Sightings Archives: October 2013

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:

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

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