MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 3rd - 4th November 2018

Duncan Fyfe and Harry Ashcroft, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Sea State: 8; Swell: 3; Wind Force: 8

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena: 1
Cetacean sp. (blow) 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocarax carbo 14
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 180
Great Skua Stercoranius skua 2
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Great Black Backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 20
Guillemot Uria aalge 34
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Diver sp 1

Terrestrial birds
Passerine sp. 1

We began the survey a little after 11am shortly after the ship was free of port in the Mersey Estuary. The sea state and weather conditions started out well but soon deteriorated to a wind force 8 for much of the crossing. Fortunately for us the bridge is probably the best place to be in such weather and despite the 3-metre swell it didn't feel noticeably uncomfortably at all.

Common Gull Peter Howlett 02Most of our sightings came within the first hour of leaving port with many Cormorant on or near most of the marker buoys and reasonable numbers of Common Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull together with a small number of Great Black-backed Gull were the order of the day.

It is always nice to see gulls at sea and in particular Herring Gull. They frequently get a bad press when they enter our towns and cities and steal people's chips, but they deserve both appreciation and recognition. They are very resourceful birds and despite what the popular media will have you believe they need our help, as populations of all our breeding gull species are on the decline with Herring Gull populations having decreased by over 60% since the 1970's. As a result, they are now red listed under the UKs Birds of Conservation Concern and are of Conservation Concern under the EC Birds Directive.

Based upon experience from previous trips we were anticipating some Common Scoter within the outer estuary, and we weren't to be disappointed. Several small and large flocks crossed the bow within a 30-minute period giving us a total of 180 birds for the survey.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 06Not surprisingly, as the weather and sea state picked up to a force 8 our bird sightings dropped off but we did record a couple of Great Skua, a few Gannet and auks. At one point a rather hunched and manically flapping shearwater crossed the bow and for a while I wondered if it might be a Little Shearwater, but it turned out to be a probable Manx Shearwater that was battling into the wind.

Harry spotted what was a possible blow somewhere off the South Cumbrian coast, but we only saw it once. It is possible it was spray from two colliding waves, but it was a noticeably taller column of water than from the surrounding sea. Our next fleeting cetacean sighting was close to the Isle of Man when I glimpsed the black back of a small cetacean, possible Harbour Porpoise, in the waves but then that too was gone from view all too soon.

The captain and crew worked well make the ship's passage more comfortable for all and it is credit to them for that as well as somehow making sure the ship was only a few minutes late into Belfast.

Whilst this wasn't the most prolific trip from a sightings point of view it was still immensely enjoyable. The thrill of being at sea and the anticipation of what may be seen are big adrenaline booster. Add to that the good company of fellow enthusiasts and volunteers, a friendly crew and the knowledge that you are still contributing to some valuable science all goes into making this route (and all MARINElife surveys) hugely enjoyable.

Our thanks go to the captain and crew of the Stena Lagan who welcomed us on board and helped to make this another enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe and Harry Ashcroft, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Common Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Herring Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones