MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama & Clipper Pace' 5th - 6th November 2015

Rob Petley-Jones and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:      
Westbound - Wind SE force 3-4; Sea State 3-4; Swell 1-2; Visibility 2-3
Eastbound - Wind SW force 4-7; Sea State 3-5; Swell 1-3; Visibility 2-4

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 297
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1    

Seabirds:
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 16
Teal Anas crecca 2
Common Scoter Melanitta fusca 12
Red-breasted Meganser Mergus serrator 2
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 19
Gannet Morus bassanus 69
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 12
Common Gull Larus canus 41
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 103
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 22
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 51
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutes 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 292
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Gullimeot Cepphus grille 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 203
Razorbill Alca torda 103
Unidentified auk sp. 13
Unidentified gull sp. 1144
Unidentified Phalacrocorax sp. 650

Terrestrial Species:
Unidentified wader sp. 25
Unidentified pipit sp. 1

This was my very first survey with MARINElife so when we arrived at Heysham harbour I was very thankful that Rob was with me to guide us through the procedures on arrival at the office and in finding the right ship.  We made our way up to the passenger lounge where we were greeted by the steward with the welcome of a cooked breakfast.  

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01Once we had satisfied our hunger we were shown up to the bridge where I was introduced to the Master, Colin Batty.  This was a whole new environment for me and I was in awe of all the technology - so many buttons!   

We set up our spot for surveying and we were off!  As we made our way out of Heysham port (a tight squeeze for the ship) I was instantly learning seabirds.  Rob is a great trainer and helped me immensely with my identification skills.  A number of small waders flew by but remained frustratingly unidentified, but there were more than enough Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull to practise on.  

The sea state was relatively calm yet the visibility was pretty poor impeding our ability to spot more birds and cetaceans.  However, not long into the journey we were graced with a couple of Harbour Porpoise which actually porpoised off to evade the ship.  What a great way to start the voyage!  

Visibility remained a challenge for the remainder of the journey but thankfully the sea state remained reasonably calm, and we had three more sightings of Harbour Porpoise on our way to Warrenpoint which was so exciting!  The seabird highlight for me was spotting my first Great Skua and a large raft of seabirds feeding on small bait!  Gannet were few but as always were very impressive!  

Harboue Seal Graham EkinsWe arrived in Warrenpoint late in the afternoon and again I was very thankful that Rob was with me to show me the ropes of departing the ship and finding Ryan's B&B, where our very comfortable and warm rooms were waiting for us.

The following morning after an early rise and a splendid cooked breakfast expertly prepared by Dan and his wife we made our way back to the port.  The weather was more bracing as we walked along the waterfront to the ship, and where we were entertained by a Harbour Seal playing in the high tide.

Once aboard we were shown up to the bridge where we were welcomed by the Master Steven Olbison who wished us well with our survey but said that things might get a little bumpy on the return journey....and he was not wrong!  

As we made our way out through Carlingford Lough we saw a flock of 16 Great Crested Grebe which Rob thought was unusual.  There was a small number of Grey Seal hauled out on the sand banks by the lighthouse, together with a very large number of roosting mixed gulls and Cormorant and Shag.  Not long afterwards two male Red Breasted Meganser flew past - another first for me - beautiful birds.  Rob also spotted four Black Guillemot in their whiter-than-white winter plumage.

As we made our way out to sea we passed a couple of Red-throated Diver and the usual small winter flock of Great Northern Diver resting on the waters of the Irish Sea.  Even further out to sea a pair of Teal flew by, much to the surprise of Rob!  

GN Diver Peter Howlett 01The sea state continued to steadily rise as we progressed yet we were able to spot two Harbour Porpoise hydroplaning out of the way of the vessel.  Sadly these were the only two cetaceans we were to see that day.  However, bird activity was much increased on that of the previous day, with many more Razorbill, Guillemot and even a Puffin which flew past in the strong winds.  Gannet, Fulmar and a small number of Little Gull graced us with their presence as we made our way back towards the English coast.  Here the sun finally showed itself for a few minutes as it was setting, brilliantly illuminating a distant Blackpool in a way that only the sun can.  

What an amazing first survey for me, and I loved it!  Thanks so much to Seatruck for allowing us such an opportunity, and to all at MARINElife who were instrumental in my training.  Here's to many more surveys in the future!


Rob Petley-Jones and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife