MARINElife Survey blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Power’ and ‘Seatruck Progress’ Liverpool-Dublin 3-4 August 2017

Stephen Hedley Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity no: 1110884, reg company no.: 5057367)

Weather: Out - Cloudy, wind WSW 4-7, sea state 1-4. Return - Sunny, wind W 3-4, sea state 1-3.

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 21

Seabirds:
Gannet Morus bassanus 110
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 412
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 12
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 18
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 19
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 63
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 312
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 38
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 27
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 254
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Tern sp. 17

Terrestrial birds seen during survey
Redshank Tringa totanus 4
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

Seatruck staff facilitated my swift arrival on board and this was followed by the provision of an excellent breakfast.  Shortly afterwards the ship traversed the Langton Lock and entered the Mersey. Captain Daly welcomed me to the bridge and advised that it would be windy to start with, before calming down on the approach to Dublin.

Off the Formby Bank I spotted the first of the two Grey Seals seen during the day. This one was in the bottle position, hence slightly reminiscent of an Antony Gormley iron man statue on nearby Crosby beach (it wasn't one!). Herring Gulls and Cormorants were also around and a cluster of 4 Redshank flew south across the estuary.

At sea the conditions did not make spotting easy, although the bridge height of over 20m certainly helped. Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillemots were the main observations.

Around midday off the coast of north Wales I spotted something in the water immediately in front of the ship. Once I got my bins on it I could see that it was grey seal on its back trying to manipulate a flatfish with it flipper. It dived out of the way as the ship approached, and hopefully we did not inadvertently cause it to lose its lunch (I was unable to identify whatfish was on the menu).

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 18
Kittiwake (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Thereafter the trip was punctuated with views of seabirds; Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillemots. In the afternoon one lone Fulmar was spotted, plus small groups of terns that were presumably starting to migrate south.

There was strong glare on the approach to Dublin. As we sailed in Captain Daly informed me about the harbour walls (North and South Bull) that were first built in the eighteenth century. The south wall is original and its design is such that very little dredging is needed to keep the channel free. William Bligh was also involved at this time. Some Mediterranean Gulls were among the birds that greeted us into the harbour.

The next day the return leg was on the sister ship, the Seatruck Progress. Seatruck staff again facilitated a swift arrival on board, plus an excellent breakfast. Captain Wardle welcomed me onto the bridge as we left Dublin. Conditions were calmer than the previous day, albeit with a strong glare ahead. A lone Grey Seal was spotted to port just beyond the harbour wall and as we headed further out to sea 4 Harbour Porpoise were seen swimming northwards.

The glare lessened subsequently and there were views of seabirds, Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Guillemots. There were also on occasions individual Fulmar. Around midday something close by caught my eye. I had seen a couple of red admiral butterflies flying about outside earlier, but this seemed bigger.  I investigated and to my surprise I found a small bird lying on its side on the deck just behind the bridge. It was clearly very distressed and breathing heavily. The bird, a Sedge Warbler, was exhausted and I doubted that it would recover. With the help of a couple of crew members, we managed to give the tiny bird some water and a hospital bed was fashioned out of a small box. We left this on deck in a sheltered area. About a half hour later I saw a small bird in front of the bridge. I quickly checked to see if it was the patient. It wasn't our Sedge Warbler, which still had its eyes closed. I presumed that it was another migrating bird (maybe another Sedge Warbler). After a further 30 minutes another check was made and to our amazement the patient had gone - fingers crossed!

Sedge Warbler Stephen Hedley 01
Exhausted Sedge Warbler recovering in makeshift bed (Stephen Hedley)

During the intervening period small rafts of Arctic Tern were seen, on migration south. Later a lone Puffin was seen and 4 Razorbill. As we entered the Crosby Channel, the tide was out and on a sandbank to the west 18 Grey Seals were laid out resting. Along with the gulls that greeted the ship a lone Oystercatcher flew across the bow.

I would like to express warm gratitude to Captain Daly and crew for looking after me on the outward leg and also to Captain Wardle and crew for looking after me and the Sedge Warbler on the return leg.