MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Performance’ and 'Clipper Point' Heysham-Warrenpoint 5-6 July 2019

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

Weather Conditions:
Outbound: Dry with increasing cloud, sea-state 2-3, wind force 3-5 W-SSW, visibility good.
Return: Dry with decreasing cloud, sea-state 2-3, wind force 3-4 SW-WSW, visibility good.

Summary of Sightings:

Cetaceans and Seals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 7
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Unidentified cetacean1
Mixed seal sp. 21

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 359
Gannet Morus bassanus 124
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 57
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 128
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle recorded
Guillemot Uria aalge 108
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Larus sp. 51
Auk sp. 1

Terrestrial birds
Rook Corvus frugilegus 1

It was a beautiful, sunny morning when I arrived at Heysham to complete the first leg of the survey.  I was quickly taken to the ship, the Seatruck Performance and had a lovely breakfast before going to the bridge to begin the survey.

Guillemot Rob Petley-Jones 03As the ship progressed past the wind farm many Gannet were seen, and some adult birds were seen diving into the water to collect food, while other immature birds were also in the area.  An hour into the survey I recorded my first Manx Shearwater and Guillemot, and the Guillemot was an adult accompanying its flightless offspring, a 'jumpling'. It will be some time before the chick is left by its parent to venture on its future life alone.

After four hours, the Gannet became less prevalent and the Manx Shearwater were seen in greater numbers, with groups rafting together accompanied by a few Kittiwake and Guillemot.  Manx Shearwater raft together in numbers whilst waiting for the sun to go down to allow them to safely return to their burrows to feed their offspring, and five rafts were recorded on the outbound section of the survey.

I left the bridge just before Carlingford Lough to have dinner and start to input the sightings of the day.

After a good night's sleep at the Lough and Quay in Warrenpoint I returned to the port to complete the second leg of the survey.  I was taken to the Clipper Point and had breakfast before going to the bridge to start my recording. The Lough was still as we approached the open sea with the tide coming in, and I was able to record some of the seals that were hauled out on the skerries near the lighthouse.   Many European Shag and Cormorant were also resting on these skerries. The lighthouse is used by some seabirds as a nesting platform and I noticed that Black Guillemot were nesting there in addition to the European Shags.

Artic Skua Peter Howlett 02Manx Shearwater started appearing sporadically as soon as we had cleared the lighthouse, and Guillemot, Fulmar and Puffin appeared as we headed towards the Isle of Man.  At one point a Great Black-backed Gull started flying directly at the bridge followed by a dark brown bird, this being a dark phase Arctic Skua that was harassing the gull into disgorging its' food. The gull, by diverting away from the bridge at the last minute, managed to avoid the Skua's attack.

After two hours I was lucky enough to record several Storm Petrel.  It was lovely to see them in calm weather, small black birds with a smart band of white on the rump. so reminiscent of House Martin.  Like Manx Shearwater, these birds are secretive by visiting their nests at night, nesting below ground or in stone walls and Brochs on rocky islands.  I was lucky enough to visit Mousa island in the Shetlands the previous month where these bird's nest. They make an eerie sound on their nests which has been described as "Fairies being sick", quite an unusual description.

Birds appeared less frequently as the afternoon wore on and I stopped the survey once dinner was called to start writing up my sightings.

Sadly, no cetaceans were seen on either day except from a possible breaching animal in the distance on the first day.  Still, the survey was productive in that I was able to record the next generation of Guillemot and Gannet that had just left their nests.

My thanks go to Seatruck, to Captains Cheeseman and Tuuling, their respective officers and crew, together with the shore staff both at Heysham and Warrenpoint for enabling this survey and for making me feel so welcome.

Guillemot adult and 'jumpling' (Rob Petley-Jones)
Arctic Skua (Peter Howlettl)