Sightings Archives: January 2016

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 22nd - 23rd January 2016

Posted 31 January 2016

Duncan Fyfe and Steve Morgan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward - wind strong NW; sea state mainly 4-7; visibility fair
Return - wind strong SE; sea state mainly 4-5; visibility poor to good

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoeus grypus 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 8
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 4
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 4
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 28
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 18
Eider Somateria molissima 285
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 25
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Common Gull Larus canus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 69
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 338
Guillemot Uria aalge 258
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 4
Razorbill Alca torda 102
Unidentified auk sp. 169
Unidentified diver sp. 7
Unidentified Gull sp. 22

Terrestrial Birds
Curlew Numenius arquata 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1
Bean Goose Anser fabalis 1

As usual, Stena were very efficient at checking us in and we got aboard the Hibernia in plenty of time for a good breakfast.  We were shown up to the bridge by the captain himself and quickly set ourselves up in our customary position on the starboard wing.

Sunfish - Rob Petley-Jones 01In the sheltered waters of Morecambe Bay we found the usual Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull, adding a rather unexpected Whooper Swan to our list not far out to sea.  Then, amid the wind turbines, we found a very curious object indeed.  A greyish fin, possibly ten or twelve inches in length, was protruding above the surface of the water more or less in a static position.  It was clearly not a cetacean, seal or shark.  Then the penny dropped - it was an Ocean Sunfish, a somewhat unusual species for these northerly waters.

We had several sightings of Harbour Porpoise in quick succession, these too coming in the middle of wind farms.  Here was yet more evidence that these structures were attracting shoals of fish and consequently predators such as the porpoises.

Out in the exposed waters of the Irish Sea things were generally quiet.  We expected to find at least one or two porpoise along the eastern side of Man especially in Ramsey Bay, but though we came across a frenzy of activity from gulls and auks there was no sign of cetaceans.  By the time we had reached the Mull of Galloway the sea had become quite rough and our chances were fast diminishing.

GN Diver Peter Howlett 01We turned into Belfast Lough as the afternoon light was beginning to fade and found several divers, both Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver, as well as a few Shag and Cormorant.  A little surprisingly there were no Harbour Seal around, a species frequently seen right in the heart of the harbour complex.

The return leg the following morning aboard the Stena Precision found slightly better weather with the sea state no worse than five throughout.  In the Lough there were rafts of Eider and several divers - as well as a single Black Guillemot and a lone Harbour Seal.  Once out in the open sea we quickly chalked up a string of Harbour Porpoise sightings.  Rather less expected was the Mute Swan which crossed our bows out in the Irish Channel.

Ramsey Bay once more failed to deliver any cetaceans, a slight disappointment given that this was usually one of the most reliable areas.  However the wind farms of Morecambe Bay again came to our rescue producing two more sightings of Harbour Porpoise.
Back in inshore waters the wind dropped to a modest twenty knots and the sun struggled to make a late afternoon appearance.  There were Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull as well as Guillemot and Cormorant.  One last highlight was a stray Bean Goose bobbing about on the water just off our bows.

Our thanks and appreciations go once again to the captains and crews of both the Hibernia and the Precision for their warm welcomes and unstinting help and support. We are also grateful to Jury's Inn for providing extremely comfortable accommodation in Belfast.

Duncan Fyfe and Steve Morgan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Ocean Sunfish Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Great Northern Diver Photo: Peter Howlett