Sightings Archives: June 2013

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 21 - 22 June 2013

Posted 24 June 2013

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions:     Westbound: WNW 5-1 - Eastbound: SSW 5-8

Summary of Species Recorded

Cetacea and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1278
Storm Petrel Hydropbates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 209
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Eider Somateria mollissima 10
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 114
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Large gull sp. 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 113
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 11
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 20
Common/Arctic Tern Sterna hirundo/ paradisaea 37
Puffin Fratercula artica 6
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 115
Razorbill Alca torda 26
Auk sp 8

Birds seen from ship at berth in Belfast Port

Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 200+
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 80
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 13
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 28
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 37
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 100+
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 11

Common TernFollowing a speedy and efficient transfer to the Precision by Stena staff at Heysham and a warm welcome from the Stena Precision steward with the usual hearty breakfast, we made our way to the bridge and were under way by 09.40.   Conditions were initially hazy and there was a brisk breeze, but this fell away after the Point of Ayr on the Isle of Man and our approach to Belfast Lough was across nearly calm waters.  
Despite pretty good viewing conditions, the crossing to Belfast was fairly quiet with only a single sighting of Harbour Porpoise and two of loafing Grey Seal.  However, steady numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull and increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater flocks kept us on our toes, with two Great Skua and three Puffin providing some light relief.  
As we made the final run into Belfast, we were entertained by some very active Black Guillemot groups and had some very accommodating views of Common Tern as these residents of the lovely little nature reserve by the dock continually flew past the bridge windows.

After the overnight stay in Belfast, we were back on the Stena Performer by 08.00 and on the bridge just before the ship left its berth.  From here we watched the Pacific Orca with some interest and not a little frustration, as it was just a wind farm construction vessel and not a real killer!
Although the overnight rain had passed to the east, wind conditions had picked up somewhat from the virtual calm of the previous day, and the sea was already quite vigorous as we steamed up Belfast Lough.  The wind speed steadily increased throughout the day and we approached Morecambe Bay in a full south-westerly gale, although we hardly felt this on the steady platform of the Stena Performer.
Storm PetrelDespite these somewhat challenging conditions, we still managed to record fair numbers of Manx Shearwater and were rewarded with two close sightings of Storm Petrel.  These plucky little birds seemed to have no problems with the steady wind, and easily fluttered into the teeth of the gale.  

As we rounded into Morecambe Bay and after discussing the conditions with the Captain, we decided to end the survey early and headed for the passenger lounge and a very welcome supper!  After this, we watched as some expert seamanship from the bridge crew brought us safely into harbour at Heysham.
Our grateful thanks go as ever to the whole Stena team, from their efficient shore staff, the welcoming stewards of Precision and Performer, and the very professional bridge crew, who all made our trip enjoyable and productive.


Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Manx Shearwater