Sightings Archives: May 2016

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 21st - 22nd May 2016

Posted 01 June 2016

Steve McAusland; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Wind W 4-5, sea state moderate

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3

Eider Somateria mollissima 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 165
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 16
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 31
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 6
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 6
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 24
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 6
Shearwater Sp. 1
Gull Sp. 19
Tern Sp. 2
Auk Sp. 1

An early start to get to Liverpool in time for boarding the Stena Lagan began at 05:00am and due to hardly any traffic I was in Birkenhead in plenty of time to enjoy a good breakfast and time to check out the local birds on the river Mersey.

Once through check-in, I with other the foot passengers, were taken by bus to the ship and I was soon on-board and heading for the reception team. As with last month's survey I was allocated a cabin by the very helpful Crystal in the passenger office. After leaving my personal items in the cabin and returning to the passenger lounge, she then escorted me to meet the Captain on the bridge. Captain Tullio Scocchi recognized me from last month's survey and very quickly told me to "carry on, you know where everything is".

Our route would take us west towards the Isle of Man, passing its southern point and then on to Northern Ireland and to the port of Belfast. As the ship left the Mersey docks there was a very heavy down-pour and my thoughts turned to possibly surveying in foul weather with no hope of seeing anything!

As the Stena Lagan moved along the Mersey the weather abated and as we passed Crosby Beach the rain stopped, the view cleared and it stayed almost clear all the way to within an hour of Belfast port. The first Grey Seal was seen in the Crosby Beach area, quickly followed by a second ten minutes later.

As the ship sailed through Liverpool Bay I looked beyond the stern where the high speed Isle of Man Steam Packet ferry could be seen fast approaching a cargo ship at anchor. The cargo ship's name was 'Merganser' a very apt name as identifying birds is part of a survey!

Merganser - Steve McAusland
Birds were very few and far between on or over the sea until the ship was well out into Liverpool bay. The usual Cormorants were loitering on the navigation buoys and the first terns were seen. As I looked out from my superb vantage point on the starboard wing of the bridge, I was assisted by one of the crew who kindly set up the wing instrument panel so that it showed me all the relevant readings that are needed to record during the survey.

Sadly this survey did not produce any cetaceans but it did give me sightings of notable birds such as; Black Guillemot, Sandwich Tern, Arctic Tern and Eider. The usual birds seen at sea made many passes in front of the bows and were also recorded over the starboard side. One species that always stands out is the Kittiwake (a real sea gull) both adult and juvenile where seen throughout the voyage. Generally Kittiwake numbers are down around the UK, especially in Scotland, so it was good to see healthy numbers in the Irish Sea.

Gannet Steve McAusland 01

An hour out from Belfast the weather changed to light rain, then thunder and lightning was heard and I paused the survey as the torrential rain made it impossible to see anything. A brief respite gave views of three Eider and a total of six Black Guillemot. As we docked the ship was surrounded by many gulls and Common Terns and a Grey Seal feeding in the wake created by the ships manoeuvres.

The rain stopped and the sun came out which gave superb views of the port including the world famous Harland and Wolffe shipyard. And as with the aptly named ship earlier, alongside was a drilling platform by the name of "Borgholm Dolphin".

Steve McAusland; Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

The Cargo Ship 'Merganser' Photo: Steve McAusland
Gannet Photo: Steve McAusland