MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Scotia and Stena Hibernia' 22nd - 23rd November 2018

Carol Farmer-Wright and Rachel Keay; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Calm, cloudy, sunny internals and predominantly dry with good visibility; Sea state 2-3; Wind ENE force 4-5; Homeward: Calm, cloudy, sunny intervals and predominantly dry with moderate visibility; Sea state 2-5; Wind ENE to E force 5-6

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Seal sp. 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 20
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 12
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 184
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Guill Larus marinus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 291
Guillemot Uria aalge 81
Razorbill Alca torda 13
Auk sp. 16
Gull sp. 610
Larus sp. 15

Terrestrial birds
Passerine sp. 3

Carol and I met at the Heysham Port and were welcomed onboard the Stena Scotia with time prior to departure to catch-up and to find my sea-legs. Weather conditions were great with a calm sea state, a tail wind of East North East and almost perfect visibility. Having coordinated this MARINElife route for the past 3 years, I was excited to finally embark on the Heysham to Belfast survey.

While leaving Heysham we spotted several Black-headed Gull and Herring Gull. Three Common Scoter flew across the bow of Scotia followed by a Great Black-backed Gull. As we sailed through the windfarms off Walney Island there was a selection of Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Razorbill, and Guillemot to spot. When there was time between each sighting, I was able to follow the sea birds with binoculars to perfect my identification skills with Carol's help.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 20North of the Isle of Man currents changed, the sea state dropped down to 2 and Carol spotted a solo Harbour Porpoise. Soon afterwards, we saw a feeding frenzy of close to 300 Kittiwake, Common Gull, and Herring Gull off the starboard side. After one solo Gannet, a few more Kittiwake, and several Guillemot rafts we called it a day as the gorgeous sunset turned to darkness. Arriving at Belfast Jurys Inn was a welcome and comfortable rest.

The following day, after an excellent Jurys Inn breakfast, we were welcomed onboard the Stena Hibernia, and to use the suitable Scottish lexicon to describe the weather, it was rather 'dreich'! Luckily for us, as we embarked from Belfast the clouds lifted, the rain lightened, and the sun broke through.

Common Gull Peter Howlett 02Outside of Belfast Harbour Captain Fitzgerald spotted a seal species off the port side, and we spotted many Cormorant that were resting on the lateral buoyage that guided us through the channel out of Belfast Port, as well as some of the usual suspects sporting their winter plumage; Herring Gull, Common Gull, Kittiwake and Guillemot. Bird numbers were lower than the previous day, and as we sailed past the Isle of Man a solo Gannet flew into view. We finished up as the night drew in just before the windfarms, moving to the comfortable passenger lounge of the Hibernia where we enjoyed sharing some MARINElife stories with crew and passengers.

We would like to thank Captain Andrius Pakenas and Captain John Fitzgerald, their officers and crew, for making us so welcome on board the Scotia and Hibernia, and all the staff at Heysham and Belfast Port for being so helpful. Finally, a big thank you to Jurys Inn for the wonderful accommodation and hospitality in Belfast.

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

Harbour Porpoise Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Gull Photo: Peter Howlett