Sightings Archives: May 2015

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Pennant' and 'Clipper Panorama’ 7th - 8th May 2015

Posted 11 May 2015

Steve Morgan and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Westbound - Wind W force 1-2; Sea State 1-3; Swell 0; Visibility 4-6
Eastbound - Wind E force 4-6; Sea State 2-4; Swell 0; Visibility 4 decreasing to 1

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 87
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 5
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 10        
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 240
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 92
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 41
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 78
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarina 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 41          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 271
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 13
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 376
Razorbill Alca torda 47
Unidentified auk sp. 142
Unidentified tern sp. 36
Unidentified gull sp. 182

Terrestrial birds:
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus 2
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostreolagus 6
Unidentified Passerines (at sea) 2

A calm day with little wind and still waters of Morecambe Bay welcomed us as we boarded the Clipper Panorama for a late breakfast, before being welcomed to the bridge by Captain Andy Bradbury.  

Calm seas Isle of ManThe weather was very favourable for great cetacean spotting conditions and very soon we had our first Harbour Porpoise encounter, closely followed by sightings of a Great Skua and a small flock of Little Gull.  

The conditions remained near perfect for the whole crossing and a total of 14 Harbour Porpoise were seen on this first leg.  It was a real pleasure to be able to watch these shy animals for more than the usual brief glimpse, and several were seen to be resting on the surface while one was seen to porpoise in dolphin-like fashion!  

Bird activity was clearly affected by the lack of wind, with most of our records being of Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Manx Shearwater rafting on the flat sea.  However, there was high drama when a Pomarine Skua was seen chasing a terrified Kittiwake just off the starboard bow.

The excellent viewing conditions allowed us to find several Grey Seal spy-hopping well away from land, while we had a very close encounter with a solitary Harbour Seal several miles off Isle of Man which gave us a lovely view as it rolled and dived beneath the surface, disappearing into the depths.

The calm conditions allowed us to see deep into the water where very large numbers of the huge Barrel Jellyfish were seen drifting eastwards in the waters around Isle of Man.

Barrel jellyfishA number of Sandwich Tern and a solitary Puffin rounded off a very nice bird list for the first leg of the survey, and we arrived at Warrenpoint very satisfied with the day's tally.

The second day dawned cloudy with the promise of rain, but with the sea still remarkably free of swell.  After being welcomed to the bridge of the Clipper Pennant by Captain Colin Batty, we began the scenic passage of Carlingford Lough where there were a small number of Black Guillemot and a solitary Red-throated Diver to add to the list.

After the usual count of the numerous Grey Seal loafing on the islands by the lighthouse, we prepared ourselves for the start of the sea crossing by scanning for the Great Northern Diver flock that is regularly encountered just out from the lighthouse.  Before long we had counted 10 of these birds, magnificent in their full summer plumage.

Unfortunately, the predicted rain came in rather early and for the rest of the crossing observation was increasingly difficult with heavy rain beating against the bridge windows.  We persisted with the survey despite there being very few birds to see, and were more than adequately rewarded with sightings of a second Pomarine Skua and of an Arctic Skua, which chased a Kittiwake until it got its reward of fresh regurgitated fishy scraps!    

Pomarine Skua RPJA brief lull in the rain brought a little more bird activity, and we were stirred into action when we approached a moderate raft of Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake.  As we began our count of these birds, imagine our delight when three Bottlenose Dolphin surfaced in the centre of the raft!  We watched these animals surface in very close formation several times, before they moved away to the south.   

With the rain still steadily beating on the bridge windows as we approach Heysham harbour, we were very happy with the two days of very different but equally rewarding observations.  Our thanks go as ever to the Seatruck captains and crew of both vessels for their warm hospitality during our passage.

Steve Morgan and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife