Liverpool-Belfast

Recent Sightings

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)

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 17th October 2015

Posted 10 November 2015

Emma Howe-Andrews and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Visibility: Good at 11-20km; scattered clouds with intermittent sunshine; Sea State: 3-4; Swell: 0-1;
Wind: NE-ESE force 4-6

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 9
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 117
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 153
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 4
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 100
Sanderling Calidris alba 60
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 23
Guillemot Uria aalge 238
Razorbill Alca torda 1

We arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal for our survey to Belfast, and after a speedy check in we were taken on board to be greeted by a very helpful Taylor on the guest services desk.  After dropping off our bags and enjoying a quick coffee we were escorted to the bridge and introduced to Captain Neil and his crew who made us feel very welcome.  With an early departure, the Stena Mersey left her berth and we began our survey.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 12Travelling into the mouth of the Mersey we passed the exposed sandbanks which had numerous Oystercatcher and Cormorant sitting at the water's edge, as well as some Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull feeding around a dredger.  We also observed a large group of Sanderling flying swiftly across the bow, such an enchanting little bird.

After passing the breakwater we moved further out into Liverpool Bay where we found a sea state of 3, good visibility, scattered sunshine and a few Gannet sweeping across the waves.  It was not long before the first cetacean sighting was made, a single Harbour Porpoise making a brief appearance ahead of the ship.

Whilst we were taking an effort reading, Captain Neil informed us that the ship would be taking the north route to Belfast, therefore keeping parts of the north-west coast of England visible. We had not expected to see Blackpool Tower and the mighty Big One rollercoaster in our binoculars - what a nice surprise!

As the ship continued its journey visibility improved to 20km and the eastside of the Isle of Man could be seen in the distance, and with this it brought the second mammal sighting of the day. Here, a group of six Common Dolphin charged through the waves and fed underneath a number of circling and diving Gannet 500 metres off the starboard side.

Common Dolphin Steve McAusland 04Reaching the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost point of Scotland and an area known for whales and dolphins, we were hopeful of another sighting and we were not to be disappointed!  We were enjoying views of the beautiful coastline now basking in the afternoon sun when three Common Dolphin surfaced 300 metres ahead of the starboard bow. We were able to observe the animals leaping several times as they travelled towards the headland, while a Great Skua and rafting Guillemot were seen after the dolphins had disappeared.

As we headed towards Belfast Lough a solitary Harbour Porpoise surfaced several times as it moved away from the port side, and just as we thought that was our final sighting of the day we saw lots of Gannets diving.  Amongst this frenzy were eight Harbour Porpoise creating lots of white water as they surfaced rapidly and chased their prey, which created an impressive sight!  With the light fading, we decided to end our survey; so we thanked the crew for their hospitality and left the bridge feeling very happy after a successful trip.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 19th September 2015

Posted 02 October 2015

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:     Visibility: Good 6-20km with scattered clouds and sunshine; Sea state: 1-2, no swell; Wind Force: 2 - 4; Wind Direction: SSE-NNW

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin, Delphinus delphis 26
Dolphin sp. 15
Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena 5

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater, Puffinus puffinus 11
Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet, Morus bassanus 45
Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo 7
Great Black-backed Gull, Larus marinus 4
Herring Gull, Larus argentatus 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus 5
Guillemot, Uria aalge 3
Gull sp. 70
Tern sp. 5
Auk sp. 56

With calm seas and good weather forecast for my journey across the Irish Sea I was excited and keen to arrive at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal to check in for my survey to Belfast.  As always, the staff were fantastic and after a quick and efficient check in I was transported to the Stena Mersey.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-JonesOnce on board I was greeted by Taylor and Dave on the guest services desk who were both very welcoming and helpful and arranged access to the bridge.  I was very privileged to have Captain Greg personally escort me to the bridge where he introduced me to his crew who all made me feel very welcome and were extremely accommodating.

After settling into my workstation the Stena Mersey departed its berth in sunshine and travelled to the mouth of the Mersey and out towards the Irish Sea.  Despite a small amount of haze the visibility was good at almost 10km and instantly there were a large number of Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull taking the opportunity to feed in the wake of the ship in front of the Stena Mersey.  I even saw a juvenile Herring Gull swoop down by the starboard bow and catch a fish!

Travelling further out into Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2 and NW winds we passed a number of wind farms and I eagerly surveyed the surrounding area for cetaceans.  Despite the good visibility it remained quiet, but I did observe a number of rafting auks, flying Gannet and Manx Shearwater.

By the time we reached the west side of Isle of Man visibility had increased to 20km and with scattered clouds and continuing sunshine.  It was here that I saw a number of Gannet diving, but despite the whale shaped cloud drifting over the hills of the Isle of Man no cetaceans were seen.  I could see quite a few Barrel Jellyfish in the water which I thought was a promising sign as I tend to sight dolphins after they start appearing.  Let's hope so!

Barrel jellyfishThe Isle of Man started to fade into the distance when the first cetacean sighting (of many!) was recorded with six Common Dolphin some 400m ahead of the ship.  They were leaping towards the bow before heading down the port side and into the wake.  Just as they disappeared, an adult and juvenile Harbour Porpoise were spotted surfacing a number of times off the port bow before diving.  Fantastic!

A little while later whilst looking ahead of the ship, I could see a number of splashes and white water and after checking with my binoculars I could see a large group of approximately 15 dolphins. Their behaviour appeared to indicate that they were in pursuit of prey as I saw quite a few of the animals porpoising, but unfortunately due to the distance I was unable to obtain a positive identification.  I speculated that from their behaviour, and robust, dark bodies, they appeared to be Bottlenose Dolphin.

As the good weather conditions continued it wasn't long until I spotted a group of 20 Common Dolphin feeding underneath a number of circling Gannet on the starboard side.  Some of the dolphins were leaping out of the water giving some wonderful views of these beautiful animals.  An amazing sight!

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 14The final sightings of the day came as the ship approached Belfast Lough with another pair of Harbour Porpoise observed foraging 150m ahead of the ship, and a single Harbour Porpoise making a brief appearance on the port side.  A logging Grey Seal was also observed and many rafting Guillemot and feeding terns were seen as the shipped reached its berth.  What a day!

During the entire voyage, the crew took immense interest in my work and were very friendly and engaging, which I really appreciated.  Huge thanks go to Captain Greg, his 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, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 22nd August 2015

Posted 03 September 2015

Duncan Fyfe and Sian Ponting, marine surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Skies overcast with light precipitation early on; sea state 2-3; wind predominantly S-SE

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Common Dolphin Delphinius delphis 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 21
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Dolphin sp 7
Seal sp    1    

Seabirds
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 1089
Gannet  Morus bassanus 107
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 38
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 38
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 42
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 24
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 3
Guillemot  Uria aalge 373
Razorbill  Alca torda 2
Auk sp 30

Terrestrial Birds
Hooded Crow  Corvus cornix 1

We began the survey just after the ship was free of the navigation channel in the outer Mersey. The weather turned out to be quite good despite the forecast of rain which really didn't amount to much by the end. Visibility was reduced to around 5-10 miles but given that the sea state barely got above 3 we still had good spotting conditions which were ideal for Sian's first survey. It was good to welcome her on board.

Common Tern Peter Howlett 02Before long we spotted a grey seal watching the ship as we sailed just off the Sefton coast.  There were also a few common tern and lesser black-backed gull in the vicinity. Due to the overcast skies we soon lost sight of land so it became trickier to reference ourselves off the coast.

The first cetacean sighting occurred just over an hour into the survey as four harbour porpoise were seen slowly swimming past.  A few minutes later we encountered some animals that were moving much faster with most robust bodies and displaying the behaviour characteristics of dolphins.  Unfortunately the sighting was brief so we weren't able to make a firm identification as to the species.

The ship took a route around the western side of the Isle of Man and we were able to make out the Calf of Man and Spanish Head on the starboard side. It wasn't long before we encountered a fleeting glimpse of bottlenose dolphin seemingly to appear out of nowhere within 300 metres off the port side.  Soon after a further two harbour porpoise were seen feeding, with circling gannet and Manx shearwater giving their presence away.

As the Isle of Man disappeared behind our hopes were raised as we came across a large very tight mixed groups of gannet, Manx shearwater and kittiwake in what looked like a post feeding frenzy.  We gave the group special attention but couldn't find any cetaceans in the vicinity although a while later we did encounter four feeding common dolphin.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 02The trip was a successful one in terms of cetacean sightings, but the trip really belonged to the many Manx shearwater.  Personally I have never recorded so many in 15 years of MARINElife surveys.  I am usually quite pleased to record a few dozen on any survey but on this run they were constant throughout and in good numbers almost from the word go, with large rafts near the Isle of Man and Belfast.  

Although we recorded a whopping 1089 of these birds I know we must have under recorded birds because we were so busy writing them down!  It is not unusual for MARINElife to record several hundred of these birds during the summer months in the Irish Sea but this was truly amazing. These birds migrate over 10,000 to the South Atlantic every winter and by the end of September there will be few left in the Irish Sea with numbers of sightings likely to be in single figures.

We ended the survey about 30 minutes before disembarkation which gave us enough time for a quick supper before stretching our legs on shore.  Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Stena Mersey who welcomed us on board and helped to make this another enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe and Sian Ponting, marine surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 25th July 2015

Posted 29 July 2015

Steve Morgan (Team Leader) and Peter Lewis (Researcher) for MARINElife
Conditions: Sunny intervals to overcast; visibility very good; wind varying from 7 - 27 knots mostly from the NNW; sea state 2-4, then falling to 1-2.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 5     

Seabirds
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 467
Gannet Morus bassanus 74
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 14
Common Gull Larus canus 59
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 63
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 4
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 28
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 9
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 4
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 62
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 317
Razorbill Alca torda 154

Terrestrial Birds
Dunlin Calidris alpina 333

We passed through security and were welcomed aboard in good time for a cup of coffee before gaining access to the bridge and setting ourselves up on the starboard side ready for departure.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 11As we headed out of the estuary the wind had picked up from the NNW but little swell was produced and waves were generally small so despite some whitecaps viewing conditions were reasonably good across to the Isle of Man.  There was the usual variety of Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull with some Kittiwake appearing as we got further out.  All this and an adult Little Gull just for good measure.

Approaching the Isle of Man the wind lessened and the sea was calm so viewing conditions were even better.  The auks had decided that this was the area to be with their young of the year, so we were able to see hundreds of Guillemot and Razorbill out here along with large numbers of Manx Shearwater.  

There was some excitement when the spreading area of white water ahead revealed its cause to be a circling group of four Risso's Dolphin, two of whom leapt from the water splashing on their sides whilst yet another appeared slightly further south but heading straight for us.  These are quite a large dolphin species, pale grey in colour with tall dorsal fin and characteristic whitish scratch marks on their bulbous heads and sides: not a common sighting and especially not "having a party" like these!  

Following on from this sighting we soon added eleven Harbour Porpoise to our cetacean tally, some of these being in a tight group which included two young ones.

Rissos Dolphin Adrian Shephard 08After this we reached Belfast Lough all too soon although we were greeted by four Black Guillemot, cute black-and-white seabirds with bright red legs and feet.

We used our dock-time in Belfast to enter some of our data on computer before the return overnight crossing to Birkenhead.

Our thanks to the excellent Stena Line staff who were all friendly and helpful as usual; particular mention must go to Neil (Senior Master), Paulo (Night Master) and Ray and Taylor from Guest Services for their assistance.

Steve Morgan (Team Leader) and Peter Lewis (Researcher) for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 20th June 2015

Posted 28 June 2015

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Wind variable 3 or less, sea state 0-3, visibility occ. poor at first good later

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 20
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 133
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 46
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 19
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Razorbill Alca torda 56
Guillemot Uria aalge 22
Gull sp. 2
Tern sp. 4

I arrived at the Stena Line terminal in Birkenhead and, after a speedy check in, I was on the bus being transported to the Stena Lagan for my journey to Belfast. After boarding I was greeted by Tony and Crystal at guest services who were both very welcoming and helpful and arranged for my access to the bridge.

As soon as I was on the bridge, preparations for departure were underway and I was introduced to Captain Stephen Millar and his crew, who all made me feel very welcome and were extremely accommodating. After settling into my workstation, the Stena Lagan departed its berth and travelled to the mouth of the Mersey and out into the Irish Sea. Unfortunately to begin I had to contend with visibility of less than one km due to fog and mist.

Minke Whale Tom Brereton 02aWith a sea state 2 and the fog clearing, visibility increased to 5 km and I was hopeful of cetacean and seabird sightings. Unfortunately it remained quiet until a few brief glimpses of Gannet, Herring Gull, Cormorant and Manx Shearwater. It wasn't until we reached the west side of the Isle of Man that conditions really improved and I saw my first marine mammal, a Grey Seal briefly logging on the surface before it dived and disappeared. It was now sunny with a sea state 1 and, when I spotted a number of Gannets diving, thought that this might bring my first cetacean sighting, sadly this wasn't the case. It didn't stay that way for long though!

Leaving the Isle of Man behind and with a continuing sea state 1 it brought the first cetacean sighting of many, a single Harbour Porpoise passing down the port side. After a further Grey Seal caught my eye, I was surprised to see a Minke Whale surface right next to it, and despite it being a brief sighting, it was an incredible view. Now with a sea state 0, it made for perfect cetacean watching with further sightings of Harbour Porpoise and a group of active Common Dolphin following a number of Gannets to a fish ball. Just amazing!

Just as I was enjoying the sea state 0 and excellent visibility, the Captain advised the bridge crew that we would be entering a fog bank within the next five minutes, and as expertly predicted the ship did exactly that. Within the dense fog, I witnessed my very first 'fogbow', a rare natural phenomenon off the starboard side of the bow. Like a rainbow, but without the spectrum of colour, it is caused by very small sized water droplets and the refraction of light, and is often called a 'white rainbow'. With all my time at sea, I had never seen anything like it, and it created a spectacular sight.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 01After a brief spell in the fog bank, visibility improved and it brought groups of rafting Razorbill and Guillemot on our approach to Belfast, not before a final pair of Harbour Porpoise and a number of Barrel Jellyfish were observed.

During the entire voyage, the crew took immense interest in my work and were very friendly and engaging, which I really appreciated. Huge thanks go to Captain Stephen Millar, 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, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 23rd - 24th May 2015

Posted 28 May 2015

Abby Bruce and Carol Bruce, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Calm sea, low wind, cloudy/sunshine with a little haze.

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1    
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2    
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3    

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 46
Gannet Morus bassanus 46
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 64
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 7
Commic Tern Sterna paradisaea 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 43
Razorbill Alca torda 23
Auk Sp.    78
Gull Sp. 1
Tern sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds:
Passerine sp. 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1

The bank holiday traffic flowed well and we got to Birkenhead dock in plenty of time on a bright Saturday morning.  Once aboard the Stena Lagan we were promptly given a cabin before being taken to meet the captain and his crew, an accommodating team of friendly faces.  A lull from the recent high winds experienced by the whole country give rise a calm sea and with the sun in the sky we were set for a pleasant sail.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 06As we passed the Gormley statues along Crosby Beach we spotted a mix of Herring Gull, Cormorant, Gannet, Kittiwake and auks but the real entertainers of this trip were Manx Shearwater.  With 46 seen in total, we could never get bored of these graceful gliders skimming the waves and almost daring each other to dip their wings into the blue!

Within an hour of our survey we had recorded two separate Grey Seal, also enjoying the calm waters.  Their mottled bodies were held vertically and motionless below the water with their heads curiously bobbing above, apparently taking as much interest in us as we were of them.

Around 2 o'clock we saw several jellyfish float by and whilst searching for a turtle, one of the jellyfish's many predators and also as it was world turtle day, the sun reflected off a smooth dark object.  On closer inspection a Harbour Porpoise surfaced silently and surreptitiously, the sun's glare was truly its only give away.  Shortly afterwards the first Fulmar of our journey was recorded along with a single small terrestrial bird and a lone Barn Swallow.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 06A third Grey Seal dodged the bow of the boat, this time a lone darker specimen much broader, with a heavier snout than the first two, making us assume it was male.  This sighting was soon eclipsed as we caught sight of two Common Dolphin swimming down the left of the boat, their yellow flanks clearly displayed in the sunlight.

We were delighted with the day's sightings and shared our findings with Captain and crew before retiring to our cabins for a smooth return journey.  Once again many thanks to the all staff and crew aboard the Stena Lagan, as always there hospitality was above and beyond all expectations.

Abby Bruce and Carol Bruce, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 18th April 2015

Posted 25 April 2015

Duncan Fyfe and Jan Ozyer - Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions westbound:     Sea state 0 - 4; wind force 2; visibility 6; cloud 0

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 9
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Seabirds:
Black-throated Diver Gavial arctica 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 31
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 23
Gannet Morus bassanus 59
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 79
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 26
Eider Somateria mollissima 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Gull Larus Canus 101
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 78
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutes 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 53
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicenus 1
Commic Tern Sterna/paradisaea 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 9
Guillemot Uria aalge 353
Razorbill Alca torda 65
Auk Sp.    105
Larus Gull Sp. 16

Leaving home early on Saturday morning with bright clear skies was a good omen and it was a quiet drive for me over the Pennines and a pleasant one for Jan through North Wales.  We began the survey just after the ship was free of port in the Mersey Estuary.  The sea state and weather conditions were really good - barely reaching above sea state 4 with many stretches barely a force 2 and with clear skies.

BND Peter Howlett 01Many Cormorant adorned the marker buoys and it wasn't long before we spotted a couple of flocks of Common Scoter, again in the outer Estuary where we have both encountered them on previous surveys.  There were large numbers of Common Gull still present along with a small number of Little Gull to add some extra interest.

The ship took a north westerly route around the Isle of Man and it was off the Cumbrian coast that we encountered our first fleeting glimpses of Harbour Porpoise. A while later, with the island in sight and the outer reaches of the Solway Estuary coming into view we encountered our first Bottlenose Dolphin, seemingly appearing out of nowhere some 200 metres off the port side of the bow before presumably heading towards the bow wave.  It was again a fleeting glimpse of 2 juvenile animals - not as large as I have seen them before and without the patterning or distinctive dorsal fins that would identify them as something else.

Kittiwake started to make a more noticeable appearance mid survey and there were smatterings of Guillemot to observe.  Interestingly there appeared to be more Razorbill than I recall observing on previous trips.  Most of these auks were seen in mixed groups and where they were flying together it was always the Razorbill that was 'in the lead'!

Common Tern Peter Howlett 02A Grey Seal and a 4 more Harbour Porpoise sightings were had around the north of the Isle of Man and between Stranraer and Belfast Lough.  As we got closer to Belfast the species diversity increased again and we a few sightings of Black Guillemot, some 'commic' terns and another Grey Seal.  

We ended the survey about 30 minutes before disembarkation which gave us enough time for a quick 'bite' before stretching our legs on shore.  The harbour area had a good number of Black-tailed Godwit on the mud and a possible Spotted Redshank to keep us busy before we re-boarded for the return journey.
Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Stena Mersey who welcomed us on board and helped to make this another enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe and Jan Ozyer - Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 28th March 2015

Posted 23 April 2015

Stephen Dunstan - Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Conditions westbound: Winds SW4-7, cloudy with brief rain showers

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 31
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 66
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 276
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 24
Common Gull Larus Canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 19
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Razorbill Alca torda 12
Gull sp. 53

With strong winds forecast in the lead up to the survey it was touch and go whether the survey would take place.  Late checks suggested that the initial strong gusts would subside somewhat and that it was worth a punt.

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 03I was welcomed onto the bridge as the Stena Lagan left the Mersey river mouth.  Birds seen early in the survey included 250 Cormorant roosting on sandbanks and 24 Common Scoter presumably on the move from local feeding areas to breeding grounds.  Thereafter all the more expected seabirds were seen, though only one Manx Shearwater at this early stage in the season.

After passing the Isle of Man a small feeding flurry of seabirds was noted, and among them the head of a Grey Seal was seen briefly a couple of times.  Good numbers of Fulmar were noted as birds head north to nest, and the number of Gannet seen was enhanced by 35 birds feeding around a fishing vessel.

The light was fading as we entered Belfast Lough so I drew up stumps.  Whilst it was a fairly routine survey it was nevertheless very enjoyable, not least thanks to the excellent welcome afforded to me by the friendly Stena Lagan team.

Stephen Dunstan - Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 24th January 2015

Posted 09 January 2015

Unfortunately survey cancelled due to operational reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 13th December 2014

Posted 21 December 2014

Unfortunately this survey was cancelled due to last minute rescheduling.

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 22nd November 2014

Posted 28 November 2014

Joe O'Hanlon, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility good with some glare (port); Wind South-westerly - westerly veering to North Westerly; Sea State generally 3-5

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 6
Harbour Porpoise Phoceona phocoena 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 75
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 64
Shelduck Tadorna taddorna 27
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 17
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 28
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 110
Puffin Fratercula artica 1
Razorbill Alca torda 28
Guillemot Uria aalge 41
Unidentified Auk sp 5

Another unseasonably warm November day, and I arrived at port to a misty Liverpool with sunshine burning through before being welcomed aboard Stena Lagan by the crew.  Once the cabin was allocated, a quick drink then up to the bridge.

BND Adrian Shephard 04Given the last few days weather, the forecast looked a lot better for the crossing so fingers  were crossed that this would not change and give a good chance to see cetaceans.  

I started the survey in great light with the sun coming from behind the bridge, but the conditions clouded over quite quickly but there was still good light.  A short distance out on the Irish Sea brought small numbers of Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and good numbers of Common Scoter and Cormorant.

Within the hour there were good views of six Bottlenose Dolphin feeding on the port side, a sighting which alone would have made the trip worthwhile for the observer!

A steady flow of birds continued as we approached Calf of Man, where a single Harbour Porpoise showed before disappearing as quickly as it had arrived.  A few minutes later the bird list was boosted by Puffin flying across the bow.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 02As the light started to fail the sea state dropped and conditions would have been ideal to see more cetaceans but by four o'clock the light had gone and the survey unfortunately had to come to an end.  Given the shortness of the period available for the survey, the range of species seen was excellent and the survey very enjoyable.

While I was unable to add to the outward survey tally due to the journey back being during the hours of darkness, it was well worth being up early to see Liverpool lit up with street and flood lighting.
Thanks go to Captain Miller and the crew of the Stena Lagan for their hospitality and welcome, and to Stena Line for their continued support of this survey route.

Joe O'Hanlon, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

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

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 25th October 2014

Posted 06 November 2014

Abby and Carol Bruce, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Fairly strong winds N-NW with good visibility throughout and sea state 2-7

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 61
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 23
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 214
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 4
Razor Bill Alca torda 37
Guillemot Uria aalge 18
Unidentified Auk sp 239
Unidentified Gull sp 50+

 

 

 

After an eventful week of British weather the 'Stena Lagan' set off promptly and undeterred.  We received fantastic service from the reception staff giving us all the information required and arranging our access to the bridge in time for departure.  As always the crew warmly welcomed us aboard and the Captain Krzysztof Gadomski remembered me from previous trips.   We were asked to set up on the port side of the bridge on this occasion so not to obstruct the crew's view on departing Birkenhead harbour.

BND Adrian Shephard 03The trip started with the usual suspects Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull and later various auk species keeping us busy.  As we passed various fishing vessels numbers increased and counting become hard work with huge rafts of birds following and hoping to pick up free scraps of food.  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.

About two hours into the survey with English shores a distant memory, we spotted an amazing diving routine being performed by the distinct white with black giants of the sea Gannet.  On closer inspection Guillemot, Razorbill and Herring Gull added to the feeding frenzy.  As I frantically recorded the numbers I said to my trainee 'don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for associated cetacean' and she calmly replied 'I think I can see a dolphin.'  I looked up in awe as another two more breach the surface to feed just in front of us, what a result!  Carol took the first sighting credit and we worked through what we'd both seen and matched it to the books to ID our finding as Bottle-nosed Dolphin, a chunky dark grey species with pale colouration underneath and a prominent beak.  Although the crew missed this brief glimpse of life below the Irish Sea they were impressed to hear our tale and tell theirs from previous trips.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 02Shortly after this our first Manx Shearwater of the trip glided into view.  It glided effortless over the waves' peaks and troughs and I even managed to get a photograph of this graceful species.  Later we saw a few more amongst the more numerous auk species.  A lone Arctic Skua was also recorded migrating across the Irish Sea but outwitted my amateur photography skills.

The sun was setting as the shores of Belfast Lough welcomed us in.  The fading light made recording hard work so we called it a night and retired to our cabins.  Thanks again to all staff on board for being so accommodating and helping to make a memorable trip.

Abby and Carol Bruce, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 27th September 2014

Posted 05 October 2014

Joe O'Hanlon and Jane Gray, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Good visibility - some glare (port); wind force 3,WSW; sea state: 0-1

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 7
Harbour Porpoise Phoceona phocoena 2

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 398
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 494
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 319
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 37
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 70
Common Gull  Larus canus 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 376
Razorbill Alca torda 41
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 7
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 18
Unidentified Tern Sp.

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 7
Carrion Crow Corvus corone corone 3
Swallow Hirundo rustica 5

We were welcomed onboard the Stena Lagan by the ship's crew, assigned cabins and were able to drop our bags prior to the survey.  As arranged, shortly after departure we were welcomed onto the bridge by Captain Kubacki and crew and we set up our survey station.  Almost immediately and just after passing the Gormley statues on Crosby Beach we recorded over 300 Cormorant resting on the mudflats, as well as others which adorned the channel marker buoys on our passage along the Mersey.

A short distance out on the Irish Sea we started to see small numbers of Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Common Scoter, and a group of seven Meadow Pipit.  We then began recording increasing numbers of Gannet and Guillemot, together with small numbers of Razorbill.

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 01The ship passed to the south of the Isle of Man which looked spectacular in the afternoon sunlight, with a small number of yachts underway nearer land.  The prevailing winds were force 3 WSW which made sea conditions more difficult for spotting marine mammals, despite the good visibility and records of sightings on previous surveys in this area.  
Just over half way into the survey we began to record increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar and Kittiwake.  Shortly afterwards we were treated to a feeding frenzy of over 460 Manx Shearwater with small numbers of Fulmar, Kittiwake and Lesser Black-backed Gull also participating.

This was not the only feeding frenzy of the afternoon as approaching the entrance to Belfast Lough, our attention was drawn to approximately 155 Gannet and 10 Manx Shearwater feeding around and within a rip current and Joe predicted good conditions for cetacean sightings.  As if on cue, we then sighted seven Common Dolphin feeding amongst all the activity.  Shortly afterwards, to add to our cetacean tally, we also had a fleeting glimpse of two Harbour Porpoise before they sped away as the ship approached.

Just outside the entrance to Belfast Lough, and shortly before the end of the survey, we observed a small number of Eider, two Black Guillemot, a Sandwich Tern and Shag.

The ship docked right on schedule and, after thanking the captain and crew we took our leave from the bridge and enjoyed a welcome dinner, before starting to write up the findings of the day.

For the return crossing, our arrival in Birkenhead was, again, right on schedule.  Whilst we were unable to add to our outgoing survey tally due to the journey being during the hours of darkness, we were treated to the sight of the Three Graces on the opposite bank of the Mersey as the ship was berthing just as the Sun was rising.

Our thanks to Captain Kubacki and the crew of the Stena Lagan for their hospitality and pleasant passage and to Stena Line for their continued support of this survey route.

Joe O'Hanlon and Jane Gray, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

Photo credits:
Manx Shearwater - Peter Howlett
Common Dolphin -Rick Morris

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 23rd August 2014

Posted 24 August 2014

Steve Morgan and Keith Morgan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Wind Force 4-5 NNW; sea state mainly 4-5; sunshine and occasional showers.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2    
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutirostra 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds
Unidentified Diver sp 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 43
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 409
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 19
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 24
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 51
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 13
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Common Gull   Larus canus 11
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 43
Unidentified gull sp. 208
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 45
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 9
Razorbill  Alca torda 3
Unidentified auk 10

Terrestrial Birds
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 2

We boarded the Stena Mersey in good time and were invited up to the bridge well before our departure time of 10.30.  There was rain in the air though this soon cleared as we manoeuvred out of the Mersey into the Irish Sea where we were greeted by a brisk wind and an unhelpful sea state of 4 rising to 5.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 11Despite the strong breeze, the usual Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull were in evidence as well as a few Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull.   We were also pleased to encounter two Little Gull which added spice to the standard fare.  

Activity declined as we moved further out to sea and things remained quiet until we came in sight of the Isle of Man where our route took us to the north of the island through an area where previous surveys have usually found cetaceans.  We were looking forward to meeting at least a few marine mammals but this area too was very quiet and as we headed northwards towards the Mull of Galloway, we began to wonder if we would have a "blank" recording survey.

However, just as we approached Galloway our luck changed.  Firstly a lone Harbour Porpoise came barrelling along, surfacing briefly as it veered hard to starboard.  Then came a group of three more Harbour Porpoise, all clearly visible swimming beneath the surface as they too sped close by our starboard side.  What a marvellous sight!  Normally one sees only glimpses of this species as it surfaces to breathe but thanks to a brilliant overhead sun and the close proximity of the animals, this time we were able to watch the animals in all their splendour, powering along like grey torpedoes beneath the waves.

Minke Adrian Shephard 04The excitement had not finished.  As we left Galloway behind and moved out towards the North Irish Channel, a slightly deeper area where dolphins are often seen, to my astonishment a long black back surfaced a mere two hundred metres ahead moving at some speed from starboard to port.  Midway along was a high falcate dorsal fin which rose and fell in an arc as the animal arched its back.  A moment later it surfaced a second time, and we could see it was far too large to be a smaller cetacean and its identity was immediately obvious - a Minke Whale!  We tried desperately to re-locate it but it had obviously gone on a deeper dive and the two spectacular surfacings were to be our lot.

Shortly afterwards a pair of large uniformly grey and fast-swimming dolphins appeared, almost certainly Bottlenose Dolphin, surfacing only once before disappearing to starboard.

The survey had suddenly come to life right at the last minute, proving just how unpredictable the marine environment can be.  Even the wind was easing and we cruised sedately into Belfast Lough in balmy sunshine over a gentle sea, where the usual suspects were there to meet us.  A Harbour Seal was "bottling" near to the shoreline and two Black Guillemot and a fair number of Shag were resting on the water.   A probable Red-throated Diver hurried across the surface in the distance, bringing the survey finally to a close.

Our thanks go to the captain, crew and staff aboard the Stena Mersey, who once again made our work such a pleasure.

Steve Morgan and Keith Morgan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 26th July 2014

Posted 02 August 2014

David McGrath and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:    Wind N/NE Variable 14-21Knots; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6; Sea State 3-4

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 12    
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 11

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 196
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 789
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 31
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 5
Eider  Somateria mollissima 87
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 47
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 47
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Common Gull   Larus canus 27
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7
Unidentified gull sp. 70
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 32
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 7
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 55
Razorbill  Alca torda 11
Unidentified auk 13

After a smooth transfer from the terminal at Birkenhead to our ship we were introduced to Captain Paulo and then shown to our comfortable cabins.  We were aboard in good time and were able to enjoy breakfast which included the largest chocolate brownie in the world!  As departure time neared we took up our positions on the bridge where we enjoyed views of the impressive Liverpool skyline and Ruby Princess cruise liner which dwarfed the Stena Mersey.

BND Carol Farmer-Wright 01The survey started once the ship was manoeuvred off its berth and once underway our survey sheets began to fill up with species of gull and Common Tern, the latter carrying fish to their nestlings on the nearby Seaforth Nature Reserve.  As usual on this route a number of Cormorant were recorded sat on the buoys marking the channel out of the river and into open water.

After about an hour one of the crew spotted a Bottlenose Dolphin very close dead ahead and a search by Emma revealed there was part of a pod of at least five, one of which being a juvenile.

At sea Gannet and Kittiwake were becalmed on the water in the light winds but the many Manx Shearwater seemed to be able to find the least breath of wind.  A Grey Seal loafed lazily in a raft of seaweed off the port bow, only diving when we got too close.  We also sailed through large blooms of Moon Jellyfish.

It was about an hour since our first cetacean sighting that we saw a quick succession of two, one then a pod of four Harbour Porpoise.  Approaching the half way point another pod of six Bottlenose Dolphin was seen 100 metres ahead of the bow.

Passing the Isle of Man the predicted cold front moved in and a hazy mist descended, reducing visibility for a while.  It was here that Guillemot and a few Razorbill started to be seen, though not in large numbers as many were still be at their nesting colonies.  Several Fulmar were also seen in this area.

Once past the Isle of Man another Bottlenose Dolphin appeared out of nowhere, charging straight at the ship and speeding down our port side.


Manx Shearwater were in abundance north of the Isle of Man with several large rafts hastily counted before they scattered out of our path.  The bulk of the 800 birds seen through the trip came from half a dozen such rafts.

Grey Seal Martin Gillingham 01aApproaching Belfast Lough our final cetacean sighting was made, a single Harbour Porpoise.  As the mouth of the loch begins to narrow the target species to find are the local Black Guillemot which didn't disappoint with four individuals being counted.  I always think these look rather moth-like in flight. The channel markers are a good place to look for Cormorant and their smaller relative the Shag of which we only saw one on this survey.

The ship slowed to a crawl as it approached its berth giving us fine views across into the RSPB's Belfast Loch reserve and keeping us busy with the comings and goings of the Common Tern nesting there.  A Harbour Seal kept close to the seawall well out of the way of the shipping, but right in the docks there were another eleven hauled out on the rocks.

At the end of our survey we thanked Captain Paulo for his hospitality and made our way to our cabins for the overnight return.

Our thanks go to Stena Line for their continued support for the surveys and to Captain Paulo and his extremely friendly and helpful crew on the Stena Mersey for making this a very enjoyable crossing.  We look forward to working with them again in the future.

David McGrath and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 28th June 2014

Posted 23 July 2014

Colin Gill and Lucie Bernadova, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Wind N/NE Variable 14-21Knots; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6; Sea State 3-4

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver  Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 134
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 347
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 17
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 19
Common Gull   Larus canus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Unidentified gull sp. 269
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 31
Sandwich Tern, Sterna sandvicensis 25
Tern sp. 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 43

We were warmly welcomed on board by the captain and crew of the Stena Mersey and left Birkenhead harbour in slightly misty weather with light rain, but conditions soon improved with good visibility for the rest of the crossing.

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 02Early on it was the tern species that gave the more frequent sightings, but this was to change as Gannet took over as the constant bird throughout the survey.  There were reasonable numbers of Manx Shearwater as well although the actual variety of sea birds was limited, even on the exit and approach to the two ports.

The ship follows the coast nearly all the way up before crossing towards Belfast and the visibility allowed for views across to the Lake District and then of the coastline towards the Mull of Galloway.  We were hopeful of further wildlife sightings around the Isle of Man but to no avail.

It was not until the approach towards the Irish coastline that we got our first Harbour Porpoise sighting followed by another very brief glimpse on the final approach to Belfast Harbour.  Beaufort's Dyke was lacking any real numbers of birds apart from occasional rafts of Manx Shearwater.

Herring gull ASBelfast harbour was extremely quiet with none of the normal estuary birds and we were not even greeted by the Harbour Seal that I have seen on every previous visit to the port.  More disappointing was the fact that my colleague had never seen a Black Guillemot and I had told her that this was a definite in and around the port… they had gone as well!!  

The whole survey was still a very enjoyable experience, made more so by the friendliness of the captain and his crew.  Their genuine support and interest always makes the trips go smoothly and the added bonus was a comfortable night sleep on the return trip.

Colin Gill and Lucie Bernadova, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 24th - 25th May 2014

Posted 01 June 2014

Carol Farmer-Wright and Abby Bruce, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - overcast with good visibility, sea state varied 1-5.  
Return - cloudy but bright, good visibility, sea state 3, low winds.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 23
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 278
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 14
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 39
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 20
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Unidentified gull sp. 11
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 5
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 5    
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Tern sp. 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 55

Terrestrial Birds:
Feral Pigeon 2

Upon boarding the 'Stena Lagan' we were warmly welcomed by Captains Krzysztof Gadomski and Stephen Millar and their hospitable crew.  As we sailed into the main channel we waved at the ferry across the Mersey and our survey began.  Weather and sea conditions were good and we soon started tallying up Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Cormorant, Kittiwake with a lone Feral Pigeon amongst them.

Manx Shearwater Rick Morris 04Within an hour Manx Shearwater began to appear and continued to entertain us throughout the trip.  As they effortlessly skimmed over the Irish Sea, over 250 were recorded within the first day.

About half way through the outward survey a single Grey Seal was seen spy hopping ahead of the boat, showing as much curiosity of us and we were of him.  A group of Arctic Tern and a lone Arctic Skua were also exciting additions to our species list.

As the shores of Belfast came into view auk species became more numerous including Guillemot, Razorbill and two Puffin, until finally the elusive Black Guillemot made their appearance, showing off their white egg shaped wing markings before darting out of sight.

As the captain and crew manoeuvred into Belfast dock we collaborated our day's work and then headed for an early night, to be rested for sunrise and a final opportunity to survey.

Guillemot Rick MorrisThe next morning did not disappoint.  Although the sunrise was hidden behind clouds it was a bright, calm morning and the birds were already out waiting to be counted.  Several Sandwich Tern were recorded amongst others and the reward for our early morning efforts were three Grey Seal relaxing in the morning sun on a sand bank.  A fantastic sight for tired eyes!
With Birkenhead's dock in sight we exchanged cetacean spotting stories with the crew, both parties equally engaged, before saying our goodbyes.  Thanks again to all on board for being so accommodating and helping to make a memorable trip.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Abby Bruce, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 26th April 2014

Posted 08 May 2014

John Perry and Julia Benson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Partial cloud, wind moderate from South East.  No precipitation.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 34
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 57
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 34
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 39
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 40
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 106
Razorbill Alca torda 45

Terrestrial Birds:
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1

Herring gullSaturday morning was dry with low cloud restricting the view of the horizon. The sea state was moderate with only a gentle swell, good conditions for our survey to Belfast.  Our tickets were rapidly issued by the efficient Stena Line staff and we were quickly bussed onboard the "Stena Lagan".  We were shown to our cabins and then met by Captain Miller who welcomed us on board who invited to the Bridge as soon as we wished.

Setting up our work station on the starboard side of the bridge, we had excellent views of Crosby beach with its famous Gormley figures.  As we travelled down the estuary, we saw numerous Herring Gull and a few Lesser Black-backed Gull, with Cormorant on many of the marker buoys.  As we approached the Mersey Bar and we noticed a solitary Common Tern and a Swallow flying towards land.  Shortly afterwards an early Wheatear was also spotted.

Common Tern 02 Graham EkinsWe began to see more and more Gannet and Guillemot as we headed between the Isle of Man and the Mull of Kintyre as well as Kittiwake and a couple of Sandwich Tern.  Manx Shearwater and Fulmar began to appear as we approached the Northern Irish coast.

We stayed on the bridge until the ship began making its way to its berth.  After thanking the Captain and officers for their hospitality, we enjoyed an excellent evening meal in the Mess.

The evening was spent writing up notes and collating data in the comfortable Passenger Lounge before we headed for our cabins and an excellent night's sleep as the ship returned to Liverpool.

John Perry and Julia Benson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 22nd March 2014

Posted 28 March 2014

David McGrath , Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:    Sea state 1 - 4; Wind 3 - 6 NW; overcast with intermittent showers

Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1 (in the dock area after the survey had finished)

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 36
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 74
Eider Somateria mollissima 135
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 36
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 32
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 57
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 16
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Unidentified gull sp    3
Unidentified auk sp 26

Birds in Belfast docks
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus c50
Herring Gull Larus argentatus c50
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus c10
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2

I arrived at the port in good time and was soon on board the Stena Mersey being checked in by the very friendly staff and taken to the bridge to be introduced to Captain Francesco.  It is always reassuring when the dock staff and crew recognise the MARINElife shirt!

Razorbill Adrian Shephard 03As the captain manoeuvered the vessel off its berth we had beautiful views of the Liverpool skyline across the river. There are often Harbour Porpoise in the Mersey but not sadly today.

Once underway and the river gave way to the open sea, the crew were keen to point out that the extensive sandbanks to the port side are a good place to see seals but the rising tide had already covered them.  To starboard we recorded Cormorant on almost every buoy marking the channel and a flock of about 50 crammed on to the last few square metres of the last rapidly diminishing sandbank.

Surprisingly gulls were in short supply but our first Gannet of the year made up for that.  As we headed north towards the Isle of Man the sea state became rougher and it was going to be difficult to pick out any of the smaller cetaceans, despite the wind blowing across the bows meaning we could see along the troughs between the waves.

Gannet, Guillemot and Kittiwake were entered on to the recording sheets at regular intervals and it was not too long before the first Fulmar was seen.  The rough conditions were no problem to these ocean travelers and they seemed to relish the up-draughts from the waves.

Black guillemotRain showers regularly obscured our view for a few minutes at a time but they didn't stop us recording small parties of mixed Guillemot and Razorbill sitting on the water but nothing like the huge flocks seen in the autumn which contain all the juveniles.

Approaching Belfast the sky broke in a series of sunny spells and hefty hail showers giving us dramatic skies to enjoy.

As the water narrows towards Belfast Lough there is always the chance of Black Guillemot and today was no exception with three seen all in their stunning summer finery.  A good flock of Common Scoter was here too along with three individual Red-throated Diver flying out to sea.

It wasn't until we were almost at the docks that we saw the first of what would become the most numerous bird of the whole trip, Eider.  There were flocks of them on the water and numbers roosting on the rocks at the water's edge and although it was hard to count these in the gathering dusk, in the end we had well over 100 of them.

The only mammal we saw was after our survey had finished and the boat was turning to reverse onto its berth.  Facing back the way we'd come we saw a dark shape in the water which was one of the harbour's regular Harbour Seal.

Once again my thanks go to the crew of the Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

David McGrath , Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 22nd - 23rd February 2014

Posted 28 February 2014

Survey cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Survey cancelled due to poor weather conditionsSurvey cancelled due to poor weather conditions

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 25th - 26th January 2014

Posted 31 January 2014

Steve Morgan and Elaine Cursons, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sea state 4-8; Wind NW; Visibility moderate to fair

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 35
Great Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo 145
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 50
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa trydactyla 21
Guillemot Uria aalge 9
Gull sp    455
Auk sp 19

Other birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 68

We boarded the Stena Mersey at 10.00am and were shown up the bridge straight away by the ever helpful crew.  We had hardly set ourselves up on the starboard side of the bridge before we were under way, ahead of schedule, at around 10.15.
Large numbers of distant gulls were resting on the sands at Crosby as we made our way out of the Mersey and the usual numbers of Cormorant were present too, though this time mostly on the west side of the river mouth.  Keeping the famous Gormley statues company were several large groups of Oystercatcher with a few other waders, probably Redshank, with them but too distant to identify with any certainty.

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 01Once clear of the Mersey estuary the wind, which had already been ominously brisk on shore earlier that morning, really started to gather strength.  In no time at all it had stiffened to Force 7 and a heavy swell was also beginning to develop.  The area south and south-east of the Isle of Man has often been quite productive for Harbour Porpoise but conditions now were making the search extremely challenging.  We searched the gullies between the huge breaking waves diligently, ever hopeful of spotting the tell-tale glimpse of stubby black dorsal fin amid the foam, particularly in the "one o'clock" position at three hundred metres where so many porpoises tend first to show themselves.  However, by the time Isle of Man had come into sight we were faced with a sea state 8 and spotting cetaceans was becoming almost impossible.

There were few birds about and the lack of auks and Kittiwake, normally very common on this crossing, was quite startling.  However, it was interesting to observe those few we did see and how well (or how badly!) they coped with the conditions.  The several Fulmar seemed to have no trouble at all, circling effortlessly on their short stiff wings in brazen defiance of the gale.  However, the small number of Kittiwake found themselves thrown headlong in whichever direction the wind took them, like tumbleweed in the desert.   The few Guillemot, at least those few prepared to sit it out on the open sea, simply bobbed up and down, at times almost involuntarily launched into flight as they crested a particularly titanic wave.

And it has to be admitted that the conditions, though not conducive to cetacean spotting, were strangely beautiful in their own way.  There is a fascination in watching an angry sea: the endless rising and falling of great curtains of water, rising up at first three, four or even five metres above the valley floor below before breaking and crashing down in an exultant explosion of foam.  In the soft winter sun the colours were spectacular too: azure, ultramarine and turquoise vying with green, grey and purple as each wave rose and fell.  At midday there was a fantastically bright rainbow, its nearest end lost in the sea only a few hundred metres ahead.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 03The highlight of the afternoon was a Harbour Seal just south of the Isle of Man.  I was watching a Great Black-backed Gull which was resting on the surface and about to enter the recording "box" when I noticed something very much like a log a few metres to its right.  Initially I assumed it was simply flotsam but something about it didn't look right and as it drew closer I could see that it had a face!  It was just lounging about on its side having a rest - in the middle of a howling gale in the open, windswept sea and obviously not in the least bothered by the conditions!

By around three o'clock we had left Man behind and were coming into the North Channel of the Irish Sea, another good area for cetaceans.  With the Irish land mass now immediately ahead of us and offering some protection from the predominantly north-westerly winds, the sea state began to ease and we enjoyed an hour and a half of much more benign conditions before eventually the light faded.  I was very confident that a dolphin or a porpoise would show itself and kept up a continuous scan on the four to five hundred metre line from dead ahead to "two o'clock".  But it wasn't to be and at just before 17.15 we called proceedings to a halt as the last of the afternoon light disappeared.

Out thanks go once again to the helpful and efficient Stena crew who made even this relatively uneventful crossing such a pleasure and to the generous steward in the cabin who piled us with free coffee as we entered the data into the computer!
Steve Morgan and Elaine Cursons, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 23rd November 2013

Posted 29 November 2013

Joe O'Hanlon and Colin Gill, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:  Sea state 1-2; Wind NW 1-2; Visibility good; Overcast

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 4
Harbour Porpoise Phoceona phocoena 8
Dolphin sp 2
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Seabirds
Great crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 52
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 86
Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo 348
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 21
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 106
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 43
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Kittiwake Rissa trydactyla 81
Large Gull sp 970
Guillemot Uria aalge 217
Razorbill Alco torda 208
Auk sp 1324

Other birds
Redshank  Tringa tetanus 17
Wader sp 35

We were welcomed by the very friendly and helpful port staff & crew, and after leaving the berth we were taken up to the bridge and welcomed by Captain Scocchi.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 04Given the weather for the last two surveys we were very lucky to have a very smooth crossing for November, with the sea state not getting above two.  As a result we had good number of cetacean sightings.

Immediately we were recording good numbers of Cormorant as we passed the Anthony Gormley Statues, along with various gulls, waders and Common Scoter, with a treat of seeing a Great Northern Diver fly across the bow.

The cetacean watching started just within the first hour, with five Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin seen over a twenty minute period.  We were then treated to two sightings of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal over the next hour.  After another couple of hours we again started to see Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin with a further five different sighting along with one more Grey Seal on the surface eating a meal and being harassed by several Herring Gull.

The only thing that stopped us was the dusk that meant we had to finish recording before arriving in Belfast port.

As we progressed to north of the Isle of Man we recorded four active feeding spots within approximately two square kilometres, with in excess of one thousand birds in and around these four concentrations.  The birds were eating on the surface so we considered they may be on carcass but thought it would be unlikely that four carcases in such a small area to be.  There were no fishing boats around so may have been something carried in the currents.

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

Joe O'Hanlon and Colin Gill, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 26th - 27th October 2013

Posted 30 October 2013

Steve Morgan and Abdulmaula Hamza; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sea state 5-7; Wind SW; Visibility moderate to fair

Summary of Sightings:

Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Seabirds:
Eider Duck Somateria mollissima 1193
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1   
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 15
Gannet  Morus bassanus 36
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 470
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Common Gull  Larus canus 52
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 127
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 22
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 40
Guillemot Uria aalge 83
Razorbill   Alca torda 7
Unidentified Gull sp 265
Unidentified Auk sp 47
Unidentified Diver sp 3

Terrestrial Birds:
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 5
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 4

Having been checked in by the very efficient staff at the Stena terminal in Birkenhead we boarded the Stena Lagan at around 09.30.  The captain welcomed us onto the bridge just as the ship left its moorings and began moving along the Mersey estuary, and conditions were surprisingly calm despite the dire gale warnings of the previous days from the Met Office.

Great Black-backed Gull 03/13As we sailed out of the Mersey we encountered the usual large numbers of Cormorant as well as Herring Gull, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull and both Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Further out to sea Kittiwake, Fulmar and Great Skua replaced these familiar inshore species.

The sea became a lot rougher with sea state of 7-8 as we reached the mid-point of our crossing but the Stena Lagan showed its mettle and we ploughed through the angry waves with scarcely a bump.  Occasional groups of Guillemot bobbed around like corks between the huge waves and we watched as a hapless Kittiwake, frantically beating its wings to make progress, hung in the air like a hovering Kestrel struggling against the force 7 wind.  However, from our high station on the bridge we had such a good vantage point that it was possible to see between the waves and, had cetaceans been present, there was still a good chance that we would have seen them.

The usually cetaceous seas south of the Isle of Man produced no dolphin or porpoise on this occasion, though we did at last find two Harbour Porpoise as the coastline of Northern Ireland came into sight.  It was a brief sighting but the characteristic triangular shape of the dorsal fins was evident making the identification certain.  By then, the gale had subsided and even the sun had begun to breach the all-embracing cloud cover, and the stormy afternoon gradually mellowed into an idyllic autumn evening.

Red Throated DiverComing into inshore waters near Belfast there were over a thousand Eider resting on the sea, most of them contained within one enormous raft which we partially disturbed as we passed by.  Three divers, probably Red-throated Diver, hurried past at distance.  Coming into Belfast Lough we kept a sharp eye out for seals and for the otter, which has been seen hereabouts more than once previously.  Instead a host of gulls, mainly Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Common Gull, greeted us as we slowly manoeuvred into our moorings.

We had a smooth return crossing that night, a tribute both to the stoutness and stability of the Stena Lagan and to the skill of its crew, given the ferocious gale that lay in wait for us back out in the Irish Sea.  As ever, everyone we met from Stena was a model of helpfulness and we would like to express our thanks to them for making our job so easy and enjoyable.

Steve Morgan and Abdulmaula Hamza; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 28th September 2013

Posted 02 October 2013

John Perry and Jan Ozyer; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Partial cloud, wind light 4-5 predominantly from the SE.  No precipitation.

Summary of Sightings:

Mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds:
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 10   
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis  30
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet  Morus bassanus 91
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 61
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Common Gull  Larus canus 16
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 15
Little Gull Larus minutes 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla  5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 12
Guillemot Uria aalge 214
Razorbill   Alca torda 1

Terrestrial Birds:
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 8
Yellowhammer Emberiza citronella 1

Gannet 13a Carol Farmer WrightSaturday morning was dry and although low cloud restricted the view of the horizon the sea state was quite moderate with only a gentle swell, giving good conditions for our survey to Belfast.  Our tickets were rapidly issued by the efficient Stena Line staff and we were quickly bussed onboard the "Stena Lagan", where we were shown to our cabins and then met by Captain Tulio Scocchi who welcomed us on board and explained that we would be invited to the Bridge as soon as embarkation manoeuvres were completed.

Setting up our work station on the starboard side of the bridge, we had excellent views of Crosby beach with its famous Gormley figures.  As we travelled down the estuary, we were followed by the usual flocks of Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Herring Gull and on every marker buoy we encountered Cormorant as well as a few Lesser Black-backed Gull.  A flock of Common Scoter flew in front of the ship as we approached the Mersey Bar and we noticed Swallow flying over us.

We began to see more and more Gannet and Guillemot as we headed towards the Isle of Man, all the Gannet in adult plumage and most of the Guillemot already in winter plumage.  Bizarrely, a Yellowhammer flew alongside us for a short while as well as more Swallow.

Little GullsFulmar began to appear between the Isle of Man and the Irish coast as well as a charming group of Little Gull daintily feeding. We also had a solitary Manx Shearwater at the same spot.

The strong evening sun was making identification difficult as we entered Belfast Lough and we closed the survey 20 minutes before the ship began making its way to its berth.  After thanking the Captain and officers for their hospitality, we enjoyed an excellent evening meal in the Mess.

The evening was spent writing up notes and collating data in the comfortable Passenger Lounge before we headed for our cabins and an excellent night's sleep as the ship returned to Liverpool.

John Perry and Jan Ozyer; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 28th August 2013

Posted 30 August 2013

Dave McGrath and Ollie Metcalf, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sunny/overcast; good visibility; wind NW 4 dropping to 0; sea state 3 dropping to 0; precipitation nil

Summary of species recorded

Marine mammals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Harbour Porpoise Phoceona phocoena 38
Dolphin sp 2
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common or Habour Seal  Phoca vitulina 1+ 32 hauled out in Belfast harbour
Seal sp 1

Fish:
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola    1

Seabirds:
Eider Somateria mollissima 19
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 770
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 181
Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo 72
Shag Phalococorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 31
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 73
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 22
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 4
Kittiwake Rissa trydactyla 62
Gull sp 450
Sandwich tern Sterna sandvicensis 12
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 483
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 7
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 6
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 2150
Auk sp     153

Terrestrial Birds:
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 2
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 142
Canada Goose Branta canadensis     6

We were welcomed on board and shown our cabins by the very friendly crew of the Stena Mersey then taken up to the bridge where we were introduced to the Captain who allowed us to remain while preparations were made for departure.

Almost as soon as our survey had started we were watching a Harbour Porpoise while the boat was manoeuvring away from the dock and we had a short wait in the river while the large ship Star Harmony was piloted in.  Terns from the local nature reserve kept our survey sheet ticking over and had attracted the attention of an Arctic Skua.  Large flocks of gulls and Oystercatcher were roosting on the beach amid Antony Gormley's 'Another Place' statues.

Storm PetrelNot far into our voyage we had a small number of Little Gull and a Grey Seal watched us pass with a wary eye before diving out of sight.  Once out in to the more open sea things quietened down a bit, where the brisk headwind and very choppy sea made finding any of the local Harbour Porpoise very tricky indeed, and indeed we didn't!  
Two Common Dolphin crossed the bow spotted by Ollie and a little further on he briefly saw one, possibly more, dolphin in the distance.  Small numbers of Gannet and Manx Shearwater with a few small rafts of Guillemot kept us busy, while somewhere to our starboard side there was a moulting flock of about 10,000 Common Scoter of which we saw only five!

After we passed the Isle of Man, with the wind having dropped sightings picked up quickly and the sea was suddenly filled with very easy-to-see Harbour Porpoise.  There were so many that for a while were rushed off our feet, and totally underestimating the large rafts of Guillemot as we struggled to keep up with the porpoise sightings.  These were then out-done by three Common Dolphin, while an Ocean Sunfish flopped along in front of us!
Harbour sealsA Great Skua sat malevolently watching us pass on the very still sea, and when a Swallow and a Sand Martin flew in front of the bow, we realised that it would now be easy to pick up any Storm Petrel which might be lurking within ranks of Manx Shearwater and Guillemot.  A tiny black dot in the distance was our first Storm Petrel, and over the next few miles we saw another eight individuals, some pleasingly close to the ship.

Harbour Porpoise continued to be seen and by the end of the survey we had recorded 38 of them. With these cetaceans demanding most of our attention the huge rafts of Guillemot we passed could only be quickly assessed and our final figure of 2150 is likely to have been a substantial underestimate.

Approaching Belfast large numbers of terns were seen again and they had also attracted the attentions of two more Arctic Skua. At the mouth of the harbour down by one of the channel marker buoys we saw four Black Guillemot, one of the feature birds of this survey, with a large family of Eider down on of the small inlets.  In the harbour beyond the dock 32 Harbour Seal were hauled out on the seaweed strewn rocks.

At the end of our survey we thanked Captain Paulo for his hospitality and made our way to our cabins for the overnight return.  Our thanks go to all the officers and crew of the Stena Mersey for making this a very enjoyable survey.  We look forward to working with them again in the future.

Dave McGrath and Ollie Metcalf, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 27th July 2013

Posted 05 August 2013

Peter Lewis and Jozefien Decoene, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sunny/overcast; good visibility; wind south-westerly force 1; sea-state 1-2; precipitation nil; narrow fog-bank just off the Irish Coast.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocaena phocoena 25
Common or Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Seabirds:
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 9
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 517
Gannet Morus bassanus 52
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 104
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 29
Common Gull Larus canus 19
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 53
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 189
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 22
Little Tern Sterna albifrons 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 53
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 753
Razorbill Alca torda 143

Terrestrial Birds:
Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Redshank Tringa tetanus 12

We were welcomed on board and then shown the ropes by Mate/Master Francesco who also answered any questions we had, so we were set up at our station on the bridge as we left the Liver building and cathedrals behind and followed the channel past Antony Gormley's standing figures dotted over Crosby Sands.

Porps cropWe soon left the estuary and all its gulls of different species and ages, and entered the Irish Sea for what was to be a calm crossing in warm conditions and good visibility.

Manx Shearwater started to appear as we got closer to the Isle of Man, most of these sitting on the water or gliding low in front of the ship due to the calm conditions.  Guillemot and Razorbill also appeared, many of these being pairs of an adult with this year's young one learning how to fend for itself - like it really is a good idea to dive when a large ship is bearing down on you!

Great Skua 1As we passed between the Isle of Man and Scotland's Mull of Galloway, the numbers of all these birds increased and we were seeing hundreds sitting on the water in what must have been a good feeding area.  As if to confirm this, we started to see numbers of Harbour Porpoise including 10 animals feeding in a loose group of 6 adults with 4 young ones.  It was nice to see their little fins moving through the water alongside the bigger ones of the adults.  We counted over 20 animals in this area in what were ideal conditions for spotting this undemonstrative species normally only seen in small numbers.

Approaching the Northern Irish coast Jozefien had a brief sighting of a Bottlenose Dolphin and then we were into Belfast Lough with a final Harbour Porpoise before docking.  It was good to see three Black Guillemot whirring past too, a species characteristic of this part of the world.

The excellent members of the Stena Line staff were invariably friendly and helpful.  Individuals who were of particular assistance in our carrying out this survey were Neil Whittaker, the Master, Francesco D'Ascanio, the Mate/Master and Nicola Taplin, of Guest Services.  Our thanks to all.

Peter Lewis and Jozefien Decoene, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 25-26 May 2013

Posted 30 May 2013

Carol Farmer-Wright and Helen Turnock, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound - sunny, good visibility: sea state 1-3 with glare at times.  Eastbound - sunny, good visibility sea-state 3-1.

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 4

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 624
Gannet  Morus bassanus 61
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 25
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 67
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 67
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 12
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 163
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 35
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 3
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 160
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 7
Razorbill   Alca torda 49
Unidentified Auk sp. 14
Unidentified Gull sp. 2
Mixed Larus sp. 450

Bottlenose dolphinsA deep low pressure had passed through Ireland and the UK the previous day and so it was pleasing to awake on the morning of the survey to bright sunshine and moderate winds.

Arriving at Stena Lines Birkenhead terminal we were quickly checked in and transferred to the Stena Lagan, and shortly after the ship departed we were invited onto the bridge by Captain Tulio to begin our survey.  Immediately we were recording Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Great Black-backed Gull and Cormorant at the mouth of the River Mersey.  
As we left the river behind we started to record Kittiwake, Guillemot, an occasional Razorbill and the summer Irish Sea specialist, Manx Shearwater.  These were frequently seen travelling or rafting together with Kittiwake on the sea.  
As the density of these birds increased we encountered four Bottlenose Dolphin, our only cetaceans of the day.  The last encounter was of an animal coming up to breathe directly underneath a small group of shearwater and Kittiwake, causing them to take to the air.

Pomarine skuaAs we approached Belfast we caught sight of Black Guillemot, another northern UK west-coast specialist.  We left the bridge having thanked Captain Tulio for his hospitality and started to compile our sightings before retiring to bed for an early start the next day.

The return crossing overnight was smooth and comfortable, and we re-joined the bridge just before sunrise to survey for an hour before entering the Mersey.  It was low-tide and the mud flats were exposed enabling Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull to feed there. As the ship entered the Mersey we left the bridge having thanked Captain Thomas for allowing us to survey that morning.

Our thanks go to Stena Line Captains Tulio and Thomas, their officers and crew for making this a very pleasant and enjoyable survey.  We look forward to working with them again in the future.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Helen Turnock, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 27-28 April 2013

Posted 05 May 2013

Joe O'Hanlon and Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound - wind NE; sea state 3-4; sunny
Eastbound - wind SW; sea state 4; cloudy

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phoconia phoconia 2

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Diver sp. 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 65
Gannet Morus bassanus 33
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 26
Eider Somateria mollissima 12
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Common Gull Larus canus    20
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 18
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 108
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 14
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 293
Razorbill Alca torda 167
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 10
Auk sp.    21

Terrestrial Birds
Greylag Goose Anser anser 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Unidentified Wader sp. 2000-3000

RazorbillWe booked in and were taken to the ferry with the usual efficiency and once under way were taken to the bridge and welcomed by Captain Scocchi.  The survey started at 11:30 and the sea state was reasonable, though picking up cetaceans was going to be a challenge.  At least the sun was shining!

The tide was covering the sand banks and most of Anthony Gormley statues, where just a few could be seen at the top of Crosby Beach.  The start of the survey provided us with numerous gulls and both 'Commic' Tern and Sandwich Tern.  In the direction of Formby Point a large flock of 2000 to 3000 waders could be seen, probably Knot, and even at distance this was a spectacle.

Our first cetacean sighting came after forty five minutes with the appearance of a single Harbour Porpoise slowly passing around 200 metres ahead of the ferry.  As we passed north of the Isle of Man we had a steady flow of auks along with Kittiwake, Gannet, Fulmar and Manx Shearwater.  Arriving at the Belfast we encountered Black Guillemot, Eider and Red-throated Diver.

Manx ShearwaterOnce the passengers had disembarked we were treated to an emergency evacuation drill, and the crew were pleased to have a couple of non-crew (us) to use as substitutes.  We were guided through the well practiced drill and put on our safety kit but stopped at actually getting into the life boats.  This was an interesting and reassuring end to the day.

Sunday morning sunrise was around 05:45 so we had time for one hour before breakfast and docking to carry out survey work.  This turned out to be fruitful as we had a second Harbour Porpoise sighting and along with the usual gulls and Cormorant we also had few more terns and a number of Common Scoter.  Well worth the early start and breakfast was enjoyed all the more.

Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Lagan who made us very welcome, making a very enjoyable crossing.

Joe O'Hanlon and Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife