Sightings Archives: April 2013

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 19-20 April

Posted 27 April 2013

Stephen Dunstan and Abigail Bruce , Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Conditions:    Westbound: E 3-4 - Eastbound: SSE 4-6

Summary of Species Recorded

Cetacea and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 16
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 70
Gannet Morus bassanus 83
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Eider Somateria mollissima 53
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 36
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 39
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Large gull sp. 110
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 103
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 132
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 19
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
'Commic' Tern 1
Puffin Fratercula artica 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 29
Guillemot Uria aalge 245
Razorbill Alca torda 58
Auk sp 16

Terrestrial birds seen during survey effort
Feral or racing Pigeon    1
Pipit sp (Meadow?) Anthus pratensis 3
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 5

After a hearty breakfast we were welcomed on to the bridge and set sail on the Stena Performer just after 09.00 as scheduled.  It was a bright calm morning making good conditions for surveying.

Little gull We had barely started when we encountered a good number of Little Gull and Common Gull with the odd Red-throated Diver amongst the more common Auk species.

While Little Gull is fairly reliable on this route in winter and spring the total of over 60 birds on the outward journey was very high.

We tracked west and soon the Isle of Man was in sight, and it was here we encountered our first cetaceans.  We had a brief glimpse of two small Common Dolphin showing dorsal fin and beak as they surfaced a couple of times before quickly disappearing at the bow of the boat.

As we passed the Isle of Man we could see remaining snow from past months on the highest peaks, but this didn't stop a small flock of Goldfinch flashing their golden wing bars as they passed our boat.  We also saw three Puffin here, the only ones of the trip.
With the Isle of Man behind us more dorsal fins appeared, this time of Harbour Porpoise.  Although I initially missed Stephen's alerting call, I followed his direction to look alongside the ship where a brief glisten on the water revealed a small central triangular fin.

Black Guillemot 1As the green landscape of Ireland beckoned us on, more Diver and Gull species were clearly seen, as well as a single Great Skua.  
Here I was introduced to my first Black Guillemot, a delightful auk with distinctive white patches on its black wings and bright red legs.  These became increasingly frequent as we neared the harbour.

On the return journey we were again warmly greeted on-board by the smartly-dressed crew and generously fed before departing on the Stena Precision.   Even before leaving the harbour a Harbour Porpoise graced us with its presence, surfacing several times but proving rather camera shy!  With this encouraging start and another bright day forecast we were optimistic for what the day would bring.  
A number of Red-throated Diver were seen, but these were over-shadowed by a single individual of their larger relative, the Great Northern Diver.  More Harbour Porpoise were also seen as we neared the picture-perfect views of the sandy beaches at the northern tip of the Isle of Man.

As we watched a flock of birds on the sea move closer it became apparent it was not them diving but a Grey Seal, arising at one point with a mouth full of fish before disappearing into the deep.

Great Northern DiverStephen also spotted a blue-morph Fulmar and taught me about different colour morphs to look out for.  This may be first of the northern 'blue' form of Fulmar to have been seen on a Marinelife Irish Sea survey.  A group of four and several lone Harbour Porpoise were also spotted on the home stretch.
The Blackpool tower loomed in the distance, welcoming us home and bringing our survey to its end.  It was my most productive yet, and Stephen and I would both like to sincerely thank the Stena staff on both ships and at Heysham and Belfast for their excellent support.

Stephen Dunstan and Abigail Bruce , Research Surveyor for MARINElife