Sightings Archives: March 2014

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

Posted 25 March 2014

Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
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


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

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