Sightings Archives: January 2013

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 26-27 January 2013

Posted 07 February 2013

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound: NW 3-6

Summary of Sightings:

Cetaceans and mammals:

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1


Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Great Crested Grebe Poldiceps cristatus 1Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 4
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 225
Common Gull Larus canus 170
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 19
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 26
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 18
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Razorbill Alca torda 29
Auk sp. 8

Due to weather conditions, my co-surveyor was unable to travel across the Pennines.  The journey down from Blackpool was interesting, with the M6 more like a rutted cart track in places and several vehicles abandoned on the hard shoulder of the M58 in the snow.  Nevertheless I arrived in good time and was soon transferred efficiently across to the 'Stena Mersey'.

Common Gull

We left the berth at 11.30 when all the freight was loaded up.  Large numbers of gulls were seen in the river mouth, particularly Black-headed Gull and Common Gull, and as we entered Liverpool Bay three Common Scoter were seen.  This species is often recorded on this route but not in great numbers despite being present in large numbers off the Lancashire coast.  The first Fulmar of the trip was seen not far off Formby Point, this being unusual as they are rarely seen this close inshore in winter.

At around this time something interesting caught my eye before disappearing.  After some time, a Harbour Porpoise surfaced, presumably the same animal but perhaps two were involved.  Given the choppy forecast this was definitely a bonus!

As we left the Merseyside coast behind the wind did pick up, putting paid to any further cetacean sightings.  Seabirds continued to be added to the list with singles of Great Crested Grebe and Red-throated Diver, followed by three adult Little Gull, these further out to sea than normally seen on this route.


The most unusual bird sighting of the trip was a gathering of fourteen Fulmar, a species which is not usually seen in flocks in the Irish Sea in winter.  I sifted through them for a blue phase bird (January being the peak month for this northern form in Lancashire) and also kept an eye out for what they were feeding on, but failed in both.

Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill were seen at regular intervals, but only when we passed the Isle of Man did we see the first Gannet of the trip, with four eventually being seen.  The departure time meant that the ship was still at sea when dusk set in and so no surveying of Belfast Lough was possible.

The overnight return was something of an adventure in a gale pushing Force 8.  The cups and saucers in my room made a beeline for the floor with predictable consequences.  I had to move the glass tumblers to avoid them having a similar fate!

Thanks to the staff of the Stena Mersey and those at the Birkenhead terminal for ensuring this was another very enjoyable trip.

Stephen Dunstan; Research Surveyor for MARINElife