MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Pennant’ & ‘Clipper Panorama’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 10-11 May 2018

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

Outward we had wind of mostly 19 to 20 knots, slight sea and visibility of 10km+ with no precipitation.  The predicted wind increase overnight led to a worse than anticipated sea state of 4 rising to 7, before descending again to 4 before our survey resumed. Visibility reduced to less than a kilometre, there was light rain and a wind speed of 35 to 40 knots, reducing to 28 knots in the more sheltered areas near to land.

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 1

Auk sp. Alcidae 5
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 11
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 56
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Diver sp. Gaviidae 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Gannet Morus bassanus 75
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 357
Gull sp. Laridae 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 97
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 854
Razorbill Alca torda 12
Rook Corvus frugilegus 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 10
Scoter sp. Melanitta sp. 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Tern sp. Sternidae 3

We were both woken early by the bright early morning light, and were guided onto the Clipper Pennant by the hospitable crew and offered a cooked breakfast. We were welcomed onto the bridge by Captain Steve Cheeseman and his crew before the ship departed at 9.30 am. We were treated to a flurry of harbourside sightings as we entered the channel out of Morecambe Bay. Survey conditions were decent with swell not rising above a metre and the wind, which mostly stayed at 19 - 20 knots, did not affect create too many whitecaps to obscure our views. 

Our first cetacean sighting came courtesy of the captain, who shows a keen interest in the wildlife of the route: he sighted a harbour porpoise very close in to the bow.

Grey Seal Adrian Shephard 02Although it was just out of our own line of sight his description was clear and spot-on. A little after ten, both surveyors saw a Grey Seal and, ten minutes later, there was a glimpse of grey backs as two unidentified sea creatures swam away from the ship (presumed to be dolphins, due to size, although the fins were not identified). Before descending, the captain joined us for a period of surveying as we had excitingly large numbers of birds feeding, circling, and rafting together over the deeper water near the Lune Deeps. Manx shearwater, Guillemot and both Sandwich and 'Commic' Tern were all present, and though we did not spot accompanying sea mammals we did encounter a single Great Skua patrolling the area.

Gannet Adrian Shephard 19Other birds sighted on the outward crossing included Kittiwake, Greater and Lesser black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Gannet. Sightings came steadily but there were no great concentrations or surprises: one dumpy scoter (presumed Common scoter) was seen flying alone ahead of us at one point.

Watching the flight of Manx Shearwater completely at home in their summer seas remained our most compelling and enjoyable pastime during the crossing.

Black Guillemot Adrian Shephard 02On the approach to Carlingford Loch we added more Tern, Shag and a couple of Rook before ending the survey. We were driven off the ship and took the short walk in to the Lough and Quay where we both spent a quiet evening, remarkably tired. Black Guillemot bobbed like corks around the quayside.

In the morning, we were allowed on the bridge early, and observed a Grey Seal, six Great Northern Diver and plenty of Black Guillemot before commencing the survey proper. Captain James Kitney proved as welcoming as his colleague the day before, and the Clipper Panorama, the identical twin of the Clipper Pennant. Conditions were not so kind, however: sea state, swell and visibility all deteriorated such that we paused the survey before 11.30, and recommenced at 1.45pm when conditions had returned to sea state 5 and then 4. We did not see the Isle of Man at all on the return crossing: it stayed hidden behind the rain, mist and swell.

Bird species seen near Carlingford loch consisted of Black Guillemot, Sandwich Tern, Carrion Crow, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Cormorant and Great Northern Diver. These were followed by Manx Shearwater, 'Commic' tern, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwake. Despite our renewed survey efforts in the afternoon, we did not add to our species list.

The numbers of birds did increase again after Blackpool tower had come into sight, making the final leg of our crossing pleasant and interesting.

Grey Seal (Adrian Shephard)
Gannet (Adrian Shephard)
Black Guillemot (Adrian Shephard)