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Heysham-Dublin survey 18 April

Heysham-Dublin survey 18 April

Summary of Sightings:

Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2


Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 45

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 122

Gannet Morus bassanus 54

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8

Common Gull Larus canus 22

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 125

Sandwich Tern Thalesseus sandvicensis 2

Guillemot Uria aalge 310

Razorbill Alca torda 66

Puffin Fratercula arctica 4

Large gull sp. 6

Tern sp. 4

Auk sp. 16

Land Birds

Knot Calidris canutus 3

Sand Martin Riparia riparia 4

Swallow Hirundo rustica 1

Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 5

Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 1

Pipit sp. 8

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 4

Birds recorded in Dublin Port

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis

Mute Swan Cygnus olor

Light-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota 9

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus

Common Gull Larus canus 200+

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Black Guillemot Cepphus grille c20

Feral Pigeon Columba livia

Hooded Crow Corvus cornix


Outward: wind E 5, sea state 3-4, visibility variable

Return: wind E-NE 5, sea state 3, visibility clear

Following several days of good weather it was good to be able to participate in another MARINElife survey. This time I was fortunate to have Alison McAleer as Team Leader, and her tales of wonderful wildlife sightings on previous surveys filled the few quiet periods during our survey.

With the help of the Seatruck staff and crew we were very efficiently ensconced in our cabins, with the following day’s meals ordered, ready for a few hours’ sleep. After an early breakfast we were escorted onto the bridge, where we were made welcome before starting our survey. Sailing conditions were very pleasant due to the slight sea swell despite the wind, although visibility was not completely clear due to some thin cloud. Later in the survey we were treated to almost cloudless skies with only some haze in the distance to reduce the visibility.

Every survey is different, and we got our first inkling of this being no exception when a small brown thing dropped past the window while we were putting survey forms out - a Wren hopping around the railings in front of us seemed very out of place! Over the next few hours, we were treated to the sight of a variety of small passerines making their way north, including a Pipit that settled on the railing - but was this the same one that appeared to be flying round the ship, or were we seeing several different ones, each one pausing briefly on their journey? Goldfinches on bird feeders are to be expected but a little charm flying north over the sea with no land in sight was completely unexpected!

With the sun behind us, birds flying past in front of us were beautifully illuminated and we could easily make out the difference in plumage between Guillemot and Razorbill.

Manx Shearwater (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

No big feeding frenzies of birds were observed but there were regular small parties of these auks, as well as Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake, flying past or settled on the water. It was interesting to note how frequently a small group would comprise birds of more than one species, and many groups of three or four auks would include both Razorbill and Guillemot, making correct identification challenging at a distance. Many more Manx Shearwater and Guillemot were observed than had been seen during the March survey.

Just before reaching Dublin, we had the pleasure of observing a number of Shag and Cormorant. Often these species can be confusing to identify, but on this occasion we were treated to a fly-past of one of each barely a wing length apart. The difference in size was very noticeable as well as the patches of white on the Cormorant and not on the Shag.

Herring Gull (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

As we entered Dublin port a couple of terns flew past as if to confirm that spring is with us. There were the usual large numbers of gulls in the entrance area, mainly Herring Gull and Common Gull of all ages. As the ship docked there were few birds to be seen in the port but after a break for lunch we were able to see a group of Light Bellied Brent Geese grazing on the algae on the harbour walls and Black Guillemot in small groups around the port.

The return crossing was again calm with little swell despite the wind. A couple of Red-throated Diver were observed as we were leaving the port and Alison managed a couple of very brief glimpses of Harbour Porpoise - perhaps next time there will be more. Three groups of Black Guillemot well away from the nearest land seemed unusual, and a couple of Common Scoter made up for the lack of feeding groups of other seabirds.

There were few birds to be seen towards the end of the survey but that gave time to reflect on the sightings of the last few hours. We mused in wonder on how the small land birds that we saw can survive crossing the sea, while watching Manx Shearwater or Gannet completely at their ease gliding past, their wingtips almost touching the waves. The seas and oceans are these birds’ home and they are masters of their environment, and we can only watch in awe.

Irish Sea sunset (Tony Marshall)

We completed our survey soon after the sun set and that gave time for us to complete our survey summary before an efficient docking back at Heysham and an easy drive home brought our survey with Seatruck to an end. Our thanks go to the Captain Viktors Suharevs, the crew of the Pennant, and the staff of Seatruck at Heysham for looking after us so well and allowing us to make this a very enjoyable crossing. It is a fantastic privilege to be allowed to participate in these MARINElife surveys and see some brilliant birds in their natural environment.

Tony Marshall and Alison McAleer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

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