Sightings Archives: March 2014

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 22nd March 2014

Posted 28 March 2014

David McGrath , Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:    Sea state 1 - 4; Wind 3 - 6 NW; overcast with intermittent showers


Marine Mammals
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1 (in the dock area after the survey had finished)

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 36
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 74
Eider Somateria mollissima 135
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 36
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Common Gull Larus canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 32
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 57
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 16
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Unidentified gull sp    3
Unidentified auk sp 26

Birds in Belfast docks
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus c50
Herring Gull Larus argentatus c50
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus c10
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 2

I arrived at the port in good time and was soon on board the Stena Mersey being checked in by the very friendly staff and taken to the bridge to be introduced to Captain Francesco.  It is always reassuring when the dock staff and crew recognise the MARINElife shirt!

Razorbill Adrian Shephard 03As the captain manoeuvered the vessel off its berth we had beautiful views of the Liverpool skyline across the river. There are often Harbour Porpoise in the Mersey but not sadly today.

Once underway and the river gave way to the open sea, the crew were keen to point out that the extensive sandbanks to the port side are a good place to see seals but the rising tide had already covered them.  To starboard we recorded Cormorant on almost every buoy marking the channel and a flock of about 50 crammed on to the last few square metres of the last rapidly diminishing sandbank.

Surprisingly gulls were in short supply but our first Gannet of the year made up for that.  As we headed north towards the Isle of Man the sea state became rougher and it was going to be difficult to pick out any of the smaller cetaceans, despite the wind blowing across the bows meaning we could see along the troughs between the waves.

Gannet, Guillemot and Kittiwake were entered on to the recording sheets at regular intervals and it was not too long before the first Fulmar was seen.  The rough conditions were no problem to these ocean travelers and they seemed to relish the up-draughts from the waves.

Black guillemotRain showers regularly obscured our view for a few minutes at a time but they didn't stop us recording small parties of mixed Guillemot and Razorbill sitting on the water but nothing like the huge flocks seen in the autumn which contain all the juveniles.

Approaching Belfast the sky broke in a series of sunny spells and hefty hail showers giving us dramatic skies to enjoy.

As the water narrows towards Belfast Lough there is always the chance of Black Guillemot and today was no exception with three seen all in their stunning summer finery.  A good flock of Common Scoter was here too along with three individual Red-throated Diver flying out to sea.

It wasn't until we were almost at the docks that we saw the first of what would become the most numerous bird of the whole trip, Eider.  There were flocks of them on the water and numbers roosting on the rocks at the water's edge and although it was hard to count these in the gathering dusk, in the end we had well over 100 of them.

The only mammal we saw was after our survey had finished and the boat was turning to reverse onto its berth.  Facing back the way we'd come we saw a dark shape in the water which was one of the harbour's regular Harbour Seal.

Once again my thanks go to the crew of the Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

David McGrath , Research Surveyor for MARINElife