Sightings Archives: March 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 'MV Clipper Panorama & Pace' 8 - 9 March 2012

Posted 11 March 2012

Stephen Dunstan and Nick Grounds, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: SW 5

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 11
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 48
Gannet Morus bassanus 85
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 90
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 100
Common Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 5
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 41
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 45
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 91
Little Gull Larus minutus 24
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 134
Unidentified Large Gull Sp. 81
Guillemot Uria aalge 178
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 24
Razorbill Alca torda 93
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Auk sp 43

Terrestrial Birds
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 6
(Pale bellied) Brent Goose Branta bernicla 8
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2

We were welcomed by the Seatruck staff and escorted to the Clipper Panorama.  We set sail and noticed a couple of Shags among the Cormorants on the jetty as we left the harbour.  Shags are scarce in Lancashire but plentiful at the Irish end of the route.

Shag 1

Morecambe Bay was initially very quiet but we were hopeful of some Little Gulls as we entered the Lune Deeps.  We were pleased to see three groups of these diminutive gulls in quick succession, totalling no fewer than 24 birds.  Over the next couple of months these birds will head for their breeding grounds in Eastern Europe.  We also saw all the more regular seabirds in the Irish Sea at this time of year including Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills.  Although the light held until just after 6pm we were still at sea when surveying had to finish for the day. 

As we left Warrenpoint harbour on Friday morning on the Clipper Pace two small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese passed us heading up the lough. We also saw several Red-throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes before we reached the open sea, as well as good numbers of Black Guillemots.  A couple of Grey Seals were hauled out on a sandbank.

As we were both on the November run we were keen to see if the Great Northern Diver sightings on that trip were unusual, as none had been recorded since.  Although we had none in the lough we did have three on the open sea soon after leaving Warrenpoint, perhaps there were higher numbers in the harbour itself in November because of the rough seas or maybe autumn passage was peaking at the time.

The seas were fairly calm so were hopeful of at least one cetacean sighting, and this duly arrived half way between Warrenpoint and the Isle of Man as a couple of Harbour Porpoises went north to south ahead of the ship breaching the water surface several times.  The other main highlight of the return journey was a Puffin soon after we passed the Isle of Man.  It was dark before we passed below Walney Island so we were unable to check for Little Gulls again on the return journey.

All in all a very enjoyable trip with all the expected species of the Irish Sea at this time of year, plus one or two welcome bonuses!  Thanks to the crew of the Clipper Panorama and Clipper Pace and the Seatruck ground staff for their excellent hospitality again.

Stephen Dunstan and Nick Grounds, Research Surveyors for MARINElife