Nik Grounds and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for
Outward - Dry, overcast, good visibility, SW wind 3-7, sea state 1-2
Return - Dry, overcast, visibility generally good, S/SW wind 3-9, sea state 1-3
Summary of Sightings
Cetaceans and Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Red-throated Diver Gavia stallata 7
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 38
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Eider Somateria mollisima 434
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 62
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 24
Unidentified large gull sp. 247
Unidentified Auk Sp 13
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Starling Sternus vulgaris 50
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Arriving at the Port of Heysham we were soon on board the Stena
Performer and provided with a hearty breakfast before being
welcomed by the Captain onto the bridge to start our recording
shortly after entering Morecambe Bay. Weather conditions as we set
off were dry and overcast, with good visibility and not much
It was not long before we were kept busy recording Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot. A small gathering of Kittiwake and Guillemot accompanied our first Grey Seal sighting. With an increasing sea state and wind force as we passed north around the Isle of Man, Nik expertly picked up two separate, albeit fleeting, sightings of Harbour Porpoise. Seabird sightings reduced during this part of the journey although we started to record occasional adult Gannet.
The wind abated and the sea state became more settled as we made our way to Belfast Lough. We started recording Red-throated Diver and Black Guillemot, some still in their winter plumage and others in their breeding summer plumage. Pairs of Eider were also seen, as well as Fulmar and more frequent sightings of Gannet, while two Grey Seal greeted us into Belfast harbour.
As the ship began its docking manoeuvres, this attracted a large number of adult and juvenile gulls, including Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Lesser Black- backed Gull. The harbour also contained numbers of adult and juvenile Cormorant and a lone Oystercatcher flew past. On the harbour side, a tall metal pylon structure was serving as a roost for about 50 chattering Starling.
As we bid farewell to the ship's crew, Stena's helpful team of ground staff arranged for a taxi to take us to the Jury's Inn in the centre of Belfast where we enjoyed a well earned drink in the bar and went through our sightings from the day.
Following a comfortable night's stay, we headed back to the freight terminal to board the Stena Precision for our return trip to Heysham. In the harbour were Black Guillemot in their summer breeding plumage and some Shelduck in a large pool of water on the quayside. After another delicious breakfast, we were again welcomed by the Captain onto the bridge to begin our survey as we departed for Heysham late that morning.
Shortly after leaving the harbour and entering Belfast Lough, we began to pick up several large rafts of Eider resting on the water. These ranged in number from 40 to 140 individuals. Both Shag and Cormorant were also present, allowing us to compare and contrast these two species in flight. Leaving the Lough, the wind speed increased, quickly reaching force 7 - 9 for the best part of journey back to Heysham. Despite the challenging conditions, we had good sightings of Fulmar and Gannet (including one diving) and regular records of plucky Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill battling hard against the, by now, gale force south/south westerly winds. Sadly, even Nik could not spot a cetacean in this swell!
The weather conditions meant that our journey took a little longer than planned and, as the light faded, we left the bridge and enjoyed an excellent roast dinner (despite the plates moving up and down the table!) as we continued towards Heysham.
We would like to give an extra special vote of thanks to the Captains, their officers and crew, not only for their generous hospitality but also for their work in the challenging conditions. Thanks also to the helpful and friendly ground staff of Stena at both Heysham and Belfast and to the Jury's Inn hotel in Belfast for their continued support.
Photo credits (archive):
Harbour Porpoise - Peter Howlett
Black Guillemot - Peter Howlett
Nik Grounds and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)