Stephen Dunstan and Stephanie Czudaj; Research Surveyors for
Weather: Westbound: W3-5, Eastbound S3-6
Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Unidentified Dolphin sp 1
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Wigeon Anas penelope 136
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 63
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 169
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 4
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 8
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 35
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 21
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 33
Common Gull Larus canus 126
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 57
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 28
Unidentified Large gull Sp 275
Little Gull Larus minutus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 34
Guillemot Uria aalge 62
Razorbill Alca torda 80
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 15
Unidentified auk Sp 71
Shorebirds seen during survey effort (feeding on sandbanks):
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 10
Curlew Numenius arquatus 3
Knot Calidris canutus c2000
We arrived in good time for the inaugural survey on the Heysham to Belfast route. We were soon aboard the Stena Precision, and following breakfast were on the bridge before the boat departed. Whilst we waited for loading to be completed we watched large numbers of Knot passing by the harbour mouth.
Heading into Morecambe Bay a few of the expected seabirds began to be recorded. As we approached the Lune Deeps four Little Gull were seen, this being one of the best areas in the north-west for them. A Red-throated Diver was also noted as we headed between the Cumbrian coast and the Isle of Man.
Approaching Belfast the winds dropped and the conditions became conducive to cetacean watching. We saw ten Harbour Porpoise in small groups, and also had frustrating views of a small dolphin species which was in all likelihood a Common Dolphin. After the boat docked we were kindly transferred to our overnight accommodation in Belfast.
The next morning Belfast Lough was very calm and we saw several flocks of Eider as well as a number of auk species. The highlight of this part of the survey though was three Common Seal in the Lough. Much of the survey effort between Ireland and the Isle of Man was made difficult by fog, but when it lifted we saw four Harbour Porpoise together in a group off the Point of Ayre.
Approaching the Lancashire coast the sea was mirror calm and we were able to enjoy good views of two Common Scoter flocks, as well as more porpoises. We reached the harbour in the last of the light and a bonus was a Grey Seal in the harbour just before we docked.
Thanks are due to all at Stena Freight for their co-operation in developing this new route, and being so welcoming to us on this first survey. The sightings recorded suggest this will be a very productive addition to MARINElife's surveys in the north-west of England.
Stephen Dunstan and Stephanie Czudaj; Research Surveyors for MARINElife