MARINElife blog: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Point' 3rd December 2019

Rob Petley-Jones and Tony Marshall, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather Outward - Wind: W 6 increasing 8; Sea State: 4 increasing 6; Swell: 1-2; Visibility: mostly clear; Precipitation: rain showers; Return - Wind: NE 8 decreasing 4; Sea State: 5 decreasing 3; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 11
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 41
Gannet Morus bassanus 28
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 17
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Common Gull Larus canus 85
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 267
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 126
Razorbill Alca torda 39
Large gull sp. 2
Auk sp. 6

Birds recorded in Dublin Port
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis
Knot Calidris canutus
Light-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota

Our transfer to the Clipper Point and departure from Heysham went smoothly, and after a few hours' sleep and breakfast we were escorted to the bridge where we were welcomed by the officer of the watch who showed us where the coffee machine was (most important!) and where we began our survey.

Common Gull Peter Howlett 02Initially low light levels and the boisterous sea state made for tricky surveying, but soon conditions improved, and we encountered a regular passage of Kittiwake with their delicate flight reminiscent of terns, small groups of Guillemot speeding past, and the occasional Gannet. Approaching Dublin, numbers of birds increased with good numbers of Common Gull as we moved into the outer waters of the Liffy. We were asked to end the survey before the ship berthed, so the large numbers of gulls and the several Black Guillemot zooming around the outer port went unrecorded.

While the ship was unloaded, we headed to the outer deck to look for birds. Dublin Port hosts many gulls of different age classes which allowed us to practise our ID skills while a solitary Light-bellied Brent Goose avoided being run down by the Seatruck Pace as it moved into the berth next to ours! The waters to the north of the Seatruck dock were alive with buzzing Black Guillemot and good number of Great Crested Grebe, while a Grey Seal swimming past the ship was the first mammal sighting of the day. A distant flock of several hundred Knot wheeled around, probably having been disturbed from their high-tide roost!

After a good meal and a rest, it was time for the return sailing. We were allowed back on the bridge as the ship passed the last of the lighthouses, so many gulls and Black Guillemot escaped being counted! However, the sun was now out and although glare to the starboard was an issue for about an hour, we were treated to reasonable sea conditions and good visibility for the rest of the survey until dusk.

For the first couple of hours of the return voyage we met with many groups of mixed seabirds, mainly Guillemot and Kittiwake with a few Razorbill and Fulmar. We were beginning to despair of seeing any marine mammals when we encountered a single Grey Seal which swam lazily past the ship. This was followed soon after by a superb encounter with three small groups of Common Dolphin which charged towards us to ride on the bow wave of the ship. We were treated to excellent views as they leapt out of the waves before disappearing down the side of the ship towards the wake. The highlight of the survey!

Common Dolphin Sharon Morris 06
All part of life, but perhaps less appealing, was the sight of a Great Black-Backed Gull making the most of a meal of an unidentified auk, with a closely attending Fulmar keeping an eye open for scraps!

A late sighting of a possible Harbour Porpoise completed the mammal sightings for the day, but we continued to see Kittiwake and Gannet until a magnificent sunset brought a close to the survey.

An excellent meal and a short time to relax before an efficient docking back at Heysham brought our day with Seatruck to a very satisfactory close. As ever with MARINElife surveys, we had been privileged to see some of the wonderful wildlife of the Irish Sea that so few people have the opportunity to enjoy. Our thanks go to the Captain Jaak Karm and the crew of the Clipper Point, and the staff of Seatruck at Heysham for allowing us to make this very enjoyable crossing.

Rob Petley-Jones and Tony Marshall, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Common Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Dolphin Photo: Sharon Morris