MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 23rd February 2016

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward - Wind N 5-4; Sea State 3 to 4 decreasing 2; Visibility 6
Return -  Wind N-NW 3; sea state 1 increasing to 2; Visibility 6

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 35
Gannet Morus bassanus 18
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 14
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 18
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 113
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1202
Common Gull Larus canus 734
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 606
Guillemot Uria aalge 310
Razorbill Alca torda 37
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 17
Large gull sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds at sea:
Knot Calidris canutus 140

Jane and I arrived at Heysham at midnight and we were quickly onboard the Clipper Pace, where the extremely helpful steward soon sorted our cabin for the night.  By 07.30 we were up and breakfasted and on the bridge to see the sun rise over the distant Anglesey.

It was pretty quiet for the first hour or so with single Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake and Guillemot keeping us active.  The sea was rather choppy so hopes of cetacean sightings were low, and none were seen on the outward crossing.

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 02It was only as we approached Dublin that sightings became more regular, and we were treated to large rafts of Kittiwake and Common Gull feeding at the transition where the waters of the Liffy spread into Dublin Bay.  Searching for more exotic species through the very large group of Black-headed Gull and Common Gull congregated around the power station outfall proved unproductive, and we were escorted to our berth by a solitary Grey Seal.

As the ship reloaded its cargo, we spent a few minutes enjoying the resident Black Guillemot flock, but the chill wind soon drove us to the warmth of the lounge and some welcome dozing to fortify ourselves for the return trip.

Captain Paul Matthews escorted us to the bridge well in time for us to set up before the ship eased from its berth.  Immediately we were busy counting and identifying the large numbers of gulls as we passed out to sea past the lighthouses, with some light relief provided by a couple of Red-throated Diver and a large flock of Knot. Black Guillemot continued to be seen some way out from the port, but soon we were into a steady flow of Guillemot and Kittiwake, with Fulmar numbers picking up nicely as we headed out across the Irish Sea.

Guillemot Peter Howlett 12With a much calmer sea than that of a few hours earlier, Jane's patience in searching for cetaceans was finally rewarded with a brief view of a single Harbour Porpoise, and this proved to be the only sighting of the trip.

As the sun dipped to the horizon in the west, we reluctantly brought the survey to an end and made our way down to the lounge and a welcome supper.  We spent the long evening totalling the numbers of the day's sightings and rather bizarrely watching 'Trainspotting' on the lounge TV, as the Pace gently steamed across a tranquil moonlit sea toward the distant lights of the Lancashire coast.

Our thanks go as ever to the crew of the Clipper Pace and in particular to Jack the Third Officer, to the extremely helpful passenger steward, but especially to Captain Paul Matthews who was as welcoming and interested in our work as ever.

Fulmar (Rob Petley-Jones)
Black Guillemot (Peter Howlett)