MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena and Hibernia' 21st - 22nd March 2019

Jenny Ball, and Hazel Doyle (Belfast-Heysham only); Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward: Wind SW F3, sea state 2-3; Return: Wind SW F3, sea state 4 with some swell

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 22
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 8
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 113
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 48
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 10
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 15
Guillemot Uria aalge 228
Razorbill Alca torda 30
Diver sp. 1
Larus sp. 4

Little Gull Peter Howlett 13Sailing times this week were a few hours later than usual, so I had the opportunity for a stroll along the seafront at Morecambe before joining the Stenaline Scotia for the survey to Belfast. Conditions were overcast but reasonably calm with very little breeze for most of the crossing, so I hoped for some good sightings.

Bird life on this survey was fairly quiet, with Guillemot being the species the most frequently recorded. A small flock of Little Gull was seen fairly early on, the birds flitting and flicking their way across Morecambe Bay towards Blackpool. As we approached the end of the Walney Extension Wind Farm, I saw the first of the day's Harbour Porpoise, and the second one about half an hour later.

A couple of Grey Seal were spotted off the Point of Ayr, and the first Gannet was not seen until we turned towards Belfast Lough, together with a few Manx Shearwater, maybe early arrivals. It was a shame that it was too dark to carry on surveying, as the run-in to Belfast often has porpoises and plenty of birds to see.

After a very comfortable night at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, and a quick trip to the shops to buy a raincoat (who goes to Belfast without a raincoat?!?) I met Hazel at the port for our return survey on the Stenaline Hibernia. We loaded the car onto the ship, wedged between a truck and the ferry ramp (a very snug fit!) and were welcomed aboard by Alex, the ever-cheerful steward.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 12We started the survey off with nice numbers of Eider rafting on the water, Shag and Cormorant sunbathing and a small flock of Red-breasted Merganser flying past. The most abundant species recorded was once again Guillemot, with Kittiwake, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Fulmar, and Gannet (all adult) also being relatively common records. A handful of Manx Shearwater was also observed.

The captain pointed out a grey seal almost as soon as we had left the berth and we saw another couple on our way out of Belfast Lough. Our only sighting of Harbour Porpoise was later in the day, after we had passed the Isle of Man.

We are grateful as ever to Stenaline and to Captains Pakenas and Kasprzak for their hospitality aboard their ships and their interest in our work, and also to the Jury's Inn in Belfast, whose beds are really very comfortable indeed!

Jenny Ball, and Hazel Doyle (Belfast-Heysham only); Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Little Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Manx Shearwater Photo: Peter Howlett