MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Ranger’ Heysham-Dublin 26 July 2016

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

Westbound: Wind ESE 1, sea state 2-0, swell 1-0, visibility 6-5
Eastbound: Wind SW 4, sea state 1-4, swell 0-2, visibility 5-3

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 37
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1067
Gannet Morus bassanus 108
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 157
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 35
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 55
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Large gull sp  272
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus  613
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 22
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 219
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvincensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 159
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisea 30
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 31
Guillemot Uria aalge 1474
Razorbill Alca torda 176
Puffin Fratercula arctica 15
Auk Sp. 70

As ever, our boarding of the Clipper Ranger was managed with friendly efficiency by the Seatruck staff and we managed a few hours sleep before starting our survey at 06.00.

The conditions were pretty good although a few showers blotted the horizon at times. Seabirds were evident from the start, and we began to record good numbers of Guillemot and Manx Shearwater with a steady sprinkling of Kittiwake and Fulmar. It was good to see so many young Guillemot accompanied by parent birds and over a third of the birds we recorded were youngsters. There were even numbers of young Razorbill with parent birds.

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 03
Mediterranean Gulls on the approach to Dublin (Rob Petley-Jones)

A calm sea allowed good viewing conditions for cetacean spotting and pair of Common Dolphin early on was a promising start.  After a brief spell of rain, the sea calmed even further and we had a very rich spell when Harbour Porpoise were popping up with pleasing regularity, several with young animals in tow.

A strange bird on the sea had us guessing at all sorts of rarities, but photographs confirmed that is was a strangely marked second year Gannet - a good lesson to be careful about being misled by immature plumages!

Our approach to Dublin was again graced by a good number of Mediterranean Gull with numbers of Black Guillemot also adding to the spectacle.

Some welcome lunch served by the steward Kamil and a few hours rest fortified us for the start of the return leg. Strangely we saw no more Mediterranean Gull as we passed by the three lighthouses, although there were large numbers o0f Black-headed Gull and Cormorant perched on the breakwaters.

The wind had picked up significantly during the turn round in Dublin and the calm seas of the outward leg were replaced by choppy white-capped filled seascape for much of the return leg. This showed just how important calm sea conditions are for effective cetacean spotting as we saw only one Harbour Porpoise on the return to Heysham.

Guillemot numbers were still dominant and we were delighted to have a number of close views of Puffin, a species normally seen in only very small numbers on these surveys. A small flock of Kittiwake kept up with the ship for much of the crossing, often taking a rest on one of the container on the forward deck.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 03
Kittiwake (Rob Petley-Jones)

A solitary Common Dolphin near a feeding group of Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot and Fulmar was some reward, but even better was the surfacing of a Minke Whale just off the starboard beam! This species seems to be becoming a regular for this run so this sighting was not unexpected, but still very satisfying.

Rain finally caught up with us and we halted the survey at 20.00 because of poor light and spent a few hours relaxing and totting up the bird numbers as the ship steadily steamed towards Heysham harbour.

Our thanks as always to Seatruck and to the two masters Andy and Paul who made us very welcome on the ship and particular thanks to the Steward Kamil who kept us fed!