Heysham-Dublin survey 7 February
Summary of Sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 9
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 9
Gannet Morus bassanus 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 716
Razorbill Alca torda 23
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 28
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 22
Common Gull Larus canus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Gull sp. Laridae 456
Auk sp. 640
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1
Barrel jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo 21
Birds in Dublin Port
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla ssp. hrota
Wigeon Mareca penelope
Teal Anas crecca
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Overcast but good visibility, wind SW force 1-3, sea state 1-3, swell 0-1
I was delighted when I was offered a place on this route again and even more so to learn that I was to be paired up with none other than Rob Petley-Jones himself. Despite having half a century of MARINElife volunteering between us, this was the first time we had actually met!
My journey to Heysham was pleasant and even and yielded some Barn Owl and Tawney Owl sightings along the A65. The ever-helpful Seatruck staff drove us onto the ship and made us feel very welcome and right at home and we were able to get a very comfortable night’s sleep. After a good breakfast we were up on the bridge early and began the survey at 07:31hrs. Sea conditions were a very pleasant sea state 2, with cloudy skies but nonetheless good visibility, no threat of precipitation and a windspeed that never rose above 20 knots for the entire survey.
The first birds to be seen were a few Guillemots and couple of Kittiwake, and it was nearly an hour into the survey before we recorded our first Gannet. We had wondered about the impact of bird flu upon the Gannet population and the resultant sightings, and while we were relieved to record the species on this survey, the total number seen was only in single figures.
A few Razorbill and plenty more Guillemot were encountered – a real pleasure to see and I can never tire or seeing these and all the other seabirds on a survey. As we got closer to the Dublin and into the deeper waters Rob quickly spotted the first Harbour Porpoise of the survey, and over the course of a very busy 11 minutes we encountered seven of these often underappreciated but beautiful creatures, along with the numerous auk and gull sightings which predictably increased the closer we got to Dublin.
We finished the first leg of the survey as we passed the Red Lighthouse in the outer approaches to Dublin Port to allow the crew space to navigate and eventually dock safely at a new Seatruck berth further in towards the city center. This gave us time for some casual observations of several Pale-breasted Brent Geese, the always entertaining Black Guillemots, the many Black-headed Gull (some in summer plumage!), an inquisitive Grey Seal and lots of Teal in the harbour.
After a welcome break and lunch the ship departed on time and we continued our casual observations of the River Liffey from the passenger lounge windows until we were permitted to go to the bridge, during which time we counted upwards of 650 Teal on the water – the most I think I have ever seen on the sea at one time.
We restarted our survey effort just after 14:00 hours and sea conditions remained very pleasant. We encountered a couple more Harbour Porpoise, two spy-hopping Grey Seal and large numbers of auks on the return leg, but perhaps the highlight was the Barrel Jellyfish which we encountered about 40 minutes into the survey. I was about to reach for the flotsam recording form thinking I had seen a sub-surface plastic bag when Rob confirmed that it was indeed a very large jellyfish! This highlights how easy it is for leatherback turtles that feed on jellyfish to make the same but usually fatal mistake.
An hour later we passed a swarm of approximately 20 of these large animals near the surface – (Editor note: there probably many more at deeper levels!) Barrel Jellyfish are the largest jellyfish to visit UK waters and can grow up to 1m in diameter – the size of a dustbin lid which is their other English name! They are usually seen from May or June and then through the summer which made this very early sighting in February unusual.
We reluctantly halted the survey at 17:30 hours when it was just too dark for reliable identification. It is always sad to finish a survey because we really enjoy these, and I am always hoping for just one more sighting!
My thanks go to captain Viktors Suharevs and the crew of the Seatruck Pace for making us both very welcome, supplying us with coffee, and enabling MARINElife to continue its important ocean health checks of the Irish Sea. I cannot wait to get back out!
Duncan Fyfe and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)