MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 27-28 October 2012

Stephen Dunstan and Cheryl Leaning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of Species Recorded

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 4
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 50
Eider Somateria mollissima 2000
Gannet Morus bassanus 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 68
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 86
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 73
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 29
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 160
Guillemot Uria aalge 93
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 14
Razorbill Alca torda 208
Unidentified Auk sp. 6

Terrestrial Birds:
Whooper Swan  Cygnus cygnus 3
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 4

After a smooth check in we were escorted to the bridge in good time and met Captain Tullio Scocchi and his crew.  During the crossing we also met Richard Horswill, the Route Director for Stena, and were able to show him some of the seabirds of the route including Guillemot and Razorbill.Gannet juvenile

As the tide was high there were no exposed sandbanks as we left the Mersey Estuary, and as the sea was quite choppy we failed to spot any seals in the water either.  As we passed Formby we did see a couple of delicate Little Gull, an adult and a first winter, which were to be the only ones of the trip.  This route is building up a good track record for sightings of this species in the spring and autumn, perhaps more will be seen over the winter.

Numbers of many of the breeding seabirds tend to tail off in October as they head for warmer climes over the winter.  It was still somewhat surprising that we did not record any Fulmar, and Manx Shearwater and Skua species were also absent.  We did however have a steady stream of Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake as well as mixed gulls and three Gannet, including two juveniles.

After we passed the Isle of Man three swans passed high in front of the boat, they proved to be adult Whooper Swan moving between Ireland and perhaps the Solway Firth.  As we neared Belfast Lough the first Red-throated Diver was seen, and we recorded four in total.  There were also 14 Black Guillemot, now in their less conspicuous winter plumage, with nine sat on one buoy and five on another.Common scoter

The undoubted highlight of the trip though was the large number of Eider we saw in Belfast Lough.  Most of these were in three very dense flocks and, given we were on a moving ferry, it was difficult to count the throngs accurately but there were in the region of 2000 birds with around 50 Common Scoter amongst them.  Unfortunately in some of the upcoming surveys this area will only be passed in darkness but it was a spectacular end to our trip.

Stephen Dunstan and Cheryl Leaning, Research Surveyors for MARINElife