Sightings Archives: August 2014

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 1st - 2nd August 2014

Posted 12 August 2014

Peter Jones and Andrew Gilbert; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward: Initially light rain and sea state 2, later sunny with sea state 1.
Return: Heavy rain clearing later, sea state 3-4 throughout

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 24
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Dolphin sp. 2

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 39
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 2574
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 161
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 45
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 118
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 57
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 9
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 10
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 12
'Commic' Tern Sterna Hirundo/paradisaea 7
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 607
Razorbill Alca torda 33
Petrel sp. 2
Auk sp. 1
Gull sp. 2
Tern sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6
Curlew Numenius arquata 1

We met up at the Stena Lines car park at Heysham, both looking forward to this trip which was to be the first Irish Sea survey for us.  After a warm welcome aboard the "Stena Performer" we departed at 11.00 with visibility fairly poor and some light rain.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 07The initial sightings were dominated by Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull, plus a few Sandwich Tern.  Passing through the Wind farms a Grey Seal gave excellent views, and we were soon seeing a wider variety of seabirds including Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, and Guillemot.  Many of the small groups of Guillemot included young birds.

Shortly after lunch, and in brighter conditions, we saw our first cetacean of the day, a Harbour Porpoise, and this was followed by several brief sightings throughout the afternoon totalling 24 animals which totally exceeded our expectations.  The majority of animals were seen briefly fast-swimming but three small groups were seen feeding in areas with a number of Gannet in close proximity.

Birds continued to be seen in good numbers with a huge raft of Manx Shearwater off the Isle of Man numbering at least 700 birds. A Red-throated Diver, 3 Common Scoter and 2 Puffin added to the variety, and a couple of petrels were seen briefly, but too far away to identify.

Once past the Isle of Man Razorbill sightings increased, and on arrival at Belfast docks we had nice views of summer plumage Black Guillemot plus a Grey Seal, while Andrew was fortunate enough to have a brief view of an Otter.  A flock of Curlew followed by a flock of Black-tailed Godwit concluded our sightings for the day.

Arctic Tern Rob Petley-Jones 01After a pleasant night at the Jury's Inn and an excellent breakfast, we boarded the "Stena Precision" for our return journey.  The weather was noticeably worse with more intense rain and quite poor visibility.  The docks proved once more to be a good area for birds with 20 Arctic Tern gracefully passing by the boat and into the RSPB reserve.

We returned to the bridge after leaving port and continued to record decent numbers of birds with mainly Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Guillemot, with smaller numbers of Kittiwake, Fulmar, and Razorbill.

Highlights of this leg were the only Great Skua of the trip flying by at point blank range in front of the bridge, and a couple of Storm Petrel.  When passing the Mull of Galloway, two dolphins showed briefly but were too far away to positively identify.  Manx Shearwater were again in impressive numbers around the Isle of Man, but as we entered the windfarm area sightings tailed off with mainly Lesser Black-backed Gull being recorded in the latter stages of the survey.

On arrival at Heysham we thanked the crew for their hospitality and headed for home after an enjoyable two days.  We would like to thank Stena Line for their continued support for this survey.

Peter Jones and Andrew Gilbert; Research Surveyors for MARINElife