MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 4 - 5 April 2014

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward - Wind 3 W- SW; Sea state variable 0 - 2; Visibility Variable Fog
Return -Wind 3-7 S; Sea state variable O- 7; Visibility Variable Fog

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 3
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 3

Red-throated Loon  Gavia stellate 5
Black-throated Loon  Gavia arctica 1
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 1
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 36
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 7
Tufted Duck  Aythya fuligula 8
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 64
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 66
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 24
Common Gull Larus canus 31
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 64
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 40
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 48
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 124
Razorbill Alca torda 72

BH Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01As I set out for Belfast the weather was lulling me into a false sense of security and it was a bright clear day with a perfectly calm sea.  Normally there is an abundance of birdlife yet this started slowly.  On the horizon the emergence of a white wall of pending fog looked ominous.  One might describe it as a 'Pea-Souper' but personally I think the full range of vegetables had also been thrown in, with visibility down to a hundred metres.

From the survey point of view there was no debate whether or not the birds were inside the "Box".  If they were seen, they were!  My speed of identification had to be quick as well before they disappeared.  The crew on the bridge were outstanding, and being aware that I was by myself and with the difficult conditions they frequently came for a chat and to keep my caffeine levels up.

After the Isle of Man the fog became patchy which allowed for renewed bird sightings and the approach to Belfast was beautifully clear and calm.  Jurys Inn provide an excellent room and breakfast and after a rested night and a lie in due to the tides delaying departure until after 11:00am the story of the second day was similar to the first with thick fog making surveying difficult.

Harbour sealThere were the regulars of guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake at sea.  Gannet were also in attendance and Manx Shearwater were seen at numerous points of the trip.  There were no great surprises in the estuaries approaching the ports with cormorant, diver and a range of duck species.

It was nice to see some Sandwich Tern which came extremely close to the bridge which always helps with identification.  Marine mammals were obviously hiding in the fog so it was not surprising that the numbers were very low.  The sightings of harbour porpoise, grey seal and harbour seal were all around the starts of the two journeys when visibility was good.

My thanks go to the Captains and crew of both the Stena Precision and Stena Performer who made this a very enjoyable survey regardless of the conditions.

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife