Sightings Archives: March 2014

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 28 February - 1 March 2014

Posted 10 March 2014

Steve Morgan and Frazer Patterson, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Outward - wind S 2-5; sea state 3-4
Return - wind S 2-5; sea state 3-4

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 17
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 4
Unidentified dolphin (prob. Bottlenose Dolphin)    1

Gannet Morus bassanus 21
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 36
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 17
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 391
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 193
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 9
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 40
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 74
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 48
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 56
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 61
Razorbill Alca torda 32
Unidentified auk sp 47
Unidentified Diver sp. 1
Unidentified Gull Sp. 7

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 2

The recent storms had finally abated and we set sail from Heysham under cloudy skies but in calm conditions.  The Irish Sea, even well beyond the inshore wind farms, was in a tranquil mood and the sea state fluctuated between 2 and 3 giving us good visibility and a good chance of spotting cetaceans.

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 01aIt didn't take us long to record our first Harbour Porpoise, two animals surfacing together a couple of times at about 1300 metres on our port side.  And an hour later we encountered another group, this time three possibly four animals at much closer range, moving steadily away to starboard and surfacing four times before disappearing.

The usual Herring Gull, Kittiwake and Guillemot were in evidence and were supplemented by good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull and a few Eider, Gannet and Fulmar.  As we approached the northern side of the Isle of Man Razorbill started to appear and in mid-afternoon we were pleased to record at least one Little Gull in a small group of mixed gull species.  Between Man and Belfast we enjoyed our last cetacean action of the day with another group of three Harbour Porpoise, apparently resting.  They reacted slowly to our approach and surfaced five or six times, moving in different directions as if surprised to see us.  Then, suddenly, they were gone.

With the light fading late in the afternoon and with Belfast Harbour in sight, we were about to end the survey when I noticed a bird of prey appear unexpectedly from behind us.  It was a Peregrine!  The bird flew off to starboard and was then joined by its mate, the pair then skimming the waves at speed as they headed shore-wards.  A most unexpected end to the day!

Bottlenose dolphin MBWe spent a very comfortable night at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, (who generously sponsor us by providing free overnight accommodation for surveyors).  After a splendidly hearty breakfast we were then back at sea, with conditions once more looking almost perfect.

We spotted several Common Seal in the harbour even before we had begun formally recording, as well as a number of Black Guillemot.  These were instantly added to our list once we had set sail.

Within an hour we had our first Harbour Porpoise of the return leg, two animals swimming slowly to port at 400 metres.  Four more sightings followed at various points throughout the day, the areas along the northern flank of Man being especially productive.  In all, over the two legs we accounted for 17 Porpoise, the gentle sea conditions being extremely conducive to spotting what is otherwise often quite a cryptic species.

At the north-eastern end of Man, we got two surfaces of a single dolphin, both too quick to make a positive identification.  The "jizz" suggested Bottlenose Dolphin but we didn't have quite enough visual detail to be sure.  The final couple of hours were quiet, especially as we approached the half-constructed wind farms, and the survey ended under threatening rain clouds.  It seemed we had had the best of the weather and a new storm was brewing!

It had been a very productive and enjoyable survey, our work made easy as ever by the warm welcome and outstanding help of the crew and staff at Stena Line and at Jury's Inn, to whom we extend our thanks and appreciation.

Steve Morgan and Frazer Patterson, Research Surveyors for MARINElife