Liverpool-Belfast

Recent Sightings

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 1st February 2020

Posted 15 February 2020

Jenny Ball and Katherine Dunning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Mostly good, but poor at times; Sea State: Moderate; Wind: Force 7-8 W to NW.

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Unidentified dolphin sp. 1

Seabirds
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1010
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 13
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 21
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 34
Gull sp, 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 69
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Auk sp. 12

Terrestrial birds
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1

Cormorant Peter Howlett 03The sunlit brick and terracotta tower at Hamilton Square station looked striking against the blue sky as I picked Kate up from the train to drive to the Stena Line terminal. We were welcomed onto the bridge soon after boarding so had time to get ourselves organised and to enjoy the comings and goings on the Mersey, with the Dazzle Ferry looking funky against the magnificent Liverpool waterfront.

The wind was already force 7 as we followed the channel down past the container terminal, past Crosby and out into Liverpool Bay. The sea was quite agitated over the sand banks and there was no sign of any of the seals or porpoises which are sometimes seen.

We were accompanied by a few gulls, and then a group of around 20 Cormorant flew by, some resplendent in their breeding plumage, with silvery heads and white patches on their flanks showing up well in the sunlight. We watched a Lesser Black-backed Gull challenging a Cormorant for its meal… the Cormorant held on!

Common Scoter Rick Morris 02About an hour into our survey we sailed through a huge flock of Common Scoter which were scattered across a distance of over a mile. Some were flying in small groups and some were resting, with birds swirling as far as the eye could see. This was to be the highlight of the trip, with only small numbers of Guillemot, Kittiwake and a couple of Fulmar being recorded during the day.

The wind built in the early afternoon, with the waves making any prospect of spotting cetaceans fairly remote. I did catch a glimpse of a dolphin rushing out of the way but could not get a good enough view to identify it. In mid-afternoon as we passed the Point of Ayre, we went through a very squally shower with heavy rain and the wind rising to 46 knots. After this, things settled down and although we saw very few birds, we enjoyed scanning the seas in the evening light.

We would like to thank Captain Fresa and his crew on the Stenaline Mersey, who went out of their way to make us comfortable, both during the survey and afterwards as we relaxed in the lounge before retiring to our cabins for the night.

Jenny Ball and Katherine Dunning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Cormorant Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Scoter Photo: Rick Morris

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 8th January 2020

Posted 31 January 2020

Stephen Dunsta, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Excellent; Cloud: Sunny with scattered clouds; Precipitation: Dry; Sea State: 3-4; Swell: 0; Wind: Force 3-4 WNW.

Summary of Sightings:

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 10

Seabirds
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 10
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 25
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 108
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 96

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 19
Common Gull Larus canus 74
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 35
Gull sp. 572
Guillemot Uria aalge 14
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Auk sp. 12

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

BND Peter Howlett 24On my way to the port a Woodcock flew over the road in front of me, which seemed a good omen. The transfer from the terminal to the Stena Mersey was very smooth, and I waited in the lounge before accessing the bridge after the ferry had left the berth.

It was 11.15 when we left the mouth of the Mersey and I began survey effort. Initially there were the usual gull species and while I also expected to see many Cormorant close to Liverpool, normally resting on the buoys, on this occasion around 100 were actively feeding in the middle of the shipping channel.

Between Liverpool and the Isle of Man sightings dropped away a bit, but the first Kittiwake were noted and then one of two Gannet. Nearing Chicken Rock at least 20 Gannet were actively feeding by plunging into the sea, and as is often the case the abundance of fish they were targeting was also attended by dolphins. In this case there were ten or so Bottlenose Dolphin actively feeding, and although they were not close, they were throwing themselves clean out of the water, so the spectacle was still a special one to see.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 11There was time for one further notable sighting as a Great Skua passed close in front of the boat as we passed Port Erin. Whilst this species can be expected for much of the year, they are infrequent this far north in January. As we left the Isle of Man behind the light began to fade and the survey was ended after five hours.

All in all, an enjoyable and successful survey for the route at this time of year. Thanks are due to Stena staff both at the port and on the Stena Mersey for being so welcoming and helpful.

Stephen Dunsta, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Bottlenose Dolphin Photo: Peter Howlett
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 7th December 2019

Posted 22 December 2019

Alan Sumnall and Nicola Simpson Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Mostly clear with occasional fog; Cloud: 80%; Wind: Light; Swell: low

Summary of Sightings

Seabirds
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 103
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 20
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 41
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15
Guillemot Uria aalge 32

BH Gull Peter Howlett 09Upon checking in at Liverpool we were welcomed on board by the friendly crew, who called up to the Captain on the bridge to arrange for us to set up for our survey. We headed up to the bridge and met the Captain and crew who made us very welcome and showed us to our survey location. We left Liverpool at 10.30, the weather being clear with a couple of brief patches of fog.

Seabird sightings began shortly after we set off with a variety of gulls observed as we headed out to sea. Throughout our journey we observed a variety of seabirds, including Great Black-backed Gull, Cormorant and Guillemot. The highlight was spotting two large flocks of Common Scoter, one of which included over 70 individuals.

Mid-journey we passed by the Isle of Man and the swell picked up slightly which made cetacean spotting more difficult. We continued until the light became too poor for accurate sightings, and we arrived in Belfast on time at 18.30 where we left the ship for a short visit into Belfast.

Surveying on the Stena LaganWe spent a couple of hours looking around the City Centre, including a visit to the lovely Christmas market, and returned to the ship at around 21.30, ready to depart at 22.30. Due to the time of year, we did not undertake a survey on the return leg of the journey but instead we had a comfortable night's sleep, arriving back into Liverpool at 06.30 the following morning.

Our thanks go to the very helpful and friendly staff and crew of Stena Lagan who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Alan Sumnall and Nicola Simpson Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Black-headed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Surveying on the Stena Lagan Photo: Alan Sumnall

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 16th November 2019

Posted 22 November 2019

Nuala Campbell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Cloudy; Sea state 1-2 Wind N-NE force 4-5 with moderate swell

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 39
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 22
Guillemot Uria aalge 4
Gull sp. Laridae 15

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 07As the Stena Mersey left Liverpool on a grey and chilly morning, I looked forward to crossing the Irish Sea and took up my position on the Bridge eagerly as we made our way out into the open waters.

The two watch Captains, Adam and Paolo, who would be Masters of the ship on the outward voyage, introduced themselves and welcomed me heartily.

The seabirds which accompanied us on our route out of the port were a mixture of Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, a single Gannet and a few Cormorant and juvenile gulls.

Leaving Liverpool and England I spotted two Harbour Porpoise, after which a quiet lull began. The weather continued dull, and sighting wildlife against the combination of grey seas and sky became difficult.

I sighted a Grey Seal spy-hopping as we approached the seas off the Isle of Man, but then imagine my delight as I counted four Short-beaked Common Dolphin cruising in a slow swim across the bow of the ship (which at the time was travelling at a speed over 20 knots so not so leisurely after all!)

My last sighting was of a distant Fulmar soaring low over the water, before the light faded and I reluctantly ended my survey.

Many thanks are due to the Stena crew for ensuring my comfort and enabling these vital surveys to continue.

Nuala Campbell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Common Dolphin Sharon Morris 06

Herring Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Common Dolphins Photo: Sharon Morris

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 12th - 13th October 2019

Posted 26 October 2019

Emma Howe-Andrews and Alexandra Bulgakova, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Excellent, dry and sunny with scattered clouds; Sea State:2-4; Swell: 0; Wind: Force 2-6 SSE-S-WSW

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 14
Eider Somateria mollissima 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 221
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Shag Phalacrocarax aristotelis 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 32
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 19
Guillemot Uria aalge 260
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Larus sp. 102

Terrestrial birds
Passerine sp. 4

On a beautiful autumnal day, we were excited to arrive at the Stena Line Birkenhead passenger terminal for our survey across the Irish Sea on a dry and sunny Saturday morning. The weather was forecast to be good for our journey, and we could not wait to take the bus to the MV Stena Lagan that sat majestically on the River Mersey ready to get underway.

Whilst riding the bus to the ship we noticed that the River Mersey was very high and close to reaching the top of the banks, and we wondered whether the recent heavy rains might have had an effect as there seemed to be a fast current. We hoped the Irish Sea would not be as turbulent!

On boarding the ship, we were greeted with a warm and welcoming smile from Jade on the guest services desk who was very friendly and helpful and organised for us to have access to the bridge before departure. As she escorted us to the bridge, Jade cheerfully chatted to us about the work of MARINElife and wished us well on our survey as she introduced us to Captain Gadomski, who made us feel very welcome as we settled into our workstation on the starboard side. Always a privilege to see the crew at work - true professionals.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 11The signal was given for the ship to depart her berth and she was skilfully manoeuvred away from the dock and towards the mouth of the River Mersey, passing a cruise ship that was moored in front of the Liver Building. We entered Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2, 4.2 knot south-westerly winds, no swell and excellent visibility in dry and sunny conditions. As the ship left Liverpool behind and sailed further into the Irish Sea, we recorded Black-headed Gull, rafting Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Guillemot. Further into the survey, the wind increased and changed direction and started blowing from the west, which brought an increased sea state that fluctuated between 3-4 which created quite a few whitecaps and made looking for cetaceans tricky.

Approaching the Isle of Man we were hopeful of a cetacean as recent sightings had been excellent, and the Officer of the Watch had told us that he had seen quite a few dolphins in the area over the past few weeks. With Chicken Rock in our sights and the MV Stena Mersey passing us on to port we scoured the sea for cetaceans, but due to the poor sea state we left the island behind, with any cetaceans that might have been hiding between the waves.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 06Moving closer to the Irish coast, we were treated to a spectacular full rainbow that stayed with us as we spotted a large group of birds that included circling and diving Gannet, feeding Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake. We thought this might bring our first cetacean sighting, but despite our best effort no animals were observed. However, it was a breath-taking sight to see so many birds hunting cooperatively together.

Our only cetacean sighting was recorded in Belfast Lough with a solitary adult Harbour Porpoise 378 metres ahead of the ship. It was swimming quickly away and surfaced twice before disappearing into the deep. We also had a large Grey Seal bottling at the surface before the ship berthed on the River Lagan as we completed our effort.

Despite the challenging sea conditions, it was a fantastic survey which enabled us to record vital data and contribute towards marine conservation whilst meeting some wonderful people who made us feel very welcome. Huge thanks go to Captain Krzysztof Gadomski, his crew and the staff of Stena Lagan for their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Alexandra Bulgakova, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Great Black-backed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Grey Seal Photo: MARINElife

 

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 15th June 2019

Posted 22 June 2019

Steve McAusland, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Sea State: 1-3; Swell: 0; Wind Force: 2-4; occasional light rain.

Summary of Sightings

Seabirds
Eider Somateria mollissima 19
Gannet Morus bassanus 42
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 159
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 6
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
'Commic' Tern' Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 6
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 38
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Gull sp. 1

Gannet Steve McAusland 08This was my first survey in a while, on this my favourite survey route. I arrived at the Stena Line Port in Birkenhead and was promptly issued my boarding card in readiness for being transferred to the ferry "Stena Mersey". Once on board I was advised by Taylor in reception that the ship would be leaving a little later than scheduled, so I made my way to the News area and started preparing all of my data recording forms.

As the ship left its berth, we were soon under way along the river Mersey heading out into Liverpool Bay. As the ship passed Crosby beach, the Anthony Gormley statues could be seen standing proud along the long beach. Then, as we passed Formby beach and out in to the bay, Blackpool tower was clearly visible in the distance.

It was then that I was allowed to go up to the bridge to get ready to start my survey. Daniel, the ship's first mate, welcomed me and loaded all the information to the starboard wings desk and monitor.

Sadly, no cetaceans or seals were seen on this survey, but there were plenty of sea birds to look out for! Our route took the ship north-west past the Isle of Man and as we passed the Calf of Man the sea's currents could be seen in the waves rushing westwards.

Manx Shearwater Steve McAusland 01The highest count of birds was for Manx Shearwater, which return to the UK to breed before returning to winter in the South Atlantic in the autumn, a journey of nearly 8000 miles!

As the coast of Northern Ireland came in to view on the port side so did the coast of Scotland on the starboard side. An hour out from Belfast Lough the sea went to almost flat calm, and here I got my first views of Black Guillemot and Eider to finish another enjoyable survey.

The crew were as always fantastic and very interested in MARINElife's work, and I thanked Captain Paula Fresca and Neil Whittaker for continuing to support our survey work.

Steve McAusland, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Gannet Photo: Steve McAusland
Manx Shearwater Photo: Steve McAusland

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 25th May 2019

Posted 01 June 2019

Duncan Fyfe and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sea State: 1-3; Swell: 0; Wind Force: 2-4; occasional light rain.

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 22
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina some
Dolphin sp 9
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1

Other marine wildlife
Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus 3

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 34
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 334
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Shag Phalacrocarax aristotelis 2
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 49
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 26
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
'Commic' Tern' Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 4
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 86
Razorbill Alca torda 16
Gull sp. 8
Auk sp. 17

Terrestrial birds
Pigeon Columbidae sp. 3

There are only good surveys with MARINElife. Good because even when you do not see a lot you know that as a volunteer researcher you are contributing to some world-class science and conservation. Then when you do see something interesting there are very good trips - this was one of those!

We began the survey at 11.15 shortly after the ship was free of port in the Mersey Estuary. Our first mammals were seen 15 minutes later when we saw some Harbour Seal resting on one of the sand bars in the outer channel, presumably also bemused by the Gormley statues on Crosby beach opposite!

Marcus, one of the bridge crew and a keen wildlife spotter, was happy we had seen them and told us about what he had been seeing lately, making us a little envious. The sea state and weather conditions remained good throughout the trip never getting above a sea state 3, which helped observations. The outer channel was relatively quiet for the usual Cormorant, terns and other seabirds but we soon started picking up Manx Shearwater.

Minke Adrian Shephard 04An hour later we had our first sighting of Harbour Porpoise with a single animal just off to the port side. Twenty minutes later a spy-hopping Grey Seal was spotted, and as we got closer Emma noticed that it was munching on a skate or ray of some sort.

Kittiwake, Razorbill, and Guillemot started to cross the bow about that time; it is always a pleasure to see these charismatic birds.

Harbour Porpoise sightings then came regularly off the Cumbrian coast, most passing us in an apparently leisurely slow swim. Most Harbour Porpoise sightings are like this but every now and again they live up to their name as two of the animals we saw were moving quite quickly, almost porpoising!

The first highlight of the trip for me was just after 13.30 at the start of a relatively exciting 90 minutes recording. I was looking in the right place at the right time and had a magnificent view of a Minke Whale rolling a mere 500 metres off the bow. Sadly, it did not show again, but it was a classic Minke profile and a great sighting; possibly my first for the Irish Sea.

Shortly after this there was a brief glimpse an animal that was much larger than any of the porpoise sighted and with a noticeably wider base to its dorsal; a possible Bottlenose Dolphin. This was approximately somewhere off the outer Solway where they are known to occur and where I used to see them not infrequently when I lived in Cumbria.

There followed a flurry of small cetacean sightings, many of which were Harbour Porpoise, but some which we could not be sure of. There were two or possibly three groups of slightly faster more active cetaceans consisting of approximately nine or more animals. They did not break the surface much, making identification difficult, but they could have been a smaller dolphin species such as Common Dolphin? With no certainty, they were recorded as Dolphin sp.

Basking shark RPJEver since I have been doing surveys across the Irish Sea I have been anticipating the next species we encountered, but I was beginning to wonder if I ever would. The ship took a course around the south and west of the Isle of Man which boded well, and within sight of Chicken Rock I scanned towards the island and did a double take when I spotted a rather large fin in the water. This was followed by a smaller one. Basking Shark at last!

There were two, possibly three, of them. They were circling around, possibly feeding, and we had good views. However, because of the constant movement and the fact you can sometimes see four protrusions from a 'Basker' (tail fin, tall first and small second dorsal and open snout), it was difficult to tell but there could well have been three. Emma and Marcus were really excited. We all were!

Birds and mammal sightings then tailed off until we got closer to Belfast when they picked up again with a couple of further Harbour Porpoise sightings.

I have not mentioned the birds on the trip yet. Whilst there was nothing rare or unusual there were good numbers of auks and some nice rafting flocks of Manx Shearwater to interest us throughout. Final bird sighting of the survey was a Black Guillemot on the outer approached to Belfast.

This was a good trip, with the excitement of being at sea, the anticipation, and then the actual sightings giving us a buzz. I cannot wait to get out again. Our thanks go to the captain and crew of the Stena Lagan who welcomed us on board and helped to make this another enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Minke Whale Photo: Adrian Shephard
Basking Shark Photo: Rob Petley-Jones

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 13th - 14th April 2019

Posted 20 April 2019

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Visibility: Excellent 16-20km; Dry; Scattered Clouds; Sunshine. Sea State: 3-7; Swell: 0-2; Wind Force: 4-7; Wind Direction: ESE-SE-SSE

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Seal sp. 3

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 45
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 21
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 32
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 31
Razorbill Alca torda 17
Diver sp. 1
Gull sp. 29
Auk sp. 6

Terrestrial birds
Pigeon Columbidae 1
Terrestrial Bird sp. 1

We arrived in high spirits at a very busy Stena Line Birkenhead passenger terminal in plenty of time for our survey across the Irish Sea on a dry and sunny Saturday morning. The forecast for our crossing was expected to be good, but a little 'lumpy' due to the weather front that was lingering off the northwest coast of Ireland and was moving slowly across. This did not faze us as we could not wait to get out to sea to carry out our research and hopefully see some wonderful things.

With a quick and efficient check-in, we were on our way to the MV Stena Mersey and on-board within minutes. The ship was very busy with students and families making the most of half term and travelling to the beautiful Emerald Isle to begin their holidays. Debbie greeted us on guest services and in a helpful and friendly manner organised our cabin for the crossing and radioed for a colleague to escort us to the bridge. Lewis was very friendly, chatting to us as he took us to meet the bridge crew.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 20We were warmly greeted by the Captain and made to feel very welcome as we settled into our workstation on the starboard side. The bridge crew are always so friendly and accommodating and it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to spend time with them and observe their work. The MV Stena Mersey slowed manoeuvred away from her berth and out into the middle of the Mersey to turn and head towards the mouth of Liverpool Bay.

As we made our way up the river we passed a cruise ship called 'Black Watch' that was moored in front of the Liver Building and the Mersey ferry 'Snowdrop' that looked like a piece of abstract art with its technicolour paintwork.

As we entered Liverpool Bay, the conditions were favourable as it was sunny with scattered clouds, a sea state 3 with no swell and there was excellent visibility to the horizon. The south-easterly wind was blowing at 15 knots and with the Liverpool city skyline fading into the distance, it felt good to be at sea. On the port side, there were partially exposed sandbanks which were supporting Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Cormorant. We also spotted a seal casually swimming through the surf that took a quick look at the ship before diving beneath the waves.

Approaching the wind farms, we eagerly searched the surrounding area for cetaceans and as we did this, we noticed what looked like a piece of driftwood ahead of the ship on the starboard side. As we watched the object, it glistened and moved slightly and on closer inspection we discovered it was a Harbour Porpoise logging at the surface! It was not phased by the ship at all and we could clearly see the outline of its body and triangular dorsal before the animal dived and disappeared.

Manx Shearwater Karen Francis 01We travelled further into the Irish Sea and the sea state gradually increased from 3 to 7. With this brought a 2-3 metre swell, and winds that were blowing at nearly 33 knots creating lots of white caps, sea spray and scattered foam. At times, the sea looked like it was boiling as the waves heaped up and dissipated across the surface whilst Gannet, Kittiwake, and Fulmar soared amongst the swell. We occasional observed rafting Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Razorbill too.

The conditions remained challenging and with the Isle of Man clearly visible, the sea state made searching for cetaceans tricky and no sightings were recorded despite recent reports of activity. Sadly, this remained the case for the rest of the survey, but as the MV Stena Mersey sailed into Belfast Lough and approached her berth on the River Lagan we recorded Black Guillemot, a species of Diver and a few more seals.

It was an amazing day, and even though the sea conditions were challenging we still really enjoyed our trip. Regardless of the weather, seeing the sleepy Harbour Porpoise, the stunning seabirds and fabulous seals are some of the many joys of travelling across the rich and diverse Irish Sea.

Huge thanks go to Captain Giovanni Maresca, his crew and the staff of Stena Mersey for their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Harbour Porpoise Photo: Peter Howlett
Manx Shearwater Photo: Karen Francis

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast December 2018

Posted 07 December 2018

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 3rd - 4th November 2018

Posted 12 November 2018

Duncan Fyfe and Harry Ashcroft, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sea State: 8; Swell: 3; Wind Force: 8

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena: 1
Cetacean sp. (blow) 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocarax carbo 14
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 180
Great Skua Stercoranius skua 2
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Great Black Backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 20
Guillemot Uria aalge 34
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Diver sp 1

Terrestrial birds
Passerine sp. 1

We began the survey a little after 11am shortly after the ship was free of port in the Mersey Estuary. The sea state and weather conditions started out well but soon deteriorated to a wind force 8 for much of the crossing. Fortunately for us the bridge is probably the best place to be in such weather and despite the 3-metre swell it didn't feel noticeably uncomfortably at all.

Common Gull Peter Howlett 02Most of our sightings came within the first hour of leaving port with many Cormorant on or near most of the marker buoys and reasonable numbers of Common Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull together with a small number of Great Black-backed Gull were the order of the day.

It is always nice to see gulls at sea and in particular Herring Gull. They frequently get a bad press when they enter our towns and cities and steal people's chips, but they deserve both appreciation and recognition. They are very resourceful birds and despite what the popular media will have you believe they need our help, as populations of all our breeding gull species are on the decline with Herring Gull populations having decreased by over 60% since the 1970's. As a result, they are now red listed under the UKs Birds of Conservation Concern and are of Conservation Concern under the EC Birds Directive.

Based upon experience from previous trips we were anticipating some Common Scoter within the outer estuary, and we weren't to be disappointed. Several small and large flocks crossed the bow within a 30-minute period giving us a total of 180 birds for the survey.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 06Not surprisingly, as the weather and sea state picked up to a force 8 our bird sightings dropped off but we did record a couple of Great Skua, a few Gannet and auks. At one point a rather hunched and manically flapping shearwater crossed the bow and for a while I wondered if it might be a Little Shearwater, but it turned out to be a probable Manx Shearwater that was battling into the wind.

Harry spotted what was a possible blow somewhere off the South Cumbrian coast, but we only saw it once. It is possible it was spray from two colliding waves, but it was a noticeably taller column of water than from the surrounding sea. Our next fleeting cetacean sighting was close to the Isle of Man when I glimpsed the black back of a small cetacean, possible Harbour Porpoise, in the waves but then that too was gone from view all too soon.

The captain and crew worked well make the ship's passage more comfortable for all and it is credit to them for that as well as somehow making sure the ship was only a few minutes late into Belfast.

Whilst this wasn't the most prolific trip from a sightings point of view it was still immensely enjoyable. The thrill of being at sea and the anticipation of what may be seen are big adrenaline booster. Add to that the good company of fellow enthusiasts and volunteers, a friendly crew and the knowledge that you are still contributing to some valuable science all goes into making this route (and all MARINElife surveys) hugely enjoyable.

Our thanks go to the captain and crew of the Stena Lagan who welcomed us on board and helped to make this another enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe and Harry Ashcroft, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Common Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Herring Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 06th - 07th October 2018

Posted 15 October 2018

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Visibility excellent 20km; Dry; Scattered cloud and sunshine; Sea State: 3-7; Swell: 0-2; Wind Force: 4-7; Wind Direction: N-NNW

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 48
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 46
Eider Somateria mollissima 61
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 47
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 42
Razorbill Alca torda 40
Gull Laridae sp. 64
Auk sp. 1

Terrestrial birds
Finch sp. Fringillidae 1

We thought we might get lost on the way to the Stena Line Birkenhead passenger terminal following the spectacular giant footsteps of the visiting Liverpool and Wirral Giants to the city, so we decided to arrive in plenty of time to prepare for our survey. The forecast for our Irish Sea crossing was expected to be dry and a little 'lumpy' due to the continuing windy conditions, but that did not dampen our spirits. We were ready to start looking for cetaceans and recording seabirds and felt excited about what we might see!

After a quick and efficient check-in, we were on our way to the MV Stena Lagan and on board with the other passengers within minutes. We were given a very warm welcome by Dave and Brendan at guest services who are so friendly and helpful and are a credit to Stena Line for their professional and enthusiastic approach to ensuring every passenger is made to feel special. After allocating us our cabins we were escorted to the bridge where we were introduced to Captain Stephen Millar, who was very accommodating and friendly and took a genuine interest in our work. All the crew couldn't have made us feel more welcome and were so nice.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 06We settled into our workstation on the starboard side and the weather appeared to be on our side as we left the berth in dry conditions with scattered clouds, some sunshine and excellent visibility. We started our survey as soon as we departed and immediately we were met with Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull soaring across the bow whilst we travelled the river.

We left the Mersey and entered Liverpool Bay in a sea state 3, no swell and northerly winds. We were taking the southern route and with the recent cetacean sightings around the Isle of Man we were very hopeful of an encounter or two!

As we travelled further into the Irish Sea the sea state gradually increased from 3 to 7 and with this brought a 2-3 metre swell, with winds that were blowing at nearly 31 knots and creating lots of white caps, sea spray and scattered foam! During this time there were steady sightings of Common Scoter, Kittiwake, and Gannet, with a Great Skua harassing a Herring Gull for its dinner. We also saw a Grey Seal bottling at the surface between waves.

With the Isle of Man clearly visible, the sea state made searching for cetaceans tricky and despite our best efforts no sightings were recorded. We felt a little disappointed but remained hopeful of sightings for the rest of the journey and within Belfast Lough, which is good Harbour Porpoise territory!

Great Skua Peter Howlett 12As we continued our voyage, the sea state fluctuated between 5-6 and the late afternoon sun was creating glare ahead of the ship, so reducing visibility. Despite all of this we recorded four Harbour Porpoise in Belfast Lough on the approach to our berth. The blow of one solitary animal was highlighted by the setting sun as it broke through the waves, while a group of three were seen feeding underneath several circling and diving Gannet. Brilliant!

In the last part of Belfast Lough, the bird numbers increased with rafting Eider, Guillemot, Razorbill and Shag, and we spotted another Grey Seal making its way down the side of the ship whilst giving us a quick glance. Even though the sea state was not favourable for our survey, the excellent company of the crew, the four Harbour Porpoise and an array of bird life made this a very memorable and enjoyable trip.

Huge thanks go to Captain Stephen Millar, his crew, and the staff of Stena Lagan for their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)



Grey Seal Photo: Rick Morris
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett

 

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 08th - 09th September 2018

Posted 23 September 2018

Maggie Gamble and Harry Ashcroft, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Mainly good but with early rain then dull and overcast; Sea State: 2-5; Swell: 0-2; Wind: force 1-5 NW

Summary of Sighting

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 84
Gannet Morus bassanus 91
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Eider Somateria mollissima 6
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Common Gull Larus canus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 11
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 26

Other marine wildlife sightings

Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus 1

Arriving in Birkenhead Port we were very soon boarded on the Stena Mersey and shown to our cabins. As the ship cleared port we were escorted up to the bridge where we were welcomed by the captain and bridge crew before beginning our surveying.

Leaving the Mersey Estuary and entered Liverpool Bay visibility was poor with intermittent rain and a sea state of up to 5, but moving further into the Irish Sea conditions thankfully improved. Our route was to the south of the Isle of Man and throughout the voyage we looked hopefully for cetaceans but unfortunately failed to spot any on this survey. However, we did log some marine mammals, with the unmistakable long heads of Grey Seal appearing on three occasions above the sea surface.

Basking shark RPJOn the far side of the Isle of Man travelling north up the Irish coast I was surprised to pick a fairly distant but unmistakable large triangular first dorsal fin of a Basking Shark swimming just sub- surface. The sea state had suddenly dropped to 1 in this area so probably there was some plankton near the surface allowing it to filter feed as it cruised slowly along. This shark is the second largest fish in existence but there are still a lot of unknowns about the species. The sea around the Isle of Man is a known hot spot for Basking Shark during the summer.

Indulging in a bit of post-sighting 'Basker' reading, I was shocked to find that up until the1970s they were the subject of an eradication program in Canadian Pacific waters as they were regarded as a nuisance. Thankfully what is left of that population is now protected - except from accidental by- catch!

For most of the survey we had a slow but steady sightings of seabirds to keep us attentive, mostly Gannet, Manx Shearwater and various gull species. I find all seabirds fascinating but certainly I never tire of watching the shearwaters working the wave fronts with that one wing tip just shy of the surface!

Little Gull Peter Howlett 12Due to the time of year, we did not undertake a survey on the return leg of the journey, leaving Belfast Lough in the late evening. Instead, we had a comfortable night's sleep and arrived back into Birkenhead Port early the following morning.

As ever, our thanks go to the very helpful and friendly staff and crew of Stena Mersey for allowing MARINElife to continue this survey.

Maggie Gamble and Harry Ashcroft, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Basking Shark Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Little Gull Photo: Peter Howlett

 

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast June 2018

Posted 01 June 2018

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast May 2018

Posted 13 May 2018

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 21st - 22nd April 2018

Posted 28 April 2018

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility excellent at 16-20km; Dry; Clear Skies and Sunshine; Sea State: 1-3; Swell: 0; Wind Force: 1-5; Wind Direction: NNE-E-S

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 6
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Seal sp. 6

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 17
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 44
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 16
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 60
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Shearwater sp. 10
Gull sp. 123
Tern sp. 7
Auk sp. 7

Terrestrial birds
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

With blue skies and the sun shining, we arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line passenger terminal ready for our survey across the Irish Sea. The forecast was predicting smooth to slight seas, dry sunny conditions and good visibility, what more could we ask for? We could hardly wait to get started!

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 11After a quick and efficient check-in, we were on the bus and heading towards the ship. As we got closer we could see that the River Mersey was still and calm with a few rafting gulls on the surface whilst others soared over the MV Stena Mersey as we made our final approach. We were greeted onboard by Taylor at guest services who is always so friendly and helpful, and she organised for us to be escorted to the bridge for departure.

We were warmly greeted by the Captain and made to feel very welcome as we settled into our station on the starboard side. The bridge crew are always so friendly and accommodating and it is an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to spend time with them and observe their work.

With an early departure, the MV Stena Mersey was under way and heading out into Liverpool Bay taking the north route towards the Mull of Galloway. It was low tide and the sandbars were exposed, bringing us our first mammal sighting, of five seals hauled out and lazing in the spring sunshine whilst another individual splashed in the surf. They looked to be a mixture of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal but due to the distance a positive identification could not be made. It was still great to see them.

The weather was amazing with excellent visibility, clear skies, sunshine and a sea state 2. We had south-easterly winds blowing at 11.3 knots and no swell making the conditions perfect for spotting cetaceans and it wasn't long before we did! Three Bottlenose Dolphin, two adults and one juvenile, feeding in a large smooth patch of water created from an upwelling, their beautiful grey colouration clearly visible.

The animals lingered for a little while before diving and disappearing beneath the waves. A small splash brought the second sighting, a possible Harbour Porpoise, 65 degrees off the starboard bow at 380 metres accompanied by a solitary circling gull.

After the excitement of these two great sightings it became a little quiet, but we were entertained with sightings of Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull sweeping across the waves. Whilst surveying the surrounding area, we noticed a few splashes from diving and circling birds over a patch of water on the starboard side, which on closer inspection proved to be two Bottlenose Dolphin feeding! They charged through the water with the birds following overhead and then gradually disappeared into the wake as the ship continued its journey.

It really was a beautiful day at sea and as the excellent visibility and calm conditions continued we could see the east side of the Isle of Man in the distance. Our excitement grew after recent reports of large groups of Bottlenose Dolphin and Risso Dolphin being sighted around its shores, so we were hopeful of further sightings.

Our fourth sighting, a Harbour Porpoise, came shortly after we had sighted the Isle of Man with the animal hastily swimming away from the ship. We also started to record Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar, and Gannet during this time.

BND Adrian Shephard 08bWith the Isle of Man on the Stena Mersey's portside, we made our last two sightings of the survey, with a fifth large solitary Bottlenose Dolphin making lots of splashes 180 metres ahead of the ship moving towards the portside. The animal was accompanied by Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Herring Gull overhead and appeared to be feeding as it lunged and leapt clear of the water away from the ship and after its prey. The sighting generated some conversation between us, and we both agreed that it was one of the largest Bottlenose Dolphin we had ever seen and created quite a splash. The final sighting was a Harbour Porpoise feeding separately from the Bottlenose Dolphin.

With the odd Barrel Jellyfish and rafting Guillemot parent and fledgling pairs keeping us company, the ship approached the entrance to Belfast Lough. As the ship progressed, the afternoon sun created glare, initially on the portside but then moving ahead of the ship to starboard making surveying extremely challenging. This effected our recording area, and we recorded only a few more birds, and eventually we had to leave the bridge early as we unable to see past the bow due to the conditions. Despite the early finish, it was a fantastic survey, and we felt very lucky to have witnessed some of the great wildlife that inhabit the waters of the Irish Sea.

Huge thanks go to Captains Giovanni Maresca, his crew and the staff of Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing with their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)



Great Black-backed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Bottlenose Dolphin Photo: Adrian Shephard

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast March 2018

Posted 02 March 2018

Cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 3rd - 4th February 2018

Posted 13 February 2018

Duncan Fyfe and Jane Gray, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Conditions: good; Sea state: 5; Wind: force 5-7

Summary of Sightings

Cetacea / Sea Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena: 3
Cetacean sp. 1

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 3
Cormorant Phalacrocarax carbo 19
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 62
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Great Black Backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 42
Guillemot Uria aalge 28
Razorbill Alca torda 18
Auk Sp. 11

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 82

We began the survey just after the ship was free of port in the Mersey Estuary. The sea state and weather conditions started out well and maintained a steady force 5 for the early part of the journey.

Many Cormorant adorned most of the marker buoys, and a 70-strong flock of Oystercatcher flying across the outer Mersey was an impressive sight. We were then anticipating seeing some Common Scoter, as this part of the journey is where they are regularly encountered.

Common Scoter Rick Morris 02
However, we were not prepared for the amazing sight of a huge flock of at least 600 birds! For several minutes we were surrounded by ducks moving all over the place, in flight and on the water. It is quite possible that the total is an underestimate of how many there really were.

There were reasonable numbers of Common Gull and Herring Gull in the outer estuary to enjoy as well.

The ship took a north-westerly route around the Isle of Man as the sea state picked up and became a good force 7. Fortunately, there was little swell, so the crossing was comfortable despite the challenging spotting conditions.

Jane caught a quick glimpse of a small cetacean splash as we passed the Isle of Man on the port side.

GN Diver Steve McAusland 01There was a smattering of bird sightings with Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake being the most numerous.  A Great Northern Diver taking off from just in front of the bow was also a good spot.

As we got closer to Belfast the sea state decreased slightly, which resulted in three brief Harbour Porpoise sightings. This small cetacean species is always a pleasure to encounter on a survey, but they are quite difficult to spot in anything above a force 4, so we were quite lucky to spot some on this trip.

We ended the survey about 45 minutes before arrival into Belfast as the light faded, and then we had a good walk around the harbour area before heading back on board for a comfortable crossing back to Birkenhead.

Our thanks go to Captain Neil Whitaker and Captain Adam Paczoska and the crew of the Stena Mersey who welcomed us on board and helped to make this another enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe and Jane Gray, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Common Scoter Photo: Rick Morris
Great Northern Diver Photo: Steve McAusland

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 6th - 7th January 2018

Posted 11 January 2018

Stephen Dunstan and Ashleigh Dawson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Sunny; Wind NE force 4-6

Summary of Sightings

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 4
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 22
Gannet Morus bassanus 8
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 26
Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus 230
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 15
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 88
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 25
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 39
Guillemot Uria aalge 10
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Auk sp. 6
Large gull sp. 40

Common Gull Peter Howlett 02We arrived in good time and were transferred to the Stena Mersey by bus. When the ferry left the berth, we were taken up to the bridge where the captain and crew made us welcome.

As we left the Mersey estuary we saw quite a few gulls, including good numbers of Common Gull. As we passed Crosby beach two large skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed the boat heading for the South-West Lancashire mosses.

We began to see a few seabirds, including Guillemot and Kittiwake, but not untypically for this route it was some time before the first Fulmar were noted. The most notable birds of the survey were several Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter.

Auks began to include a few Razorbill as we neared and passed the Isle of Man. Gannet sightings were rather thin on the ground even allowing for the time of year. With it being a January survey, we didn't get a chance to record in Belfast Lough as darkness fell before we reached there.

Common Scoter Rick Morris 02Whilst there were no cetaceans, the survey produced a variety of seabirds, and we are very grateful to everyone on the Stena Mersey, and the port staff at Birkenhead for their support for us and MARINElife, and taking an interest in the sightings that we had during the survey

Stephen Dunstan and Ashleigh Davidson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Common Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Scoter Photo: Rick Morris

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 2nd - 3rd December 2017

Posted 07 December 2017

Cheryl Leaning and Martin Hutton, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility mostly clear; 100% cloud cover; slight-moderate NNW breeze; short period of heavy rain mid-survey

Summary of Sightings

Marine mammals
Seal sp. 2

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 38
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 10
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 27
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 73
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Auk sp. 1
Diver sp. (prob.Great Northern Diver Gavia immer) 4

As this was my first MARINElife survey, I arrived in Birkenhead early on Saturday morning not entirely sure what to expect. The ferry terminal was well sign-posted and easy to find, and a big plus point was free parking, while check-in and boarding was straightforward. We were greeted on board by a very friendly Taylor who gave us our cabin keys, and then it was down to the ferry's café for coffee and chat about what would happen once the survey was under-way.

Taylor took us up to the bridge as we left port, where we met Captain Paolo Fresa and some of the officers who made us feel very welcome, and I quickly got acquainted with the recording forms and navigating my way around the instruments. I have taken part in wader migration surveys in the past so was used to scanning the sea and found that I soon got my eye in.

The sea was very calm with no swell, and the ferry made swift time getting out to sea. Bird-wise it was initially quiet. We were getting good views of the more common and expected seabirds, like Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Black-headed Gull. These were joined by Cormorant, many of which were resting on buoys as we left the Mersey and entered Liverpool Bay.

GN Diver Steve McAusland 01It was interesting to be observing from the bridge, as my experience in the past of birdwatching from a ferry has usually been outside on the deck. Inside was much warmer and I was pleased not to need my waterproofs!

About an hour into the survey we started to get frequent sightings of Guillemot, many Kittiwake and some divers. The visibility was beginning to drop and at a distance it was difficult to confirm the species, though these were likely to have been Great Northern Diver, given their location, previous experiences and their general 'jizz'.

We were pleased to chat to Captain Neil Whittaker as he came on shift, and Officer Adriana Constantin was very attentive, ensuring we did not go hungry or thirsty, and had somewhere to sit for the remainder of the survey.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 03Our anticipation increased in almost diametrically-opposition to the worsening weather conditions as we approached the southern tip of the Isle of Man. A Great Skua rushed by, but apart from the occasional Fulmar riding the north-westerly gusts there was very little about for this bird to target.

We got a great view of the island as we passed, and this was fortunate as there was precious little else to see. I spotted a solitary seal as we pulled away from the Calf of Man, but it dived beneath the waves before there was time to confirm whether it was one of the resident Grey Seals, or the less frequent Harbour Seal. This was to be the only sea mammal sighting of the day.

We stopped the survey when it went dark with the Belfast lights twinkling in the distance though some way out of Belfast Lough.

This was not my first time in Belfast, having lived there for some time in the late 80s and visited regularly many times since for personal and professional reasons. I was pleased to reverse the roles and lead Cheryl on her first experience of Belfast city centre for a couple of hours, while the crew cleaned and turned the ferry around ahead of a comfortable overnight trip back to Liverpool.

As a bird survey it was quiet, though still fun and interesting. As a sea mammal survey… it was really too quiet to tell, and I hope to have a chance to stretch my cetacean identification skills on another occasion.

We are grateful to both Captains, officers and staff of Stena Mersey for their hospitality and to Stena Line for their support in allowing this to continue.

Cheryl Leaning and Martin Hutton, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Great Northern Diver Photo: Steve McAusland
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 25th - 26th November 2017

Posted 02 December 2017

Alan Sumnall and Nicola Simpson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility clear; 50% cloud; Slightly windy; Short period of rain mid-survey

Summary of Sightings

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 15
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 44
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 99
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 40
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 98
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 52
Razorbill Alca torda 1

Upon checking in at Liverpool we were welcomed on board by the friendly crew, who called up to the Captain to arrange for us to set up for our survey. We headed up to the bridge and met Captain Steve Miller who showed us to our survey location. He and his crew were very welcoming, offering us refreshments and were very keen to help, and we set off from Liverpool at 10.30, the weather being clear although a little windy.

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 02Seabird sightings began shortly after we set off with a variety of gulls observed, as well as several Oystercatcher which we observed feeding on the banks of the River Mersey as we headed out to sea. Throughout our journey we observed a variety of seabirds, including Razorbill, Common Scoter, Fulmar and fantastic views of a Great Northern Diver.

Mid journey we passed by the Isle of Man and shortly after this had two brief sightings of Harbour Porpoise. The windy weather did make cetacean spotting difficult, so these two sightings were very welcome! We continued surveying until the light became too poor for accurate sightings, and we arrived in Belfast on time at 18.30 where we left the ship for a short visit into Belfast.

We spent a couple of hours looking around the City Centre, including a visit to the lovely Christmas market, and returned to the ship at around 21.30 ready to depart at 22.30. Due to the time of year, we did not undertake a survey on the return leg of the journey and instead we had a comfortable night's sleep, arriving back into Liverpool at 06.30 the following morning.

Nicola Simpson - Liverpool-Belfast

 

Alan Sumnall - Liverpool-Belfast

Once again, our thanks go to the very helpful and friendly staff and crew of Stena Lagan who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Alan Sumnall and Nicola Simpson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Fulmar Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Nicola Simpson surveying Photo: Alan Sumnall
Alan Sumnall surveying Photo: Nicola Simpson

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 14th October 2017

Posted 19 October 2017

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility 6-20km scattered clouds/sunshine; Sea State 1-6; Swell 0-2; Wind 3-7 S-SSW-W

Summary of Sightings

Marine mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 19
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 115
Eider Somateria mollissima 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 37
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 60
Guillemot Uria aalge 34
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Duck sp. 10
Gull sp. 70

Despite Hurricane Ophelia expected to reach the UK shores over the next few days, and the unsettled weather predicted for our Irish Sea crossing, we arrived at Birkenhead Stena Line Terminal feeling excited about what we might see on our survey to Belfast.

Mersey FerryAfter a quick and efficient check-in, we were on our way to the MV Stena Mersey and on board with the other passengers within minutes. We were greeted by Taylor at guest services, who is always so friendly and helpful, and after allocating us our cabins she organised for our access to the bridge. Andrew kindly escorted us to the bridge, cheerfully chatting to us as we went, and once on the bridge showed us to our workstation on the starboard side.

The bridge crew are always so friendly and accommodating, and they made us feel very welcome as they prepared the ship for departure. As we readied ourselves we saw one of the Mersey ferries docking just in front of our berth, and we admired its brightly coloured paintwork - it was almost like a floating piece of art!

The weather appeared to be on our side as we left the berth in dry conditions with scattered clouds, some sunshine and good visibility. We started our survey as soon as we departed and immediately we were met with Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull that were feeding in the wake from the ship ahead of us.

We left the Mersey and entered Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2, no swell and SW winds that were blowing at 10.8 knots - a promising start. After speaking to Second Officer Chris, we were taking the south route around the Isle of Man and with all the recent cetacean sightings that had been recorded on this route we couldn't wait to get there.

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 09As we travelled further into the Irish Sea the sea state gradually increased from 2 to 6 and with this came a 2-3 metre swell and south-westerly winds that were blowing at nearly 30 knots. Despite the deteriorating weather there was a steady stream of birds, which included Kittiwake, large groups of Common Scoter, Shag, Manx Shearwater and Gannet. There was also the occasion Barrel Jellyfish.

Unfortunately, by the time we had reached the Isle of Man visibility had been significantly reduced by mist, and we could barely see the Calf of Man as we passed it on the starboard side, so no cetaceans were sighted. We were disappointed, but we still had a couple of hours left before we reached Belfast, and we remained hopeful.

After leaving the Isle of Man behind the sea state improved to 3 and the wind speed and swell decreased providing a better opportunity to sight cetaceans, so anything was possible. We observed two Great Skua harassing a large group of gulls that were feeding on a fish ball and a Fulmar sweeping across the waves.

Despite our best efforts and improved conditions, we didn't see any cetaceans, but we did see a few rafting Eider, Guillemot, and a solitary Grey Seal milling at the surface in Belfast Lough.

Huge thanks go to Captains Giovanni Maresca and Paolo Fresa, their crew and the staff of Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing with their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Mersey Ferry Photo: Emma Howe-Andrews
Kittiwake Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 30th September 2017

Posted 06 October 2017

Peter Merry and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Wind W; Sea state Calm

Summary of Sightings

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 53
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 17
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 4
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 273
Auk sp. 1
Tern sp. 2
Diver sp. 1

Terrestrial birds
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 6

Gannet Steve McAusland 07Arriving at the Stena Line terminal I met up with a fellow MARINElife volunteer Peter Merry and we soon boarded the Stena Mersey for our crossing to Belfast. Once on board we were met by the Captain who said he would send a crew member to collect us once all the manoeuvres were complete as the ship left its berth and headed out of the Mersey estuary towards the bay of Liverpool.

We set up to do our survey on the starboard wing of the bridge, which gave us a fabulous view. Our route would take us west towards the Isle of Man, passing its southern point and then on to Northern Ireland and to the port of Belfast.

The first Harbour Porpoise was spotted not long out from the estuary and we had two more off Chicken Rock the by Isle of Man.

Four Candles Steve McAuslandSadly, this survey did not produce any unusual birds, and we experienced a period of recording no birds for almost half an hour, which we found to be very unusual.

As the ship passed the western side of the Isle of Man we saw the four lighthouses that are lined up behind each other (Four Candles).

An hour out from Belfast the weather changed to almost flat sea and we had the one and only Black Guillemot of the day.

As the ship neared the port of Belfast, we concluded the survey and thanked the Captain and crew for supporting MARINElife and for the hospitality. Another survey completed on this route for me and I am looking forward to many more in the future.

Peter Merry and Steve MacAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


The Four Candles, Calf of Man Photo: Steve McAusland
Gannet Photo: Steve McAusland

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast June 2017

Posted 24 June 2017

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 22nd May 2017

Posted 04 June 2017

Stephen Dunstan and Steve MacAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Wind S force 2-5

Summary of Species

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 41
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 171
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 39
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 12
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 71
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Large gull sp. 10
Auk sp. 4
Tern sp. 4


Black Guillemot Peter Howlett 02Unusually for this route we departed late Saturday evening, so there was no surveying on the outward leg, and we retired to our appointed cabins to get some rest.

On Sunday morning following breakfast in the passenger restaurant we joined the crew on the bridge just at the Stena Mersey was beginning to depart Belfast harbour. A couple of Black Guillemot were seen as well as the only Eider of the trip. Many of these sea ducks winter in Belfast Lough, but numbers are lower at this time of year as they breed elsewhere.

The period at sea passing the Isle of Man to the east saw us recording all of the expected seabirds, including Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill, though we did only see one of the latter. We also saw a few terns, but the hoped for skuas never materialised.

Common Tern Peter Howlett 02It was looking like we were going to draw a blank on cetaceans, but as we neared Liverpool a pod of at least three Harbour Porpoise were seen well ahead of us. The survey was further enhanced by sightings of three separate Grey Seals.

Approaching Liverpool a couple more Common Tern were added to the tallies, presumably birds on feeding forays from the colony at Seaforth Dock. All in all we had a very enjoyable survey and are grateful to the crew of the Stena Mersey and port staff at Birkinhead for accommodating us during a very busy weekend for them.

Stephen Dunstan and Steve MacAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Black Guillemot Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Tern Photo: Peter Howlett

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 29th - 30th April 2017

Posted 09 May 2017

Abby Bruce and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Clear viability throughout, light winds and sea state 2/3

Summary of sightings:

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 42
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 60
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 46
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus recorded (no count given)
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 68
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 6
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 27
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1  
Guillemot Uria aalge 43
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Gull sp. 43
Auk sp. 2

Terrestrial birds
Wader sp. 4
Passerine sp. 2

Cormorant Adrian Shephard 04The 'Stena Lagan' set off promptly and as ever we received fantastic service from the reception staff who gave us all the information required and escorted us to our spot on the bridge with Captain Stephen Millar. We set up on the starboard side of the bridge and began the survey as the sun was peeking through the cloud cover. We waved goodbye to Birkenhead and followed the coast line up past Blackpool Tower before heading past the north side of the Isle of Man.

Several Cormorants were eager for the morning's warmth as they perched patiently with wings held out in full sun worshipping position. We followed a fishing vessel for a while as did the bird life circling around looking for fish to snatch, including 'Commic' Tern, Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull. The larger gulls mobbed the smaller species forcing them to dive below the surface if they were to have any chance of saving their dinner from being scavenged.

Shortly after this our first Manx Shearwater of the trip glided into view. They became more numerous and we enjoyed watched them glide seamlessly across the top of the waves like small black and white Kris crosses. Then another from the tubenose family joined, our first Fulmar, shortly followed by a couple more.

Sandwich Tern Rob Petley-Jones 04Around lunch time I spotted what I thought was another Manx shearwater, and then noticed its long swift like tail projections, and more speckled appearance, and realised I was looking at a juvenile Arctic Skua, but it escaped my camera lens much to my disgust.

Another fishing boat nearer our destination created another flurry of activity with more shearwaters, various gull species and auks, and this time joined by several Sandwich Tern. Their size, black beaks with light tips distinguishing them from terns we saw previously.

As we neared Belfast we had a lovely view of a Black Guillemot, the only one of the trip, so a nice treat. Although no cetaceans on this occasion, a lovely trip with great company.

Abby Bruce and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Cormorant Photo: Adrian Shephard
Sandwich Tern Photo: Rob Petley-Jones

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 25th March 2017

Posted 31 March 2017

Emma Howe-Andrews and Abigail Bruce, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Good - Excellent; Scattered Clouds & Sunshine; Sea State:0-3; Swell: 0; Wind Force: 0-3 N-NNW

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 6
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 25

Seabirds
Diver sp. 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 65
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 57
Eider Somateria mollissima 4
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 15
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 70
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Gull sp. 56
Guillemot Uria aalge 61
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Auk sp. 16

What a beautiful day to be surveying! We arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal on a dry sunny Saturday and the forecast for travelling across the Irish Sea was excellent, with little wind and calm seas all the way.  We didn't know at this point that we had a very special sea day ahead of us.

Gannet Karen Dick 01The Stena Line staff are always so helpful and pleasant, and after a speedy and efficient check-in we were on our way to the MV Stena Lagan and on board with the other passengers within minutes.  We were greeted by Tony and Crystal on the guest services desk, who made us feel very welcome and in their helpful and friendly manner allocated us our cabins and organised access for the bridge.

We arrived on the bridge with plenty of time to spare and chatted to the crew as they made their preparations for departure.  We were made to feel so welcome by Captain Krystophfer and his crew, and it is always a pleasure to see them at work.  As the ship left her berth and as we prepared to start our survey we both said to each other just how privileged we are to see this.

Heading out into Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2 with scattered cloud, sunshine and NNW winds, we observed Common Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake and Cormorant rafting on nearby buoys.  The sea was so calm that we were hopeful of cetacean sightings and even though it was a little while before this happened, we did see a Grey Seal milling at the surface surrounded by a mixed group of gulls.

The first cetacean sighting was of a Harbour Porpoise, some 350 metres ahead of the ship beneath a large group of circling Gannet.  We could clearly see the animal feeding and chasing its prey whilst creating a 'rooster tail' of white water - excellent!  The second sighting was two Common Dolphin, some 700 metres off the starboard side, again with a number of Gannet circling above them.  The third sighting was of a solitary Harbour Porpoise in the same vicinity as the dolphins.

Barrel jellyfishAs we travelled further into the Irish Sea the sea state had increased from 2 to 3 and this brought two further sightings of Harbour Porpoise, one group of three and another solitary animal.  After pausing to reflect on what we had seen so far, we were then treated to fantastic views of Barrel Jellyfish, bottling Grey Seal, a solitary Manx Shearwater, rafting Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Lesser Black-backed Gull.  The good weather continued as we passed the legendary Chicken Rock which is still an active 19th century lighthouse located on an isolated island on the southern end of the Isle of Man.  The MV Stena Mersey, the sister ship to the Lagan passed us on our portside.

On our approach to Belfast the sea state dropped to zero and this brought further sightings of Harbour Porpoise including a group of three adults and a tiny calf.  With the sea so calm we could see the animals sub-surface and follow the direction of their travel from the ripples they were creating.  After observing them for a few minutes, they surfaced and then disappeared beneath the waves, but what a remarkable sight!

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01The last sighting of the day was exceptional and it involved a group of fifteen Harbour Porpoise swimming tightly together in Belfast Lough in mirror calm seas and beautiful light from the setting sun.  It was one of those moments when you realise just how special it is to see something as unusual as this, and as they broke the surface we could clearly see their markings and triangular dorsal fins.  We were even joined by one of the bridge officers who commented on the sighting, and together we watched these magnificent little animals roll over the waves for several minutes before disappearing out of sight.

What a phenomenal survey. Wonderful weather, fantastic cetacean sightings, large bird numbers and a diverse range of other wildlife whilst in the excellent company of the bridge crew. It doesn't get much better than that!

Huge thanks go to Captain Krystophfer, his crew and the staff of Stena Lagan who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing with their kind hospitality and for their interest in our work, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Abigail Bruce, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Gannet Photo: Karen Dick
Barrel Jellyfish Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Harbour Porpoise Photo: Graham Ekins

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 4th March 2017

Posted 09 March 2017

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility: Good - Excellent; Dry-Light Rain, Scattered Clouds & Sunshine; Sea State:2-4; Swell: 0-1; Wind Force: 2-6 ENE-SSE

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 36
Eider Somateria mollissima 4
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Common Gull Larus canus 7
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 26
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 13
Gull sp. 47
Guillemot Uria aalge 11
Razorbill Alca torda 6


It felt like Spring was in the air when I arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal and I was feeling hopeful about what I might see on my survey across the Irish Sea to Belfast. The weather forecast was good and the sun was shining, so I kept everything crossed!

After a speedy check-in by the friendly and helpful staff, I was on my way to the MV Stena Mersey and on board with the other passengers within minutes. I was greeted by Taylor and Dave, who in my opinion are an asset to Stena Line with their friendly and helpful manner, and they allocated me a cabin and organised for access to the bridge. Chris, the second officer, kindly escorted me to the bridge, cheerfully chatting as we went and once on the bridge showed me to my workstation.

Captain Neil would be taking the Stena Mersey across the Irish Sea today and having met him a few times before he again made me feel very welcome and took much interest in my work. I couldn't have been made to feel more welcome by the bridge crew.

LBB Gull Peter Howlett 05With a prompt departure, the ship left her berth and headed out into Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2, SSW wind, scattered cloud and sunshine. We passed several wind farms and I eagerly surveyed the surrounding area for cetaceans, but despite the excellent visibility it remained quiet. I was joined by different bird species, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, rafting Cormorant and three Oystercatcher flying across the bow.

While in Liverpool Bay, Captain Neil asked his crew whether to take the North or South route past the Isle of Man and the decision was to go North taking the vessel towards the Mull of Galloway headland, Scotland's most southern point.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 02As we travelled further into the Irish Sea, the wind brought an increase in sea state from 2 to 4, a 1-2 metre swell and a steady stream of Guillemot, Kittiwake, and Razorbill. With the Isle of Man on the port side, a Grey Seal was seen milling on the surface with a large group of rafting gulls nearby and a few Gannet circling above. A solitary Manx Shearwater was also seen sweeping across the waves.

Ahead it looked like the ship would be entering a band of rain as the visibility of the horizon had reduced and with this the sea state dropped from 4 to 2. After a few intermittent light rain showers, I could see the Mull of Galloway headland on the starboard side and the white tower of the lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson in 1830 clearly visible.

The Mull is now a nature reserve which supports a wide variety of plant and animal species, so I eagerly scanned the sea around the headland for any signs of cetaceans, but unfortunately on this occasion no animals were seen.

As the Stena Mersey approached Belfast, the crew and I discussed the beautiful afternoon light that had now established itself over the hills, sending rays over the surface of the sea and highlighting distant ships. It was a remarkable sight.

As the end of the transect approached, a few rafting Eider (one of my favourite birds) and a solitary Fulmar were recorded in Belfast Lough, and despite no cetaceans being seen it was a great survey with lots of birds and excellent company of the crew.

Huge thanks go to Captain Neil, his crew and the staff of Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing with their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Lesser Black-backed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Manx Shearwater Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast February 2017

Posted 01 February 2017

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 15th October 2016

Posted 19 October 2016

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility good; Wind force 2-4 SE-WSW; Sea state 2-5; Swell 0-2

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 30
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Seabirds
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 62
Diver (Loon) sp. 2
Eider Somateria mollissima 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 17
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Guillemot Uria aalge 55
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 33
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Razorbill Alca torda 9

Upon arrival at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal the weather forecast was not looking too favourable and after a speedy check-in by the friendly and helpful staff, I went through to the departure lounge to wait for my transfer to the MV Stena Mersey. As I waited watching the rain splash against the window I kept everything crossed in the hope that it was just a passing shower and conditions would improve for my survey across the Irish Sea.

BH Gull Rob Petley-Jones 03Once on board I was greeted by Vikki and Dave at guest services. In my opinion, they are an asset to the Stena Line team as they are always so welcoming and helpful, and cannot do enough to ensure MARINElife surveys run smoothly. It is always a pleasure to see them. They quickly organised access to the bridge where I was warmly welcomed by Captain Giovanni Maresca and his crew and I started my survey as the ship left her berth.

We headed out into Liverpool Bay in a sea state 3, SSW wind and heavy cloud and I was greeted by large numbers of birds including Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and groups of Cormorant resting on nearby buoys. Passing a number of wind farms, I eagerly surveyed the surrounding area for cetaceans, but despite good visibility, it remained quiet.

As we travelled further out into the Irish Sea I was told we would be taking the South route, which increased my hopes of spotting cetaceans as we would be sailing pass Chicken Rock which is always a bit of a hot spot.

A little while into the survey, I spotted a group of Gannet circling and diving ahead of the ship, and I thought this was my big moment and frantically searched the waves for breaking fins. After observing the area for a few minutes I thought I saw what looked like the dark grey cape and the yellow flank of a Common Dolphin break the surface. It was not seen again and I could not be certain, so it will remain a mystery as to whether it would have been a sighting! Oh well.

With no sightings recorded around the Isle of Man and leaving Chicken Rock in the distance, the wind speed increased and the sea state deteriorated from 4 to 5. With hardly any birds being recorded, things become a little quiet although it had turned out to be a beautiful afternoon with scattered clouds and some blue sky ahead, which that kept my spirits high.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 12Whilst enjoying the sunshine, out of nowhere came my first official sighting! A group of approximately thirty Common Dolphin came charging towards the ship, 15 degrees on the starboard bow! The animals came in sections, some heading straight in for a bow ride whilst others travelled across the bow and down the port side. What a breath-taking sight! By now, even the bridge crew had stopped to enjoy the magnificent view with one of them saying to me that 'this is just for you, because you are here this has happened, what a special day'. WOW!

After recovering from such a special encounter the second and final sighting of the day was a solitary Harbour Porpoise off the port bow rolling in the waves, its blow highlighted by the setting sun in Belfast Lough. In the last few minutes of the survey on the final approach to the berth, I observed rafts of Guillemot, Razorbill, Eider, Manx Shearwater and two divers flying in the distance. What a wonderful way to finish a great survey!

Huge thanks go to Captain Giovanni Maresca and his crew, to Vikki and Dave and the staff of Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

(Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)



Black-headed Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Common Dolphin Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast September 2016

Posted 24 September 2016

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast August 2016

Posted 12 August 2016

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast July 2016

Posted 01 July 2016

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast June 2016

Posted 02 June 2016

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 21st - 22nd May 2016

Posted 01 June 2016

Steve McAusland; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Wind W 4-5, sea state moderate

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Seabirds
Eider Somateria mollissima 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 165
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 16
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 31
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 6
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 6
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 24
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 6
Shearwater Sp. 1
Gull Sp. 19
Tern Sp. 2
Auk Sp. 1

An early start to get to Liverpool in time for boarding the Stena Lagan began at 05:00am and due to hardly any traffic I was in Birkenhead in plenty of time to enjoy a good breakfast and time to check out the local birds on the river Mersey.

Once through check-in, I with other the foot passengers, were taken by bus to the ship and I was soon on-board and heading for the reception team. As with last month's survey I was allocated a cabin by the very helpful Crystal in the passenger office. After leaving my personal items in the cabin and returning to the passenger lounge, she then escorted me to meet the Captain on the bridge. Captain Tullio Scocchi recognized me from last month's survey and very quickly told me to "carry on, you know where everything is".

Our route would take us west towards the Isle of Man, passing its southern point and then on to Northern Ireland and to the port of Belfast. As the ship left the Mersey docks there was a very heavy down-pour and my thoughts turned to possibly surveying in foul weather with no hope of seeing anything!

As the Stena Lagan moved along the Mersey the weather abated and as we passed Crosby Beach the rain stopped, the view cleared and it stayed almost clear all the way to within an hour of Belfast port. The first Grey Seal was seen in the Crosby Beach area, quickly followed by a second ten minutes later.

As the ship sailed through Liverpool Bay I looked beyond the stern where the high speed Isle of Man Steam Packet ferry could be seen fast approaching a cargo ship at anchor. The cargo ship's name was 'Merganser' a very apt name as identifying birds is part of a survey!

Merganser - Steve McAusland
Birds were very few and far between on or over the sea until the ship was well out into Liverpool bay. The usual Cormorants were loitering on the navigation buoys and the first terns were seen. As I looked out from my superb vantage point on the starboard wing of the bridge, I was assisted by one of the crew who kindly set up the wing instrument panel so that it showed me all the relevant readings that are needed to record during the survey.

Sadly this survey did not produce any cetaceans but it did give me sightings of notable birds such as; Black Guillemot, Sandwich Tern, Arctic Tern and Eider. The usual birds seen at sea made many passes in front of the bows and were also recorded over the starboard side. One species that always stands out is the Kittiwake (a real sea gull) both adult and juvenile where seen throughout the voyage. Generally Kittiwake numbers are down around the UK, especially in Scotland, so it was good to see healthy numbers in the Irish Sea.


Gannet Steve McAusland 01

An hour out from Belfast the weather changed to light rain, then thunder and lightning was heard and I paused the survey as the torrential rain made it impossible to see anything. A brief respite gave views of three Eider and a total of six Black Guillemot. As we docked the ship was surrounded by many gulls and Common Terns and a Grey Seal feeding in the wake created by the ships manoeuvres.

The rain stopped and the sun came out which gave superb views of the port including the world famous Harland and Wolffe shipyard. And as with the aptly named ship earlier, alongside was a drilling platform by the name of "Borgholm Dolphin".

Steve McAusland; Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


The Cargo Ship 'Merganser' Photo: Steve McAusland
Gannet Photo: Steve McAusland

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 23rd April 2016

Posted 04 May 2016

Steve McAusland and Jenny Ball - Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sunny; slight NW breeze; sea state 3

Summary of Species Recorded

Cetaceans and mammals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds:
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 150
Gannet Morus bassanus 22
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 12
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 72
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 13
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 179
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Unidentified gull sp. 4

Grey Seal Steve McAusland 06Arriving in Birkenhead after an early start I met up with Jenny Ball at the Stena Terminal. As usual the staff where ready for us and we were soon on our way to join the "Stena Lagan" our ship for this survey.  Once on board we were allocated a cabin each by Crystal in reception and then she took us to the bridge to meet Captain Tullio Scocchi.  

As the ship began to move towards the entrance of the river Mersey we could see many people enjoying Crosby Beach, and the ship was soon heading out in to Liverpool Bay and on towards the Irish Sea with its many offshore windmills and drilling platforms.  Our route was to take us towards the southern tip of the Isle of Man and then on to Belfast.

Our first sighting of a Grey Seal which was bottling effortlessly in the water was as we passed Blackpool with its famous tower clearly seen in the distance. We soon had our second seal which was also doing the same off the starboard side of the ship.
The trip gave us two pairs of Harbour Porpoise, the first observed before we passed the Chicken Rock Lighthouse on the Isle of Man and the second pair as we approached the port of Belfast.  

Gannet Steve McAusland 03b

During the passage Jenny also caught sight of our only Common Dolphin which was great as this was only her second survey for MARINElife and a good sighting for the day.  Birds along the way were the usual species seen while at sea, however the ones that stood out were the many graceful Manx Shearwater, back now from Patagonia to breed in the UK.  Also notable were two Great Northern Diver.

GN Diver Steve McAusland 01bAs the ship started its way in to Belfast Lough we concluded the survey and thanked the Captain and his crew for their continued support and splendid hospitality. We both look forward to volunteering for this route again.

Steve McAusland and Jenny Ball - Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Grey Seal Photo: Steve McAusland
Gannet Photo: Steve McAusland
Great Northern Diver Photo: Steve McAusland

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 19th March 2016

Posted 24 March 2016

Emma Howe-Andrews and Vicky Dewar-Fowler - Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility good, cloudy; sea state 2-3; wind force 3-5 N

Summary of Species Recorded

Cetaceans and mammals:
Dolphin sp. 1
Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus 5
Harbour Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena 3

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 14
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 27
Eider Somateria mollissima 11
Common Gull Larus Canus 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 39
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 6
Razorbill Alca torda 19

With the first day of Spring just around the corner, we arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal feeling hopeful about what we might see on our survey across the Irish Sea to Belfast.  The weather was forecast to be excellent, so we were hoping for good things!

After a speedy check in by the very friendly and helpful staff, we were on our way to the MV Stena Mersey and on board with the other passengers within minutes.  We were greeted at guest services by Sinead and Neal who allocated us our cabins and organised for access to the bridge - they really looked after us and were fantastic.  We were escorted to the bridge by Neal and he chatted and asked us about our work and what we might see, which was great.  Once on the bridge we were introduced to the crew and our Masters for today's crossing, Captain Neil and Captain Kasprzak. We could not have been made to feel more welcome and each took an interest which was really appreciated.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01With an early departure, the MV Stena Mersey left her berth and headed out into Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2, ENE wind and heavy cloud.  We passed a number of wind farms and eagerly surveyed the surrounding area for cetaceans, but despite the good visibility it remained quiet. We were kept company by the odd Cormorant and Herring Gull flying across the bow.

It remained a little quiet, and when Captain Neil asked whether we would like to take the North or South route past the Isle of Man, we eagerly exclaimed "South!" (a recent report had stated a large group of dolphin had been in the area!)  "The south route it is!" Captain Neil replied!  He also kindly lent us a chart so we could track our journey, which was really appreciated as it was Vicky's first time on this route.

Further into our journey, we sighted a number of Grey Seal bottling at the surface, one in particular being harassed by a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull amongst a rafting group of Gannet and Common Gull. A number of Kittiwake were also observed nearby.

Approaching the Isle of Man the first cetacean sighting was made, a single adult Harbour Porpoise 1km on the starboard side, which rolled a few times before disappearing beneath the surface.  The second sighting started with a few splashes in the distance just off the headland near Chicken Rock lighthouse, but as we drew closer it was a dolphin with a very large grey dorsal fin and a dark robust body travelling east. Possibly a Risso's Dolphin?  After a minute or two the dolphin disappeared and remained unidentified, which was disappointing.

Rissos Dolphin Peter Howlett 04Leaving the Isle of Man behind, the clouds cleared to create a beautiful afternoon with blue skies, sunshine and calm seas, just fantastic surveying conditions.  At this point, a solitary Fulmar was observed sweeping across the waves but unfortunately no further cetaceans at this time. We remained hopeful though!

After taking a data reading, Captain Kasprzak very kindly shared some footage he had taken on his phone of a group of 20-25 Common Dolphin bow riding the ship as it approached Belfast Lough in October 2015.  It was spectacular and he mentioned that it was the first time he had seen dolphins in this particular area, so we kept our fingers crossed that we might be treated to it as well.

Unfortunately we didn't see any dolphins, but the final sighting of the day was two adult Harbour Porpoise, one resting at the surface and the other fast swimming nearby some 400m of the port bow in Belfast Lough. A perfect way to finish a great survey!

Huge thanks go to Captain Neil and Captain Kasprzak, their crew, and the staff of Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Vicky Dewar-Fowler - Research Surveyors for MARINElife
(Registered Charity No. 1110884)




Herring Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Risso's Dolphin Photo: Peter Howlett

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 27th February 2016

Posted 05 March 2016

Emma Howe-Andrews, surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Weather: Good visibility; cloudy; sea state 2-4; swell 0-1; wind 2-4, force NE-ENE-S

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 10
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carb 59
Eider Somateria mollissima 29
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 71
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Razorbill Alca torda 6

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

Cormorant Graham Ekins 01On a chilly February morning I arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal for the survey to Belfast, and was greeted by the very friendly and helpful check-in staff.  After receiving my boarding card I was transported from the departure lounge to the MV Stena Lagan, which was sitting proudly on her berth opposite the Royal Liver Building.

After organising for my overnight bag to be stowed in my cabin by a very professional and helpful Crystal on the guest services desk I was escorted to the bridge and introduced to Captain Julio and his crew, who made me feel very welcome.  With an early departure the Stena Lagan departed her berth and I began the survey.

With calm conditions, good visibility and a sea state 2, the ship moved further out into Liverpool Bay.  The usually exposed sandbanks were covered by the high tide today so very few birds were observed apart from a few Cormorant drying their wings in the mid-morning sun whilst perched on buoys and channel markers.

After approximately an hour the first sighting was recorded, a single Harbour Porpoise surfacing at 500m towards the port side.  Fantastic!

Whilst taking an effort reading the Officer of the Watch informed me that the ship would be taking the south route to Belfast, and by 14.40pm Chicken Rock would be visible.  Chicken Rock is the southernmost island administered by the Isle of Man and lies southwest of the Calf of Man and it has a lighthouse.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01The second sighting was a further Harbour Porpoise, 700m on the starboard side which rolled a few times before disappearing into a sea state 3 as the wind had increased slightly.

After the initial excitement of the two porpoises and the occasional Great Black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Guillemot, it remained very quiet on the normally cetaceous and bird rich south route.  Maybe they were all on their winter holidays!

14.00 and the Isle of Man could be seen ahead, so would this bring another sighting? Unfortunately not, but it did bring an impressive view of the Stena Mersey, the Stena Lagan's sister ship, passing on the port side in the early afternoon sun.  She looked magnificent!

At exactly 14.40, and as predicted by the Officer of the Watch, the ship passed Chicken Rock which brought about a conversation on the work that I was doing with a few of the crew asking questions about the wildlife that can be seen within the Irish Sea.  They showed a great deal of enthusiasm which I really appreciated.

Leaving the Isle of Man behind us, it brought a quick succession of sightings which lasted until our arrival in Belfast.  Another eight Harbour Porpoise were seen, with three in particular feeding with a number of Gannet and Herring Gull in Belfast Lough, where they could be clearly seen creating white water as they chased their prey.  An impressive sight!

Eider Adrian Shephard 01The River Lagan always brings diverse bird species and one of my favourites is the Eider, the stunning colours of the male clearly standing out against their brown female companions.  To my delight there were a number of groups rafting together as the light faded, along with a solitary Oystercatcher flying across the bow.  A perfect way to end a thoroughly enjoyable survey, and after thanking Captain Julio and his crew for their hospitality I left the bridge feeling very happy.

Huge thanks go to Captain Julio, his crew and the staff of Stena Lagan who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews, surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)



Cormorant photo: Graham Ekins
Herring Gull photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Eider photo: Adrian Shephard

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 30th January 2016

Posted 26 January 2016

Survey cancelled due to operational reasons

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 19th December 2015

Posted 23 December 2015

Duncan Fyfe and Cathy Robinson surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:  Overcast but with no rain; Sea state 5-7; Wind S

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Dolphin sp 1

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 146
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 20
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified gull sp. 1    
Unidentified auk sp 35
Unidentified grebe sp. 3

 

 

Grey seal Graham Ekins 03We were welcomed on board by the very hospitable crew and captain of the Stena Lagan and were able to head up to the bridge almost immediately, where we began the survey just after 10.30 when the ship was clear of berth and the inner shipping channel.  The weather forecast was not great but fortunately the sea state and wind remained a constant 5-7 on the Beaufort scale and we did not have any rain or glare to hinder our vision.  However, with lots of white caps around and up to a 2-3 metre swell it did make spotting of the smaller birds and cetaceans little more difficult than it sometimes can be.

As we headed out along the outer estuary we had good views of the Anthony Gormley statues on Crosby Beach but we could have easily overlooked them, thinking the beach was unusually busy until we got the binoculars on to them!  We made a mental note to have a closer look at a later date.  It was around about here that we saw our first and only Grey Seal of the survey with three on one of the small sand banks in the mid channel.  The seals can often be seen in this area.

The outer navigation channel had a lot of Cormorant to count, either sat on or near the marker buoys, flying across the bow, or sitting on the water.  Several Common Scoter were also in the vicinity.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01The ship took the northerly route around the Isle of Mann where we had the cetacean sightings for this survey which were brief given the sea state.  There were four sightings in total and all within 500m of the ship.  The first was a fleeting glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise just off the bow, while an hour later three more Harbour Porpoise were seen ahead of the ship.  We got another couple of glimpses of these animals as they moved down the starboard side.  At first we thought they could have been Common Dolphin given their acrobatic behaviour but a closer look and a better view of the juvenile animal as it came out of the water ensured correct identification.

There were a small number of auks on the water and a few passing Kittiwake while three larger grebes flew past at one point, but we weren't able to get binoculars onto these quick enough to make a positive identification.   

The survey ended at 16.20 within sight of the beacon from the Mull of Galloway lighthouse which gave us time to total up the sightings and grab a bite to eat.  After berthing we opted to head into Belfast city centre, having been shown where the bus stop was - it is a little hidden so no wonder it gets missed!  The bus trip into town cost £2 and took about 10minutes and although we needed to get a taxi back to the terminal it was worth the trip because outside the splendid City Hall was an excellent Christmas market selling lots of interesting gifts and some very tempting cakes, cheeses, chocolates, pastries.......

We thank the captain and his crew for genuinely making us feel very welcome and look forward to our next survey on this route.

Duncan Fyfe and Cathy Robinson surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 14th November 2015

Posted 29 November 2015

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions: Overcast with heavy rain; Wind S, force 2-4

Summary of Species Recorded

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 7
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 66
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Common Gull Larus canus 36
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 5
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Unidentified gull sp. 5      
Unidentified auk sp 5

Other species recorded
Starling Sterna vulgaris 1

The weather forecast was not too promising thanks to Storm Abigail but in the event there was a lull in the run of strong winds and I decided it was worth having a go at the survey.  The transfer onto the Stena Mersey was very smooth and the captain welcomed me to the bridge before we left the berth.  As we departed the Mersey I was treated the usual but not to be forgotten views of the Liverpool waterfront, as well as close range views of the Mersey ferry which is currently decked in very eye-catching livery thanks to the artist Peter Blake.

Shag Peter Howlett 02A few gulls and Cormorant were seen as we entered the bay.   A Shag then came alongside the bridge on a couple of occasions, whilst this species is becoming more regular in Lancashire it still remains quite scarce and this first year bird had presumably been blown in during the recent adverse weather conditions.

A few seabirds began to be recorded, particularly Gannet, Guillemot and Kittiwake, but things did slack off a bit for a while until we neared the Isle of Man.  In Manx waters the numbers of Kittiwake picked up significantly and I was then treated to two skua sightings.  Initially, two Great Skua were seen together to the north east before splitting up, when one flew towards and right across the front of the boat.  

Pomarine Skua RPJThis was if anything eclipsed by fine close range views of an adult Pomarine Skua.  While a trickle of reports had come from the Irish Sea during the autumn, when immature birds are more to be expected, this stunning adult bird was a real bonus.

The mist was closing in, so much so that a migrating Starling spent some time on the front of the boat before resuming its journey.  The light failed early in the overcast conditions and I left the bridge after a survey which had been enjoyable and features some interesting observations.

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)