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

Becky Gledhill and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - medium to light south easterly wind, sea state changeable 2-5, visibility fair to good. Return - strong south westerly wind, sea state 5-8, visibility fair to poor. Cloud cover 8 both directions.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Seabirds
Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 45
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1101
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 329
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 9
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 81
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 17
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 40
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 46
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified tern sp 3
Unidentified auk sp 2
Unidentified Gull sp 2
Unidentified Larus sp 55

Terrestrial Birds
Passerine sp. 9
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 18

We left Heysham harbour in cloud cover with fairly good visibility and a fairly flat sea state. Just under two hours into the trip Carol pointed out our first cetacean sightings - three Harbour Porpoise about 250m off the starboard side, two adults and a calf.  Being my first survey, this was very exciting and had me hooked. Up to this point we had already recorded numerous seabirds including Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake.

These sightings continued with our crossing and as we approached the Isle of Man I had a brief glimpse of my first cetacean, its size and behaviour suggesting another Harbour Porpoise. It only surfaced twice, revealing a small part of its back and fin but we both agreed on the certainty of the recording.

Storm Petrel Mark Darlaston 01The sea state remained good and for the rest of the survey we continued to record many seabirds. We observed some dramatic Gannet feeding dives and I was particularly happy to spot some Guillemot jumplings with their fathers.

In addition to the birds already mentioned we also spotted Chiffchaff, Fulmar, Razorbill and Sandwich Tern. We also spotted a Harbour Seal.

We spent the night in the luxury of Jury's Inn Hotel in Belfast and in the morning had plenty of breakfast from their buffet to get energy for the return survey. The weather forecast was for adverse conditions but up until the Isle of Man we were pleasantly surprised by the relatively calm waters and good visibility. The sun even came out briefly meaning our view was slightly impaired for a time with glare. In this time we spotted some male Eider in their eclipse plumage, together with females in Belfast Lough, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Herring Gull and Guillemot. It wasn't long before we got our first cetacean sighting of the day, this time a pod of five Common Dolphin which sped towards us together to try and play in the bow waves. Another hour passed before our next cetacean sighting, another Harbour Porpoise.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 10The initial sea state was very much the calm before the storm and after a large delicious lunch from the Stena Line crew we emerged from behind the shelter of the Isle of Man into increasingly strong south westerly winds and an increasing sea state. We continued to spot many sea birds, with several  Storm Petrel added to the list as they obviously enjoyed the exciting conditions. We also saw more Fulmar, Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Guillemot, Oystercatcher and Great Skua. Unfortunately the sea state and wind worsened and although it was exciting on the bridge we eventually had to abandon the survey as the rain and mist was stopping us continuing to gain accurate records.

On the whole it was a great two days surveying and a really enjoyable trip. Our thanks are extended as always to Masters Arkadiyusz Sobiecki and Pavels Lipinieks and the Stena Line crew and the staff of Jury's Inn for being so accommodating and friendly.

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




Storm Petrel Photo: Mark Darlaston
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett