Alison McAleer and Ruth Crundwell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Westbound - Wind S-SW Force 4-6; Sea State 3-5; Swell 1-2; Visibility 4-5
Eastbound - Wind S Force 4-7; Sea State 2-5; Swell 1-2; Visibility 3-5
Summary of sightings:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 20
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Unidentified Seal sp. 5
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 3
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 129
Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 87
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Common Gull Larus canus 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 75
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 29
Guillemot Uria aalge 362
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Unidentified auk sp. 171
Unidentified large gull sp. 171
Unidentified Phalacrocorax 14
Other waterbirds recorded in
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 6
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
It was a bright, sunny and breezy morning as we checked in at Heysham and after our transfer to the Clipper Panorama we were warmly welcomed to the bridge by the Captain, Steve. We departed the port enjoying the clear views and despite the rather choppy sea conditions we were full of excited anticipation for our first survey of the year on this route.
Seabirds were relatively scarce as we headed out towards the Lune Deep but within 45 minutes we had two separate sightings of lone seals diving quickly out of the way as we approached, and we enjoyed the welcome appearance of the first of many Manx Shearwater on our outward leg, gliding over the water with effortless ease.
As we approached the extensive area of wind turbines, two separate sightings of Harbour Porpoise heightened our hopes of more cetaceans as the journey progressed and we were not to be disappointed. A lovely view of a single Sandwich Tern flying straight in front of the bridge windows was a real treat as were the steadily improving views as our route took us on a close approach to the Isle of Man, bathed in spring sunshine. Seabird sightings had become regular, with rafts of Guillemot, numerous Kittiwake and the occasional Fulmar and Razorbill.
Gannet (Archive photo: Lee Slater)
Beyond the island, Gannet numbers picked up significantly and we were treated to remarkable views of individual birds flying alongside the bridge windows, this being a privileged opportunity to see these magnificent birds at such close range. As we approached the Irish coast, with light levels fading and the sunset sky was providing a stunning backdrop to the Mountains of Mourne, the Captain remarked that he had seen a group of Common Dolphin from his window the previous day. Then just minutes later a group of five appeared a short distance ahead and made their way towards us! A great way to end our first day's survey and with light levels fading we headed off contentedly for a very welcome and tasty meal on board.
After a very comfortable night in our B&B at Warrenpoint we boarded the Clipper Pennant for our return leg and were warmly welcomed to the Bridge by the Captain Paul who remembered us from the April survey the previous year when weather conditions had been particularly challenging!
The weather was less promising than the previous day with cloudy skies and increasing winds but as we travelled out of Carlingford Lough we had some great views of the very smart Black Guillemot which are always a treat to see. Soon afterwards we enjoyed even better views of two separate Great Northern Diver which stayed close enough to the ship for us to see their beautiful plumage in very clear detail.
With decreasing visibility in the intermittent rain showers and with relatively poor light, seabird sightings were reduced from the previous day. However, we were treated to very exciting displays from two large groups of Common Dolphin during the early afternoon. Each group became increasingly animated as they approached the ship, leaping repeatedly out of the water and showing their colours and patterning clearly. It was particularly satisfying that they appeared just as we were explaining our work to a trainee cadet on work placement with Seatruck who said these were his first such sightings of dolphins on the Irish Sea!
Common Dolphin (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)
With a further two sightings of Common Dolphin and a single Harbour Porpoise close to the Isle of Man we reflected on a very enjoyable and successful survey as we approached the lights of Heysham port.
Our sincere thanks to Seatruck and the captains and crew of both the Panorama and Pennant for all their interest, help and kind hospitality over these two days, and for the great support and care we receive on board, without which this survey would not be possible.