Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Dry; variable cloud; wind W 6 decreasing NNW 4; Sea state 4-3
Return: Dry; sunny; increasing cloud; wind SSW 5 increasing SW 8; Sea state 4-5
Summary of sightings
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 35
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 1
Unidentified Seal sp. 2
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 2
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 8
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 35
Gannet Morus bassanus 36
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 89
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Common Gull Larus canus 40
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 50
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 144
Guillemot Uria aalge 40
Razorbill Alca torda 16
Larus sp. 1251
Auk sp. 17
Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla bernicla 5
Wader sp. 60
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 2
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 3
With Christmas decorations packed away, now was the time to get back to surveying! A weather front had brought rain across the north-west of England the previous night and as I arrived at Heysham port the resulting drizzle was just subsiding. I picked up my boarding pass from the shore team and was taken aboard the Seatruck Precision. Whilst being driven to the vessel I watched a large group of Herring Gull trying to get inside a trailer that contained apples for cider production in Northern Ireland - they were not successful!
We left Heysham, and I was able to see a seal hauled out on an exposed shingle bank, my first sighting of the day. The birds seen were a mix of Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake. Many of these birds flew to the back of the vessel to see if any food was being churned up by the ship's propeller.
As we moved west auks were recorded, the nicest sighting was a small raft of nine Razorbill looking very dapper in their winter plumage. Sightings of birds reduced in number and became quiet around lunchtime. After 14.00 more bird activity was recorded as Gannet, Fulmar and Kittiwake headed towards the ship and flew past to again look for food at the rear of the vessel. Two Great Skua were also recorded, hoping to harass birds to relinquish their food.
The light then began to fail, so I closed the survey to prepare to disembark at Warrenpoint.
After a good night's rest at the Lough and Quay, I returned to Warrenpoint to join the Seatruck Performance for the return sailing. The sunrise was spectacular, and Carlingford Lough looked beautifully calm as we left Warrenpoint at 10.00 and headed towards the Irish Sea. Our passage was slowed owing to a large vessel entering the eastern channel to berth at Greenore at high tide, but once the channel was clear we proceeded into the Irish sea.
At the lough entrance the Haulbowline Lighthouse warns sailors of an outcrop of rocks, and these rocks have a small section above sea level at high tide which is a regular haul-out site for many Grey Seal. The seals pup between October and February and the pups are not able to swim until they are a few weeks old and have shed their white fur coat. Sure enough, three seal pups still with their first coat were seen on these rocks together with older pups and adult females.
There were many Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull and European Shag in the lough, and a group of small waders, a couple of Great Northern Diver and some Dark-bellied Brent Goose crossed the waterway as well before we entered the Irish Sea. Once in the Irish Sea we soon sighted four fishing vessels, all of which had an entourage of several hundred gulls in attendance.
Bird sightings were slow and steady until the afternoon when only distant views of Kittiwake and Fulmar were recorded. With light failing, I closed the survey and retired to the drivers' mess to compile my sightings.
Once again, I would like to thank Seatruck, Captains Cheeseman and Broughton, their respective officers and crew for enabling these surveys to go ahead.
Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Razorbill Photo: Peter Howlett
Carlingford Lough sunrise Photo: Carol Farmer-Wright
Grey Seal pup Photo: Rick Morris