Sightings Archives: November 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Seatruck Pace’ and ‘Anglia Seaways’ 15th-16th November 2012

Posted 19 November 2012

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Westbound SW 4 veering NW 5; Eastbound SW 6 decreasing to SW 1

Cetaceans and Seals:
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 7

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Unidentified large diver Sp. 2
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Shag Phalacrocorx aristotelis 34
Cormorant Phalacrocorx carbo 53
Mixed shag/cormorant 280
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 4
Great Skua Stercoarius skua 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Common Gull Larus canus 35
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 101
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 23
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 70
Unidentified large gull Sp. 291
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 30
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 274
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 248
Razorbill Alca torda 113
Unidentified auk Sp 235

Terrestrial birds:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 14
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2
Knot Calidris canutus 40+
Unidentified medium-sized wader 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris  1

Because of the state of the tides at Heysham, the outbound journey on the Pace and the return leg on the Anglia began later than usual at 11.30.  This meant that only the first half of the crossings would be available for survey, and although the whole of the survey route was covered over the two days, the normal two full days of recording was not possible.

After the usual very friendly welcome on board by the Seatruck crew and welcome to the bridge by our captain Colin, we left Heysham in good if somewhat misty conditions.  There was the usual flurry of recording off Heysham power station where we saw a variety of gulls perched on the various breakwaters and buoys, and a flock of over 40 Knot roosting on the breakwater.  We were passing over the Lune Deep when we had our first encounter with a Harbour Porpoise, which briefly showed a dorsal fin not far in front of the ship.  It was from here that we had the first sightings of Little Gull, which were seen regularly for the rest of the recording period.

Little GullAs we moved out south of the Barrow wind farms, we picked up the first Kittiwake, with increasing numbers of Guillemot, a small number of Razorbill and a solitary Puffin. The highlight of the outbound trip was a superb sighting of two Harbour Porpoise swimming very close together and showing several times as they passed to starboard of the ship.

As dusk approached all bird activity slackened off, and we left the bridge at 16.15 just as we passed the Calf of Man, spending the rest of the trip collating our sightings and eating a hearty supper with the other passengers.

For our return leg from Warrenpoint, this was the first time the crew of the Anglia Seaways had encountered a MARINElife survey team.  They could not have been more helpful and accommodating, and after we had been given a second breakfast we were warmly welcomed on the bridge by Captain Orpheus Kekus as the ship began moving up Carlingford Lough towards the open sea. 

There was much Cormorant and Shag activity along the lough, with a large roost on the exposed islands near the lighthouse, which left very little room for a small number of Grey Seal, although several of these had already been seen loafing in the waters of the lough.  A skein of light-bellied Brent Geese flew past the ship, and singles of Black Guillemot in spectacular winter plumage and Great Crested Grebe were seen as we approached open water.

The western coastal waters of the Irish Sea are proving to be very productive for wildlife activity. On this trip we were rewarded with some reasonable views of Great Northern Diver not far out from Carlingford Lough, while we seemed to be endlessly noting down the good numbers of gulls and auks, with a small number of Great Skua also seen.  

Rissos BrittanyAbout two hours out from the coast, a large flock of mixed gulls and auks feeding on the sea ahead of the ship caught our attention, and as we were scanning to count these we were delighted with a brief but clear view of a Risso's Dolphin as its back and dorsal fin arched out of the water.

As we continued toward the Isle of Man, there were regular sightings of Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake, with a couple of adult Gannet also lazily flying by.  A close view of three Harbour Porpoise was our last cetacean encounter, and bird numbers decreased as the dusk drew in. We left the bridge at 16.30, with the lights of Castletown and Port St Mary passing away to stern.

As the sole passengers on this crossing, we were treated very well by the crew and spent the evening as we approached Heysham chatting with some of them about Marinelife and the value of the survey. Our thanks as usual to all on the Seatruck Pace and Anglia Seaways, as well as the helpful staff at Heysham and Warrenpoint.

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife