Heysham-Dublin survey 12 September
We arrived at Heysham late on Monday night, and with their usual efficiency Seatruck transferred us onto the Panorama in time for us to meet the Steward and have a chat about the coming survey before turning in for some sleep before the following morning. Despite my sleeping through the alarm, we had a first-class breakfast at 6.30 and were escorted to the bridge to begin the first leg of our survey at 07:00.
The sea was flecked with white caps, very dramatic but not the best conditions for spotting small cetaceans! The birds were clearly having a late lie-in too, but after an hour with only sporadic sightings of Gannet and Kittiwake, we started to pick up more activity on the approach to Dublin. Some groups of late migrating Manx Shearwater and small rafts of Razorbill and Guillemot already in their winter plumage gave the survey a distinctly autumnal flavour.
The approach to the outer reaches of the River Liffey provided us with a very brief and close encounter with four Harbour Porpoise, two of which were clearly youngsters. A large flock of ‘Commic’ Tern and a few Sandwich Tern kept us fully occupied for a short time, and just before we stopped the survey at the Red Lighthouse a small number of Mediterranean Gull drifted by.
Although the survey stopped at the lighthouses, there were still plenty of birds to enjoy as we sailed up the Liffey towards the Seatruck berth close to the city centre. Large numbers of Black-headed Gull and few Mediterranean Gull and Common Gull were to be seen at the power station outfall, but rather surprisingly our efforts to spot some of the resident Black Guillemot came to nothing.
After a rest and then lunch, we were on the move again as the ship began its return trip to Heysham, and we were escorted to the bridge as the Panorama sailed down the Liffey towards the lighthouses and the start point of the second leg of our survey.
Solitary Bottlenose Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise were the only cetacean sightings of the return leg, with a sea state of 3 to 4 making spotting of marine mammals difficult. The steady breeze was more favourable to the seabirds, and we managed to see good numbers of Fulmar and Manx Shearwater as we sailed away from Dublin.
Most exciting was the excellent view we had of a juvenile Long-tailed Skua as it flew to the south in front of the ship, but the gingery brown wader that flew low over the waves to the north must remain a mystery – we can never identify everything!
Docking in Heysham harbour never fails to amaze me – the skill of these Seatruck mariners as they manoeuvre their ship through the tiny port entrance and turn the huge vessel on its axis to reverse onto its berth is consummate!
Our thanks as ever to Seatruck for their wonderful support of the essential survey work of MARINElife, and in particular to the office staff at Heysham and to the captain and crew of the Panorama.
Rob Petley-Jones and Nuala Campbell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Summary of sightings:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 68
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 58
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 127
Razorbill Alca torda 30
Guillemot Uria aalge 210
Auk sp. 40
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 80
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 7
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 23
‘Commic’ Tern Sterna Hirundo/paradisaea 259
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 4
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Gull sp. 8
Wader sp. 1