Sightings Archives: September 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 22-23 September 2012

Posted 30 September 2012

Graham Ekins and Sean Minns; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Westbound: Force 2/3 NE variable light cloud; Eastbound: NE then SE Force 2-3, increasing high cloud.  No precipitation

Cetaceans and mammals:
Common Seal Phoca vitulina    1

Basking Shark   Cetorhinus maximus  1

Red-throated Diver  Gavia stellata   1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra   14
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus   9
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis  63
Gannet  Morus bassanus  427
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 273
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis  4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Arctic /Parasitic  Skua Stercorarius parasiticus  1
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus  31
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 256
Common Gull  Larus canus  30
Herring Gull Larus argentatus  420
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus  56
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus  37
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla  1,214
Common Tern Sterna hirundo  8
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis  2
Guillemot Uria aalge  819
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle   4
Razorbill   Alca torda  228
Unidentified Auk sp.  12

Terrestrial Birds:
Pink-footed Goose   Anser brachyrhynchus  1,600
Canada Goose   Branta canadensis  47
Eurasian Teal    Anas crecca  2
Sanderling     Calidris alba  29
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus  132
Eurasian Curlew   Numenius arquata  4
Bar-tailed Godwit   Limosa lapponica  49
Redshank   Tringa totanus  47
Knot   Calidris canutus  76
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 5
Dunlin  Calidris alpina  36
Meadow Pipit  Anthus pratensis  4
Rock Pipit   Anthus petrosus  1
Swallow   Hirundo rustica  5

We had an excellent early morning drive from Essex to Liverpool, and the clear skies and light winds suggested that conditions for the crossing to Belfast would be very good. 

Once on board the impressive "Stena Mersey" we were shown to our well appointed cabins and then introduced to Captain Franchesco D'Ascanio, who allowed us on to the bridge as soon as the ship left the quay.

As we passed down the River Mersey we were kept very busy with the many waders flying across the river to the newly exposed sand banks on the falling tide.  As we entered the Crosby Channel we started to record the first of many Guillemot as well as Little Gull and Common Tern, these fishing in the fast flowing water.

We were surprised to see two large flocks of Pink-footed Goose roosting on Formby Bank, and these were presumably newly arrived from Greenland and Iceland.   We also recorded a Common Seal which viewed the ship before diving beneath the waves.

Little GullsOver the next 2 hours we logged impressive numbers of Little Gull and Guillemot, and further offshore increasing numbers of Razorbill.  We also had several small groups of predominantly male Common Scoter flying south three nautical miles offshore.   Half-way towards the Isle of Man we were delighted to see a Basking Shark in water so clear that we could see it diving into the depths as the ship passed by.  Shortly afterwards five Swallow passed by the ship heading rapidly south-east towards the mainland.

As we approached the Calf of Man, which lies due south of the Isle of Man, we recorded increasing numbers of mainly adult Kittiwake which were fishing in the disturbed water close to the lighthouse south of the small island.  Here the air was so clear that we were also able to see the house and gardens of the Calf of Man Bird Observatory.

Arctic Skua 4We were also logging increasing numbers of Gannet, many of which were busy plunge diving for fish.  A little further north-west on the voyage we watched a Great Skua attack a luckless Gannet which disgorged a large fish that was expertly caught in mid-air by the aggressive bird.   Shortly afterwards an adult dark phase Arctic Skua drifted over the ship before continuing south.

As we approached Belfast we started to record increasing numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill and Gannet, all fishing in the sheltered waters of Belfast Lough.  We were also fortunate to see several Black Guillemot, now in their grey winter plumage.  Many pairs of this species nest in Belfast harbour amongst the wooden and metal groynes. 

Passing the RSPB reserve at the harbour mouth, we could see many Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Wigeon roosting on the islands.


LBBG JuvWhile the "Stena Mersey" was manoeuvring into the dock, the side thrusters were stirring the water and this attracted large numbers of Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull as well as three Guillemot and one Black Guillemot.

As we left the bridge we thanked Captain Franchesco D'Ascanio and his officers for their hospitality and friendliness during the survey on the excellent "Stena Mersey". 

We then had an enjoyable meal in the staff mess before spending the rest of the evening collating the data ready for uploading on to the master spreadsheet.

We arrived back in Liverpool harbour Sunday morning just as it was getting light, where we said goodbye to the Purser who had been so helpful, before starting the drive back to Essex. 

We would like to thank Stena Line for their continued support for this survey. 

Graham Ekins and Sean Minns; Research Surveyors for MARINElife