Nik Grounds & Jack Lucas, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Outward: Wind force 4; Sea State 4; Visibility 6
Return: Wind force 5; Sea State 2; Visibility 5-6
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 51
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 16
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 25
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 5
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 4
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 146
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 302
Razorbill Alca torda 61
Unidentified auk sp. 67
Unidentifed diver sp. 1
Everything went smoothly upon arrival shortly before midnight at Heysham Port. We headed over to the Clipper Point from the Seatruck office slightly earlier than expected as the ship was ahead of schedule and had already started loading for departure. We got our heads down for the remainder of the night, both of us looking forward to what this exciting time of year would bring in terms of birds and mammals!
We got up at first light and had a brew in the lounge, and as we looked through the lounge windows we were treated with great views of Fulmar and Manx Shearwater banking across the bow. We headed to the bridge just after 06.30 to start the survey, but as the ship had departed at 02.00 we were already well across the Irish Sea by this time.
The weather was clear with good visibility, despite a slight chop and some swell, and straight away we got into the usual characters expected offshore, clocking up multiple sightings of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and a few Gannet, along with some Fulmar and Shag. Manx Shearwater, back from their winter in the South Atlantic, were plentiful but sporadic as we headed across the Irish Sea.
Before long our first mammal of the trip was logged as a lone Common Dolphin leapt down the starboard side of the ship. This was the first of several dolphin sightings over the next hour and we encountered several small groups that were probably part of a much larger pod, dispersed over several miles.
We also spotted numerous seals on the outward leg of both Grey Seal and Harbour Seal floating with their snouts sticking vertically out of the water, a behaviour known as 'bottling' due the resemblance of a floating wine bottle. We also got a brief glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise off the bow but only surfaced once. On the approach to Dublin Harbour we started to pick up some more of the coastal species such as Cormorant, Herring Gull and the much-anticipated Black Guillemot.
Once in dock we continued to look out for wildlife, logging anything we found as casual sightings. We spotted a group of Pale-breasted Brent Geese around the rocks of the harbour point, and plenty of Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull darting around the coast. The odd Harbour Seal was also spotted swimming around the moorings. There were plenty of Black Guillemot, with groups of up to six zooming around above the water or sitting on their favoured perches on the pontoons and concrete structures around the harbour. We had a fabulous lunch before heading back to our cabins for a quick snooze before the ship departed around 14.00.
Heading out of the harbour we spotted more Harbour Seal and more of the previously sighted birds living around the port. As we passed along the channel we could make out large groups of waders making the most of the low tide on the vast beaches around the harbour entrance but they were too distant to identify. We continued to rack up the coastal sightings with plenty of Herring Gull and Cormorant, and a few Greater Black-backed Gull. We caught a glimpse of an unidentified diver species but it dived before we could get a second look.
The return crossing heralded much of the same in terms of bird life, our survey forms largely comprising of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar. A surprise came in the form of a lone Whooper Swan approaching the ship. It was a fair distance offshore, heading north and probably migrating back to its breeding grounds.
We encountered a few more Harbour Porpoise on the return leg, and came across more groups of Common Dolphin. One group numbered over 30 individuals, all leaping and splashing their way under the bows of the ship, and making excellent viewing from our vantage point. More Manx Shearwater glided past, but careful never to approach the ship too close.
Dusk soon approached and although it was a beautiful evening with the sun setting behind us, we started to lose the useable light so we called it a day. We bid farewell to the crew before heading back to our cabins to get some shuteye before our midnight arrival at Heysham. A great survey all round!
Grey Seal (Rick Morris)
Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)