MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 10 October 2017

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

Outward Conditions: Wind: WSW force 4-1; Sea State: 4-1; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear
Return Conditions: Wind: SW force 1-4; Sea State: 1-4; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 36
Gannet Morus bassanus 127
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 99
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 28
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 30
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 93
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 62
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 58
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 150
Razorbill Alca torda 14

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 3

I arrived at Heysham port at 23.30, and dodged some very heavy rain showers as I walked to the Clipper Point after getting booked in at the Seatruck office.  I was given a friendly welcome by the steward (despite my walking over his newly mopped floor!) and was in my cabin and ready for sleep by midnight.

The rain had passed by dawn and I was on the bridge by 07.30 to find the sea at state 4 with quite a lot of white-caps.  Bird sightings were initially few and far between but soon a steady flow of Fulmar gave me something to record.  Many of these birds were dozing on the sea surface, heads tucked under wings, only to be rudely awakened as the ship bore down on them!

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 01More Fulmar and increasing numbers of Guillemot and Razorbill kept me alert as the Clipper Point approached Ireland over a steadily calming sea, with highlights being two large groups of Gannet frantically feeding over a large area of water.  However, despite careful scanning of this spectacle I was unable to spot any cetaceans that might have been feeding as well.

As we approached Dublin, I chatted with Captain Tim Broughton and we exchanged stories of storms we had experienced.  Needless to say, Tim's account of a very exciting storm in the Irish Sea only last week capped my tale of crossing Biscay for MARINElife in a severe gale a few weeks before.  Clearly the Irish Sea can be a tougher sea even than Biscay!

As we entered the sheltered area behind the breakwaters, I spotted a feeding flock of Mediterranean Gull as well as a flock entirely made up of second year Kittiwake. A good number of Black-headed Gull and a few Common Gull as well as a solitary Black Guillemot were hanging around the power station outfall, while a small flock of Brent Goose passed over the bows of the ship, these interestingly the dark-bellied form and not the light-bellied form which is more usual on the Irish coast.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 02aAs the ship unloaded and reloaded its containers I had some lunch, avoiding another freshly-mopped floor, and rested to prepare for the four hours of survey in the afternoon.

 

We departed a little later than planned due to the Epsilon and the Jonathan Swift both sneaking out in front of the Point!  However, this was fortuitous as I would not then have recorded another sizeable flock of Mediterranean Gull or the five Harbour Porpoise as we followed the other two ships out into the Irish Sea!

 

Despite three sightings of Great Skua, the rest of the afternoon's recording became increasingly quiet as the sea state built, but a sixth Harbour Porpoise just as I was considering packing up for the day was ample reward and good end to the survey.

 

Photos:

Fulmar (Rob Petley-Jones)
Kittiwake (Rob Petley-Jones)