Sightings Archives: November 2013

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
Outward - W wind; sea state 2 to 4
Return - SW wind; sea state 1 to 4


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

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