MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Panorama’ & ‘Clipper Pennant’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 8-9 March 2018

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Outbound: Increasingly cloudy with infrequent rain showers; good visibility: wind SW 6-4.
Return :Increasingly cloudy, good visibility with glare at first: wind SE-NE 0-4.

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 20
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 9
Unidentified seal sp. 11

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 235
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 128
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 28
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 28
Common Gull Larus canus 19
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 92
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 100
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 394
Razorbill Alca torda 19
Diver sp. 1
Gull sp. 32
Larus sp. 2
Auk sp. 120

Shore birds at Warrenpoint harbour:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinereal 1
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 6
Carrion Crow Corvus corone

With the 'Beast from the East' having abated and Storm Emma over, I travelled up to Morecambe on Wednesday night to stay in a hotel before going to Heysham to survey early Thursday morning.  The hotel stay paid dividends as the travel report in the morning advised there was snow falling further south in Lancashire and the M6 was disrupted!

I arrived at Heysham and was taken to the Seatruck Panorama and had breakfast before going to the bridge. Captain Tim Broughton welcomed me and advised that a new ramp was being delivered to Heysham port that day and that we were likely to see it being towed in on our voyage.

BND Adrian Shephard 01As we left Heysham Herring Gull and Black-backed Gull species were seen, later to be replaced by Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake. Captain Broughton was the first person to spot the new ramp and I took a few photographs to record the event.

Three hours into the westbound survey I spotted my only mammal for that day, a distant view of a cetacean with the dorsal fin pointing away suggested it was a Bottlenose Dolphin, near to the southern shore of the Isle of Man.  I was also delighted to see my first and only Manx Shearwater of the survey for 2018.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 01As we travelled further west we entered an area being used by the local fishing fleet. The seas earlier in the week had stopped them setting out and so they were making up for lost time.  This encouraged Gannet, Black-backed Gull species, Fulmar, Kittiwake and auks to assemble to feed on the gutted fish.  Another hour went by before the light curtailed my westbound survey.

I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast in Rostrevor and returned to Warrenpoint early in the morning to commence the eastbound survey.  The ship sailed at 9am and the cold night resulted in sea ice having formed overnight on the lough surface, something the Captain Cheeseman and his officers had not seen before!

New ramp heading for HeyshamThe lough was calm and Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Cormorant and Shag were seen.  A few Grey Seal were in evidence, the majority being hauled out on the skerries at the mouth of the lough where a few Black Guillemot were also encountered.

On entering the Irish Sea, the first of ten separate encounters with Harbour Porpoise occurred and the sea was so calm it was relatively easy to spot these small animals surface to breathe.  Again, we encountered fishing vessels to the west of the Isle of Man, but birds were less in evidence this time. Guillemot, Kittiwake and Gannet were seen before I returned to the accommodation deck to have dinner before preparing for the drive home.

My thanks go to Seatruck for enabling us to survey on this route and to Captains Broughton and Cheeseman, their officers and crew for making me so welcome onboard their vessels.

Bottlenose Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)
Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)
New Ramp Heading For Heysham (Carol Farmer-Wright)