MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 27th February 2016

Emma Howe-Andrews, surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Weather: Good visibility; cloudy; sea state 2-4; swell 0-1; wind 2-4, force NE-ENE-S

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 10
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carb 59
Eider Somateria mollissima 29
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 71
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Razorbill Alca torda 6

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

Cormorant Graham Ekins 01On a chilly February morning I arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal for the survey to Belfast, and was greeted by the very friendly and helpful check-in staff.  After receiving my boarding card I was transported from the departure lounge to the MV Stena Lagan, which was sitting proudly on her berth opposite the Royal Liver Building.

After organising for my overnight bag to be stowed in my cabin by a very professional and helpful Crystal on the guest services desk I was escorted to the bridge and introduced to Captain Julio and his crew, who made me feel very welcome.  With an early departure the Stena Lagan departed her berth and I began the survey.

With calm conditions, good visibility and a sea state 2, the ship moved further out into Liverpool Bay.  The usually exposed sandbanks were covered by the high tide today so very few birds were observed apart from a few Cormorant drying their wings in the mid-morning sun whilst perched on buoys and channel markers.

After approximately an hour the first sighting was recorded, a single Harbour Porpoise surfacing at 500m towards the port side.  Fantastic!

Whilst taking an effort reading the Officer of the Watch informed me that the ship would be taking the south route to Belfast, and by 14.40pm Chicken Rock would be visible.  Chicken Rock is the southernmost island administered by the Isle of Man and lies southwest of the Calf of Man and it has a lighthouse.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01The second sighting was a further Harbour Porpoise, 700m on the starboard side which rolled a few times before disappearing into a sea state 3 as the wind had increased slightly.

After the initial excitement of the two porpoises and the occasional Great Black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Guillemot, it remained very quiet on the normally cetaceous and bird rich south route.  Maybe they were all on their winter holidays!

14.00 and the Isle of Man could be seen ahead, so would this bring another sighting? Unfortunately not, but it did bring an impressive view of the Stena Mersey, the Stena Lagan's sister ship, passing on the port side in the early afternoon sun.  She looked magnificent!

At exactly 14.40, and as predicted by the Officer of the Watch, the ship passed Chicken Rock which brought about a conversation on the work that I was doing with a few of the crew asking questions about the wildlife that can be seen within the Irish Sea.  They showed a great deal of enthusiasm which I really appreciated.

Leaving the Isle of Man behind us, it brought a quick succession of sightings which lasted until our arrival in Belfast.  Another eight Harbour Porpoise were seen, with three in particular feeding with a number of Gannet and Herring Gull in Belfast Lough, where they could be clearly seen creating white water as they chased their prey.  An impressive sight!

Eider Adrian Shephard 01The River Lagan always brings diverse bird species and one of my favourites is the Eider, the stunning colours of the male clearly standing out against their brown female companions.  To my delight there were a number of groups rafting together as the light faded, along with a solitary Oystercatcher flying across the bow.  A perfect way to end a thoroughly enjoyable survey, and after thanking Captain Julio and his crew for their hospitality I left the bridge feeling very happy.

Huge thanks go to Captain Julio, his crew and the staff of Stena Lagan who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews, surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)



Cormorant photo: Graham Ekins
Herring Gull photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Eider photo: Adrian Shephard