Steve Morgan and Abdulmaula Hamza; Research Surveyors for
Weather: Sea state 5-7; Wind SW; Visibility moderate to fair
Summary of Sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
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
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.
As 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.
Coming 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