MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 7 March 2017

Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward: Wind Light force 2; Sea State 2; Visibility 6
Return: Wind Strong force 7-8; Sea State 2-3; Visibility 4-3

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 29
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 680
Common Gull Larus canus 66
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 77
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 18
Guillemot Uria aalge 270
Razorbill Alca torda 48
Unidentified auk sp. 21

Birds in Dublin Port:

Pale breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla 51

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 2

Wigeon Anas penelope 15

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Meadow PipitAnthus pratensis 2

Herring Gull 1st Winter Rob Petley-JonesA very efficient transfer to the Clipper Point meant that I was quickly established in my cabin for a good sleep before starting the survey at first light.

I made my way to the bridge for 0650 to see the sunrise behind the ship over the Welsh hills and set out the survey point.  The crossing was fairly calm, but despite these quiet conditions birds were initially very thin over the water, with only the occasional Kittiwake. However, as the ship approached Dublin Bay, several large groups of Guillemot boosted the bird total, while there was a welcome sighting of two Harbour Porpoise which passed quietly down the port side.

The approach to Dublin Port can often be hectic for the surveyor team, but there were smaller numbers of gulls on this occasion so recording was reasonably easy.  A small number of Mediterranean Gull were good to see, especially one adult in full summer plumage.  A good number of Black Guillemot were also in their fine summer state, but a solitary Great Northern Diver and a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese reminded me that Spring was still in transition from Winter.

Herring Gull 2nd Winter Rob Petley-JonesAs the ship manoeuvred to its berth, many gulls were attracted by the turbulent waters and the promise of some food!  This was a good opportunity to practise on my young gull identification, with the several intermediate stages of Herring Gull flying around just outside the bridge.

While the ship unloaded and reloaded its cargo (some very large concrete structures were last on board) I was given a splendid lunch and then watched the wildlife around the port, including more Brent Geese, a flock of Wigeon and pairs of Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard.

Herring Gull 3rd Winter Rob Petley-JonesHow the weather can change in the Irish Sea!  After just three hours in port, the Clipper Point slipped out into the shipping channel and made her way out past the breakwater, while I counted a few more Black Guillemot and the large numbers of Black-headed Gull at the power station outfall.  Beyond the breakwater, the Irish Sea had become quite animated as a southerly gale began to set in and observation conditions were difficult for the rest of the afternoon.

I was rewarded with one sighting of a Harbour Porpoise struggling through the large waves, and a few Fulmar enjoying the breeze!  A single Manx Shearwater late in the afternoon was a welcome reminder that spring was finally here.

My thanks as ever to Captain Tim Broughton and his crew for the warmth and friendliness of their welcome, and to Seatruck for their continued generous support for this valuable work by the MARINElife Research teams.


Herring Gull First Winter (Rob Petley-Jones)
Herring Gull Second Winter (Rob Petley-Jones)
Herring Gull Third Winter (Rob Petley-Jones)