Sightings Archives: October 2014

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 3rd - 4th October 2014

Posted 14 October 2014

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward - SW 3-9 and some heavy rain
Return - W 3-5

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinius delphis 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 56
Gannet Morus bassanus 412
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Arctic/Pomarine Skua Stercocarius parasiticus/pomarinus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 22
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 33
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 59
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 332
Guillemot Uria aalge 105
Razorbill Alca torda 564
Unidentified large gull Sp 247
Auk Sp 70

Other waterbirds
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhyncus 140
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 58
Eider Somateria mollisima c.3000
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Wader sp. 2

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 10            
Rook Corvus frugilegus 3

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 12Following a warm welcome and swift transfer to the Stena Performer the survey began in reasonable conditions for seabird recording, if a little too choppy for cetaceans.  A few Gannet and Guillemot were seen in and near Morecambe Bay, and a couple of welcome additions to the survey list came in the form of two Mediterranean Gull and a delicate juvenile Little Gull.  A flock of Pink-footed Geese were heading north over the sea for some reason, as at this time of year their movement is normally the other way!

The winds picked up and eventually became Force 9 according to the ship's monitoring equipment.  Needless to say, observations were rather limited during this period and more or less ground to a halt when driving rain also came in.  Fortunately the winds abated somewhat as we neared the Isle of Man, and though it continued to rain visibility was much improved.  Passing the Mull of Galloway a group of four Common Dolphin were seen heading away from the boat having presumably come in to bow ride, while a little later a couple of Harbour Porpoise were seen at equally close range.  Bird highlight of this part of the survey was a pale morph Arctic Skua.  Visibility closed in before Belfast Lough and I retired to the passenger accommodation where an excellent dinner was on offer.

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01Accommodation was kindly provided in Belfast by Jury's Inn.  I walked to and from the port to the hotel and in the morning as I walked through the docks a large cruise liner was coming into berth.  As the Stena Precision left the dock large numbers of Eider were seen in Belfast Lough.  I estimated 3000 of these but this was very much a guess as the boat was picking up speed and some of the flocks were distant.  A group of Brent Geese came in over the lough in front of the ferry, quite possibly newly arrived migrants.

Although it was sunny skies all the way back to Heysham the winds were a little too strong for picking up cetaceans so bird recoding was the order of the day.  Autumn movement included three presumed Meadow Pipit over the sea, and three waders well offshore one of which was a Redshank whilst the other two were unidentified.  Another skua was off Belfast Lough and we enjoyed good views of a smart adult Mediterranean Gull off Fleetwood.  Approaching Heysham harbour and after surveying effort had ceased a Shag, scarce in Lancashire, was picked out in the Cormorant roost on the old wooden jetty.

Given the weather at times in the survey, a score sheet including two cetacean species and several more notable birds was certainly a decent result.  As ever the crews of the Stena Precision and Performer were a delight to work with.

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Photo credits:    
Common Dolphin - Adrian Shephard     
Mediterranean Gull - Rob Petley-Jones