Sightings Archives: September 2013

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
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


Cetaceans and Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra 1
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