MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Performer' 20th - 21st May 2016

Carol Farmer-Wright and Alexandra Deamer-John; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: wind W 4 dec. 2, visibility good. Return: wind S 6 dec. WSW 4, good visibility with mist on the horizon

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 843
Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 23
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 38
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 62
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 180
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Shearwater sp. 1
Skua sp. 1
Larus sp. 32
Tern sp. 3
Auk sp. 9

Terrestrial Birds
House Martin Delichon urbicum 1
Duck sp. 2
Hirundine sp. 3

I drove up to Morecambe the day before the survey and awoke refreshed on the Friday morning, ready for my short journey to Heysham to board the freighter. The skies were cloudy but dry as I approached the terminal, completed boarding formalities and joined the vessel at the dock. After having breakfast, my fellow researcher for this trip, Alexandra arrived and she was given breakfast whilst the ship readied for departure.

We were invited onto the bridge and settled down to start surveying. As we left the outer harbour we started to record immature Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake. Within 40 minutes we recorded the first Manx Shearwater, one of many encounters we were to have over the two days.

Sandwich Tern Carol Farmer Wright 01a

As we neared the Isle of Man, the occurrences of Manx Shearwater increased and we observed two feeding frenzies, the second with Guillemot and Kittiwake in attendance. As we traversed Ramsey Bay heading towards the Point of Ayre I recorded our only marine mammal for the day, a bottling Grey Seal. The bird life was fairly constant and as we neared Belfast Lough we recorded our only Black Guillemot of the survey.

We awoke early to sunshine and showers, went for a breakfast buffet at the Jury's Inn and arranged a taxi to take us to Belfast Dock. Tickets issued, we were taken to the Stena Performer, climbed the stairs to the living accommodation and had time to input some of the previous days' data prior to the ship setting off for Heysham.

There had been quite heavy rain moving west overnight, evidenced by a mist shrouding the distant mountains of Scotland and the Isle of Man as we headed out into the Irish Sea.

Both Cormorant and Shag were recorded in Belfast Lough with an occasional Sandwich Tern making an appearance. Soon Manx Shearwater and Guillemot became the most frequent birds seen as we made our way towards The Isle of Man. The sea became calmer as we moved east of the Isle. Gannet were seen in larger numbers with appearances of Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull.

BND Mike Bailey 02a
We were now into the last half hour of our survey and had not seen any dolphin. This was to change when, ten miles west of Heysham harbour, a grey seal was seen, and then the bridge officer called out to us 'dolphin'. For the next four minutes at least five Bottlenose Dolphin appeared in front of the vessel from various directions, bow riding, splashing and porpoising.

After this the Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull increased in numbers as we neared surveys end. We left the bridge and made our preparations for making our way home.

As always we would like to thank Stena Line Master's Pavels Lipinieks and Grzegorz Paciorek, their officers and crew together with the staff at Jury's Inn in Belfast for looking after us so well. Finally our thanks must go to Stena Line for their continued support for this route and help with this survey.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Alexandra Deamer-John; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Sandwich Tern Photo: Carol Farmer-Wright
Bottlenose Dolphin (Archive Photo): Mike Bailey