MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 'MV Seatruck Pace & Panorama' 16-17 August 2012

Stephen Dunstan and Alison McAleer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife.
Winds: Westbound 5-6S W  Eastbound 4-5S

Cetaceans and Seals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 6
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 93 

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 94
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3746
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Unidentified Petrel sp 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 175
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 29
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 12
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Pomarine skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Unidentified Skua sp 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 80
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 30
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 4
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisea 11
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisea 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 279
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Puffin Fratercula arctica 39
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 9

Other waterbirds seen in Carlingford Lough:
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Redshank Tringa totanus
Curlew Numenuis arquatus
Common Gull Larus canus

We arrived in good time and following a smooth check in, were transferred to the Seatruck Pace. We were kindly provided with breakfast before being escorted to the bridge where the captain and crew recognised the team leader from the July survey.  As we left the harbour conditions looked promising despite forecasts of wind and rain.

BND 1The survey team discussed the possibility of seeing a roaming pod of six or so Bottlenose Dolphin that had been in the Fylde area over the previous weeks.  Anticipating this might happen took away none of the thrill when Alison picked up a couple of dolphins fairly near to the boat and Stephen saw another couple very near the bow. Although they melted away soon after, we couldn't have wished for a better start to the trip.
The Lune Deeps were somewhat quiet but a few seabirds were seen, and as we headed out towards the Isle of Man a few Puffins were noted and a couple of Great Skuas. Manx Shearwaters began to be seen in quite large flocks, including one group of around 400 birds.  It was relatively quiet passing the Isle of Man but as we headed for the Irish coast a third summer Pomarine Skua rose from close to the boat and drifted across the bow in front of us affording exceptional views of a scarce species in a rarely encountered plumage. 

Our luck with the weather finally ran out as we entered Carlingford Lough, and we struggled to see anything at all in fierce rain. We headed for the B&B in excellent spirits though, tired but with some memorable experiences under the belt.
Common Dolphin Bow Ride Again on the return leg the forecast was not at all good but we set off in calm conditions with excellent visibility. The typical lough highlights were enjoyed, including good numbers of hauled out seals and several Black Guillemots beginning to moult out of their smart summer dress. At sea more rafts of Manx Shearwater were seen as well as other seabirds. Alison spotted breaching dolphins and a group of six or so Common Dolphin put on a tremendous show as they headed across the front of the ship at very close range. As we passed the Calf of Man a group of Manx Shearwaters lifted off the water in front of us and Stephen quickly picked up a larger and darker Sooty Shearwater which stayed in front of the vessel for some time affording excellent views. Sooty Shearwaters are a very scarce species in the northern Irish Sea so we were absolutely thrilled to connect with one on a MARINElife survey.

More Puffins were seen at sea and Manx Shearwaters continued to be recorded as Blackpool Tower and the Fylde coast came into view, before being lost again as rain finally caught up with us and visibility dropped right away.  The skies lifted again as we headed into Morecambe Bay and we were able to complete a memorable trip by picking out several juvenile Mediterranean Gulls on the power station outfalls. 

We thanked the crew of the Seatruck Panorama for their excellent hospitality and headed off the boat following one of the best surveys yet in the Irish Sea. 

Stephen Dunstan and Alison McAleer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife