MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama & Clipper Pennant Heysham-Warrenpoint 30-31 March 2017

Robin Langdon and Michael Duckett, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

: Sea state 3-4; heavy fog except for near coasts
Return: Sea state 2-4, visibility improved, with glare to starboard

Summary of sightings

Marine mammals:
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

Terrestrial birds:
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 Peter Howlett 09
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.

GN Diver Rob Petley-Jones 01a
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.