MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision and Performer' 8th - 9th September 2017

Stephen Dunstan; Researcher for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound: W 4-6, Eastbound: NW 4-5

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Eider Somateria mollissima 1000
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 545
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 387
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 120
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 18
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 8
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 55
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 62
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Unidentified Large Gull Sp.110
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 103
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 13
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 11
Little Tern Sternula albifrons 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 128
Razorbill Alca torda 94
Unidentified Auk Sp. 5

This was going to be a westbound only survey, but then the timetables changed, and I was able to survey in both directions. I arrived at Heysham on Friday morning, and was driven to the boat by Clare from the Stena dockside team. The Stena Performer left the berth just after 9am, and I was on the bridge as we left Heysham harbour.

The outward leg was a little quiet initially though most of the regular seabirds had been seen by the time we had reached the Isle of Man. There were still some decent sized groups of Manx Shearwater, and Gannet were widespread.

BND Adrian Shephard 05The highlights of the first day were nearing Belfast Lough. First a Great Skua passed close in front of the ship, then a pod of Bottlenose Dolphin went past. I didn't see more than two animals at any point, but it was fairly choppy and there were probably more.

There were a good few birds in the lough itself, including about 500 Eider. After I disembarked, I walked to the hotel through the docks, and saw lots of Black-tailed Godwit, until they were spooked by a young Peregrine learning its trade.

Back at the port on Saturday morning I joined the Stena Precision. There were Leach's Petrel widespread in the Irish Sea as messages to my phone confirmed, but in the sunny conditions I didn't necessarily expect any.

Storm Petrel Peter Howlett 01aThis proved accurate, but I did see two tiny Storm Petrels right in front of the boat as we neared the Isle of Man. Whilst they nest around the Irish Sea, it is always great to see them on MARINElife surveys.

There was a bit of land-bird migration during the day, including Meadow Pipit and Swallow.

Red Admiral butterflies were also on the move, with a few passing the boat. As we neared Heysham at the end of the survey, a Mediterranean Gull was the last new species of the trip.

Thanks to the crew of both ships, and other Stena staff in Heysham and Belfast, for their help throughout this survey. Also, thanks to Jurys Inn for providing a room in Belfast to support our work.

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Bottlenose Dolphin Photo: Adrian Shephard
Storm Petrel Photo: Peter Howlett