MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ 18th - 19th September 2014

Colin Gill and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Westbound - Wind E-SE Variable 7-15 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 5
Eastbound - Wind E-NE Variable 8-18 Knots; Swell 0; Visibility 6


Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 14
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 57

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 214
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 191
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 300
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 63
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 151  
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 129    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 64
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 74
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 53
Common Gull Larus canus 22
Guillemot Uria aalge 465
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified tern sp. 2
Unidentified auk sp. 2

Other waterbirds recorded:
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3

On a warm September morning we boarded the Clipper Pennant and received the normal warm welcome by the captain and crew.  We left Heysham harbour in hazy conditions with reasonable visibility.

The first session was slow with very few sightings of birdlife - a constant trickle would be an apt description.  Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Guillemot proved the common birds on show.  We slipped past the Isle of Man hoping for more exciting times and nearly missed two dark bobbing backs in the water, which turned out to be Harbour Porpoise having a rest.  

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 11It was shortly after this that the ship passed over an interesting stretch of sea that has several deep trenches, and the sea bird activity increased with several rafts of mixed birds and the appearance of fishing boats.  The clues were there for additional mammal sightings and sure enough another four Harbour Porpoise were seen as well as three Common Dolphin.  A Grey Seal completed a very busy twenty minute period.

The rest of the first day was very quiet until the final approach into Carlingford Lough where there is normally a reward of sightings of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal near the lighthouse as well as a hotspot for Cormorant.

After a goodnight's rest in a local friendly B&B we were up early for the return trip on the Clipper Panorama.  Again the captain and crew ensured that we had everything needed for the trip and on another fine morning with calm seas we set off from Warrenpoint.

Like so many of these surveys it becomes a mirror image of the previous day with the same hotspots and dead zones.  We left the lough with sightings of seals and Cormorant and then had coffee during the quiet stretch towards the deep water trench.  Here we again rewarded with a couple of sightings of Harbour Porpoise.

Sooty Shearwater Peter Howlett 03Bird life was similar to the previous day. The event that was of particular interest to us was near the Isle of Man where an unidentified floating black and white object in the water caused much debate.  

There was even more excitement when we saw a Sooty Shearwater as we were passing the Isle of Man.  It was flying around a small group of four Guillemot, and landed on the water with them before flying off when they dived.

A large number of Gannet were sitting on the water, spread out evenly over a large area of the sea.  Occasionally a couple would circle above the water scouting for feeding opportunities, and it was like some form of gannet communication network.  The flying scouts would find some fish and start to feed, setting off a chain reaction with the other birds.

Two Arctic Skua rounded off what overall had been a very enjoyable survey with some excellent sightings.  Our thanks go to the Captain and Crew of both Ships for their warmth of hospitality and genuine interest in our work.

Colin Gill and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife