Sightings Archives: May 2015

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Performer' 15th - 16th May 2015

Posted 21 May 2015

Fraser Paterson and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward - dry for most of the journey, turning to rain later, with increasing cloud cover, generally good visibility, south/south westerly winds; sea state 1 - 4; swell height 0 - 1
Return - dry, sunny periods, visibility excellent, south westerly/westerly winds; sea state 1-3; swell height 0 - 1

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Unidentified dolphin sp. 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stallata 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 353
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Gannet Morus bassanus 83
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 30
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 135
Guillemot Uria aalge 224
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 34
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 12
Eider Somateria mollisima 5
Auk sp. 29
Commic Tern 10
Skua sp. 2
Gull sp. 2

Having received our customary warm welcome on board the Stena Performer, we set sail with good expectations from the Port of Heysham in dry, calm conditions with partly overcast skies, good visibility and light southerly winds.  There was little activity to record as we passed through the area of wind farms where we left behind the Herring Gull and Lesser Black- backed Gull and began to encounter Gannet, Guillemot and Kittiwake.

Sandwich tern RPJA highlight of this leg of the survey was two Red-throated Diver in flight and a flock of a dozen Common Scoter flying low over the water.  With the Isle of Man coming into sight we started to record Manx Shearwater, initially the odd one here and there and then in increasingly larger rafts.  A gathering of 100 Manx Shearwater accompanied by Kittiwake, Guillemot and Common Tern raised hopes of possible cetacean activity but sadly this wasn't to be the case.  Our disappointment was short lived, however, as Fraser briefly glimpsed two Harbour Porpoise 100 metres from the ship.  

We continued towards Belfast with occasional sightings of Fulmar, Gannet, Swallow, Common Tern and Guillemot.   By the time we entered Belfast Lough the weather conditions had deteriorated but despite the rain and reduced visibility we began to log Black Guillemot.   Passing the reserve at Belfast Harbour we logged both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern and saw a number of other species including Shelduck, Coot, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, House Martin and Sand Martin.

After a comfortable night's stay in Belfast we were warmly welcomed on board the Stena Precision for our return leg to Heysham.  With the sun shining and conditions calm, we were entertained by Black Guillemot and a Harbour Seal in the harbour as we waited to set sail.  Moving through Belfast Lough we recorded a Grey Seal.  Excellent visibility gave us clear views of the Mull of Galloway.  Our return leg was characterised by long periods of very little seabird activity (no doubt due to due to breeding birds being at their nesting sites at this time of year) with flurries of activity as we occasionally came across rafts of mixed species including  Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Common Tern.  Our "bird of the trip" was a dark phase Arctic Skua flying past.

Storm Petrel Peter Howlett 01At the Point of Ayre, to the north of the Isle of Man, Fraser spotted four dolphin fins amongst some Gannet feeding activity but the glimpse was so brief, looking into the sun, that he was unable to identify the exact species.  

As we entered the wind farm area, approaching Heysham, we were joined on the bridge by a Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen who we rescued and released, hoping the gentle westerly winds would carry her to land.
We would like to thank the Captains, the officers and crew of the Stena Performer and the Stena Precision for their continued generous hospitality and support and also the Jury's Inn, Belfast for kindly providing us with accommodation.

Fraser Paterson and Joan Hunter; Research Surveyors for MARINElife