Sightings Archives: June 2014

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 6 - 7 June 2014

Posted 18 June 2014

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward:  Wind S/SE variable 3-17 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 6
Return:  Wind SE/E variable 7-21 Knots; Swell 0-1; Visibility 3

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 2
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1224
Gannet Morus bassanus 55
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 83
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 95
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 73
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 94
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 14
Guillemot Uria aalge 213
Razorbill Alca torda 26
Unidentified Tern sp 2

Other water birds and land birds recorded in Belfast and Heysham harbour:
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 28
Eider Somateria mollissima 3

I was yet again warmly welcomed on board by the captain and crew of the Precision and left Heysham harbour in brilliant weather with excellent visibility.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 05There was a steady stream of the usual suspects of sea birds and it was fitting that in the week of the famous TT race the Manx Shearwater was to have the starring role. There were a lot of them!!

The ship follows the coast nearly all the way up before crossing towards Belfast and the views of the Lake District and then of the coastline towards the Mull of Galloway were breathtaking.  The Isle of Man was also bathed in glorious sunshine so the only disappointment was not to see any marine mammals.

It was not until the approach towards the Irish coastline that I got my first and only Harbour Porpoise sighting, a pair travelling out towards the edge of Beaufort's Dyke, this being a 50km long trench which is 3.5 km wide and between 200-300m deep.  As the sea became shallower on the Irish side there were rafts of Manx Shearwater and Common Tern and I saw the majority of these grouping in this area on both days.

Belfast harbour was extremely quiet with none of the normal estuary birds.  I was greeted by my customary Harbour Seal who I am convinced welcomes all to Belfast.  

Common tern RPJI cannot say for sure that it was the same seal but a Harbour Seal was there again in the morning as I made my way from the port, as were the several Black Guillemot which also seem to be regular at the start of the return leg.  The other bonus was to see a group of Bar-tailed Godwit flying very close in front on the bridge just as we set off.

This was an encouraging start although the constant rain was to dampen the spirits on this journey. The sea state was to average 4-5 which made observation difficult but nevertheless the whole survey was still a very enjoyable experience, made more so by the friendliness of the two captains and their crew. Their genuine support and interest always makes the trips go smoothly and with Jury Inns providing an excellent overnight stay this is a route that allows for surveyors to gain valuable experience and data.

Colin Gill, Research Surveyor for MARINElife