MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia and Performer' 11th - 12th August 2017

Jenny Ball & Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife.
Weather: Outward - Overcast, with a period of rain, wind NW 7-8 backing SW 6 in the afternoon. Return - Bright and sunny, wind WNW 5-6

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 398
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 2
Leach's Storm Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 178
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 30
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 49
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 19
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 6
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 159
Razorbill Alca torda 12
Duck sp. 4
Shearwater sp. 2
Tern sp. 1
Gull sp. 10
Auk sp. 2

Jenny & I met in Morecambe on Thursday night, where we visited the sea front, before retiring to our hotel, ready for an early start.

The weather was better than anticipated on Friday morning, dry, with brisk winds. At Heysham we were welcomed on board the Stena Performer by the steward and introduced to Captain Jan Bakker, who made us feel very welcome.

Harbour Porpoise Martin Kitching 01Things got off to a wonderful start, as still in view of Blackpool Tower, Jenny spotted our first Harbour Porpoise. Towards Lune Bank I was excited to see another one, less than 200m off the port side. We left sight of land and began seeing occasional Herring Gull and circling Gannet, as well as Common Scoter. After passing Walney Windfarm we sighted our third Harbour Porpoise - this was very encouraging!

Towards the Isle of Man we sighted impressive numbers of Manx Shearwater, a few of which escorted the ship for a while, as they expertly skimmed the water. The afternoon was punctuated by circling and plunge-diving Gannet; rafts of Guillemot and the occasional Kittiwake. I was delighted to see my first ever Fulmar and Jenny spotted our 4th Harbour Porpoise off to starboard. The approach to Belfast Lough was highlighted by a wonderful sighting of two more Harbour Porpoise swimming together.

In Belfast, we checked into our luxurious room, courtesy of Jury's Inn and ended the first day with a Guinness in the nearby Crown Bar, a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

The second day started well with mild weather. On board the Stena Hibernia, Captain Fitzgerald kindly invited us up to the bridge before departure and pointed out the Lough's highlights as we exited. These included the RSPB nature reserve, a summer breeding site for Common and Arctic Tern and home to the rare Konik Pony.

Karen Frands Surveying_StenaTowards the Mull of Galloway and throughout the afternoon, we busily logged Manx Shearwater, Gannet and a few Razorbill. We also recorded many father/juvenile Guillemot pairs on the water and at last cetaceans in the form of two Harbour Porpoise within five minutes of each other.

As sightings quietened down in the late afternoon, Jenny told me about a previous MARINElife survey where she had seen a Grey Seal far out to sea. We ended our conversation and to our amazement, there in front of us, was a huge Grey Seal logging on the surface!

The survey ended with sightings of Sandwich Tern as we approached Morecambe Bay. After the excitement of two eventful days it was nice to wind down over a lovely meal on board, before we disembarked.

We are grateful to the captains and crew of both the Stena Performer and the Stena Hibernia, as well as the staff at Heysham and Belfast ports, the Stena Office and Jury's Inn Belfast.

Jenny Ball & Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Harbour Porpoise Photo: Martin Kitching
Karen surveying on the bridge of the Stena Performer Photo: Jenny Ball