MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia' 15th - 16th March 2018

Jenny Ball and Alex Deamer-John; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward: F5-6 ESE, cloudy with poor visibility at first, brightening in the afternoon. Return: F8 E, cloudy with some rain, improving to F6-4 with some sun later in the afternoon.

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 62
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 91
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 41
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 32
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Black Headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 178
Razorbill Alca torda 10
Cormorant/Shag sp. Phalacrocoracidae 3
Larus sp. 13
Tern sp. 3
Auk sp. 6

Terrestrial Birds
Curlew Numenius arquata 4
Passerine sp. 8

CoughThe most unusual bird seen this time was spotted the day before the survey. I was walking along the Barrows, an open grassy area edging the sandstone cliffs just north of the Port of Heysham, and was surprised to see a Chough, very busy digging up the path in search of grubs! It seems that this bird, more usually seen in Anglesey, the Isle of Man, and on other rugged coastlines, has been in the area for several months, to the delight of local birdwatchers.

Alex and I met up on board the Hibernia, and as we waited for departure we spent some time looking for another local celebrity. Apparently a third-winter Iceland Gull has returned to the Port for the second year, enjoying feeding near the power station outfall. We did not see it, but at least we had had some gull identification practice before starting our survey on the bridge!

The first leg of our survey was quite quiet, with birds being seen singly or in very small groups. These were mainly Guillemots, Gannets, Kittiwakes and a variety of gulls, with a few Razorbills and Fulmars. Some early Manx Shearwaters were also seen - lovely to see them swooping over the waves. Our only cetacean was spotted at the last minute as we came into Belfast Port, a Harbour Porpoise diving away from the side of the ship.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 12After a comfortable night at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, the following day's weather was again dull with rain in the middle of the day. At times the sea state was quite agitated, so we were not expecting to see many cetaceans. However, we had two brief sightings of Harbour Porpoise on the way out of Belfast Lough, and then a group of three as we passed the Isle of Man.

A couple of rafts of Eider were sitting on the water as we left Belfast, after which the regular Guillemots, Gannets, Kittiwakes and other birds were once again seen regularly throughout the survey in ones and twos. About eight miles north-west of Maughold Head on the Isle of Man we saw a group of four Curlews, flying towards the Cumbrian coastline some 16 miles away. We had an excellent view of them as they flew past close to our station on the bridge.

Many thanks as ever to the Captains and crews of the Stena Hibernia and Performer for making us welcome aboard their ships, and to the Jury's Inn Belfast for their hospitality.

Jenny Ball and Alex Deamer-John; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)



Chough Photo: Jenny ball
Manx Shearwater Photo: Peter Howlett