MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 5th - 6th September 2014

Janet Shepherd and Rebecca Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward - winds N-NW, F2-3 increasing to F4-6 later and F7 briefly in Belfast Lough. Very good visibility, sea state 0-1
Return - winds N-NW, F4-6 decreasing to F2 before increasing again to F4. Good visibility, though glare throughout. Sea state 4-2

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinius delphis 15
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 19
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4

Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 36
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 70
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1480
Gannet  Morus bassanus 473
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 69
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 4
Common Gull  Larus canus 47
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 129
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 100
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 4
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 243
Iceland Gull  Larus glaucoides 1
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 52
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 15
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot  Uria aalge 2805
Gull Sp 337
Tern Sp 21
Auk Sp 3
Diver Sp 2

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pippit Anthus pratensis 10            
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 33

Arriving at the port in Heysham we were met by very helpful reception staff, especially as one member had car trouble to sort out before boarding the Stena Performer.  We were shown our cabin where we could leave our overnight things and went up to the bridge as the ferry departed.  Captain Bakker and his staff welcomed us, and made us very comfortable with chairs and drinks available throughout the voyage.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 10Immediately we were busy with sightings of Common Gull, Herring Gull, Guillemot and two flocks of Common Scoter. The weather was excellent throughout although hazy in the far distance, with great visibility and possibilities for the sightings of cetaceans.  We were rewarded with 13 separate sightings of Grey Seal and Common Dolphin with 37 in total!  All dolphin sightings were in the Heysham to Isle of Man area where coincidentally sea temperatures were slightly warmer than between the Isle of Man and Belfast.

The sea was full of large jelly fish and there were many rafts of birds sitting and feeding on the water.  We also encountered Sandwich Tern, Great Skua, Gannet and many rafts of Guillemot and Manx Shearwater.

Our stay in Belfast was most enjoyable with an evening visiting a couple of the traditional bars in the vicinity of the hotel and a walk around Belfast City Centre.  We had a very comfortable night and a wonderful buffet breakfast thanks to Jury's Inn for their hospitality.

Great Skua Rick Morris 01Our return journey on Stena Precision was rather different with fairly strong winds, waves and glare from the sun.  However we had good sightings again of rafts of Guillemot and Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Great Skua.  Numbers of cetaceans were down and identification was a little bit more difficult because of the glare.  However, sightings of Sandwich Tern and, the highlight of the survey, an Iceland Gull as we approached Heysham made this another enjoyable and fruitful crossing.

Once again our thanks go to the Captains and crew of the Stena Performance and Stena Precision who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Janet Shepherd and Rebecca Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife