Heysham-Warrenpoint

Recent Sightings

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Pennant’ & ‘Clipper Panorama’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 18-19 May 2017

Posted 27 May 2017

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

Weather:
Outward: Wind force 1-3 S; good visibility; sea state 1-3; swell 1
Return: Wind force 0-1 SW; good visibility; sea state 0-2; swell 0-1

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 27
Harbour Seal
Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds:
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 18
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 447
Gannet Morus bassanus 90
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 24
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 52
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 18
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 130
Lesser Black-backed Gul Larus graellsii 48
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 322
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 47
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 179
Razorbill Alca torda 34
Unidentified auk sp.   3
Unidentified tern sp.   1
Unidentified gull sp.   512

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Dunlin Calidris alpina 35
Unidentified wader sp.  3
Swallow Hirundo rustica 3

Terrestrial birds at Warrenpoint Port:
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 12

As ever, our transfer onto the Clipper Pennant was very efficient and we were soon enjoying our breakfast before being ushered to the bridge where we were warmly welcomed by Captain Steven Olbison.  Conditions for the two days were forecast to be very good for marine observations, so we left Heysham Port in a state of high expectation.

There was a steady flow of birds for the first hour with numbers of Razorbill, Guillemot and Gannet as well as flights of Common Scoter and Dunlin.  Jane spotted a group of Harbour Porpoise but then things went quiet with only a few Barrel Jellyfish to look out for.  However, our patience was soon to be rewarded when a group of feeding Kittiwake attracted our attention.  Eagerly we looked for signs of any cetacean activity, and a Risso's Dolphin appeared!

Minke Whale Rob Petley-Jones 02Could things get better? Yes, they could!  Thanks to the eager eyes of the watch officer who cried 'Dolphin!', our attention was drawn to a very large splash immediately in front of the ship, followed by the blow of a Minke Whale.  This magnificent animal surfaced several times off the port side of the ship before taking a deep dive.

With a lively sea state across to Carlingford Lough we saw no more cetaceans but bird numbers remained steady with Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake and Fulmar, and a Long-tailed Skua rounding off a very satisfying first leg of the survey.  A spectacular thunderstorm welcomed us to Warrenpoint, with perhaps the most stunning rainbow ever seen to follow!

Warren point Port Rainbow Jane Petley-JonesAfter a quiet night at the Lough and Quay, we started the second day with an early walk to the Clipper Panorama for a very welcome breakfast, before heading for the bridge where we were greeted by Captain Andy Bradbury and a wonderful view of the mirror-calm Carlingford Lough.  As the ship prepared to leave, we recorded the birds in the harbour, which included a Little Egret and several Black Guillemot.  A Great Northern Diver just out from the lighthouse was good to see but a dead Grey Seal floating by was not so welcome.

Never before have we had a crossing which was so calm - mostly sea state 0, with occasional disturbances to sea state 1!  Mediterranean is the only word to describe the view, with mirror-calm seas and brilliant blues skies - perfect conditions for cetacean spotting!  A steady flow of Harbour Porpoise sightings and included a group of four, calmly swimming though a flat sea.  Although this was most satisfying, numbers were perhaps not as high as we hoped.

Carlingford Lough Jane Petley-JonesHowever, as we approached the location of yesterday's whale record just south of the Isle of Man, we were on heightened alert for another view.  A bright gleam of reflected sunshine off a rolling back a kilometre from the ship proved to be another sighting of Minke Whale.  This animal (the same as yesterday's?) looked to be feeding and surfaced several times over the next few minutes.  The fishing boat some 100 metres from the animal must have had a wonderful view!

After this encounter, the following very quiet afternoon mattered not a bit and we sailed calmly into Heysham Harbour bang on time.  A very satisfying two days of survey on this magnificent body of water, the Irish Sea!

Our thanks as ever to the Masters and crews of the Pennant and Panorama (and a special mention for both the Passenger Stewards for keeping us fed!), and to Seatruck for continuing to support our survey work of marine life in the Irish Sea!

Photos:
Minke Whale (Rob Petley-Jones)
Warrenpoint Port Rainbow (Jane Petley-Jones)
Carlingford Lough (Jane Petley-Jones)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama & Clipper Pennant Heysham-Warrenpoint 30-31 March 2017

Posted 10 April 2017

Robin Langdon and Michael Duckett, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather:
Outward
: Sea state 3-4; heavy fog except for near coasts
Return: Sea state 2-4, visibility improved, with glare to starboard

Summary of sightings

Marine mammals:
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds:
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Common scoter Melanitta nigra 37
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 30
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 56
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 21
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 531
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 39
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 110
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 10
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Diver sp.  2
Gull sp.  67
Auk sp.  46

Terrestrial birds:
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 2
Rook Corvus frugilegus 2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 10
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 14
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Wader sp.  20

This was the second time that we as surveyors had formed a team together so it was good to catch up as we enjoyed the customary hospitality of a Seatruck breakfast.  Happily, the weather lifted before the survey began and this allowed us to witness an interesting first flurry of sightings, with several flocks passing the bay at the same time.

One past surveyor has recently returned from a research project into loons in North America so it was fitting that the dominant species, flying in a group of 20, was identified as Great Northern Diver.  Several waders, together with some Sandwich Tern, Common Scoter and migrating pipits were all encountered before we reached the Lune Deep.  Here some local knowledge (a tip from local Marinelife surveyor Stephen Dunstan) came in handy, where we were primed to look out for Little Gull, a species that was quite new to both of us.  Right on cue a small group appeared and some close views allowed us a good opportunity to note the key features of this attractive species.  We shall be looking out for it again.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 09
Little Gull (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Although we saw no cetaceans on this crossing, we did encounter a lot of dark shapes in the water requiring close identification and some zoom photography.  Most of these turned out to be trees or other debris from a recent storm, the wake of which we were passing for most of the crossing.  Some trees provided resting points for gulls which which were thinly distributed along the crossing.

Occasional sightings of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Shag, Gannet and auks kept us alert but by 13.00 we had reached mist and this soon became thick fog.  The foghorn kept the surveyors on keen watch, which was rewarded by a sighting of a single Grey Seal popping up close to the boat.

Visibility improved before the approach to Carlingford Lough allowing us to observe coastal species including Brent Goose, Cormorant and Black Guillemot.  As we finished the survey more Sandwich Tern, Hooded Crow, Rook, Oystercatcher and a Red Breasted Merganser all came close to the boat.

Before the return crossing we had time for a light breakfast in the Lough and Quay, and observed several Black Guillemot resting onboard the boats in dock.

There was no fog and less roll for the return crossing and while we saw no cetaceans or seals we were able to view the various other vessels, windfarms, gas rigs and the Lancashire coastline that had not been visible on the way out.

GN Diver Rob Petley-Jones 01a
Great Northern Diver (Archive photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

Bird species encountered included Sandwich Tern, Manx Shearwater and Little Gull (seemingly fixed to the same spot as the outward passage).  We were kept busy with regular views of Gannet, Shag, Kittiwake and other gulls.  One Red-throated Diver was also glimpsed, but the highlight of the crossing were the close views of Great Northern Diver with several in summer plumage sitting close on the water as the boat passed by.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama’ & ‘Clipper Pennant’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 16-17 March 2017

Posted 27 March 2017

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather:
Outward: Wind SW backing NW force 7-6, sea state 4, visibility good, variable cloud with occasional rain
Return: Wind  SW to SE then variable force 3-8, visibility moderate cloud with mist and rain

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Common or Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus

Seabirds:
Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 5
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 3
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 172
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 175
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 2
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 112
Lesser Black-backed Gul Larus graellsii 10
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 36
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 50
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 123
Razorbill Alca torda 19
Gull sp. 62
Auk sp. 2
Diver (Loon) sp. 4

Terrestrial birds:
Pochard Anthya ferina 3
Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 4
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 8
Wader sp. 118

Four weeks from my first visit to Warrenpoint I arrived at Heysham port ready for the March survey. I collected my ticket from the friendly booking office staff and proceeded to the ship.

On leaving the harbour Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull were seen. The tide was low and I saw a group of more than 100 waders flying to feed on the sand near Blackpool. They were, unfortunately, too far away for me to positively identify.

Shag Adrian Shephard 03
Shag (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)

An hour into the survey I started to record Guillemot, Kittiwake and Fulmar, the majority of adults having already moulted into their breeding plumage. I recorded a Grey Seal 25 miles west of Heysham, slowly swimming and observing us as the ship passed by. No Gannet were seen until a fishing trawler came into view with over 100 birds looking for a meal. The rest of the westbound survey comprised of various auks. We entered Carlingford Lough in sunshine and I left the ship for my hotel and the return crossing the following day.

I awoke bright and early and made my way to Seatruck in Warrenpoint to join the Clipper Pennant. The breeze had stiffened from the previous day and there was mist and rain in the air. Travelling out of the Lough I encountered many Cormorant, Hooded Crow and Herring Gull. A solitary Shag was seen in the water, his crest clear to see.

The Lough entrance is 'guarded' by a rocky outcrop marked by Haulbowline Lighthouse. Here various birds and seals are seen. Close observation resulted in a solitary Harbour Seal being seen amongst the Cormorant, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Brent Geese that were resting there. The window ledges on the lighthouse were all occupied by Cormorant, some had already placed nesting material as a sign of possession for the breeding period. The remainder of the survey was spent recording Guillemot, Kittiwake and Gannet until the light failed and I left the bridge to prepare for my drive home.

Common Seal Graham Ekins 04
Harbour Seal (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

My thanks go to Seatruck, Captains Andy Bradbury and Paul Matthews, their respective officers and crew for looking after me so well whilst aboard their vessels and the port staff for aiding me in this survey.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama’ & ‘Clipper Pennant’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 16-17 February 2017

Posted 27 February 2017

Carol Farmer-Wright Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather:
Outbound
: SW force 5-7, sea state 3-4, visibility good, increasing cloud with occasional rain.
Return : ESE to S then variable force 3-5-4, sea state 3-4, visibility moderate to good, rain in early pm.

Summary of sightings

Marine mammals:
Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 7
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 17
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 1
Unidentified Seal sp.  1

Seabirds:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 2
Eider  Somateria mollissima 12
Red-throated Diver  Gavia stellata 1
Black-throated Diver  Gavia arctica 6
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 3
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet  Morus bassanus 4
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 37
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 34
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Grey Phalarope  Phalaropus fulicarius 1
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Common Gull  Larus canus 13
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 36
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 6
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 13
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 38
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot  Uria aalge 22
Razorbill  Alca torda 13
Auk sp.   6
Diver sp.  1

This was to be my first survey to Warrenpoint and I arrived at Heysham port, collected my ticket from the booking office and proceeded to the ship, where I was met by one of the cadets who kindly helped me take my equipment on board.

The day was fairly cloudy and there was a brisk breeze but the sea state was moderate.  Half an hour after leaving Heysham I caught a brief glimpse of a seal diving quickly as the ship approached.  Bird sightings started with Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull, and as we moved westwards I had one fleeting sighting of a solitary Harbour Porpoise.

Grey Seal Peter Howlett 04
Grey Seal (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Auks were more evident and Kittiwake and Gannet appeared before the light faded and the survey stopped three miles east of Carlingford Lough.  Once docked, I collected my belongings and left the ship to spend the night at the Lough and Quay hotel, looking forward to the return sailing and a chance to see Carlingford Lough in the daylight.

I returned to Warrenpoint port the next morning having spent a very comfortable night at the Lough and Quay. The day was overcast, but the wind and sea were calmer than the previous day.  The staff at the booking office processed my booking and arranged for transport to take me to the ship. Once aboard I proceeded to the bridge, was welcomed by Captain Olbison and set up for the survey.

Carlingford Lough turned out to be very productive, and within the first minute I saw my first mammal, a Harbour Seal.  Over the first hour whilst navigating the Lough a further six Harbour Seal were seen and a group of Grey Seal comprising thirteen adult and four young seals were hauled out on the rocks exposed by low tide around Haulbowline Lighthouse at the mouth of the Lough.  Many birds were also evident in the Lough, with Herring Gull, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Shag, Cormorant, Black Guillemot, Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver were evident together with the best sighting for me, a single Grey Phalarope in winter plumage.

Grey Phalarope Steve McAusland 01
Grey Phalarope (Archive photo: Steve McAusland)

After leaving the Lough sightings tailed off with just over sixty birds being recorded over the next six hours.  Auks, Kittiwake and other gulls were the main sightings together with a couple of Brent Geese.  The Isle of Man was shrouded in mist and rain that started in the early afternoon.  The light failed just as we left the Calder Gas fields, one of the platforms reminding me of the Martian craft in the War of the Worlds!

I left the bridge having thanked the officers and returned to collect my belongings before disembarking the vessel and beginning the drive home.

My thanks go to Seatruck, Captains John Matheson and Steven Olbison, their respective officers and crew for looking after me so well whilst aboard their vessels and the port staff for aiding me in this survey.

MARINElife blog: Heysham-Warrenpoint 26-27 January 2017

Posted 24 January 2017

This survey was cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama’ & ‘Clipper Pennant’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 1-2 December 2016

Posted 06 December 2016

Stephen Dunstan and Michael Duckett, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather
Westbound: wind W force 2-3
Eastbound: wind E force 0-2

Summary of sightings

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 44
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 9
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4

Seabirds:
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 5
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 12
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 1
Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo 195
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 24
Eider Somateria mollisima 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 90
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 6
Common Gull Larus canus 41
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 124
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 57
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 539
Guillemot Uria aalge 173
Razorbill Alca torda 236
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 18
Unidentified Auk sp  398
Unidentified Gull Larus sp  10

Other species seen during survey effort
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Curlew Numenius arquata 1

We boarded the Clipper Panorama on a calm December morning at Heysham, and soon after dawn we left the quay and headed into a welcoming looking Morecambe Bay. Initially it was quiet, but as we reached the Lune Deep we saw a few Kittiwake joined by a couple of Little Gull and some groups of Common Scoter flew past.

As we approached the Isle of Man a Great Northern Diver flew past and a Red-throated Diver was disturbed off the sea. The lack of cetacean sightings before reaching Manx waters was soon forgotten as we saw two small pods of Common Dolphin heading north in quick succession.

Otter Adrian Shephard 02
Otter (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)

Nearing Ireland a couple of large groups of feeding Kittiwake were noted, approaching 400 birds in total. A few more Red-throated Diver were seen along with the first Black Guillemot of the survey as we approached Carlingford Lough in calm and sunny conditions. We stopped formal surveying as we entered the lough but kept an eye on the water after an enjoyable dinner. This proved rewarding as an Otter swam past the ferry at close range, with a couple of seals also noted.

The following morning also dawned promisingly for surveying, and we began to record at the mouth of Carlingford Lough, where sightings included sixteen Black Guillemot and several each of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver. A couple of Common Seal were hauled out on the skerries and at sea we recorded four different Grey Seal.

Approaching the Isle of Man a couple of sightings of Common Dolphin were made, one of an apparently lone individual and one of a small pod. Entering the Lune Deep conditions became flat calm and it became much easier to see Harbour Porpoise, and we were able to pick out several pods, along with some more Little Gull and Common Scoter before darkness fell as we approached the outer limits of Morecambe Bay.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 09
Little Gull (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Our thanks to the captains and crew of the Clipper Panorama and Clipper Pennant, and also the ground staff at both Heysham and Warrenpoint for the kindness extended to us during what was overall a very enjoyable and successful survey.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Pennant’ & ‘Seatruck Panorama’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 3-4 November 2016

Posted 07 November 2016

Karrie Langdon and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outbound: Overcast; Sea State 3-4; Wind W Force 5-6
Homeward: Sunny; Sea State 3-4; Wind W Force 4-5

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 20

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 18
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 87
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 235
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 17
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 61
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-Headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 12
Common Gull Larus canus 16
Guillemot Uria aalge 215
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2
Large gull sp. 2
Gull sp. 114
Duck Sp. 2

The usual array of birds were seen, with Guillemot in their winter plumage being most numerous, while around each port there were also large numbers of Herring Gull.  There were also several Kittiwake, Fulmar, Gannet, Greater Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull recorded during the trip.  There were also a number of Common Gull which were unusual for us as we have only seen a few on previous surveys.

A single Great Skua flew past close to the bridge offering good views of it, and Robin is convinced that there is only a single Great Skua in the Irish Sea as each time he has been across he has only seen the one!

Great Skua Peter Howlett 05
Great Skua (Peter Howlett)

On the way over to Warrenpoint we saw a single Harbour Porpoise near the wind farms, but we were given a bit of insider information by Master Stephen Cheeseman for the return trip to Heysham the following day.   He told us to look at the little islands near the lighthouse as we left Carlingford Lough where there were usually seals.  This information proved to be first-class and we spotted seventeen Grey Seal 'banana-ing' on the rocks and playing in the sea.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 07
Grey Seals (Rick Morris)

On our return to Heysham we were chased by a rain storm which finally manged to catch up with us as we got to the wind farms, where its rainbow appeared to touch down in the 300 metre box just in front of the boat!  We thought this was a good sign that we would see more cetaceans, but as none were seen we can only conclude they are not attracted to gold! As the rain clouds blocked the setting sun and the light conditions faded we concluded an exciting survey.

We would like to thank Master Stephen Cheesman and the crew of the Panorama and Master Paul Matthews and the crew of the Pennant for making us most welcome.

So what did we learn from this survey?  Listen to insider information particularly when it comes from the Master of a ship, and that it also seems that cetaceans are not attracted to the gold at the end of the rainbow!

Karrie Langdon and Robin Langdon, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Pennant’ & ‘Seatruck Panorama’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 1-2 September 2016

Posted 04 September 2016

Vince Green and Pete Crossley; Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather: Westbound: wind light south-westerly, sea state mainly 1-3, visibility good
Eastbound: wind light to moderate south-westerly, sea state mainly 1-3 visibility good

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Unidentified Dolphin  1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 25

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 150
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5693
Gannet Morus bassanus 173
Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo 116
Shag Phalocrocorax aristotelis 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 24
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 17
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 25
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 182
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Unidentified Diver sp.  1
Unidentified Skua sp.  1
Unidentified Gull sp.  44

After a good nights sleep in the nearby seaside town of Morecambe, myself and Pete boarded the Seatruck Pennant earlier than expected and set off across the Irish Sea to Warrenpoint with a south westerly wind and good visibility.

We started to see gulls and Guillemot quite early into the journey. After a few hours numbers of Manx Shearwater started to appear in abundance alongside a mixture of Guillemot, the occasional Gannet and Fulmar. Nice prospects with the weather, it was a fairly encouraging crossing to the lovely Warrenpoint port.

Warrenpoint Vince Green 2016-09
Near Warrenpoint (Vince Green)

Once docked in Warrenpoint, We stayed locally in a small town called Rostrevor and we did a little bit of sight-seeing and took in a few sightings of waders and Cormorant on the shoreline.

Our return journey aboard the sister ship Seatruck Panorama, was also an early start because of the tides. We set off from Warrenpoint to Heysham and straight away we were seeing plenty of birds. And for the first time in a while I was able to observe many seals all together in one place - just on the exit of Carlingford Lough.

With amazing close ups of Cormorant, Grey Seal and the odd Common Tern, the rest of the journey was a great success.

Cormorant Peter Howlett 01
Cormorant (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Included in the return journey we had a sighting of an unidentified dolphin quite a distance from the starboard side of the ship, and a brilliant close up of both Grey Seal and Harbour Porpoise.

For both me and my colleague it was very exciting as it was his first trip with us. Both Captains, Captain Cheeseman and Captain Olbison, looked after us well and the crew were great hosts to us, we really appreciated everything they did including the lovely meals on both the Pennant and Panorama vessels.  Both myself and Pete look forward to a return trip across to Warrenpoint with Seatruck Ferries.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries Heysham-Warrenpoint August 2016

Posted 05 August 2016

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Pennant’ & ‘Clipper Panorama’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 7-8 July 2016

Posted 11 July 2016

Steve Morgan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather
Westbound: wind light south-westerly, sea state mainly 2-3, visibility good
Eastbound: wind light to moderate south-westerly, sea state mainly 3-4, visibility fair

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 3
Unidentified Dolphin  1
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 40

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1148
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 98
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 54
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 37
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 252
Razorbill Alca torda 14
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Auk sp.  19
Diver sp.  6
Tern sp.  3
Gull sp.  152

The portents looked good as we left Heysham and set out into Morecambe Bay. There was hazy sunshine and a very light south-westerly breeze, and the sea was carrying just a slight ripple. Conditions for cetacean-watching were very good and I was confident I would find them, probably along the south coast of Isle of Man or out in the main Irish Channel.

In fact, we had barely left the Bay before the action began. I was scanning along the edge of one of the wind farms when I noticed a splash. It was a long way distant but distinct. Then again, and I briefly made out a dark shape of a dolphin breaching. This continued for several minutes but at over two kilometres range it was impossible to confirm the identity of the exact species. Very frustrating! A Grey Seal popped its head up shortly afterwards though that was poor consolation.

Then followed a lull for several hours when there were a few Guillemot, Gannet and Manx Shearwater about but things were generally quiet.  In the distance I could see the Isle of Man coming into view and I hoped that the cetaceous waters to the south and south-east of the island would deliver as they had so often in the past.

I was not to be disappointed. Suddenly there were birds everywhere, with small groups of Guillemot and Razorbill bobbing about on the surface and big rafts of up to a hundred or more Manx Shearwater.  This surely had to indicate the presence of fish and therefore the high likelihood of cetaceans. Then I spotted a splash directly off our bows at about three hundred and fifty metres, and a very tall and falcate dorsal fin was slowly cleaving the water, looking a bit like the conning tower of a submerged submarine.  It paused, dipped down, did a one hundred and eighty degree turn and raised its tail fluke vertically in the air before slipping away, and I recognised straight away that it was a Risso's Dolphin!

common dolphin Peter Howlett 17
Common Dolphin (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Minutes later as I scanned the water, I found a pair of Harbour Porpoise moving away to starboard at fairly long range.  I scarcely had time to record them before another splash a couple of hundred metres off our bows caught my attention, where two Common Dolphin had appeared from nowhere and surfaced several times before disappearing.  Their "hourglass" flank pattern was clear at such close range.

It was all action now, and there were Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Puffin and Kittiwake all around and I could hardly keep up with them.  Then, right in front of the ship at barely two hundred metres there was a sudden disturbance on the surface of the water.  Two more dolphins had appeared, rolling, splashing, tail-slapping and generally larking about.  Both were pale grey and heavily scratch-marked, and both had the characteristically tall dorsal fins of yet more Risso's Dolphin.  It was one of those rare situations where identification is easy, where the animals just rolled about on the surface to show me what they were and then just as quickly as they had appeared they were off.

Rissos Dolphin Adrian Shephard 08
Risso's Dolphin (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)

Things then settled down a bit, but an hour later as we were sailing away from Isle of Man into the Irish Channel I was treated to the final cetacean action of the day.  Out of the blue a bulky grey dolphin suddenly materialised directly ahead of us and hardly two hundred metres away.  It surfaced just once, a slow and majestic porpoise-like roll but I could see quite clearly that it was a Bottlenose Dolphin.  In vain I scanned desperately to get another look, tracking its likely underwater course and hoping it would surface again, but that was my cetacean ration for the day.

The rest of the crossing was uneventful.  It was high tide in Carlingford Lough as we pulled into Warrenpoint and the Grey Seal population were not hauled out.  I found a single Harbour Seal right at the western end of the lough and also a lone Black Guillemot.  It had been a remarkable crossing and I wasn't complaining!

Common Seal Adrian Shephard 03a
Harbour Seal (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)

After a pleasant overnight stay at the Lough and Quay guest house in Warrenpoint I was hoping for an encore on the return trip the following morning.  However, the weather was turning and a rather stiff south-westerly breeze was roughing up the water.  Conditions were still fair but nothing like as good as the previous day.

There were some thirty-five Grey Seal hauled out on various rocks and sandbanks as we cleared the mouth of Carlingford Lough and a single Red-throated Diver bobbing about on the surface of the water.  Further out at sea I found more Guillemot and Manx Shearwater, the latter sometimes in quite large rafts of thirty or more at a time.

But I had to wait until our passage along the southern end of Man before finding the first cetacean of the day, with a single Harbour Porpoise which surfaced three times and passed close by our starboard side.  A second Harbour Porpoise followed fifteen minutes later, showing very briefly a few hundred metres dead ahead of us, but there was no sign of dolphins at all.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 15b
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Things remained quiet for the remainder of the crossing. Several Grey Seal appeared as we drew closer to Morecambe Bay but conditions were growing steadily less favourable with a slight swell developing.  The previous day I had spotted surface activity with ease but now I was having to be very carefully scanning between rolling waves and doubtless there were one or two cetaceans I missed.

Morecambe Bay was very quiet with just a few Lesser Black-backed Gull wheeling about overhead and so, with our arrival into Heysham imminent I called the survey to a halt.

My thanks go once again to the captains and crews of both the Clipper Pennant and the Panorama for their warm welcomes and unstinting help and support.

MARINRlife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint June 2016

Posted 06 June 2016

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama’ & ‘Clipper Pennant’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 5-6 May 2016

Posted 15 May 2016

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

Weather
Westbound - S 1-3; visibility good; sea state 0-2; swell 0-1
Eastbound - E 3-4; visibility moderate; sea state 0-2; swell 0-1

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 9
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 18
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds:
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 5
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 23
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 56
Gannet Morus bassanus 73
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 79
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 18
Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 200
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 6
Common Gull Larus canus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 150
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 99
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 38
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 84
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 90
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 101
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 45
Guillemot Uria aalge 112
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified auk sp.  13
Unidentified tern sp.  45
Unidentified large gull sp.  310
Unidentified Phalacrocorax 320

Terrestrial birds:
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 71
Unidentified wader sp.  180
Rook Corvus frugilegus 3
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1

Our arrival at Heysham port was swift and efficient and we were soon climbing the heights of inner stairwell of the Panorama to our cabins and passenger lounge. The ever friendly steward warmly welcomed us and provided a hearty breakfast. Once our hunger was sated we were taken up to the bridge and a warm welcome by the Master Steven Olbison who is an old friend of MARINElife teams. We eagerly set ourselves up on our corner of the bridge and awaited departure, eyes already scanning the horizon for marine life.

As we left the harbour entrance, the old wooden piers were strewn with Cormorant 'drying their wings' and basking in the sun, while the lower beams were fully occupied by large numbers of Turnstone resting out the high tide. Visibility was pretty good and seas were reasonably calm as we headed towards the Isle of Man.

The first Harbour Porpoise was spotted swimming close to the surface, turning on its side to evade the ship, and we had a superb view of it swimming away under the water. Soon after a Grey Seal was seen head-up in the water, casually chewing on a flat fish, followed by another which was keeping a wary eye on us as we approached.

Gannet Rob Petley-Jones 07
Gannet (Rob Petley-Jones)

After the initial flurry of gull activity near the coast, bird activity quietened down significantly but we were blessed to have several sightings of Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Manx Shearwater further out to sea.

As the Isle of Man slipped by, shrouded in mist, I was able to have a few more 'first' wildlife encounters and I saw my first Common Dolphin - very exciting! Two made their speedy way towards the front of the ship, and we concluded that they were going to bow ride. Other 'firsts' for me were the many Common Tern and Sandwich Tern that came close to the ship as we approached Carlingford Lough.

Because of tides the ship was on a later timetable, and we had a welcome dinner well before Carlingford Lough lighthouse came into view, and were well set for the last leg of the survey. As we neared the lighthouse we encountered the first of many Black Guillemot - another 'first' for me - and also numbers of Great Northern Diver, looking resplendent in their summer plumage.  We also saw a lone Brent Goose and several Red-throated Diver.  Several Grey Seal were hauled out on the gravel banks near the Lough entrance, and we were delighted with the Harbour Porpoise that surfaced close to the ship well into the Lough - Rob said this was quite unusual.

Sandwich Tern Rob Petley-Jones 02
Sandwich Terns Carlingford Loch (Rob Petley-Jones)

We docked safe and sound and made our way to our new and most welcoming B&B lodging at the Lough and Quay, which was only a short refreshing walk into town from the port. Tired but satisfied with a productive day, we totted up the figures over a relaxing drink in the friendly bar, and then to our rooms where baths and super-king sized beds waited.

The following morning after a refreshing night and a very tasty breakfast we were chauffeured onto the Pennant by our Seatruck hosts, thankfully by-passing half of the steep flights of stairs, and saving both legs and breath! We were soon shown to the bridge where the Master Paul Matthews, another old friend of MARINElife, warmly welcomed us and made us feel at home, and we were soon on our way.

Good numbers of Sandwich Tern and Common Tern accompanied the ship as we passed along the Lough, with more Black Guillemot, a couple of Great Crested Grebe and a Red-throated Diver also seen. It was good to see numbers of Great Northern Diver as we headed out to sea past the lighthouse.

GN Diver Rob Petley-Jones 01a
Great Northern Diver (Archive photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

Calm seas and good visibility blessed us once more for the duration of the survey, but wildlife encounters were very thin on the ground for much of the passage. Our approach to Heysham was at low tide exposing the very wide sandbanks along the way of Blackpool and Fleetwood. These were great feeding grounds for numerous waders and several large flocks of Common Scoter flew past as we headed up the Lune Deep. The waters were ideal for spotting cetaceans as we approached - calm and flat - and we managed to spot three more Harbour Porpoise making a hasty getaway from the bows of the ship, and the Master Paul was able to catch a quick glimpse of these as they sped away. Cormorant and Herring Gull greeted us as we entered the harbour where Paul very skilfully guided and turned the ship around in a space where you could barely swing a cat!

Another amazing trip! Special thanks to both the Masters and to both the Passenger Stewards who made us so comfortable, and thanks to all at Seatruck and the Lough and Quay for being so welcoming and for giving us the opportunity to further our understanding of the abundance of marine life in the Irish Sea!

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries 'Clipper Panorama' and 'Clipper Pennant' Heysham-Warrenpoint 7-8 April 2016

Posted 15 April 2016

Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather:
Westbound - Wind S-SW Force 4-6; Sea State 3-5; Swell 1-2; Visibility 4-5
Eastbound - Wind S Force 4-7; Sea State 2-5; Swell 1-2; Visibility 3-5

Summary of sightings:

Cetaceans and Seals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 20
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Unidentified Seal sp.  5
Unidentified Dolphin sp.  3

Seabirds:
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 129
Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 87
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Common Gull Larus canus 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 75
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 29
Guillemot Uria aalge 362
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Unidentified auk sp.  171
Unidentified large gull sp.  171
Unidentified Phalacrocorax 14

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1

It was a bright, sunny and breezy morning as we checked in at Heysham and after our transfer to the Clipper Panorama we were warmly welcomed to the bridge by the Captain, Steve.   We departed the port enjoying the clear views and despite the rather choppy sea conditions we were full of excited anticipation for our first survey of the year on this route.

Seabirds were relatively scarce as we headed out towards the Lune Deep but within 45 minutes we had two separate sightings of lone seals diving quickly out of the way as we approached, and we enjoyed the welcome appearance of the first of many Manx Shearwater on our outward leg, gliding over the water with effortless ease.

As we approached the extensive area of wind turbines, two separate sightings of Harbour Porpoise heightened our hopes of more cetaceans as the journey progressed and we were not to be disappointed.  A lovely view of a single Sandwich Tern flying straight in front of the bridge windows was a real treat as were the steadily improving views as our route took us on a close approach to the Isle of Man, bathed in spring sunshine.  Seabird sightings had become regular, with rafts of Guillemot, numerous Kittiwake and the occasional Fulmar and Razorbill.

Gannet Lee Slater 01a
Gannet (Archive photo: Lee Slater)

Beyond the island, Gannet numbers picked up significantly and we were treated to remarkable views of individual birds flying alongside the bridge windows, this being a privileged opportunity to see these magnificent birds at such close range.  As we approached the Irish coast, with light levels fading and the sunset sky was providing a stunning backdrop to the Mountains of Mourne, the Captain remarked that he had seen a group of Common Dolphin from his window the previous day.  Then just minutes later a group of five appeared a short distance ahead and made their way towards us!  A great way to end our first day's survey and with light levels fading we headed off contentedly for a very welcome and tasty meal on board.

After a very comfortable night in our B&B at Warrenpoint we boarded the Clipper Pennant for our return leg and were warmly welcomed to the Bridge by the Captain Paul who remembered us from the April survey the previous year when weather conditions had been particularly challenging!

The weather was less promising than the previous day with cloudy skies and increasing winds but as we travelled out of Carlingford Lough we had some great views of the very smart Black Guillemot which are always a treat to see.  Soon afterwards we enjoyed even better views of two separate Great Northern Diver which stayed close enough to the ship for us to see their beautiful plumage in very clear detail.

With decreasing visibility in the intermittent rain showers and with relatively poor light, seabird sightings were reduced from the previous day.  However, we were treated to very exciting displays from two large groups of Common Dolphin during the early afternoon.  Each group became increasingly animated as they approached the ship, leaping repeatedly out of the water and showing their colours and patterning clearly.  It was particularly satisfying that they appeared just as we were explaining our work to a trainee cadet on work placement with Seatruck who said these were his first such sightings of dolphins on the Irish Sea!

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 12
Common Dolphin (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

With a further two sightings of Common Dolphin and a single Harbour Porpoise close to the Isle of Man we reflected on a very enjoyable and successful survey as we approached the lights of Heysham port.

Our sincere thanks to Seatruck and the captains and crew of both the Panorama and Pennant for all their interest, help and kind hospitality over these two days, and for the great support and care we receive on board, without which this survey would not be possible.

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint March 2016

Posted 13 March 2016

This survey was cancelled for logistcal reasons.

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint February 2016

Posted 21 February 2016

This survey was cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint January 2016

Posted 30 January 2016

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint December 2015

Posted 10 December 2015

This survey was cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama & Clipper Pace' 5th - 6th November 2015

Posted 10 November 2015

Rob Petley-Jones and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind SE force 3-4; Sea State 3-4; Swell 1-2; Visibility 2-3
Eastbound - Wind SW force 4-7; Sea State 3-5; Swell 1-3; Visibility 2-4

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 297
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1    

Seabirds:
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 16
Teal Anas crecca 2
Common Scoter Melanitta fusca 12
Red-breasted Meganser Mergus serrator 2
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 19
Gannet Morus bassanus 69
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 12
Common Gull Larus canus 41
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 103
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 22
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 51
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutes 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 292
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Gullimeot Cepphus grille 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 203
Razorbill Alca torda 103
Unidentified auk sp. 13
Unidentified gull sp. 1144
Unidentified Phalacrocorax sp. 650

Terrestrial Species:
Unidentified wader sp. 25
Unidentified pipit sp. 1

This was my very first survey with MARINElife so when we arrived at Heysham harbour I was very thankful that Rob was with me to guide us through the procedures on arrival at the office and in finding the right ship.  We made our way up to the passenger lounge where we were greeted by the steward with the welcome of a cooked breakfast.  

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01Once we had satisfied our hunger we were shown up to the bridge where I was introduced to the Master, Colin Batty.  This was a whole new environment for me and I was in awe of all the technology - so many buttons!   

We set up our spot for surveying and we were off!  As we made our way out of Heysham port (a tight squeeze for the ship) I was instantly learning seabirds.  Rob is a great trainer and helped me immensely with my identification skills.  A number of small waders flew by but remained frustratingly unidentified, but there were more than enough Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull to practise on.  

The sea state was relatively calm yet the visibility was pretty poor impeding our ability to spot more birds and cetaceans.  However, not long into the journey we were graced with a couple of Harbour Porpoise which actually porpoised off to evade the ship.  What a great way to start the voyage!  

Visibility remained a challenge for the remainder of the journey but thankfully the sea state remained reasonably calm, and we had three more sightings of Harbour Porpoise on our way to Warrenpoint which was so exciting!  The seabird highlight for me was spotting my first Great Skua and a large raft of seabirds feeding on small bait!  Gannet were few but as always were very impressive!  

Harboue Seal Graham EkinsWe arrived in Warrenpoint late in the afternoon and again I was very thankful that Rob was with me to show me the ropes of departing the ship and finding Ryan's B&B, where our very comfortable and warm rooms were waiting for us.

The following morning after an early rise and a splendid cooked breakfast expertly prepared by Dan and his wife we made our way back to the port.  The weather was more bracing as we walked along the waterfront to the ship, and where we were entertained by a Harbour Seal playing in the high tide.

Once aboard we were shown up to the bridge where we were welcomed by the Master Steven Olbison who wished us well with our survey but said that things might get a little bumpy on the return journey....and he was not wrong!  

As we made our way out through Carlingford Lough we saw a flock of 16 Great Crested Grebe which Rob thought was unusual.  There was a small number of Grey Seal hauled out on the sand banks by the lighthouse, together with a very large number of roosting mixed gulls and Cormorant and Shag.  Not long afterwards two male Red Breasted Meganser flew past - another first for me - beautiful birds.  Rob also spotted four Black Guillemot in their whiter-than-white winter plumage.

As we made our way out to sea we passed a couple of Red-throated Diver and the usual small winter flock of Great Northern Diver resting on the waters of the Irish Sea.  Even further out to sea a pair of Teal flew by, much to the surprise of Rob!  

GN Diver Peter Howlett 01The sea state continued to steadily rise as we progressed yet we were able to spot two Harbour Porpoise hydroplaning out of the way of the vessel.  Sadly these were the only two cetaceans we were to see that day.  However, bird activity was much increased on that of the previous day, with many more Razorbill, Guillemot and even a Puffin which flew past in the strong winds.  Gannet, Fulmar and a small number of Little Gull graced us with their presence as we made our way back towards the English coast.  Here the sun finally showed itself for a few minutes as it was setting, brilliantly illuminating a distant Blackpool in a way that only the sun can.  

What an amazing first survey for me, and I loved it!  Thanks so much to Seatruck for allowing us such an opportunity, and to all at MARINElife who were instrumental in my training.  Here's to many more surveys in the future!


Rob Petley-Jones and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint October 2015

Posted 10 October 2015

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama & Clipper Pace' 3rd - 4th September 2015

Posted 16 September 2015

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind NNW force 3-4; Sea State 3-4; Swell 1-2; Visibility 6
Eastbound - Wind NW force 3-6; Sea State 3-4; Swell 1-2; Visibility 5-6

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 297
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1    
Seal sp. 1

Seabirds:
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 35
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5497
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 520
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 256
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 271
Eider Somateria mollisima 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 33
Great Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 90
Common Gull Larus canus 90
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 33         
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 40
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 26
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 65
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 9
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 17
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 73
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Unidentified auk sp. 3
Unidentified gull sp. 302

Terrestrial birds seen during survey:
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostreolagus 175
Knot Calidris canutus 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 78
Redshank Tringa totanus 2
Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Rook Corvus frugilegus 1

Other wildlife:
White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum 1

After the usual very efficient transfer onto the Clipper Panorama, we were welcomed to the bridge by Captain Steven Olbison well in time to start the survey as the ship eased its way out into the Irish Sea from Heysham Port's tight harbour.

Barrow Array and Cumbrian Fells RPJThe usual gulls at the harbour mouth were accompanied by a couple of juvenile Eider, a large number of Oystercatcher and a couple of Little Egret, now a common sight around Morecambe Bay.  Apart from a small number of Common Scoter off Blackpool, things were very quiet as we passed through the wind farms in amazingly clear conditions.  

One surprise of this survey was the virtual lack of auks, with only a very few adult and juvenile pairings of Guillemot and singles of Puffin and Razorbill on the return leg.  Gannet and Manx Shearwater numbers began to build as we approached the Isle of Man, but only after we had passed the island were we treated to the most spectacular sight of thousands of Manx Shearwater when at times the many large rafts seemed to cover the sea.   

Sea conditions were too active for us to expect many sightings of cetaceans but three Harbour Porpoise, caught unawares, did an emergency dive right in front of the bows!  Three bold Common Dolphin came speeding in to try to bow ride the ship but these were soon left well behind as the ship continued on its way towards the Irish Sea coast.  

Manx Shearwater RPJ 1As we approached the County Down coast Jane's sharp eyes caught sight of two Risso's Dolphin some way ahead of the ship, this being the latest in a number of sightings of this large dolphin in the Irish Sea this summer.  

A solitary Black Guillemot welcomed us to the entrance to Carlingford Lough, while a superb Mediterranean Gull in winter plumage wheeled among the Black-headed Gull as the ship manoeuvred to its berth at Warrenpoint.

The return leg started as efficiently as on the first day, with a warm welcome by Captain Colin Batty to the bridge of Clipper Pennant before the ship left the berth at Warrenpoint.

There was no sign of the Mediterranean Gull but many Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Sandwich Tern and Commic Tern as well as a solitary Harbour Seal were seen as we sailed along Carlingford Lough toward the lighthouse.  Here we recorded a good number of Grey Seal hauled out on the rock islands, together with large numbers of Shag.

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 02As we sailed out into the Irish Sea and with the Isle of Man in view on the horizon, we were again inundated with huge numbers of Manx Shearwater with activity so great that we found it difficult to make accurate counts.  

A pair of Harbour Porpoise showed briefly as we approached the Isle of Man but the sea after this and towards the Lancashire coast was very quiet, although we were accompanied for the whole crossing by an intrepid White-tailed Bumblebee!  

It was not until we turned into the Lune Deep that we picked up a distant Pomarine Skua followed quickly by a Great Skua.  As we approach the entrance to Heysham Harbour at the top of a very high tide we had a final welcome sight of a solitary Harbour Porpoise just out from the harbour breakwater.

Thanks as ever to the crew and staff of Seatruck for their warm welcome and continuing support for the work of Marinelife.

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant & Clipper Pace' 6th - 7th August 2015

Posted 25 August 2015

Rob Petley-Jones and Andrew Gilbert, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind NNW force 2-4; Sea State 3-1; Swell 1-0; Visibility 2-6
Eastbound - Wind variable force 2-0-3; Sea State 1-0-1; Swell 1-0; Visibility 6-3-6

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 21
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 172    

Seabirds:
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1        
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 41
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1471
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 452
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 95
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 121
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 66
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 13
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 35          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 27
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 64
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 40
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 10
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 538
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Unidentified auk sp. 146
Unidentified gull sp. 293

Terrestrial birds:
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 6
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 17
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostreolagus 40
Unidentified small wader sp.2

Other marine life:
Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita 2 swarms of many 1000s

We had a prompt start to the survey on the Clipper Pennant with breakfast and quick transfer to the bridge where we were welcomed with his usual friendliness by Captain Colin Batty.  The forecast was promising for good weather and we eagerly anticipated a rewarding survey.

Arctic Skua Mike Bamford 02As we left Heysham port there was the usual flurry of activity from the many gulls there, including the first of several sightings of Mediterranean Gull.   Sea conditions were reasonable as we passed down the Lune Deep, and we were rewarded with a brief sighting of a Common Dolphin and a couple of flocks of Common Scoter which seem to be arriving earlier than usual for their winter's stay in the Irish Sea!  

We were delighted to record two flocks of Black-tailed Godwit on migration near the wind farm, and there was an exciting moment as an Arctic Skua gained a free breakfast from a terrified Kittiwake!       

Towards Isle of Man there was increasing activity from Manx Shearwater, though the calm conditions meant that most were sitting in rafts across the sea.  A common feature of both passages was regular encounters with adult-and-chick pairings of Guillemot, though Razorbill numbers were very low throughout the survey.   

Despite very fair conditions beyond the Isle of Man across to Carlingford Lough, Harbour Porpoise sightings remained elusive until the waters off the Irish coast when three were seen, but two more records of Mediterranean Gull near the lighthouse at the entrance to the lough were welcome.

After a welcome rest at Dan Ryan's B&B, we were welcomed on board the Clipper Pace the following morning and provided with the usual very sustaining breakfast by the steward.  Just after the ship had left its berth, we were warmly welcomed to the bridge by Captain Phil Ankers and began our survey with counts of the many Grey Seal basking on the skerries near the lighthouse, as well as our only sighting of Black Guillemot for the survey.  

Med Gull Mike Bamford 01A solitary Great Northern Diver in the usual area where we see them on winter surveys just out from the lighthouse was a surprise at this time of year.

Conditions were perfect for the first half of the crossing, with the Pace cruising through flat calm sun-bathed waters until well after the Isle of Man, and we were rewarded with a good number of Harbour Porpoise encounters throughout this period, with many animals easily being spotted as they broke the mirror calm surface.

Bird sightings were less rewarding as most were sitting out the calm on the flat sea, but we did record a fair number of Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Guillemot.  A solitary Puffin was briefly entertaining, while our passage through some large swarms of Moon Jellyfish just out from Heysham provided some variety to the end of the survey.    

Rob Petley-Jones and Andrew Gilbert, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 2-3 July 2015

Posted 05 July 2015

This survey had to be cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 4-5 June 2015

Posted 06 June 2015

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ 7th - 8th May 2015

Posted 11 May 2015

Steve Morgan and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind W force 1-2; Sea State 1-3; Swell 0; Visibility 4-6
Eastbound - Wind E force 4-6; Sea State 2-4; Swell 0; Visibility 4 decreasing to 1

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 87
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds:
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 5
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 10        
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 240
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 92
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 41
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 78
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarina 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 41          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 271
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 13
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 376
Razorbill Alca torda 47
Unidentified auk sp. 142
Unidentified tern sp. 36
Unidentified gull sp. 182

Terrestrial birds:
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostreolagus 6
Unidentified Passerines (at sea) 2

A calm day with little wind and still waters of Morecambe Bay welcomed us as we boarded the Clipper Panorama for a late breakfast, before being welcomed to the bridge by Captain Andy Bradbury.  

Calm seas Isle of ManThe weather was very favourable for great cetacean spotting conditions and very soon we had our first Harbour Porpoise encounter, closely followed by sightings of a Great Skua and a small flock of Little Gull.  

The conditions remained near perfect for the whole crossing and a total of 14 Harbour Porpoise were seen on this first leg.  It was a real pleasure to be able to watch these shy animals for more than the usual brief glimpse, and several were seen to be resting on the surface while one was seen to porpoise in dolphin-like fashion!  

Bird activity was clearly affected by the lack of wind, with most of our records being of Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Manx Shearwater rafting on the flat sea.  However, there was high drama when a Pomarine Skua was seen chasing a terrified Kittiwake just off the starboard bow.

The excellent viewing conditions allowed us to find several Grey Seal spy-hopping well away from land, while we had a very close encounter with a solitary Harbour Seal several miles off Isle of Man which gave us a lovely view as it rolled and dived beneath the surface, disappearing into the depths.

The calm conditions allowed us to see deep into the water where very large numbers of the huge Barrel Jellyfish were seen drifting eastwards in the waters around Isle of Man.

Barrel jellyfishA number of Sandwich Tern and a solitary Puffin rounded off a very nice bird list for the first leg of the survey, and we arrived at Warrenpoint very satisfied with the day's tally.

The second day dawned cloudy with the promise of rain, but with the sea still remarkably free of swell.  After being welcomed to the bridge of the Clipper Pennant by Captain Colin Batty, we began the scenic passage of Carlingford Lough where there were a small number of Black Guillemot and a solitary Red-throated Diver to add to the list.

After the usual count of the numerous Grey Seal loafing on the islands by the lighthouse, we prepared ourselves for the start of the sea crossing by scanning for the Great Northern Diver flock that is regularly encountered just out from the lighthouse.  Before long we had counted 10 of these birds, magnificent in their full summer plumage.

Unfortunately, the predicted rain came in rather early and for the rest of the crossing observation was increasingly difficult with heavy rain beating against the bridge windows.  We persisted with the survey despite there being very few birds to see, and were more than adequately rewarded with sightings of a second Pomarine Skua and of an Arctic Skua, which chased a Kittiwake until it got its reward of fresh regurgitated fishy scraps!    

Pomarine Skua RPJA brief lull in the rain brought a little more bird activity, and we were stirred into action when we approached a moderate raft of Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake.  As we began our count of these birds, imagine our delight when three Bottlenose Dolphin surfaced in the centre of the raft!  We watched these animals surface in very close formation several times, before they moved away to the south.   

With the rain still steadily beating on the bridge windows as we approach Heysham harbour, we were very happy with the two days of very different but equally rewarding observations.  Our thanks go as ever to the Seatruck captains and crew of both vessels for their warm hospitality during our passage.

Steve Morgan and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ 9th - 10th April 2015

Posted 14 April 2015

Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Conditions:
Westbound - Wind S-SW force 2-4; Sea State 1-3; Swell 0; Visibility 1-3
Eastbound - Sea State 2-4; Swell 0-1; Visibility 2-3 (wind measurements not available)

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 17
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Unidentified Dolphin sp.  5
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Seabirds:

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2        
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 24
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 22
Gannet Morus bassanus 44
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 48
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 49
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 83
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4      
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 70
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 28
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 23
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 5
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 360
Razorbill Alca torda 74
Unidentified auk sp. 164
Unidentified diver sp. 1
Unidentified large gull sp. 309

Terrestrial birds:
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Unidentified small passerine sp.  20+

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough and Heysham harbour:
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 58
Common Eider Somateria mollissima 3
Curlew Numenius arquata 4
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 8

It was a beautifully still morning as we checked in at Heysham with barely a ripple on the water in the harbour, and after transfer to the Clipper Panorama for breakfast we were treated to a very warm welcome by the Captain and crew onto the bridge.  

It was a smooth departure as we enjoyed the glorious sunrise over Heysham with a gentle mist ahead over very calm waters.  We were full of anticipation that despite the relatively poor visibility survey conditions would be near perfect for cetacean sightings and we were not to be disappointed!   Within half an hour over the Lune Deep we had the first good view of two Harbour Porpoise followed by numerous other individuals and small groups as we travelled out towards the Isle Man.  

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 04Equally exciting were the splashes of an active group of five dolphins travelling away from the boat as we travelled away from the island, although the mist sadly prevented a clear identification of species.  A Common Dolphin later made a closer approach, clearly visible swimming through the still very calm waters.  

With the misty conditions continuing throughout our journey, many of our seabird sightings were of individual and small rafts of birds on the water with regular flypasts of numerous migrating small passerines.   Among the auks, Razorbill were recorded as we left the Lancashire coast with mainly Guillemot further out into the Irish Sea, while a very welcome lone Puffin appeared beside the boat late in the morning.  

A group of Sandwich Tern were sighted resting on a large marker buoy in Lune Deep and later we enjoyed the first of a few small groups of Manx Shearwater gliding effortlessly over the water.  

The day ended with wonderful misty of views of the Mountains of Mourne in the late afternoon sunshine with a Great Northern Diver, several Black Guillemot and more flurries of terns to welcome us into Carlingford Lough.  

After a good night's rest at our B&B in Warrenpoint, we boarded the Clipper Pennant with another very warm welcome onto the Bridge from the captain and crew.  Conditions were significantly different from the previous day with cloud gathering behind and the wind picking up and stirring the waters of the Lough as we headed out from port.  With the addition of the sun ahead and bright glare on the sea, conditions were slightly more challenging and our expectations for cetacean sightings were significantly lower.    

GN Diver Peter Howlett 01Flurries of Sandwich Tern and small rafts of Black Guillemot accompanied us out towards the open sea with a small group of Eider and another Great Northern Diver being very welcome sights.  As the sea conditions picked up in the strengthening wind, sightings of Guillemot, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet were frequent with occasional small numbers of Manx Shearwater.  

Large accumulations of gulls were once again gathered around the occasional fishing boat but sadly the cetacean sightings of the previous day were not to be repeated.  However, just an hour out of Heysham we were treated to the rather comical sight of a lone Grey Seal just ahead of the boat enjoying a meal of a very large wriggling crab before it dived quickly with its catch!  

As we reflect on a very enjoyable and successful Marinelife survey we must thank both captains and crew and staff at Seatruck for all their interest, help and kind hospitality over these two days, without which this survey would not be possible.

Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife survey report: Heysham to Warrenpoint March 2015

Posted 13 March 2015

Unfortunately survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife survey report: Heysham to Warrenpoint February 2015

Posted 19 February 2015

Unfortunately survey cancelled due to logistical reasons

MARINElife survey report: Heysham to Warrenpoint January 2015

Posted 05 January 2015

Unfortunately survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' 18 December 2014

Posted 21 December 2014

Rob Petley-Jones and Alison McAleer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Wind NW Force 6-8; Swell 0-3; Visibility 3-5

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Dolphin sp. 8
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds:
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 4
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 3
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 16  
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 48
Gull sp. 11
Guillemot Uria aalge 19
Razorbill Alca torda 14
Auk sp.    68

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough:
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 300

Little Gull Peter Howlett 05It was still dark as the Clipper Pennant left Heysham port so we did not get to our survey location on the bridge until the ship was well out from the harbour, but there was a warm welcome as ever from Captain Colin Batty.

The sea was already lively as we progressed down the Lune Deep, and wind conditions steadily strengthened as we crossed south of the Barrow wind farms toward the Isle of Man.    Conditions remained challenging for wildlife watching throughout the whole run, and our expectations for cetacean sightings were not high.

There was surprisingly low bird activity throughout the crossing and very low numbers of Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot were recorded.  The highlights were a group Great Crested Grebe in the Lune Deep and a group of Little Gull near the Isle of Man.  

BH Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01We were rewarded with at least one cetacean sighting when Alison was fortunate enough to get a very brief glimpse of two dolphins as they surfaced in the rough sea.  

Two Great Northern Diver and a Red-throated Diver near the Carlinford Lough lighthouse provided a satisfying last record for the crossing, before we had to stop due to failing light.  A last flurry of activity occurred as we docked at Warrenpoint where a large number of Black-headed Gull circled the ship as it maneuvered to its berth.

No survey was possible on the following day.

Thanks as ever to the Seatruck staff for their hospitality and friendly welcome.

Rob Petley-Jones and Alison McAleer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Photo credits:
Little Gull - Peter Howlett
Black-headed Gull - Rob Petley-Jones

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ November 2014

Posted 28 November 2014

Unfortunately the survey was cancelled this month.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ 16th - 17th October 2014

Posted 21 October 2014

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind SE Force 2-4; Swell 0-2; Visibility 5-6 but light fog at Irish coast
Eastbound - Wind S-SE Force 2-5; Swell 2; Visibility 6-4 and poor at English coast

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 64

Seabirds:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 6
Wigeon Anas penelope 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Red-breasted merganser Mergus serrator 7
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Diver sp. 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 232
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 172
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 161
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 285
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 8
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 59
Common Gull Larus canus 21
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 138  
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 59    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 69
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 382
Gull sp. 114
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 28    
Guillemot Uria aalge 235
Razorbill Alca torda 225
Auk sp.  97

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough:
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostrolegus 4

Terrestrial birds
Pipit sp. 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 9

We received the usual warm welcome on board the Clipper Pennant from Captain Colin Batty and his crew and left on time from Heysham harbour.  We were very fortunate to carry out this survey between two spells of strong winds in the Irish Sea with the westbound passage initially presenting fairly calm conditions.  
BND Carol Farmer-Wright 01
There was activity from the very start with a flurry of observations of various gull species to record as we passed out into the Irish Sea while a frustratingly brief glimpse of a diver did not allow for positive identification.   There were early sightings of Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Gannet very close to the Lancashire coast, these probably having been blown in by the stormy conditions of the previous few days, and a small flock of Starling were seen heading east towards Lancashire.

A small group of late Manx Shearwater was very welcome, as was our first sighting of three Harbour Porpoise that gave us a couple of minutes of observation as they calmly swam past the ship.  These were followed by another small group of Harbour Porpoise followed soon after by a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphin which gave us some excellent views as they cruised away to the south of the ship.

Beyond the Isle of Man visibility began to deteriorate but there were spells of much bird activity including some unusually large flocks of Fulmar resting on the sea, while several Great Skua and a single Pomarine Skua were also recorded.  Because of increasingly foggy conditions observations became more difficult as we approached the Carlingford Lighthouse and recording was stopped for the day as we passed into the lough.

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 04The following morning was much brighter after a night of torrential rain, and we had a hurried breakfast before being welcomed to the bridge of the Clipper Panorama by Captain Steven Olbison.

The passage down Carlingford Lough was as magical as ever and we were entertained by a good number of Black Guillemot in their smart winter plumage, together with a small flock of Red-breasted Merganser.  As we counted the resting Grey Seal on the exposed shoals, we were delighted to see a smart Little Egret feeding along the tide line.

Despite a strong swell from the previous night's winds, we were able to record a good number of birds including the usual small flock of Great Northern Diver, one still in summer plumage, and a Red-throated Diver just out from the Carlingford lighthouse.  There were again some unusually large flocks of Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar resting on the sea as we approached the Isle of Man, with more sightings of Great Skua and of a single Arctic Skua.

A brief view of three Harbour Porpoise was the only cetacean sighting of the day and bird records became very sparse after we passed the Isle of Man.  Our approach to the Lancashire coast was hampered by increasingly poor visibility but a sighting of a fine Mediterranean Gull just off the starboard bow was a reward for our patience, and we managed to count Great Northern Diver RPJthe Cormorant roost in the evening gloom as we entered Heysham Harbour.

Thanks as ever to the wonderful Seatruck staff for their splendid hospitality and friendly welcome.

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Photo credits:
Bottlenose Dolphin - Carol Farmer Wright
Great Northern Diver - Rob Petley-Jones

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ 18th - 19th September 2014

Posted 14 October 2014

Colin Gill and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind E-SE Variable 7-15 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 5
Eastbound - Wind E-NE Variable 8-18 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 6

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 14
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 57

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 214
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 191
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 300
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 63
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 151  
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 129    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 64
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 74
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 53
Common Gull Larus canus 22
Guillemot Uria aalge 465
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified tern sp. 2
Unidentified auk sp. 2

Other waterbirds recorded:
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3

On a warm September morning we boarded the Clipper Pennant and received the normal warm welcome by the captain and crew.  We left Heysham harbour in hazy conditions with reasonable visibility.

The first session was slow with very few sightings of birdlife - a constant trickle would be an apt description.  Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Guillemot proved the common birds on show.  We slipped past the Isle of Man hoping for more exciting times and nearly missed two dark bobbing backs in the water, which turned out to be Harbour Porpoise having a rest.  

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 11It was shortly after this that the ship passed over an interesting stretch of sea that has several deep trenches, and the sea bird activity increased with several rafts of mixed birds and the appearance of fishing boats.  The clues were there for additional mammal sightings and sure enough another four Harbour Porpoise were seen as well as three Common Dolphin.  A Grey Seal completed a very busy twenty minute period.

The rest of the first day was very quiet until the final approach into Carlingford Lough where there is normally a reward of sightings of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal near the lighthouse as well as a hotspot for Cormorant.

After a goodnight's rest in a local friendly B&B we were up early for the return trip on the Clipper Panorama.  Again the captain and crew ensured that we had everything needed for the trip and on another fine morning with calm seas we set off from Warrenpoint.

Like so many of these surveys it becomes a mirror image of the previous day with the same hotspots and dead zones.  We left the lough with sightings of seals and Cormorant and then had coffee during the quiet stretch towards the deep water trench.  Here we again rewarded with a couple of sightings of Harbour Porpoise.

Sooty Shearwater Peter Howlett 03Bird life was similar to the previous day. The event that was of particular interest to us was near the Isle of Man where an unidentified floating black and white object in the water caused much debate.  

There was even more excitement when we saw a Sooty Shearwater as we were passing the Isle of Man.  It was flying around a small group of four Guillemot, and landed on the water with them before flying off when they dived.

A large number of Gannet were sitting on the water, spread out evenly over a large area of the sea.  Occasionally a couple would circle above the water scouting for feeding opportunities, and it was like some form of gannet communication network.  The flying scouts would find some fish and start to feed, setting off a chain reaction with the other birds.

Two Arctic Skua rounded off what overall had been a very enjoyable survey with some excellent sightings.  Our thanks go to the Captain and Crew of both Ships for their warmth of hospitality and genuine interest in our work.

Colin Gill and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama’ 14th August 2014 and Dublin-Heysham 'Clipper Pace' 15th August 2014

Posted 24 August 2014

Rob Petley-Jones and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind NNW 1-3; Sea state 1-3; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6
Eastbound - Wind NNW 2-3; Sea state 1-3; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6

Summary of sightings

Survey 1: Heysham to Warrenpoint 14 August 2014

Cetaceans and Seals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 105

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 23
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2751
Gannet Morus bassanus 107
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 37
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 69  
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 26    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 11
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 24
Common Gull Larus canus 10
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 16
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 344
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Unidentified gull sp. 61
Unidentified tern sp. 40
Unidentified auk sp. 132

Other waterbirds recorded at Heysham:
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 25

Survey 2: Dublin to Heysham 15 August 2014 (only part survey)

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 86
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 964
Gannet Morus bassanus 32
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 91
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 21
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 250
Mediterranean Gull, Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 44
Common Gull Larus canus 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 56
Puffin Fratercula arctica 12
Guillemot Uria aalge 358
Razorbill Alca torda 103
Unidentified gull sp. 6
Unidentified auk sp. 178

After a later check-in than normal at the office because of the state of the tide, we were welcomed with the usual friendliness by the crew and master of the Panorama, and were soon in position on the bridge.

As we left Heysham port there was a flurry of activity from many gulls including Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Black-headed Gull.  There were many young gulls of various ages which kept us entertained in trying to identify them!

Guillemot and chick RPJBird life remained quiet until we had passed the wind farm zone, but then things got much more active with large rafts of Manx Shearwater as far as the eye could see.  We also started to see a good number of adult Guillemot with recently fledged young.  

Despite reasonable conditions, we saw no marine mammals until we entered Carlingford Lough, where a large number of Grey Seal were drawn up on the shingle banks.  

Before we left for our bed and breakfast, we checked at the Seatruck office to see what time the Pennant would be sailing the following morning.  Imagine then our surprise when we were told there would be no sailing to Heysham as there were engine problems with the ship.  Although the very sympathetic Seatruck office staff had already booked us onto the Friday night 22.00 return journey of the Panorama, we decided that returning by way of Dublin to Heysham on the Clipper Pace would be more productive, so we were immediately booked in on that sailing.  

Grey seal on shingle RPJSo the following morning instead of popping down to Warrenpoint port from our B&B we popped over to Newry to catch the Dublin express bus, from where we got a taxi to the Seatruck berth in Dublin Port.  The Pace skipper, Paul, is familiar with the MARINElife survey arrangement from his time on the Warrenpoint route and was delighted to allow us on the bridge to make observations along the route back to Heysham.  

So instead of a return along the Warrenpoint to Heysham route, we carried out an informal survey out of Dublin Port towards Heysham!  Our immediate reward was of two sightings of Mediterranean Gull as we passed the red lighthouse.  Conditions remained good at sea, and we were eventually rewarded with a sighting of three Harbour Porpoise off the starboard bow.   

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01Another brief sighting of Harbour Porpoise followed, as well as a flurry of sightings of Puffin when South Stack on Anglesey was a distant view to starboard.   A steady stream of Manx Shearwater, Guillemot and Razorbill kept us occupied until the light faded and we headed down for a welcome rest on the passenger lounge.  

We arrived somewhat later than planned at Heysham, very relieved to have successfully made it back to England.  Our heartfelt thanks go especially to all the staff of Seatruck for being so accommodating in dealing with a difficult situation and allowing us to successfully complete our survey.

Rob Petley-Jones and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama’ and 'Clipper Pennant' July 2014

Posted 23 July 2014

Unfortunately the July Heysham-Warrenpoint survey had to be cancelled due to unsuitable dates for our volunteers.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama’ and 'Clipper Pennant' 19th - 20th June 2014

Posted 28 June 2014

Nik Grounds and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind NNE 3 to N 7; Sea state 1-3; Swell 0-1; Visibility 4-6
Eastbound - Wind W 4; Sea state 1-3; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5169
Gannet Morus bassanus 165
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 48
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 56       
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 14    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 327
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 28
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 5
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 82
Razorbill Alca torda 12
Unidentified gull sp. 1
Unidentified auk sp. 43

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough:
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle
Shag Phalacrocorx aristotelis
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Gannet Morus bassanus
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

After check-in at the office we walked to the boat remarking on how good the weather was and hoped this would mean good cetacean spotting chances. We were welcomed aboard the Panorama and given breakfast, then taken up to the bridge and met the Captain and set up our position on the bridge.

Common tern 03 Graham EkinsLeaving Heysham port was relatively quiet except for observations of Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull but as the trip progressed we saw Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Fulmar, a large group of c.800 Manx Shearwater and 30 Common Scoter.  Viewing conditions were good for the whole trip and a constant NNE wind kept the clouds moving and the light good.
Fishing vessels on the Irish side drew large collections of birds at the end of the first day, and a beer in the sun looking out over the Lough made a pleasant end to the day.  We won't mention the football result!

The next morning was clear and calm and we were greeted warmly on board the Pennant where we had the usual great breakfast.  Making our way to the bridge we met the Captain and bridge crew, one of whom is usually based in the far north of Scotland and regularly observes dolphins and some whale species, with Orca being on his wish list, as well as mine!

As we travelled down the Lough numbers of Black Guillemot, Shag, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern and Oystercatcher where noted close to entrance.  Although the wind picked up slightly when we left the Lough we still we had high hopes of cetaceans as the weather was calm and clear.  A raft of 3-4000 Manx Shearwater, mixed with Gannet and Kittiwake was an impressive sight not far out of Warrenpoint.  As we were watching these birds circling and diving, four Common Dolphin came in and started bow riding.  Keeping the binoculars on them we saw them feeding and occasionally breaching well out of the water, amongst the still feeding Gannet.  What a great sight!  

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 01Later as we were passing the Isle of Man Harbour Porpoise were observed on three separate occasions as the sea and light conditions remained excellent.  A single Grey Seal completed the marine mammal count.

Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake were again observed, including a number of juvenile birds.  The weather remained good with the sea state remaining at 2-3 and few clouds which gave great viewing conditions.  No further cetaceans were observed but we were happy with our results as we docked at Heysham.
Our thanks go to the Captains and crew of both vessels for all their help and attention.  

Nik Grounds and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama’ and 'Clipper Pennant' 22nd - 23rd May 2014

Posted 01 June 2014

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind E force 3-5; Sea State 2-3; Swell 1; Visibility 5-6
Eastbound - Wind NE force 5-7; Sea State 5-6; Swell 2-3; Visibility 4-6

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 33

Seabirds:
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2        
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 138
Gannet Morus bassanus 109
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 79
Common Gull Larus canus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 91          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 36    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 35
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 324
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Unidentified large gull sp. 33
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 15
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 35
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 56
Razorbill Alca torda 25
Unidentified auk sp.3

Terrestrial birds:
Swift Apus apus 1

Other waterbirds recorded in Heysham harbour:
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 8

After a swift check in at Heysham and transfer to the Clipper Panorama for breakfast, we were welcomed onto the bridge by the Captain Paul Matthews just before departure.  Conditions were clear but cloudy with a steady Easterly wind giving a choppy sea, but our hopes of some exciting seabirds and cetaceans were nevertheless high.

Black guillemot pair RPJ

An early sighting of Harbour Porpoise in the Lune Deep was followed by two more encounters in the first two hours including a group of three animals.  However, we had to wait until our approach to Carlingford Lough before we had a final porpoise sighting.

A northward travelling Swift off the Fylde coast was the only sign of migration.  Numbers of the usual sea birds like Gannet, Razorbill and Guillemot were relatively low throughout the survey, although a large raft of sitting Kittiwake and Manx Shearwater near the Isle of Man boosted our total count.  The highlights were a Red-throated Diver near the Lune Deep and a Great Northern Diver near the Carlingford Lough lighthouse.

It was very pleasing to see a good number of Black Guillemot in their smart summer plumage in the entrance to the Lough, with many sitting on the channel marker buoys

After docking, we decided to look at bird life on the Lough from Warrenpoint, and were delighted to have some very close views of more Black Guillemot by the sea wall where nest boxes have been provided for their use.  They seemed completely unconcerned by the passing traffic as they sat on the sea wall with cars zooming by a few feet away!

The following morning we boarded the Pennant in bright sunshine, but with a strong North-easterly wind we were prepared for rough seas once we left the shelter of Carlingford Lough.   Here, the sea was pretty rough with a large swell and these conditions stayed with us for the whole crossing, becoming even stronger as we approached Heysham.  However, there is something mesmerising about an exciting sea, and we really enjoyed the continual movement of the waves and spray.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 01


Cetacean spotting was clearly going to be challenging and we saw no porpoises on the return trip.  However, our patience was rewarded near the Isle of Man with a fabulous sighting of a Short-beaked Common Dolphin which came leaping in to briefly bow ride in front of the ship.

Bird activity was clearly badly affected by the strong wind, and we saw even fewer numbers than on the outward trip.  We were treated to some close views of Gannet as they sailed past the bridge windows and were able to practise our skills at ageing the immature birds we saw.

Our thanks as always to the Captains and crews of both the Panorama and Pennant for making us so welcome.

 

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

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama’ and 'Clipper Pennant' 17th - 18th April 2014

Posted 27 April 2014

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind W force 5-6; Sea State 3-4; Swell 1; Visibility 5-6
Eastbound - Wind Variable force 1-2; Sea State 0-1; Swell 0; Visibility 6

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 27
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 23
Dolphin sp. 1

Seabirds:
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 4
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 10        
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 22
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 129
Gannet Morus bassanus 172
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 25
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 33
Pale-breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla 14
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 16
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Skua sp. 1
Common Gull Larus canus 72
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 52          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 63    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 56
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 10
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 71
Unidentified large gull sp. 399
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 88
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 26
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 29
Guillemot Uria aalge 277
Razorbill Alca torda 56
Unidentified auk sp. 15

Other marine wildlife
Barrel Jellyfish Rhizostoma octopus 3

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough and Heysham harbour:
Pale-breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla 10
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 17

After the usual friendly and efficient check in at Heysham and transfer to the Clipper Panorama for breakfast, we were welcomed by the Master onto the bridge before departure.  Conditions were clear but cloudy, with a steady Westerly wind, so we were prepared for some choppy conditions.

Black Guillemot RPJDespite these conditions, the first couple of hours of recording was rewarding with early sightings of Harbour Porpoise as we crossed the Lune Deep and regular flurries of Little Gull further out toward the Isle of Man.  We had some excellent views of Red-throated Diver in full summer plumage and a smart little pair of Red-breasted Merganser, whilst a fast flying but distant skua proved too difficult to allow identification.  A pair of dark-phase Arctic Skua were more accommodating as they flew right past the bow of the ferry.

As usual, the areas around the Isle of Man proved fairly quiet with a few Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater and Gannet helping to keep us entertained.  More unusually the approach to the Irish Coast was very quiet and a steady swell and choppy sea made sighting wildlife difficult.  A lot of splashing from an unidentified dolphin provided a briefly exciting interlude.
As we approached Carlingford Lough bird activity increased and we were entertained by small groups of Black Guillemot in the water, whilst a magnificent summer plumage Great Northern Diver was a most welcome sight.

Despite the fairly difficult conditions of the crossing, we were satisfied with the tally of six Harbour Porpoise and the unidentified dolphin, and we spent a pleasant evening with a stroll into Rostrevor with its magnificent park and the impressive Ross Memorial.

Great Northern Diver RPJThe following day was so different, with very light winds and a mirror calm Carlingford Lough providing a welcome view as we boarded the Clipper Pennant at Warrenpoint.  Although this vessel has not hosted a Marinelife survey before, Steve the Master and his steward could not have been more accommodating, and we were made very welcome on board.

Although we have both made this crossing many times in the last few years, we have never experienced a sea so calm.  With no swell and an almost mirror surface for the whole crossing, this allowed us to experience the true quality if the Irish Sea marine fauna.  Conditions were perfect for spotting Harbour Porpoise and we recorded a total of 21 for the whole crossing, as well as two separate sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin as we approached the Isle of Man.

The excellent conditions allowed us to record four times as many individuals as on the outward crossing, with many sitting out the calm on the almost mirror flat sea.

Highlights were small skeins of light-breasted Brent Goose and a dispersed group of nine summer plumage Great Northern Diver as we passed out of Carlingford Lough.  There were also good numbers of Sandwich Tern and Black Guillemot, while several extensive rafts of large gulls and of Manx Shearwater provided brief flurries of hectic recording in a passage where bird activity was steady.

The lack of waves and broken water made other observations possible.  As we approach the Lune Deep we had several sightings of Barrel Jellyfish with one particularly large brown creature being at least a metre across!

Our thanks as always to the Captains and crew of both the Panorama and Pennant for making us so welcome.
Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 20 - 21 March 2014

Posted 25 March 2014

Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind S-SW force 7-9; Sea State 2-8; Swell 1-3; Visibility 1-5 variable
Eastbound - Wind W-SW force 5-8; Sea State 1-6; Swell 0-2; Visibility 2-4 variable

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 21

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 31
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 25
Gannet Morus bassanus 68
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 138
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 9
Shag/Cormorant unidentified 20
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 66          
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 67
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 21
Unidentified large gull sp. 42
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 31
Guillemot Uria aalge 179
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Unidentified auk sp.canus 12
Common Eider Somateria mollissima 2

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough and Heysham harbour:
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 17
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 21

After checking in at Heysham we had a very warm welcome on board the Panorama from the Captain and crew who, as ever, showed great interest in our survey work and helped us settle in to our position on the Bridge as the sailing got underway.

Despite the very unpromising forecast, we were hopeful of reasonable conditions for at least part of the trip and the visibility was good, enabling a steady number of seabird sightings as we set off.  As a pleasant surprise, a lone Grey Seal appeared half an hour out of Heysham and shortly afterwards our first Harbour Porpoise of the trip surfaced briefly ahead.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 05Conditions then rapidly deteriorated with the wind and swell steadily increasing to bring stormy conditions that only abated as we came within sight of Carlingford Lough.  These were certainly challenging conditions for survey but the generally good visibility allowed frequent sightings of Gannet and Guillemot, with occasional Kittiwake, Fulmar and a few Manx Shearwater, all easily coping with the increasingly strong winds and large swell.

Then, not far from the Isle of Man and quite unexpectedly in these conditions, four Common Dolphin appeared a short distance ahead riding a large wave, their distinctive patterning clearly visible as they rose high out of the water.  It was a real treat to see these beautiful animals so effortlessly at home in their environment.  In fact, despite the conditions it proved to be a good day for cetacean sightings, with another two Common Dolphin appearing briefly just an hour later followed by two very brief appearances by Harbour Porpoise later in the afternoon.

After a very comfortable and restful night in our B&B, we were welcomed on board the Pace and settled back onto the Bridge, the Captain very kindly taking time to ask about our work and sharing some of his own very interesting sightings from his many journeys across the Irish Sea.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 01With blue skies and sunshine on the waters of Carlingford Lough we were optimistic of a much calmer crossing than the previous day and enjoyed some very good sightings of Black Guillemot as we headed out from the port.  A pair of Eider and occasional Shelduck provided contrast to the regular sightings of mixed gulls, Cormorant and Shag.  With the tide high enough to cover much of the islands at the mouth of the Lough, only small numbers of Grey Seal were visible hauled out on the remaining area of rocks.

As we then headed out to sea, the sky turned overcast and the wind picked up with once again a heavy swell developing and bands of rain stretching across the horizon.  This was not to be a day for cetacean sightings but a steady stream of Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake and rafts of Guillemot accompanied us until darkness fell and we retreated to enjoy a welcome meal at the end of what had been challenging but enjoyable survey.

Our thanks as always to the Captain and crew of both the Panorama and Pace for making us so welcome and for all their hospitality, support and enthusiasm for the surveys.

Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 13-14 February 2014

Posted 23 February 2014

This survey had to be cancelled due to severe weather.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint ‘Anglia Seaways’ and 'Clipper Panorama’ 16th - 17th January 2014

Posted 02 February 2014

Colin Gill and Sian Egerton, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions:
Westbound - Wind N force 5-7; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6
Eastbound - Wind NE force 3-6; Swell 0; Visibility 6

Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 4

Seabirds:
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1        
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 60
Gannet Morus bassanus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 368
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 103
Common Gull Larus canus 114
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 103            
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 55
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 32
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 63
Unidentified gull sp. 750
Guillemot Uria aalge 60
Razorbill Alca torda 27
Unidentified auk sp. 15
Unidentified duck Sp. 53
Unidentified goose Sp. 255

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough and Heysham harbour:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 2 (Carlingford Lough)
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6 (Heysham Harbour)

We were warmly welcomed on board the Anglia Seaways by the captain and after an excellent breakfast we were on the bridge as the ship left Heysham harbour.  The weather after the storms of recent times was pretty good with excellent visibility, although a little choppy.  We were immediately rewarded with a flurry of bird activity, the most interesting being a large flock of geese that crossed towards the Fleetwood area.  Unfortunately they were just too far away to get a clear identification.

Fulmar 01 Rob-Petley-JonesThere was then a constant period where the usual bird species were seen although the areas around the Isle of Man were particularly quiet.  The lack of marine mammal sightings was disappointing but our enthusiasm was revived with increased bird sightings as we neared the Irish coast.  An interesting sighting was a group of 22 Fulmar all on the water, which took off together as the ship approached - it was amusing to see them all start with a quick run on the water before take-off. 

As we came into Carlingford Lough there were still no marine mammal sightings, but we were finally rewarded with a group of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal on the rocks surrounded by hundreds of gulls and cormorants.

After a restful night at our B&B, we were welcomed on board the Clipper Panorama by the Captain who was full of interest and support for our work.   After the previous evening's sighting of seals we were optimistic about adding to the mammal numbers.  However, we were only to have a fleeting view of a seal as it avoided the ship as we left Carlingford Lough.  This was to prove our last view of a marine mammal on this survey.

Kittiwake Rob-Petley-Jones 02The spectacle of the morning was seeing over 300 Cormorant on and around one small rocky outcrop, all taking part in communal bathing in the crescent shape bay by the rocks.  Out from the lough, a Great Northern Diver casually swam by and our expectations were high.  The weather was calm, the sea state excellent for the time of year, and the visibility prefect for spotting anything flying or swimming.  

It was therefore a genuine surprise that only small numbers of wildlife were recorded on the return trip.  Even the Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar of the first day seemed to have moved off.   However, there was increased bird activity as we approached Heysham with the various gull species coming out to meet the ship and play in the wake.
Our thanks go to the captains and crews of both Panorama and Anglia Seaways for their continued warm hospitality and friendliness.

Colin Gill and Sian Egerton, Research Surveyor for MARINElife