Robin Langdon and Michael Duckett, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outward: Sea state 3-4; heavy fog except for near coasts
Return: Sea state 2-4, visibility improved, with glare to starboard
Summary of sightings
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Common scoter Melanitta nigra 37
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 30
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 56
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 21
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 531
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 39
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Little Gull Hydrocoleus minutus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 110
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 10
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 163
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Diver sp. 2
Gull sp. 67
Auk sp. 46
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 2
Rook Corvus frugilegus 2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 10
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 14
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Wader sp. 20
This was the second time that we as surveyors had formed a team together so it was good to catch up as we enjoyed the customary hospitality of a Seatruck breakfast. Happily, the weather lifted before the survey began and this allowed us to witness an interesting first flurry of sightings, with several flocks passing the bay at the same time.
One past surveyor has recently returned from a research project into loons in North America so it was fitting that the dominant species, flying in a group of 20, was identified as Great Northern Diver. Several waders, together with some Sandwich Tern, Common Scoter and migrating pipits were all encountered before we reached the Lune Deep. Here some local knowledge (a tip from local Marinelife surveyor Stephen Dunstan) came in handy, where we were primed to look out for Little Gull, a species that was quite new to both of us. Right on cue a small group appeared and some close views allowed us a good opportunity to note the key features of this attractive species. We shall be looking out for it again.
Little Gull (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)
Although we saw no cetaceans on this crossing, we did encounter a lot of dark shapes in the water requiring close identification and some zoom photography. Most of these turned out to be trees or other debris from a recent storm, the wake of which we were passing for most of the crossing. Some trees provided resting points for gulls which which were thinly distributed along the crossing.
Occasional sightings of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Shag, Gannet and auks kept us alert but by 13.00 we had reached mist and this soon became thick fog. The foghorn kept the surveyors on keen watch, which was rewarded by a sighting of a single Grey Seal popping up close to the boat.
Visibility improved before the approach to Carlingford Lough allowing us to observe coastal species including Brent Goose, Cormorant and Black Guillemot. As we finished the survey more Sandwich Tern, Hooded Crow, Rook, Oystercatcher and a Red Breasted Merganser all came close to the boat.
Before the return crossing we had time for a light breakfast in the Lough and Quay, and observed several Black Guillemot resting onboard the boats in dock.
There was no fog and less roll for the return crossing and while we saw no cetaceans or seals we were able to view the various other vessels, windfarms, gas rigs and the Lancashire coastline that had not been visible on the way out.
Great Northern Diver (Archive photo: Rob Petley-Jones)
Bird species encountered included Sandwich Tern, Manx Shearwater and Little Gull (seemingly fixed to the same spot as the outward passage). We were kept busy with regular views of Gannet, Shag, Kittiwake and other gulls. One Red-throated Diver was also glimpsed, but the highlight of the crossing were the close views of Great Northern Diver with several in summer plumage sitting close on the water as the boat passed by.
Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Outward: Wind SW backing NW force 7-6, sea state 4, visibility good, variable cloud with occasional rain
Return: Wind SW to SE then variable force 3-8, visibility moderate cloud with mist and rain
Summary of sightings:
Common or Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus
Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 5
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 3
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 172
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 175
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 2
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 112
Lesser Black-backed Gul Larus graellsii 10
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 36
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 50
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 123
Razorbill Alca torda 19
Gull sp. 62
Auk sp. 2
Diver (Loon) sp. 4
Pochard Anthya ferina 3
Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 4
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 8
Wader sp. 118
Four weeks from my first visit to Warrenpoint I arrived at Heysham port ready for the March survey. I collected my ticket from the friendly booking office staff and proceeded to the ship.
On leaving the harbour Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull were seen. The tide was low and I saw a group of more than 100 waders flying to feed on the sand near Blackpool. They were, unfortunately, too far away for me to positively identify.
Shag (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)
An hour into the survey I started to record Guillemot, Kittiwake and Fulmar, the majority of adults having already moulted into their breeding plumage. I recorded a Grey Seal 25 miles west of Heysham, slowly swimming and observing us as the ship passed by. No Gannet were seen until a fishing trawler came into view with over 100 birds looking for a meal. The rest of the westbound survey comprised of various auks. We entered Carlingford Lough in sunshine and I left the ship for my hotel and the return crossing the following day.
I awoke bright and early and made my way to Seatruck in Warrenpoint to join the Clipper Pennant. The breeze had stiffened from the previous day and there was mist and rain in the air. Travelling out of the Lough I encountered many Cormorant, Hooded Crow and Herring Gull. A solitary Shag was seen in the water, his crest clear to see.
The Lough entrance is 'guarded' by a rocky outcrop marked by Haulbowline Lighthouse. Here various birds and seals are seen. Close observation resulted in a solitary Harbour Seal being seen amongst the Cormorant, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Brent Geese that were resting there. The window ledges on the lighthouse were all occupied by Cormorant, some had already placed nesting material as a sign of possession for the breeding period. The remainder of the survey was spent recording Guillemot, Kittiwake and Gannet until the light failed and I left the bridge to prepare for my drive home.
Harbour Seal (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)
My thanks go to Seatruck, Captains Andy Bradbury and Paul Matthews, their respective officers and crew for looking after me so well whilst aboard their vessels and the port staff for aiding me in this survey.