House Martin Delichon urbicum 1
Duck sp. 2
Hirundine sp. 3

I drove up to Morecambe the day before the survey and awoke refreshed on the Friday morning, ready for my short journey to Heysham to board the freighter. The skies were cloudy but dry as I approached the terminal, completed boarding formalities and joined the vessel at the dock. After having breakfast, my fellow researcher for this trip, Alexandra arrived and she was given breakfast whilst the ship readied for departure.

We were invited onto the bridge and settled down to start surveying. As we left the outer harbour we started to record immature Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake. Within 40 minutes we recorded the first Manx Shearwater, one of many encounters we were to have over the two days.

Sandwich Tern Carol Farmer Wright 01a

As we neared the Isle of Man, the occurrences of Manx Shearwater increased and we observed two feeding frenzies, the second with Guillemot and Kittiwake in attendance. As we traversed Ramsey Bay heading towards the Point of Ayre I recorded our only marine mammal for the day, a bottling Grey Seal. The bird life was fairly constant and as we neared Belfast Lough we recorded our only Black Guillemot of the survey.

We awoke early to sunshine and showers, went for a breakfast buffet at the Jury's Inn and arranged a taxi to take us to Belfast Dock. Tickets issued, we were taken to the Stena Performer, climbed the stairs to the living accommodation and had time to input some of the previous days' data prior to the ship setting off for Heysham.

There had been quite heavy rain moving west overnight, evidenced by a mist shrouding the distant mountains of Scotland and the Isle of Man as we headed out into the Irish Sea.

Both Cormorant and Shag were recorded in Belfast Lough with an occasional Sandwich Tern making an appearance. Soon Manx Shearwater and Guillemot became the most frequent birds seen as we made our way towards The Isle of Man. The sea became calmer as we moved east of the Isle. Gannet were seen in larger numbers with appearances of Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull.


BND Mike Bailey 02a
We were now into the last half hour of our survey and had not seen any dolphin. This was to change when, ten miles west of Heysham harbour, a grey seal was seen, and then the bridge officer called out to us 'dolphin'. For the next four minutes at least five Bottlenose Dolphin appeared in front of the vessel from various directions, bow riding, splashing and porpoising.

After this the Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull increased in numbers as we neared surveys end. We left the bridge and made our preparations for making our way home.

As always we would like to thank Stena Line Master's Pavels Lipinieks and Grzegorz Paciorek, their officers and crew together with the staff at Jury's Inn in Belfast for looking after us so well. Finally our thanks must go to Stena Line for their continued support for this route and help with this survey.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Alexandra Deamer-John; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Sandwich Tern Photo: Carol Farmer-Wright
Bottlenose Dolphin (Archive Photo): Mike Bailey

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 23rd - 24th April 2016

Posted 28 April 2016

Fraser Paterson and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - bright, good visibility: light north-north easterly wind. Return - initially squally then bright; good visibility with glare in the afternoon: light to moderate west-north westerly winds

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 16
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Unidentified dolphin sp. 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 18
Gannet Morus bassanus 119
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 457
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 1
Eider Somateria molissima 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 18
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1
Dunlin Calidris alpine 2
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 26
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minimus 15
Common Gull Larus canus 26
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 200
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 52
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 129
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 74
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 35
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 6
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 20
Guillemot Uria aalge 1020
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 42
Razorbill Alca torda 24

Terrestrial birds seen on survey
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1    
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1


We were shown up to the bridge of the Stena Hibernia shortly after she pulled away from the berth and commenced the survey a few minutes later once it had cleared the port.  Initially, we encountered typical coastal birds such as Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Common Scoter plus a few terns and two Red-throated Diver.  Having turned west through the wind farms, we picked up increasing numbers of Kittewake, Sandwich Tern and Common Tern as well as the odd Manx Shearwater, Gannet and the ubiquitous Guillemot.

There were two mixed flocks of feeding birds inside the wind farm area which brought the first cetacean sightings, of typically fleeting glimpses of a Harbour Porpoise with one group and a Bottlenose Dolphin with the other.  A dark-phase Arctic Skua was also harrying terns and shearwaters into surrendering their breakfasts!

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 17Once through the wind farms, numbers of Guillemot were regularly sighted throughout the day with larger groups flying in V-shaped formations to the south of the Mull of Galloway.  We encountered several rafts of Manx Shearwater with Kittewake, Gannet and other birds in close association and enjoyed further sightings of Harbour Porpoise, courtesy of the generally calm seas.  A solitary Grey Seal was observed resting 'snout out' dead ahead of the ship and treated us to an amazing view as it dived under the bow.  Apart from a pair of Swallow, the only passage migrant we saw on the outbound leg was a 'little brown job' that was too distant to assign to a species let alone identify.

As we neared Belfast Lough a few Fulmar, Black Guillemot and a Shelduck were noted.  As the ship headed for the port numbers of Herring Gull reappeared and we passed several small groups of Eider.  We stopped the survey and cleared the bridge to let the crew concentrate on docking.

After a pleasant evening in Belfast, we boarded the Stena Precision on Saturday morning and in the absence of any terns in the harbour we enjoyed good views of the several dapper Black Guillemot in their full summer plumage until we were invited up to the bridge just after the vessel pulled away from the berth.

Another high tide and some squally rain meant no sightings of waders on the sandbanks nor of the otter which is often seen just outside the harbour.  Still, there were enough Eider, Black Guillemot and coastal gulls to occupy us as we headed out to sea.

After the rain had passed, we had reasonably calm seas and good light in the morning facilitating fairly regular sightings of Harbour Porpoise, usually singles or in pairs although we did see a group of three.   The conditions were windier which meant that we saw more Gannet, Fulmar and Manx Shearwater flying than we had the previous day.  There were markedly fewer Guillemot in the air but pairs and small groups were ever-present throughout, with a few resting pairs of Razorbill to test our identification skills.

As we progressed east glare from the sun, choppier seas and something of a lull in observations was a little frustrating.   Therefore because of the glare we failed to pick up a mixed group of feeding birds ahead until they were level with the bridge.  However, a hurried count also produced another Harbour Porpoise sighting.  Shortly before we reached the wind farm area, a dolphin surfaced twice in the waves ahead of the ship but we could not identify the species in the fleeting glimpses we had.

Arctic Tern Rob Petley-Jones 01Passing through the wind farm, we again picked up small groups of Sandwich Tern, Common Tern and 'Commic' Tern, with a few clearly identifiable Arctic Tern in attendance.  

The numbers of Manx Shearwater dropped off steadily as we sailed east. Another small group of feeding birds produced yet another Harbour Porpoise and a further individual surfaced under some terns east of the wind farms.  A Woodpigeon sighting was a little incongruous and we were soon back amongst the usual coastal birds where a distant Arctic Skua and a Red-throated Diver were of note.  Another high tide meant that the sandbars were submerged so with no waders to scan, so we closed the survey and cleared the bridge as the Precision entered Heysham harbour.

Once again our thanks go to the Masters and crew of both the Stena Hibernia and Stena Precision, for their kind hospitality and interest in our work which made for a very enjoyable crossing.

Fraser Paterson and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Harbour Porpoise Photo: Peter Howlett
Arctic Tern Photo: Rob Petley-Jones

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 18th - 19th March 2016

Posted 26 March 2016

Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - overcast; moderate/good visibility; sea state 0-4; wind variable. Return - overcast but brightening; visibility good; sea state 2-3

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Seal sp. 3

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 11
Goosander Mergus merganser 1
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 156
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 7
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 9
Eider Somateria molissima 585
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 84
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 50
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 107
Guillemot Uria aalge 419
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 9
Razorbill Alca torda 98
Unidentified auk sp. 59
Unidentified Gull sp. 109

Terrestrial birds seen on survey
Feral Pigeon 1
Wheatear 1
Warbler sp. 1

I arrived at Heysham an hour and a half before the ship was due to depart, completed the formalities with the Stena Freight team, collected my boarding pass, was taken to the Stena Precision, had breakfast and was invited to the bridge to start the first leg of the survey.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 01The light winds that were being experienced in the north-west had resulted in calm seas with varying mist and fog patches, and visibility was initially limited but improved as the day progressed. I soon encountered Cormorant, Herring Gull of various ages and Great Black-backed Gull, but within twenty minutes of leaving the harbour the ripples on the water 400 metres ahead alerted me to my first Harbour Porpoise of the day.

Moving further into the Irish Sea the gulls were replaced by Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill. The adult auks had transitioned into their summer plumage and last year's young were discernible by their heads still remaining dark and white.  Approaching the Isle of Man I was aware of two animals interacting together about half a mile from our position.  One animal breached once, and the markings lead me to identify it as a Common Dolphin, and a short time afterward a single Bottlenose Dolphin surfaced once before crossing our path and moving away from the ship.  An hour before ending the survey a large aggregation of Gannet were seen resting on the surface of the sea and two Harbour Porpoise surfaced in front of the group suggesting that feeding had recently occurred in the area.

In Belfast Lough several groups of Eider were rafting and the occasional Red-throated Diver passed by with a few Shag and Cormorant being recorded before the survey finished.  I left the ship having thanked Captain Paciorek Grzegorz, his officers and crew and made my way to Jury's Inn in Belfast to rest up before the return survey the following day.

Having had a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast at Jury's Inn I returned to the port and was kindly transported to the Stena Hibernia for the return survey.  Captain John Fitzgerald invited me to the bridge and we left Belfast and began the eastward transect.

The visibility had improved from the previous day and as we entered Belfast Lough I immediately started to record Black Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant, Eider and Guillemot.  Seals were also evident with three separate sightings in the space of half an hour.  As the ship moved further into the Irish Sea towards the Mull of Galloway I recorded a further three Harbour Porpoise.  Bird sightings were dominated by Guillemot and Razorbill in many small groups resting on the water with an occasional Kittiwake in attendance.

Minke Adrian Shephard 04Half way between the Isle of Man and the Cumbrian coast there was a great deal of activity comprising of more than fifty large gulls circling an area of sea with a few auks resting on the water.  I looked below the wheeling gulls and my patience was rewarded with a sighting of a Minke Whale surfacing and rolling slowly to the north, its dorsal fin showing clearly in the sunlight.  Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull became more evident as the ship neared Heysham, and as the sunshine lit up the hills around Morecambe Bay I left the bridge having had a very rewarding survey.

My sincere thanks go to Stena Line staff and crew and also to Jury's Inn Belfast for making this survey both possible and enjoyable.

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



Great Black-backed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Minke Whale Photo: Adrian Shephard

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 19th - 20th February 2016

Posted 28 February 2016

Elin Pheasant and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Weather: Outward - overcast; good visibility; SW force 6-8. Return - mainly overcast; good visibility - glare at times; SW force 6

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 5
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 2
Goosander Mergus merganser 4
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10
Gannet Morus bassanus 13
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 28
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 11
Eider Somateria molissima 239
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 58
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 27
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 10
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 57
Guillemot Uria aalge 114
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 10
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Razorbill Alca torda 27
Unidentified duck sp 1
Unidentified auk sp 5
Unidentified Gull sp 11

After arriving at Heysham port we were efficiently processed through security, escorted onboard the Stena Precision and offered breakfast.  We were then invited to the bridge where we received a very warm welcome from Captain Wojciech Haptar and we settled into our workstation as we headed out of Heysham port for Belfast.

We quickly began to record bird sightings with Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Little Gull, Cormorant and Guillemot all putting in an appearance.  We were also pleased to see small groups of Goosander and Red-throated Diver as well as a lovely Great Crested Grebe.  Just after we left Morecambe Bay, Carol sighted two pairs of Harbour Porpoise 350 meters in front of us.  The second pair was an adult with a juvenile.  All this was within the first hour of our survey, so a fantastic start to our day!

Gannet Peter Howlett 08The morning provided a continuous stream of bird sightings and another Harbour Porpoise.  As we passed the Point of Ayr on the Isle of Man we saw Razorbill and Puffin in winter plumage and Gannet in breeding plumage.  West of the Mull of Galloway we picked up several Fulmar and as we approached the coast of Northern Ireland we saw a very brief glimpse of a fin which was probably a Bottlenose Dolphin, followed by the gentle roll of a seal disappearing from view.

As we headed into Belfast we began seeing large numbers of gulls and small groups of Eider, Cormorant and Shag.  Just as our survey was drawing to a close we were delighted to see a raft of almost 100 Eider sitting on the water just outside the port.   As the Stena Precision made her final approach into Belfast we left the bridge thanking Captain Haptar and his crew.  Once alongside, we disembarked and headed to Jury's Inn where we enjoyed a tasty meal and a sound night's sleep.

The following morning we awoke bright and early and after breakfast we headed back to the freight terminal in Belfast for our return journey to Heysham abroad the Stena Hibernia.  We were welcomed onto the bridge by Captain Arkadiusz Sobiecki and we quickly settled into our workstation to commence our survey.

Black Guillemot Peter Howlett 01As we pulled out of Belfast we had our eyes peeled for the flamboyant Black Guillemot that we knew were likely sightings on this trip but had evaded us yesterday.  Six minutes into our survey we saw our first and within our first half an hour we were treated to several views of this very smart looking auk with their bright red feet and egg shaped patches of white on their wings.  We also recorded Goosander, Eider, Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, a good numbers of gulls, and a Red- throated Diver which flew close to our vessel.  We picked up the same species of birds we had seen yesterday on our return journey with quite a few more Kittiwake and Gannet putting in an appearance as we passed the Isle of Man.

After a tasty lunch and while east of Ramsey Bay Carol sighted two Harbour Porpoise, again an adult with a juvenile just 100 meters in front of us.  The rest of the afternoon brought plenty of bird sightings especially Guillemot and Kittiwake which are both a joy to observe especially at close range.  The sun came out at 4 o'clock and we enjoyed plenty of sightings of a beautiful sunset before leaving our workstation as the day drew dark.

We thanked our hosts on the bridge, Captain Sobiecki and retired to the Drivers' Lounge for a short rest as the ship came alongside.  After an enjoyable and productive survey we said our farewells and left Heysham port homeward bound. Our sincere thanks go to Stena Line staff and crew and also to Jury's Inn Belfast for making this survey both possible and enjoyable.

Elin Pheasant and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Gannet photo: Peter Howlett
Black guillemot photo: Peter Howlett

 

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 22nd - 23rd January 2016

Posted 31 January 2016

Duncan Fyfe and Steve Morgan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - wind strong NW; sea state mainly 4-7; visibility fair
Return - wind strong SE; sea state mainly 4-5; visibility poor to good

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoeus grypus 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 8
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 4
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 4
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 28
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 18
Eider Somateria molissima 285
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 25
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Common Gull Larus canus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 69
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 338
Guillemot Uria aalge 258
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 4
Razorbill Alca torda 102
Unidentified auk sp. 169
Unidentified diver sp. 7
Unidentified Gull sp. 22

Terrestrial Birds
Curlew Numenius arquata 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1
Bean Goose Anser fabalis 1

As usual, Stena were very efficient at checking us in and we got aboard the Hibernia in plenty of time for a good breakfast.  We were shown up to the bridge by the captain himself and quickly set ourselves up in our customary position on the starboard wing.

Sunfish - Rob Petley-Jones 01In the sheltered waters of Morecambe Bay we found the usual Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull, adding a rather unexpected Whooper Swan to our list not far out to sea.  Then, amid the wind turbines, we found a very curious object indeed.  A greyish fin, possibly ten or twelve inches in length, was protruding above the surface of the water more or less in a static position.  It was clearly not a cetacean, seal or shark.  Then the penny dropped - it was an Ocean Sunfish, a somewhat unusual species for these northerly waters.

We had several sightings of Harbour Porpoise in quick succession, these too coming in the middle of wind farms.  Here was yet more evidence that these structures were attracting shoals of fish and consequently predators such as the porpoises.

Out in the exposed waters of the Irish Sea things were generally quiet.  We expected to find at least one or two porpoise along the eastern side of Man especially in Ramsey Bay, but though we came across a frenzy of activity from gulls and auks there was no sign of cetaceans.  By the time we had reached the Mull of Galloway the sea had become quite rough and our chances were fast diminishing.

GN Diver Peter Howlett 01We turned into Belfast Lough as the afternoon light was beginning to fade and found several divers, both Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver, as well as a few Shag and Cormorant.  A little surprisingly there were no Harbour Seal around, a species frequently seen right in the heart of the harbour complex.

The return leg the following morning aboard the Stena Precision found slightly better weather with the sea state no worse than five throughout.  In the Lough there were rafts of Eider and several divers - as well as a single Black Guillemot and a lone Harbour Seal.  Once out in the open sea we quickly chalked up a string of Harbour Porpoise sightings.  Rather less expected was the Mute Swan which crossed our bows out in the Irish Channel.

Ramsey Bay once more failed to deliver any cetaceans, a slight disappointment given that this was usually one of the most reliable areas.  However the wind farms of Morecambe Bay again came to our rescue producing two more sightings of Harbour Porpoise.
Back in inshore waters the wind dropped to a modest twenty knots and the sun struggled to make a late afternoon appearance.  There were Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull as well as Guillemot and Cormorant.  One last highlight was a stray Bean Goose bobbing about on the water just off our bows.

Our thanks and appreciations go once again to the captains and crews of both the Hibernia and the Precision for their warm welcomes and unstinting help and support. We are also grateful to Jury's Inn for providing extremely comfortable accommodation in Belfast.

Duncan Fyfe and Steve Morgan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Ocean Sunfish Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Great Northern Diver Photo: Peter Howlett

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 11th - 12th December 2015

Posted 23 December 2015

Steve Morgan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Winds 7-8 NE; Sea State 6-8; Visibility poor
Return - Winds 5-7 SE; Sea State 4-6; Visibility poor

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 3
Seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Gannet Morus bassanus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 7
Eider Somateria molissima 27
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 6
Common Gull Larus canus 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 24
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 24
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyl 73
Guillemot Uria aalge 78
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Auk sp 93
Diver sp. 3

Following severe gales earlier in the week the outbound sailing was to be slightly delayed but the Stena Hibernia, a relatively new vessel on this route, got under way a bit ahead of its revised schedule.   The forecast was for improving weather, especially on the return leg the following day.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 09We left Heysham in light rain and with a squally wind driving ominous white-capped waves into the harbour.  However, there were a few birds around in Morecambe Bay including several Little Gull and two Common Scoter.  A Seal also briefly presented itself though it dived before I could confirm it as the Common Seal it almost certainly was.

Beyond the Bay the sea became really rough with a two metre swell adding to the difficulties of spotting wildlife.  More Little Gull hurried past but birds were generally scarce with occasional Kittiwake and Fulmar being the main fare.  I hoped that the waters to the east and north of the Isle of Man might be a little quieter as they usually are when the wind is in the south-west.  My hopes were partially realised as the sea state moderated from 8 to 6!  This was enough to give me the opportunity to glimpse a Harbour Porpoise surfing a big wave just off our bows.  It surfaced twice in quick succession right on the crest of a wave before disappearing to port.

The light then faded quite quickly and by a quarter past four it was too gloomy to continue the survey, so I retreated to the dining room where the very obliging steward rustled up some delicious pan-fried trout for tea.

After a very pleasant night at the Jury's Inn in Belfast I reported back to Stena at the Victoria Docks the next morning.  The Stena Precision, our vessel for the return leg, departed promptly and made its way out into Belfast Lough where conditions were clearly vastly better than the previous day. Three Common Seal were lounging about in the Lough and several Red-throated Diver were in evidence too.  The usual Eider were around, albeit in small numbers, and there were various Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Herring Gull as well as Shag.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 15Out in the North Irish Channel where there is slightly deeper water, I scanned hard for cetaceans. The eastern shelf of this channel is quite a good spot though on this occasion I couldn't find anything.  Nevertheless, we soon reached another hotspot, the eastern side of Man, where porpoises are usually present.  Sure enough, just after we'd rounded the Point of Ayre, two Harbour Porpoise surfaced right ahead of us at barely 80 metres.  I glimpsed an initial splash before getting a spectacular second surface as the swell rose up to its maximum height.

By mid-afternoon we'd left Man behind and had reached the "fans", where cetacean activity is usually scarce.  However, to my surprise another pair of Harbour Porpoise surfaced in front of us. Obviously they are not completely deterred by operational wind farms.  Shortly after I caught the briefest glimpse of a small black object though whether it was a seal or a porpoise I couldn't tell.

The rain which had dogged us all day began to turn into a downpour and the skies darkened.  By a quarter to four it was too dark to see or identify anything so it was time to bring the survey to its conclusion.

My thanks go once again to the captains and crews of both the Hibernia and the Precision for their warm welcomes and unstinting help and support. I am also grateful to Jury's Inn for providing extremely comfortable accommodation in Belfast - most appreciated at the end of a long day!

Steve Morgan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 13-14 November 2015

Posted 14 November 2015

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hiberniar' 9th - 10th October 2015

Posted 21 October 2015

John Perry; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Winds 4-5 SE; Sea State 2-3, Visibility moderate
Return - Winds 3-4 SE; Sea State 1, Visibility good

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Otter Lutra lutra 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 482
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 115
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 42
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 66
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 75
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 56
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 629
Razorbill Alca torda 9

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 45
Magpie Pica pica 1

On arrival at Heysham Harbour I quickly had my passport checked and was directed to the Stena Hibernia.  Here the helpful Stena Line staff showed me to my cabin and provided a hearty breakfast.  I was then welcomed to the bridge by Captain Arkadiysk Sobieski and was provided with a very comfortable high chair from where to conduct the survey.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 01We left Heysham on time accompanied by the usual collection of harbour seabirds and waders.  As we passed the power station a solitary Magpie flew over the ship but unlike the common nursery rhyme, this was not a negative sign as the voyage was in fact both pleasant and productive.

Once out into open waters good numbers of Gannet, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Guillemot and Kittiwake were encountered as well as smaller numbers of Razorbill and Common Gull.  Surprisingly not a single Fulmar was recorded.

The visibility throughout the trip was no more than moderate as there was a continuous sea haze over the horizon. However the sea was calm which made for excellent spotting and identification.  As we entered Belfast Lough and approached Belfast port an Otter was seen fishing just off Carrickfergus.

After a very good night's sleep at Jury's Inn (provided free by the hotel), I was back at the port by 07:30 to board the return ship Stena Precision.  Captain Grzegorz Paciorek enthusiastically welcomed me to the Bridge and told me about the excellent possibilities of cetacean sightings on this route.  He was not wrong!

Within a few minutes of setting sail, two Harbour Porpoise and three Grey Seal were sighted and just past the Isle of Man a logging Risso's Dolphin was seen directly in front of the ship.  It was noticeable that the interest in looking for cetaceans was not confined to the Captain as his other Officers were also as equally keen to spot them.

Rissos Dolphin Peter Howlett 04In addition to the single Risso's, we passed close by a couple of rafts of seabirds, mostly Gannet, Guillemot and mixed gulls, which were clearly digesting a recent meal, to the extent that they could hardly fly when the ship approached and merely shuffled out of the way.  This rather suggested that there was a high probability of other recent cetacean activity in the area.
As we approached the English Coast two Manx Shearwater were seen as well as a small skein of Common Scoter.

My thanks go to the two Captains and their friendly crew and the Jury's Inn Belfast staff for what was a very interesting and rewarding survey.

John Perry; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hiberniar' 11th - 12th September 2015

Posted 02 October 2015

Vince Green and Lewis Green; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Wind East to South Easterly force 4-6 overcast but dry.
Return - Wind South Westerly force 5-6 cloudy but dry

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1702
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Gannet Morus bassanus 994
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 185
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 86
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 25
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 56
Common Gull Larus canus 67
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 89
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 7
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 770
Petrel sp. 5
Skua sp. 2
Gull sp. 10
Auk sp. 10

Terrestrial birds
Swift 2
Swallow    5
Greenfinch 1
House Sparrow 2
Feral Pigeon 1

Little Gull Peter Howlett 02On arrival in Heysham, Lewis and I checked into a local bed and breakfast, before enjoying some time on the shore by the port. Up early the next morning, we arrived at the ferry terminal where we were invited onto the ship and offered breakfast from the kindly staff. After a lovely meal as we set off from Heysham, we were escorted to the bridge where we met Captain Fitzgerald and his crew.  We had a lovely chat about the ports of Heysham and Belfast, which included many interesting points from his twenty plus years experience. We then settled in at our viewing position on the bridge, with the very polite crew all interested in our survey. On the way out we were soon excited with sightings of various sea birds and two Harbour Porpoise. The rest of the trip proved to be excellent for sightings of the many shearwaters and other seabirds.

We arrived in Belfast in good time and checked into the Jury's Inn before heading into town for a snack and to take in some Irish culture.  It was a lovely evening, but we settled in for the night at 22.30 as we had an early start the next day.
The following day we were kindly greeted and well fed well before being escorted to the bridge.  On the way out of Belfast we were pleased to see a Grey Seal leisurely swimming by without a care in the world, and we also managed to see a variety of bird species.

Gannet Peter Howlett 08Thanks to the Stena Line crew on both the Precision and the Hibernia, who were all very friendly and interested in our work.  Thanks also to the staff at the Jury's Inn in Belfast who also were amazing.  The whole trip was great and if I have the chance I will definitely do this survey more often.

Vince Green and Lewis Green; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 12th - 13th June 2015

Posted 25 August 2015

Colin Gill; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Wind NW Variable 5-22 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 6
Return - Wind NW Variable 12-26 Knots; Swell 1; Visibility 6

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Seal Sp. 1
Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus 1

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2727
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 258
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 30
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 64
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 78
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 67
Guillemot Uria aalge 541
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 27
Tern sp. 56

Guillemot Peter Howlett 05On a pleasant June morning I boarded the Precision looking forward to a good day as the conditions where excellent for surveying. It was soon obvious that Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Guillemot were back at sea with a fair few speckled looking young Guillemot within adult groups.

An early group of gulls gave the first Harbour Porpoise sighting, but unfortunately this was a dead calf near the wind farms.  However, live ones were spotted with the best sightings being of two feeding groups near the Isle of Man.  Just as the ship was leaving this area a very large raft of over 2000 Manx Shearwater provided another spectacular sight. The rest of the trip to Belfast was reasonably quiet and I was left to wonder where were the Fulmar, Kittiwake and Razorbill which were in very low numbers compared to previous surveys.

After a goodnight's rest thanks to Jurys Inn, I was up early for the return trip on the Performer.  The sea was a little choppy but after the previous day enthusiasm was high. However it proved to be a very quiet day with a slow steady flow of the usual feathered suspects.  One seal broke the surface but was quickly gone before being identified.  It was therefore with much surprise that a double take on a distance brown dorsal fin was to prove to be the highlight of the whole trip. Could this possibly be a Basking Shark? The ship was just passing the Isle of Man and the slow steady swim and the constant view allowed for a confident identification. It was a shame we were moving away from the animal and the distance only allowed viewing of the fin. Nevertheless the quietness of the rest of the day no longer mattered!

Basking shark RPJAgain the captain and crew from both ships were excellent in looking after this solo surveyor and ensured that I had everything needed for the trip, and overall this was a very enjoyable survey with some excellent sightings.

My thanks go to the Captain and Crew of both the Performer and Precision for the warmth of their hospitality and genuine interest in our work.

Colin Gill; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 15th - 16th May 2015

Posted 21 May 2015

Fraser Paterson and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - dry for most of the journey, turning to rain later, with increasing cloud cover, generally good visibility, south/south westerly winds; sea state 1 - 4; swell height 0 - 1
Return - dry, sunny periods, visibility excellent, south westerly/westerly winds; sea state 1-3; swell height 0 - 1

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Unidentified dolphin sp. 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stallata 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 353
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Gannet Morus bassanus 83
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 30
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 135
Guillemot Uria aalge 224
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 34
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 12
Eider Somateria mollisima 5
Auk sp. 29
Commic Tern 10
Skua sp. 2
Gull sp. 2

Having received our customary warm welcome on board the Stena Performer, we set sail with good expectations from the Port of Heysham in dry, calm conditions with partly overcast skies, good visibility and light southerly winds.  There was little activity to record as we passed through the area of wind farms where we left behind the Herring Gull and Lesser Black- backed Gull and began to encounter Gannet, Guillemot and Kittiwake.

Sandwich tern RPJA highlight of this leg of the survey was two Red-throated Diver in flight and a flock of a dozen Common Scoter flying low over the water.  With the Isle of Man coming into sight we started to record Manx Shearwater, initially the odd one here and there and then in increasingly larger rafts.  A gathering of 100 Manx Shearwater accompanied by Kittiwake, Guillemot and Common Tern raised hopes of possible cetacean activity but sadly this wasn't to be the case.  Our disappointment was short lived, however, as Fraser briefly glimpsed two Harbour Porpoise 100 metres from the ship.  

We continued towards Belfast with occasional sightings of Fulmar, Gannet, Swallow, Common Tern and Guillemot.   By the time we entered Belfast Lough the weather conditions had deteriorated but despite the rain and reduced visibility we began to log Black Guillemot.   Passing the reserve at Belfast Harbour we logged both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern and saw a number of other species including Shelduck, Coot, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, House Martin and Sand Martin.

After a comfortable night's stay in Belfast we were warmly welcomed on board the Stena Precision for our return leg to Heysham.  With the sun shining and conditions calm, we were entertained by Black Guillemot and a Harbour Seal in the harbour as we waited to set sail.  Moving through Belfast Lough we recorded a Grey Seal.  Excellent visibility gave us clear views of the Mull of Galloway.  Our return leg was characterised by long periods of very little seabird activity (no doubt due to due to breeding birds being at their nesting sites at this time of year) with flurries of activity as we occasionally came across rafts of mixed species including  Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Common Tern.  Our "bird of the trip" was a dark phase Arctic Skua flying past.

Storm Petrel Peter Howlett 01At the Point of Ayre, to the north of the Isle of Man, Fraser spotted four dolphin fins amongst some Gannet feeding activity but the glimpse was so brief, looking into the sun, that he was unable to identify the exact species.  

As we entered the wind farm area, approaching Heysham, we were joined on the bridge by a Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen who we rescued and released, hoping the gentle westerly winds would carry her to land.
We would like to thank the Captains, the officers and crew of the Stena Performer and the Stena Precision for their continued generous hospitality and support and also the Jury's Inn, Belfast for kindly providing us with accommodation.

Fraser Paterson and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 6th - 7th March 2015

Posted 13 March 2015
Nik Grounds and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather
Outward: Dry, overcast, good visibility, SW wind 3-7, sea state 1-2
Return: Dry, overcast, visibility generally good, S/SW wind 3-9, sea state 1-3
Summary of Sightings
Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stallata 7
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 38
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Eider Somateria mollisima 434
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 62
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 24
Unidentified large gull sp. 247
Unidentified Auk Sp 13
Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Starling Sternus vulgaris 50
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Arriving at the Port of Heysham we were soon on board the Stena Performer and provided with a hearty breakfast before being welcomed by the Captain onto the bridge to start our recording shortly after entering Morecambe Bay. Weather conditions as we set off were dry and overcast, with good visibility and not much swell.
It was not long before we were kept busy recording Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot. A small gathering of Kittiwake and Guillemot accompanied our first Grey Seal sighting. With an increasing sea state and wind force as we passed north around the Isle of Man, Nik expertly picked up two separate, albeit fleeting, sightings of Harbour Porpoise. Seabird sightings reduced during this part of the journey although we started to record occasional adult Gannet.
The wind abated and the sea state became more settled as we made our way to Belfast Lough. We started recording Red-throated Diver and Black Guillemot, some still in their winter plumage and others in their breeding summer plumage. Pairs of Eider were also seen, as well as Fulmar and more frequent sightings of Gannet, while two Grey Seal greeted us into Belfast harbour.
As the ship began its docking manoeuvres, this attracted a large number of adult and juvenile gulls, including Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Lesser Black- backed Gull. The harbour also contained numbers of adult and juvenile Cormorant and a lone Oystercatcher flew past. On the harbour side, a tall metal pylon structure was serving as a roost for about 50 chattering Starling.
As we bid farewell to the ship's crew, Stena's helpful team of ground staff arranged for a taxi to take us to the Jury's Inn in the centre of Belfast where we enjoyed a well earned drink in the bar and went through our sightings from the day.
Following a comfortable night's stay, we headed back to the freight terminal to board the Stena Precision for our return trip to Heysham. In the harbour were Black Guillemot in their summer breeding plumage and some Shelduck in a large pool of water on the quayside. After another delicious breakfast, we were again welcomed by the Captain onto the bridge to begin our survey as we departed for Heysham late that morning.
Shortly after leaving the harbour and entering Belfast Lough, we began to pick up several large rafts of Eider resting on the water. These ranged in number from 40 to 140 individuals. Both Shag and Cormorant were also present, allowing us to compare and contrast these two species in flight. Leaving the Lough, the wind speed increased, quickly reaching force 7 - 9 for the best part of journey back to Heysham. Despite the challenging conditions, we had good sightings of Fulmar and Gannet (including one diving) and regular records of plucky Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill battling hard against the, by now, gale force south/south westerly winds. Sadly, even Nik could not spot a cetacean in this swell!
The weather conditions meant that our journey took a little longer than planned and, as the light faded, we left the bridge and enjoyed an excellent roast dinner (despite the plates moving up and down the table!) as we continued towards Heysham.
We would like to give an extra special vote of thanks to the Captains, their officers and crew, not only for their generous hospitality but also for their work in the challenging conditions. Thanks also to the helpful and friendly ground staff of Stena at both Heysham and Belfast and to the Jury's Inn hotel in Belfast for their continued support.
Photo credits (archive):
Harbour Porpoise - Peter Howlett
Black Guillemot - Peter Howlett
Nik Grounds and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Nik Grounds and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Dry, overcast, good visibility, SW wind 3-7, sea state 1-2
Return - Dry, overcast, visibility generally good, S/SW wind 3-9, sea state 1-3

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stallata 7
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 38
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Eider Somateria mollisima 434
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 62
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 24
Unidentified large gull sp. 247
Unidentified Auk Sp 13

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Starling Sternus vulgaris 50
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4

Arriving at the Port of Heysham we were soon on board the Stena Performer and provided with a hearty breakfast before being welcomed by the Captain onto the bridge to start our recording shortly after entering Morecambe Bay. Weather conditions as we set off were dry and overcast, with good visibility and not much swell.

It was not long before we were kept busy recording Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot. A small gathering of Kittiwake and Guillemot accompanied our first Grey Seal sighting. With an increasing sea state and wind force as we passed north around the Isle of Man, Nik expertly picked up two separate, albeit fleeting, sightings of Harbour Porpoise. Seabird sightings reduced during this part of the journey although we started to record occasional adult Gannet.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 15The wind abated and the sea state became more settled as we made our way to Belfast Lough. We started recording Red-throated Diver and Black Guillemot, some still in their winter plumage and others in their breeding summer plumage. Pairs of Eider were also seen, as well as Fulmar and more frequent sightings of Gannet, while two Grey Seal greeted us into Belfast harbour.

As the ship began its docking manoeuvres, this attracted a large number of adult and juvenile gulls, including Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Lesser Black- backed Gull. The harbour also contained numbers of adult and juvenile Cormorant and a lone Oystercatcher flew past. On the harbour side, a tall metal pylon structure was serving as a roost for about 50 chattering Starling.

As we bid farewell to the ship's crew, Stena's helpful team of ground staff arranged for a taxi to take us to the Jury's Inn in the centre of Belfast where we enjoyed a well earned drink in the bar and went through our sightings from the day.

Following a comfortable night's stay, we headed back to the freight terminal to board the Stena Precision for our return trip to Heysham. In the harbour were Black Guillemot in their summer breeding plumage and some Shelduck in a large pool of water on the quayside. After another delicious breakfast, we were again welcomed by the Captain onto the bridge to begin our survey as we departed for Heysham late that morning.

Black Guillemot Peter Howlett 01Shortly after leaving the harbour and entering Belfast Lough, we began to pick up several large rafts of Eider resting on the water. These ranged in number from 40 to 140 individuals. Both Shag and Cormorant were also present, allowing us to compare and contrast these two species in flight. Leaving the Lough, the wind speed increased, quickly reaching force 7 - 9 for the best part of journey back to Heysham. Despite the challenging conditions, we had good sightings of Fulmar and Gannet (including one diving) and regular records of plucky Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill battling hard against the, by now, gale force south/south westerly winds. Sadly, even Nik could not spot a cetacean in this swell!

The weather conditions meant that our journey took a little longer than planned and, as the light faded, we left the bridge and enjoyed an excellent roast dinner (despite the plates moving up and down the table!) as we continued towards Heysham.

We would like to give an extra special vote of thanks to the Captains, their officers and crew, not only for their generous hospitality but also for their work in the challenging conditions. Thanks also to the helpful and friendly ground staff of Stena at both Heysham and Belfast and to the Jury's Inn hotel in Belfast for their continued support.


Photo credits (archive):
Harbour Porpoise - Peter Howlett
Black Guillemot - Peter Howlett

Nik Grounds and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 6th - 7th February 2015

Posted 09 February 2015

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - W, force 0-4
Return - NW, force 1-4

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stallata 10
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 42
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 8
Common Gull Larus canus 32
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 31
Guillemot Uria aalge 118
Razorbill Alca torda 62
Unidentified large gull sp. 247
Auk Sp. 117

Other waterbirds
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhyncus 1
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 14
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 22
Eider Somateria mollisima 530
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 4
Curlew Numenius arquata 5

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 02

The boat departure was later than scheduled due to tides, so I took the scenic route from home in Blackpool through the villages of Over Wyre. There was a large flock of Pink-footed Geese at Pilling, and I picked out a Tundra Bean Goose among them to get the day off to a good start.

At Heysham I was welcomed by the shore based Stena Team and was soon onboard the Stena Performer. The conditions leaving harbour were perfect for cetacean spotting, but unfortunately nobody had told the Harbour Porpoises I was expecting! Gradually the bird list developed as we left Morecambe Bay with Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake. A single Pink-footed Goose flew south and a couple of small flocks of Common Scoter were seen as well as the only Fulmar of the trip and a couple of Gannet. The sea state gradually picked up a little as we neared the Isle of Man but then abated somewhat, and near the Mull of Galloway a group of four Harbour Porpoise and then a Grey Seal were seen. Due to the departure time it was dark before we reached Belfast Lough so I was able to input the day's results.

Grey Seal Martin Gillingham 01

After we docked I walked into the City Centre and took advantage of the free room kindly provided by the Jury's Inns hotel. It was still dark the following morning when I left to head back to the docks, though as it got light a couple of Buzzard was a nice surprise.

I was soon onboard the Stena Precision, whose crew were as welcoming at their colleagues had been the day before. Several hundred Eider were seen as we left the harbour and entered the main lough with smaller numbers of Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of Harbour Seal. The wind picked up to a force 5 for a while, so it was a bit of a surprise to pick a Harbour Porpoise offshore. Later the wind abated and the conditions were so good the lack of porpoise sightings became notable. Eventually, nearing the Lancashire coast, another Harbour Porpoise was seen to give a trio of sightings over the couple of days.

Photo credits:
Fulmar - Rob Petley-Jones
Grey Seal - Martin Gillingham

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

 

 

MARINElife survey report: Heysham to Belfast January 2015

Posted 05 January 2015

Unfortunately survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast December 2014

Posted 15 December 2014

Survey cancelled for logistcal reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' November 2014

Posted 28 November 2014

Unfortunately the survey was cancelled this month.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 3rd - 4th October 2014

Posted 14 October 2014

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - SW 3-9 and some heavy rain
Return - W 3-5

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinius delphis 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 56
Gannet Morus bassanus 412
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Arctic/Pomarine Skua Stercocarius parasiticus/pomarinus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 22
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 33
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 59
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 332
Guillemot Uria aalge 105
Razorbill Alca torda 564
Unidentified large gull Sp 247
Auk Sp 70

Other waterbirds
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhyncus 140
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 58
Eider Somateria mollisima c.3000
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Wader sp. 2

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 10            
Rook Corvus frugilegus 3

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 12Following a warm welcome and swift transfer to the Stena Performer the survey began in reasonable conditions for seabird recording, if a little too choppy for cetaceans.  A few Gannet and Guillemot were seen in and near Morecambe Bay, and a couple of welcome additions to the survey list came in the form of two Mediterranean Gull and a delicate juvenile Little Gull.  A flock of Pink-footed Geese were heading north over the sea for some reason, as at this time of year their movement is normally the other way!

The winds picked up and eventually became Force 9 according to the ship's monitoring equipment.  Needless to say, observations were rather limited during this period and more or less ground to a halt when driving rain also came in.  Fortunately the winds abated somewhat as we neared the Isle of Man, and though it continued to rain visibility was much improved.  Passing the Mull of Galloway a group of four Common Dolphin were seen heading away from the boat having presumably come in to bow ride, while a little later a couple of Harbour Porpoise were seen at equally close range.  Bird highlight of this part of the survey was a pale morph Arctic Skua.  Visibility closed in before Belfast Lough and I retired to the passenger accommodation where an excellent dinner was on offer.

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01Accommodation was kindly provided in Belfast by Jury's Inn.  I walked to and from the port to the hotel and in the morning as I walked through the docks a large cruise liner was coming into berth.  As the Stena Precision left the dock large numbers of Eider were seen in Belfast Lough.  I estimated 3000 of these but this was very much a guess as the boat was picking up speed and some of the flocks were distant.  A group of Brent Geese came in over the lough in front of the ferry, quite possibly newly arrived migrants.

Although it was sunny skies all the way back to Heysham the winds were a little too strong for picking up cetaceans so bird recoding was the order of the day.  Autumn movement included three presumed Meadow Pipit over the sea, and three waders well offshore one of which was a Redshank whilst the other two were unidentified.  Another skua was off Belfast Lough and we enjoyed good views of a smart adult Mediterranean Gull off Fleetwood.  Approaching Heysham harbour and after surveying effort had ceased a Shag, scarce in Lancashire, was picked out in the Cormorant roost on the old wooden jetty.

Given the weather at times in the survey, a score sheet including two cetacean species and several more notable birds was certainly a decent result.  As ever the crews of the Stena Precision and Performer were a delight to work with.

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Photo credits:    
Common Dolphin - Adrian Shephard     
Mediterranean Gull - Rob Petley-Jones

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 5th - 6th September 2014

Posted 25 September 2014

Janet Shepherd and Rebecca Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - winds N-NW, F2-3 increasing to F4-6 later and F7 briefly in Belfast Lough. Very good visibility, sea state 0-1
Return - winds N-NW, F4-6 decreasing to F2 before increasing again to F4. Good visibility, though glare throughout. Sea state 4-2

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinius delphis 15
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 19
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4

Seabirds
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 36
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 70
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1480
Gannet  Morus bassanus 473
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 69
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 4
Common Gull  Larus canus 47
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 129
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 100
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 4
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 243
Iceland Gull  Larus glaucoides 1
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 52
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 15
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot  Uria aalge 2805
Gull Sp 337
Tern Sp 21
Auk Sp 3
Diver Sp 2

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pippit Anthus pratensis 10            
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 33

Arriving at the port in Heysham we were met by very helpful reception staff, especially as one member had car trouble to sort out before boarding the Stena Performer.  We were shown our cabin where we could leave our overnight things and went up to the bridge as the ferry departed.  Captain Bakker and his staff welcomed us, and made us very comfortable with chairs and drinks available throughout the voyage.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 10Immediately we were busy with sightings of Common Gull, Herring Gull, Guillemot and two flocks of Common Scoter. The weather was excellent throughout although hazy in the far distance, with great visibility and possibilities for the sightings of cetaceans.  We were rewarded with 13 separate sightings of Grey Seal and Common Dolphin with 37 in total!  All dolphin sightings were in the Heysham to Isle of Man area where coincidentally sea temperatures were slightly warmer than between the Isle of Man and Belfast.

The sea was full of large jelly fish and there were many rafts of birds sitting and feeding on the water.  We also encountered Sandwich Tern, Great Skua, Gannet and many rafts of Guillemot and Manx Shearwater.

Our stay in Belfast was most enjoyable with an evening visiting a couple of the traditional bars in the vicinity of the hotel and a walk around Belfast City Centre.  We had a very comfortable night and a wonderful buffet breakfast thanks to Jury's Inn for their hospitality.

Great Skua Rick Morris 01Our return journey on Stena Precision was rather different with fairly strong winds, waves and glare from the sun.  However we had good sightings again of rafts of Guillemot and Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Great Skua.  Numbers of cetaceans were down and identification was a little bit more difficult because of the glare.  However, sightings of Sandwich Tern and, the highlight of the survey, an Iceland Gull as we approached Heysham made this another enjoyable and fruitful crossing.

Once again our thanks go to the Captains and crew of the Stena Performance and Stena Precision who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Janet Shepherd and Rebecca Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 1st - 2nd August 2014

Posted 12 August 2014

Peter Jones and Andrew Gilbert; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather
Outward: Initially light rain and sea state 2, later sunny with sea state 1.
Return: Heavy rain clearing later, sea state 3-4 throughout

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 24
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Dolphin sp. 2

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 39
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 2574
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 161
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 45
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 118
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 57
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 9
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 10
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 12
'Commic' Tern Sterna Hirundo/paradisaea 7
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 607
Razorbill Alca torda 33
Petrel sp. 2
Auk sp. 1
Gull sp. 2
Tern sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6
Curlew Numenius arquata 1

We met up at the Stena Lines car park at Heysham, both looking forward to this trip which was to be the first Irish Sea survey for us.  After a warm welcome aboard the "Stena Performer" we departed at 11.00 with visibility fairly poor and some light rain.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 07The initial sightings were dominated by Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull, plus a few Sandwich Tern.  Passing through the Wind farms a Grey Seal gave excellent views, and we were soon seeing a wider variety of seabirds including Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, and Guillemot.  Many of the small groups of Guillemot included young birds.

Shortly after lunch, and in brighter conditions, we saw our first cetacean of the day, a Harbour Porpoise, and this was followed by several brief sightings throughout the afternoon totalling 24 animals which totally exceeded our expectations.  The majority of animals were seen briefly fast-swimming but three small groups were seen feeding in areas with a number of Gannet in close proximity.

Birds continued to be seen in good numbers with a huge raft of Manx Shearwater off the Isle of Man numbering at least 700 birds. A Red-throated Diver, 3 Common Scoter and 2 Puffin added to the variety, and a couple of petrels were seen briefly, but too far away to identify.

Once past the Isle of Man Razorbill sightings increased, and on arrival at Belfast docks we had nice views of summer plumage Black Guillemot plus a Grey Seal, while Andrew was fortunate enough to have a brief view of an Otter.  A flock of Curlew followed by a flock of Black-tailed Godwit concluded our sightings for the day.

Arctic Tern Rob Petley-Jones 01After a pleasant night at the Jury's Inn and an excellent breakfast, we boarded the "Stena Precision" for our return journey.  The weather was noticeably worse with more intense rain and quite poor visibility.  The docks proved once more to be a good area for birds with 20 Arctic Tern gracefully passing by the boat and into the RSPB reserve.

We returned to the bridge after leaving port and continued to record decent numbers of birds with mainly Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Guillemot, with smaller numbers of Kittiwake, Fulmar, and Razorbill.

Highlights of this leg were the only Great Skua of the trip flying by at point blank range in front of the bridge, and a couple of Storm Petrel.  When passing the Mull of Galloway, two dolphins showed briefly but were too far away to positively identify.  Manx Shearwater were again in impressive numbers around the Isle of Man, but as we entered the windfarm area sightings tailed off with mainly Lesser Black-backed Gull being recorded in the latter stages of the survey.

On arrival at Heysham we thanked the crew for their hospitality and headed for home after an enjoyable two days.  We would like to thank Stena Line for their continued support for this survey.

Peter Jones and Andrew Gilbert; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 4th - 5th July 2014

Posted 13 July 2014

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather outward: Wind W 2-6; rain persistent for much of crossing
Wether return: Wind W1-4; visibility good

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3

Seabirds
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 3
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1099
Gannet Morus bassanus 240
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 39
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 6
Puffin Fratercula arctica 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 149
Razorbill Alca torda 3

Other water birds and land birds recorded:
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle

I was the only passenger on the Stena Precision.   Whilst hospitality and service is always excellent on this route I was really spoiled on this trip.  Due to the tide at Heysham the outward leg of the survey didn't depart until midday but a full survey was still possible.  

Razors_Rick MorrisThe weather was rather uninspiring with almost continuous rain limiting visibility and with winds eventually picking up to a rather lumpy 5 or 6 for a while.   It was no great surprise in the conditions that no cetaceans were seen although a steady stream of seabirds were recorded with Manx Shearwater conspicuous.   Off the Irish coast a group of four Puffin were noted.

In the harbour a number of Black Guillemot were noted as well as plenty of Common Tern feeding in the wake of the reversing vessel.   After disembarking I walked through the docks to Jurys Inn hotel who kindly provide a free room for MARINElife researchers, and it was interesting to note groups of Woodpigeon feeding amongst the numbers of Feral Pigeon and Collared Dove, reflecting the increasingly urban habits of the species.

Calm conditions in Belfast on the Saturday morning gave grounds for hope of dolphins, failing that porpoises, and this proved to be the case with three or so Common Dolphin seen off the Mull of Galloway.   The winds picked up after the Isle of Man for a while and it looked like no porpoises would be recorded but the breeze abated nearer shore and a single Harbour Porpoise was followed by another pair.

Bird highlights of the return journey on the Stena Performer included another four Puffin, three flying off the Mull of Galloway and one near the Walney Wind Farm.  Thanks to the crew of both ships for making me so very welcome.

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 6 - 7 June 2014

Posted 18 June 2014

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather
Outward:  Wind S/SE variable 3-17 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 6
Return:  Wind SE/E variable 7-21 Knots; Swell 0-1; Visibility 3

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Seabirds
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 2
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1224
Gannet Morus bassanus 55
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 83
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 95
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 73
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 94
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 14
Guillemot Uria aalge 213
Razorbill Alca torda 26
Unidentified Tern sp 2

Other water birds and land birds recorded in Belfast and Heysham harbour:
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 28
Eider Somateria mollissima 3

I was yet again warmly welcomed on board by the captain and crew of the Precision and left Heysham harbour in brilliant weather with excellent visibility.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 05There was a steady stream of the usual suspects of sea birds and it was fitting that in the week of the famous TT race the Manx Shearwater was to have the starring role. There were a lot of them!!

The ship follows the coast nearly all the way up before crossing towards Belfast and the views of the Lake District and then of the coastline towards the Mull of Galloway were breathtaking.  The Isle of Man was also bathed in glorious sunshine so the only disappointment was not to see any marine mammals.

It was not until the approach towards the Irish coastline that I got my first and only Harbour Porpoise sighting, a pair travelling out towards the edge of Beaufort's Dyke, this being a 50km long trench which is 3.5 km wide and between 200-300m deep.  As the sea became shallower on the Irish side there were rafts of Manx Shearwater and Common Tern and I saw the majority of these grouping in this area on both days.

Belfast harbour was extremely quiet with none of the normal estuary birds.  I was greeted by my customary Harbour Seal who I am convinced welcomes all to Belfast.  

Common tern RPJI cannot say for sure that it was the same seal but a Harbour Seal was there again in the morning as I made my way from the port, as were the several Black Guillemot which also seem to be regular at the start of the return leg.  The other bonus was to see a group of Bar-tailed Godwit flying very close in front on the bridge just as we set off.

This was an encouraging start although the constant rain was to dampen the spirits on this journey. The sea state was to average 4-5 which made observation difficult but nevertheless the whole survey was still a very enjoyable experience, made more so by the friendliness of the two captains and their crew. Their genuine support and interest always makes the trips go smoothly and with Jury Inns providing an excellent overnight stay this is a route that allows for surveyors to gain valuable experience and data.

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 9 - 10 May 2014

Posted 18 May 2014

Steve Morgan and Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather
Outward: sea state mostly 5-6, wind westerly, visibility moderate to good
Return: sea state mostly 3-5, wind south westerly, intermittent rain

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Atlantic Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver  Gavia stellate 3
Great Northern Diver  Gavia immer 1
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 7
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 109
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 66
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 20
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 7
Tufted Duck  Aythya fuligula 8
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 20
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 7
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 62
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 12
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 153
Razorbill Alca torda 51
Unidentified Auk sp 70
Unidentified Tern sp 27

Terrestrial Birds
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 8

We boarded the Stena Precision in time for a splendid breakfast including delicious Polish sausage before being invited up to the bridge just before our departure at 09.00.  We departed Heysham in hazy sunshine but with a very brisk westerly wind which had us wondering what sort of conditions lay in wait for us out at sea.

Pomarine Skua Graham Ekins 01aHowever, despite the somewhat rough sea state and the slight swell, we immediately encountered cetaceans.  We recorded three single Harbour Porpoise in quick succession, each of them at surprisingly close range.  One was barely fifty metres ahead of our bows before making a belated exit to starboard.  Thereafter, conditions eased a little and by mid-afternoon we had bright sunshine and even a little glare to contend with.

We came across Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake and good numbers of Guillemot and Razorbill.  However the avian stars of the day were a Pomarine Skua identifiable by its distinctive tail shape, two Storm Petrel and a Little Gull.  The skua was associated with a small flock of gulls, an alliance which had us eagerly scanning the waves for signs of cetaceans nearby.  However, our three early porpoises were the only cetaceans we could find on the outward leg and even in Belfast Harbour where seals are normally visible, things were quiet.

Our overnight stay at the comfortable Jury's Inn in Belfast was given a little extra spice by the staging of the Giro d'Italia cycle race immediately outside the hotel entrance.  We stood on the hotel steps with a grandstand view of some of the world's leading professional cyclists hurtling towards the finishing line a few hundred metres further down the road.

For the return leg conditions had improved still further and now a sea state of two greeted our departure from Belfast Harbour.  Black Guillemot were in evidence as we set off and it wasn't long before we had a Harbour Seal in view.  An hour out to sea we found our first Harbour Porpoise of the day, an obliging animal that appeared at only 150 metres and made at least five leisurely surfaces before disappearing behind the ship on our starboard side.  We expected more sightings to follow, especially as we cruised along the north side of Man, often a very cetaceous area.  We did find two Grey Seal, though the hoped-for dolphins didn't materialise on this occasion.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01As on the outward leg, we found Gannet, Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater and the usual Guillemot and Razorbill.  These were supplemented by several Barn Swallow on migration and by small numbers of Common Tern.

Activity declined as we passed east of Man into an area of sea which often seems quite lifeless - there must be a reason why this zone is so consistently quiet?  But then, as we re-entered the wind farm area offshore from Heysham things picked up again and a Harbour Porpoise surfaced abruptly in front of us.  It was a spectacular single surface, the animal arching its back high out of the water to reveal not only its blunt triangular dorsal fin and black back but also its greyish flank, a feature seldom seen on this usually shy species.  It was presumably preparing for a deeper dive because that was the last we saw of it.

As we approached Heysham the usual Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Cormorant appeared and to put the "seal" on a good trip a Harbour Seal popped its head up to watch us pass by.

As ever we extend our thanks to the crew and staff at Stena who make this route such a pleasure to survey and to the people at Jury's Inn who so generously provide us accommodation in Belfast.

Steve Morgan and Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 4 - 5 April 2014

Posted 16 April 2014

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Wind 3 W- SW; Sea state variable 0 - 2; Visibility Variable Fog
Return -Wind 3-7 S; Sea state variable O- 7; Visibility Variable Fog

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 3
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 3

Seabirds
Red-throated Loon  Gavia stellate 5
Black-throated Loon  Gavia arctica 1
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 1
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 36
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 7
Tufted Duck  Aythya fuligula 8
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 64
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 66
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 24
Common Gull Larus canus 31
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 64
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 40
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 48
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 124
Razorbill Alca torda 72

BH Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01As I set out for Belfast the weather was lulling me into a false sense of security and it was a bright clear day with a perfectly calm sea.  Normally there is an abundance of birdlife yet this started slowly.  On the horizon the emergence of a white wall of pending fog looked ominous.  One might describe it as a 'Pea-Souper' but personally I think the full range of vegetables had also been thrown in, with visibility down to a hundred metres.

From the survey point of view there was no debate whether or not the birds were inside the "Box".  If they were seen, they were!  My speed of identification had to be quick as well before they disappeared.  The crew on the bridge were outstanding, and being aware that I was by myself and with the difficult conditions they frequently came for a chat and to keep my caffeine levels up.

After the Isle of Man the fog became patchy which allowed for renewed bird sightings and the approach to Belfast was beautifully clear and calm.  Jurys Inn provide an excellent room and breakfast and after a rested night and a lie in due to the tides delaying departure until after 11:00am the story of the second day was similar to the first with thick fog making surveying difficult.

Harbour sealThere were the regulars of guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake at sea.  Gannet were also in attendance and Manx Shearwater were seen at numerous points of the trip.  There were no great surprises in the estuaries approaching the ports with cormorant, diver and a range of duck species.

It was nice to see some Sandwich Tern which came extremely close to the bridge which always helps with identification.  Marine mammals were obviously hiding in the fog so it was not surprising that the numbers were very low.  The sightings of harbour porpoise, grey seal and harbour seal were all around the starts of the two journeys when visibility was good.

My thanks go to the Captains and crew of both the Stena Precision and Stena Performer who made this a very enjoyable survey regardless of the conditions.

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 28 February - 1 March 2014

Posted 10 March 2014

Steve Morgan and Frazer Patterson, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather:
Outward - wind S 2-5; sea state 3-4
Return - wind S 2-5; sea state 3-4

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 17
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 4
Unidentified dolphin (prob. Bottlenose Dolphin)    1

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 21
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 36
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 17
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 391
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 193
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 9
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 40
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 74
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 48
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 56
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 61
Razorbill Alca torda 32
Unidentified auk sp 47
Unidentified Diver sp. 1
Unidentified Gull Sp. 7

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 2

The recent storms had finally abated and we set sail from Heysham under cloudy skies but in calm conditions.  The Irish Sea, even well beyond the inshore wind farms, was in a tranquil mood and the sea state fluctuated between 2 and 3 giving us good visibility and a good chance of spotting cetaceans.

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 01aIt didn't take us long to record our first Harbour Porpoise, two animals surfacing together a couple of times at about 1300 metres on our port side.  And an hour later we encountered another group, this time three possibly four animals at much closer range, moving steadily away to starboard and surfacing four times before disappearing.

The usual Herring Gull, Kittiwake and Guillemot were in evidence and were supplemented by good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull and a few Eider, Gannet and Fulmar.  As we approached the northern side of the Isle of Man Razorbill started to appear and in mid-afternoon we were pleased to record at least one Little Gull in a small group of mixed gull species.  Between Man and Belfast we enjoyed our last cetacean action of the day with another group of three Harbour Porpoise, apparently resting.  They reacted slowly to our approach and surfaced five or six times, moving in different directions as if surprised to see us.  Then, suddenly, they were gone.

With the light fading late in the afternoon and with Belfast Harbour in sight, we were about to end the survey when I noticed a bird of prey appear unexpectedly from behind us.  It was a Peregrine!  The bird flew off to starboard and was then joined by its mate, the pair then skimming the waves at speed as they headed shore-wards.  A most unexpected end to the day!

Bottlenose dolphin MBWe spent a very comfortable night at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, (who generously sponsor us by providing free overnight accommodation for surveyors).  After a splendidly hearty breakfast we were then back at sea, with conditions once more looking almost perfect.

We spotted several Common Seal in the harbour even before we had begun formally recording, as well as a number of Black Guillemot.  These were instantly added to our list once we had set sail.

Within an hour we had our first Harbour Porpoise of the return leg, two animals swimming slowly to port at 400 metres.  Four more sightings followed at various points throughout the day, the areas along the northern flank of Man being especially productive.  In all, over the two legs we accounted for 17 Porpoise, the gentle sea conditions being extremely conducive to spotting what is otherwise often quite a cryptic species.

At the north-eastern end of Man, we got two surfaces of a single dolphin, both too quick to make a positive identification.  The "jizz" suggested Bottlenose Dolphin but we didn't have quite enough visual detail to be sure.  The final couple of hours were quiet, especially as we approached the half-constructed wind farms, and the survey ended under threatening rain clouds.  It seemed we had had the best of the weather and a new storm was brewing!

It had been a very productive and enjoyable survey, our work made easy as ever by the warm welcome and outstanding help of the crew and staff at Stena Line and at Jury's Inn, to whom we extend our thanks and appreciation.

Steve Morgan and Frazer Patterson, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 31 January-1 February 2014

Posted 23 February 2014

This survey had to be cancelled due to severe weather.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 6 - 7 December 2013

Posted 11 December 2013

Steve Morgan and Colin Gill, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather
Outward - wind NW 3-5, sea state 3-5
Return - wind SW 4-6, sea state 4-5

Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Unidentified dolphin sp. 2
Unidentified seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 73
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 23
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 147
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 79
Common Gull Larus canus 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 74
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 126
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 278
Razorbill Alca torda 149
Unidentified auk sp 91
Unidentified Diver Sp. 1
Unidentified Gull Sp. 7

Other birds seen during survey
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 14
Redshank Tringa totanus 2
Goosander Mergus merganser 1
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1

We boarded the Stena Precision in good time and were allowed up on the bridge well ahead of departure which gave us plenty of time to set up and prepare for the survey.  As we left our berth in Heysham, we recorded various species of gull - mainly Black-headed Gull but also some Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and an early Kittiwake.  The conditions were remarkably good considering that there had been a Force 10 gale the previous day and even as we entered open sea the sea state was never worse then 3-4.

Pair kittiwakeAs we passed the first few wind farms we speculated on whether these structures would attract or repel cetaceans, a question which was immediately answered by the appearance of two Harbour Porpoise!  Less than a quarter of an hour later a grey back with no dorsal fin rolled on the surface, and it was obviously a seal though we couldn't identify which species from such a brief encounter.

Bird numbers were modest probably as a consequence of the previous day's storm, though cetacean activity continued to be evident.  We spotted further Harbour Porpoise as we passed north of the Isle of Man, including a nice group of at least three animals which surfaced several times as they veered to starboard at about 400 metres.

In the late afternoon, as we focused on a small raft of auks and Kittiwake, there was a splash and two more Harbour Porpoise appeared briefly before disappearing close to our port side.  Further cetacean sightings seemed likely but the light was fading very quickly and at 16.18 it was too dark to continue.

The following morning we departed from Belfast, again on board the Precision.  Black-headed Gull and Cormorant were present in the harbour itself, and a little further out on a sandbank we spotted Redshank, Oystercatcher and a Goosander.  There were also several rafts of Common Eider.

OystercatcherOur first cetacean sighting of the return leg came as we were looking at two Gannet.  One was a sub-adult and as we attempted to code it, Colin noticed two dolphins surface 700 metres to starboard.  However, the sighting was too brief to identify the species and although we scanned the sea intently we could not re-locate them.

Two separate Harbour Porpoise sightings and a Common Seal quickly followed and then, as we passed by the Isle of Man, (which seems a particularly cetaceous area), we got a very nice view of at least three Harbour Porpoise surfacing a number of times in quick succession.

Birds seemed a lot more active than they had on the outbound leg and we recorded over twenty Fulmar and three Gannet.  Small numbers of Guillemot were encountered here and there throughout the return passage, but especially along the northern side of the Isle of Man we found good numbers of Razorbill.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 01aBeyond the Isle of Man the wind freshened and the sea state worsened slightly to 5, making cetacean-spotting less easy.  However, we stuck to our task and were rewarded late in the afternoon as we drew parallel with the last wind farms before Heysham.  At the spot where we had seen them on the outbound leg, once more two Harbour Porpoises appeared.  These gave outstanding views as they passed very close down the port side, repeatedly making slow surfaces together.

The light was now fading quickly. We had time to record a few more Guillemot and Kittiwake but at 16.00 it was too dark to see anything and we concluded the survey.

Our thanks go to the captain, Peter Underwood, and his crew for being so helpful and so welcoming and for making our job easy.

Steve Morgan and Colin Gill, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 15 - 16 November 2013

Posted 24 November 2013

Anna Bunney  and Janet Shepherd, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather    
Outward - W wind; sea state 2 to 4
Return - SW wind; sea state 1 to 4

Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 8
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra 1

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia arctica 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 42
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 94
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 352
Common Gull Larus canus 53
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 45
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 26
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 42
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 448
Razorbill Alca torda 318
Unidentified auk sp 17
Unidentified Diver Sp. 2
Unidentified Gull Sp. 87
Unidentified Duck Sp. 3

Other birds seen during survey
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1

We boarded the Stena Performer and enjoyed breakfast before being escorted up to the bridge to begin the survey.  Departing from Heysham, the conditions were great with good visibility and a sea state 2 to 3.  

Harbour sealLeaving the harbour and heading into Morecambe Bay, we started to record the first of many winter plumage Black-headed Gull and Common Gull, and Guillemot were recorded constantly throughout the survey.  We also had great views of a Great Northern Diver and a Great Skua cross right in front of the ferry.  Towards the middle of the survey, we were getting more and more Razorbill, both flying in front of the boat and sitting on the water.  

Our first marine mammal sighting was that of a Harbour Seal which popped its head out of the water very close to the ferry.  It looked shocked to see the ferry so close and made a hasty exit!  

As we were trying to identify three flying ducks, a group of six Harbour Porpoise surfaced in front of the ferry.  We had a great sighting, watching these as they surfacing several times in succession before losing them behind the ferry.  As we approached Belfast Lough, we were treated to a beautiful purple sunset.

After a comfortable night's sleep in a room kindly provided by Jury's Inn, we boarded the Stena Precision for the return journey to Heysham.  

Eider groupAs we were waiting alongside to depart, we spotted an Otter swimming around the harbour, and he is starting to become quite the regular on our surveys!  A Grey Seal was also 'bottling' in the harbour.  Male and female Eider Duck were spotted close to Belfast in large groups, with many Cormorant perched on the buoys.  A further three Grey Seal were relaxing near to another buoy.  

As soon as we had left the Lough, we spotted our first Harbour Porpoise of the day.  Even though there was a lack of sea birds in this area, the Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seal sightings of several small groups and individuals continued for another 20 minutes.

We spotted a further two groups of two Harbour Porpoise a couple of hours later further out to sea.

As on the outward journey, we saw large numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull regularly along the ferry route.  My favourite seabird sighting of the survey was two Black Guillemot in their beautifully patterned winter plumage.  

Morecombe Bay sunsetAs we approached the Point of Ayre, on the Isle of Man, two more Harbour Porpoise surfaced energetically close to the boat.  This was our last sighting of the day making a total of eight individuals on the return leg.  

As we approached Heysham through the offshore wind farms we were treated to another spectacular sunset.

We would like to thank all of the Stena crew on board for their warm welcome and overwhelming hospitality throughout the survey.  

Anna Bunney  and Janet Shepherd, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 11 - 12 October 2013

Posted 21 October 2013

Stephen Dunstan and Sarah Neill, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - NW wind 3 increasing to 6  
Return - N to NW wind 3 increasing to 5

Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 198
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 57
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Eider Somateria mollissima 3100
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 65
Common Gull Larus canus    37
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 42
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Little Gull Larus minutus 20
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 121
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 343
Razorbill Alca torda 453
Unidentified auk sp 144

Other birds seen during survey
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus 170
Teal Anas crecca 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1

Great Black-backed Gull 03/13We arrived at the Heysham Freight Terminal in plenty of time and were quickly given breakfast to set us up for the day before making our way to the bridge to begin the survey.

Leaving the harbour and heading into Morecambe Bay we recorded numerous Herring Gull, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull and Little Gull, as well as a single Red-throated Diver and Meadow Pipit. Shortly after this we were treated to the sight of a flock of Pink-footed Goose consisting of around 170 individuals and flying in beautiful formations.

Throughout the crossing we recorded numerous Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet, and Kittiwake with the odd Common Scoter and Manx Shearwater. Later in the afternoon we witnessed a feeding frenzy with lots of auks and dive-bombing Gannet. We were hoping the frenzy might signify cetaceans rounding up a bait ball but we could not spot any amongst all the activity.

Approaching Belfast we had sightings of Cormorant, Shag, Kittiwake, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull, and finally the amazing sight of over 2000 Eider just before we docked.

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 02aAfter a good night's sleep in a comfortable room provided by Jury's Inn we boarded the Stena Precision for the return journey to Heysham. Shortly after leaving the harbour we again spotted over 1000 Eider.

During the return crossing we recorded all the same species as the previous day, in addition to a Great Skua and a Teal. In the afternoon we had a period of calm water and were excited to get a cetacean sighting of two Harbour Porpoise, before the wind picked up again. We also saw another flock of Pink-footed Goose, this time with an unidentified duck flying in the middle of the formation.

Our heartfelt thanks go to all the staff at Stena and the Jury's Inn for their welcoming hospitality.

Stephen Dunstan and Sarah Neill, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 13 - 14 September 2013

Posted 21 September 2013

Anna Bunney and Nik Grounds, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Good visibility, with a sea state ranging from 2 to 3.  NW wind 5 increasing to 6
Return - Good visibility, with a sea state ranging from 1 to 4. N to NW wind 3 increasing to 6

Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra 1
Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 13
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3045
Gannet Morus bassanus 405
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 162
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Eider Somateria mollissima 14
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 7
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 14
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Unidentified gull sp 1480
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 485
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3
Common/Arctic Tern Sterna hirundo/ paradisaea 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 317
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Unidentified auk sp 731

We were welcomed on board the Stena Performer and enjoyed a hearty breakfast, before making our way up to the bridge to begin the survey.  Conditions were great, with a lovely clear morning with calm seas and good visibility.

Great SkuaAs soon as we pulled out of Heysham harbour and were heading into Morecambe Bay, we saw two groups of Common Scoter.  Large numbers of Manx Shearwater and Guillemot were recorded constantly throughout the journey, as well as huge numbers of Gannet which were flying in beautiful formations in groups of five or six all across the Irish Sea.

The most exciting bird of the survey were numbers of Great Skua which we encountered many times.  One was flying close to the water just in front of the boat, and as we inspected the lovely colours and patterns on its wings, a Harbour Porpoise surfaced just underneath it!  This was our only cetacean sighting of the first day, so we were keen to get out the next day to see what else we could spot!

The next morning Belfast Lough was very calm and we were lucky enough to spot an Otter in the harbour which we watched for over an hour as we were waiting to depart!  It was our first sighting of a wild Otter so we were really excited and pleased to see it.  This animal seems to be a regular occurrence on these surveys!

Grey Seal Ruth GriffithMale and female Eider were spotted close to Belfast, with many Cormorant perched on the buoys.

As we came out of Belfast, huge rafts of Kittiwake, Guillemot and Manx Shearwater were seen sitting on the water, and we knew that there must be some cetaceans down there!  My eyes were glued to this area for a few minutes, before we spotted our first Harbour Porpoise of the day.  This animal was very active and obviously feeding and we got lovely views as it energetically surfaced amongst the birds, causing quite a disturbance!

We came across another large raft of birds and saw four more Harbour Porpoise surface simultaneously many times before we lost the group behind the ship.  Within the space of an hour and a half, we had spotted nine Harbour Porpoise all amongst large rafts of birds on the water.  Fantastic!

As on the outward journey, there were large numbers of Gannet, Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater and Guillemot occurring regularly along the ferry route.  

As we approached Heysham a Grey Seal was seen in the water and we were welcomed into the port by a large group of 66 Cormorant perched on the wooden pier.
Our thanks go to the whole Stena team for their warm welcome and for making the trip so enjoyable.

Anna Bunney and Nik Grounds, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 9 - 10 August 2013

Posted 16 August 2013

Fraser Paterson and Phil Grant; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - overcast, good visibility with some occasional light rain: WNW wind force 6 improving from 6 to 3 during the voyage. 
Return - after early glare cleared, generally overcast with good visibility, dry: WSW wind force 3-4 picking up to a 5 close to destination.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 3
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 10
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 16
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3159
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 329
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Unidentified Skua sp. 1
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 60
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 90
Undidentified Gull sp. 15
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 7
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 10
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo / paradisaea 26
Black Tern Chlidonias niger 1
Other Unidentified Tern sp. 5
Puffin Fratercula arctica 5
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 21
Guillemot Uria aaige 648
Razorbill Alca torda 92
Unidentified Auk sp. 5

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 4

Stena PerformerWe boarded the Stena Performer and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before heading up to the bridge as soon as we received clearance.  We started our survey 15 minutes into the trip while the ship headed out into the Irish Sea before turning to the channel between the expanding offshore windfarms.

The first couple of hours were very quiet with only a few observations of Herring Gull, Lesser Black-Backed Gull and Sandwich Tern.  However, once we passed the wind farms, we started to pick up increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Kittewake and Guillemot with a pair of Storm Petrel thrown in for good luck.  Just after midday we had our first cetacean sightings off the port side although all too quickly lost from view. These were three animals with high, falcate dorsal fins and visible scratch marks which confirmed them as Risso's Dolphin.

Common ternAs we continued through the afternoon, the numbers of Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Guillemot increased steadily, interspersed with some small groups of Razorbill, occasional Fulmar and Kittiwake, a single Great Skua, and a flight of ten Arctic Tern that passed close to the bridge.
Despite the rather windy conditions and slightly choppy seas, we saw six definite Harbour Porpoise before entering the quieter waters in the approach to Belfast.   We ended the survey in order to clear the bridge prior to docking just as we started picking up the local Black Guillemot.  A Black Tern was also sighted just before the nature reserve.

Common Tern

We arrived at the port early the next morning and joined the Stena Precision for the return trip.  After breakfast as we waited for permission to go up to the bridge, we enjoyed the aerobatics of many Common Tern and the more restrained flight of several Black Guillemot as we pulled away from the dock.  A dog Otter was also seen fishing off the starboard side just outside the harbour, while the silhouette of a skua against the morning light went frustratingly unidentified.

Rissos BrittanyBack on the bridge, the calm sea bode well for mammal sightings and this was confirmed by a distant sighting of a seal that disappeared before we got close to it.  As we pulled further out to sea, the previous day's sightings of small rafts of Manx Shearwater and auks continued.  While Guillemot sightings often comprised adults and chicks, young Razorbill were at a premium amongst the adult birds.  Fulmars, Kittewakes and Gannets were fairly common, and another Great Skua and several Puffin were also seen mixed in with the auk flocks.

Risso's Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

We enjoyed five separate sightings of a total of twelve Harbour Porpoise, this made easier by the sea state and good light conditions, and the animals helped by rolling typically two or three times before submerging.  
A small group of 8-10 unidentified smallish dolphins showed at distance ahead of the ship just north of the Isle of Man but managed to evade us when the boat finally arrived where they had been seen.

Common gull juvenileJust before we reached the Morecambe Bay windfarms, the rafts of Manx Shearwater increased in size with the largest group comprising a spectacular c.650 birds that gave us an honour guard, flying just ahead of the bow.  Observations tailed off quickly as we passed between the windfarms until we got close to the coast where gulls, including a pair of juvenile Common Gull (that had me checking my guide book!) started to make an appearance again.

Common Gull (Adrian Shephard)

A pair of Oystercatcher and four Barn Swallow were the only terrestrial birds seen at sea on either leg of the survey, although a small flight of Whimbrel flew over the Stena Precision as it entered the port at Heysham.
We would like to thank Captains Bakker and Underwood and the crews of the Stena Performer and Precision as well as the shore-based personnel for their helpfulness, cooperation and hospitality throughout the survey.  

Fraser Paterson and Phil Grant; Research Surveyors for MARINElife