MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint ‘Anglia Seaways’ and 'Clipper Panorama’ 10th - 11th October 2013

Jane Petley-Jones and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Westbound - Wind N force 6-8; Swell 5-6; Visibility 6
Eastbound - Wind NE force 5-7; Swell 4-5; Visibility 6, decreasing 5


Cetaceans and Seals:
Large dolphin sp. (possible White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris) 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 54
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 4        
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 328
Gannet Morus bassanus 225
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 103
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 190
Eider Somateria mollissima 10
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 78
Common Gull Larus canus    111
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus    3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18            
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 51
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 984
Unidentified large gull sp. 39
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 9
Black Guilletmot Cepphus grylle 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 359
Razorbill Alca torda 143
Unidentified auk sp. 805

Other waterbirds and land birds recorded in Carlingford Lough and Heysham harbour:
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (12 at Warrenpoint)
Oystercatcher haematopus ostralegus (25 at Warrenpoint)
Redshank Tringa totanus    (40 at Heysham Harbour)
Curlew Numenius arquata    (20 at Warrenpoint)
Jackdaw Corvus monedula    (Carlingford Lough)
Rook Corvus frugilegus (Carlingford Lough)
Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix (Warrenpoint)

We were warmly welcomed on board the Anglia Seaways where we had an early lunch with the other passengers who were very interested in our work.   We were escorted to the bridge well in time for the late morning departure from Heysham, with weather conditions promising to be challenging with strong cold northerly winds creating some uncomfortable swell, but providing crystal-clear visibility.

Black-headed gullThere was quickly a sighting of a single Mediterranean Gull flying with the resident flock of Black-headed Gull just outside the harbour, and as we crossed the Lune Deep we had a close view of a single Harbour Porpoise which surfaced in the swell just in front of the ship's bow.  A single Common Scoter and a small flock of Eider were other highlights as we approached the Isle of Man, but this was followed by a spell of very little wildlife activity in the rough seas and lively swell.

As we approached the Irish coast bird activity picked up, with large numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and some late groups of Manx Shearwater being encountered.  Several Puffin were a pleasure to see, but it was disappointing that we saw only one Fulmar on the whole crossing.  Four Great Northern Diver were recorded near the entrance to Carlingford Lough, with two us a giving splendid view as they flew close in front of the bridge windows.  We saw only two Black Guillemot here, which is a low count for this species.  

After a restful night and hearty breakfast at our B&B, we were welcomed on board the Clipper Panorama as old friends!  As we prepared our paperwork before departure we were entertained by two Grey Seal as they fished just off the side of the ship.  Several more Grey Seal were seen fishing as we passed up Carlingford Lough and we saw several large fish (Salmon?) leaping out of the water in their efforts to escape their submarine hunters!  Two Harbour Seal were also seen as we approach the lighthouse at the entrance to the lough.

White-beaked dolphinStrong winds and a heavy NE swell meant difficult conditions for observation and we were not really expecting any cetacean sightings.  There was a very large congregation of seabirds off the Irish coast, mostly Kittiwake and Guillemot, but more distant rafts of numerous auks were more difficult to identify.  There were also several feeding groups of mixed seabirds, and we scanned the water around these in hope of seeing dorsal fins of feeding cetaceans, to no avail.

With observation conditions becoming increasingly difficult as we approached the Isle of Man, it was with some astonishment that Rob had a very brief sighting of a large heavy dolphin that surfaced immediately off the port bow.  This animal was visible long enough to show a marked pale patched pattern along the flank and large sickle-shaped dorsal fin.  Despite this brief view, the overall impression was that this was possibly a White-beaked Dolphin, an extremely unusual species for the Irish Sea.

This brief excitement was followed by a long three hours where there were virtually no sightings of birds at all.  However, there was increased activity as we approached Heysham with two adult Mediterranean Gull passing close to the bridge to join the flock of mixed gulls following the wake of the ship, and two small groups of Eider which accompanied the ship as we approached the harbour entrance to end a generally quiet but at times exciting survey.

As ever, our thanks to the captains and crews of both Panorama and Anglia Seaways for their continued warm hospitality and friendliness.

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