Sightings Archives: February 2016

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hibernia' 19th - 20th February 2016

Posted 28 February 2016

Elin Pheasant and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Weather: Outward - overcast; good visibility; SW force 6-8. Return - mainly overcast; good visibility - glare at times; SW force 6

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Seal sp. 1

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 5
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 2
Goosander Mergus merganser 4
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10
Gannet Morus bassanus 13
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 28
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 11
Eider Somateria molissima 239
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 58
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 27
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 10
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 57
Guillemot Uria aalge 114
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 10
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Razorbill Alca torda 27
Unidentified duck sp 1
Unidentified auk sp 5
Unidentified Gull sp 11

After arriving at Heysham port we were efficiently processed through security, escorted onboard the Stena Precision and offered breakfast.  We were then invited to the bridge where we received a very warm welcome from Captain Wojciech Haptar and we settled into our workstation as we headed out of Heysham port for Belfast.

We quickly began to record bird sightings with Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Little Gull, Cormorant and Guillemot all putting in an appearance.  We were also pleased to see small groups of Goosander and Red-throated Diver as well as a lovely Great Crested Grebe.  Just after we left Morecambe Bay, Carol sighted two pairs of Harbour Porpoise 350 meters in front of us.  The second pair was an adult with a juvenile.  All this was within the first hour of our survey, so a fantastic start to our day!

Gannet Peter Howlett 08The morning provided a continuous stream of bird sightings and another Harbour Porpoise.  As we passed the Point of Ayr on the Isle of Man we saw Razorbill and Puffin in winter plumage and Gannet in breeding plumage.  West of the Mull of Galloway we picked up several Fulmar and as we approached the coast of Northern Ireland we saw a very brief glimpse of a fin which was probably a Bottlenose Dolphin, followed by the gentle roll of a seal disappearing from view.

As we headed into Belfast we began seeing large numbers of gulls and small groups of Eider, Cormorant and Shag.  Just as our survey was drawing to a close we were delighted to see a raft of almost 100 Eider sitting on the water just outside the port.   As the Stena Precision made her final approach into Belfast we left the bridge thanking Captain Haptar and his crew.  Once alongside, we disembarked and headed to Jury's Inn where we enjoyed a tasty meal and a sound night's sleep.

The following morning we awoke bright and early and after breakfast we headed back to the freight terminal in Belfast for our return journey to Heysham abroad the Stena Hibernia.  We were welcomed onto the bridge by Captain Arkadiusz Sobiecki and we quickly settled into our workstation to commence our survey.

Black Guillemot Peter Howlett 01As we pulled out of Belfast we had our eyes peeled for the flamboyant Black Guillemot that we knew were likely sightings on this trip but had evaded us yesterday.  Six minutes into our survey we saw our first and within our first half an hour we were treated to several views of this very smart looking auk with their bright red feet and egg shaped patches of white on their wings.  We also recorded Goosander, Eider, Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, a good numbers of gulls, and a Red- throated Diver which flew close to our vessel.  We picked up the same species of birds we had seen yesterday on our return journey with quite a few more Kittiwake and Gannet putting in an appearance as we passed the Isle of Man.

After a tasty lunch and while east of Ramsey Bay Carol sighted two Harbour Porpoise, again an adult with a juvenile just 100 meters in front of us.  The rest of the afternoon brought plenty of bird sightings especially Guillemot and Kittiwake which are both a joy to observe especially at close range.  The sun came out at 4 o'clock and we enjoyed plenty of sightings of a beautiful sunset before leaving our workstation as the day drew dark.

We thanked our hosts on the bridge, Captain Sobiecki and retired to the Drivers' Lounge for a short rest as the ship came alongside.  After an enjoyable and productive survey we said our farewells and left Heysham port homeward bound. Our sincere thanks go to Stena Line staff and crew and also to Jury's Inn Belfast for making this survey both possible and enjoyable.

Elin Pheasant and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Gannet photo: Peter Howlett
Black guillemot photo: Peter Howlett