Late on Monday night, we were welcomed aboard Seatruck's Panorama by Damian the Steward and arranged with him our cabins, our breakfast selection, and entry time up to the bridge on the Tuesday morning.
It was early dawn when we ascended to the bridge of the Panorama, where we enjoyed the sunrise and sorted out our procedure and observation site. The Captain, Jaak Karm, and his crew all showed their support for our survey, and Billy the cadet made us fresh coffee and tea! We responded with a box of Cumbrian Fudge…!
The forecast for that day had been correct about beautiful sunshine and a low-level swell, but the wind was stronger than expected and cast wind-whipped foam across the sea, so our hope for sightings of the small Harbour Porpoise were doomed. Though we both kept our focus well-honed, no cetaceans made themselves seen above the choppy waves - not a whale, dolphin, or seal throughout the whole survey.
In fact, even seabirds were only to be seen in small numbers in the short time before docking in Dublin, but nearer the port several gull species were more frequent, with Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, and even a few Kittiwake all in their winter plumage adding to the mix. However, we did sight a single Shag.
Once inside the breakwater and past the Poolbeg and Green Lighthouses where the morning survey closed, gull numbers flourished, with more Herring Gull, Common Gull (also known as Mew Gull outside of Europe), Black-headed Gull, and Kittiwake. We were ‘tugged’ into our berth by the crew of the Dublin Port tug and had our first sight of several Black Guillemot in winter plumage.
We spent the time in port happily watching the diving Cormorant, and, rather than twiddling thumbs before the return afternoon survey, we spent some time refining our understanding of how to age gulls by their plumage, a challenge which I often lost! Resting in a puddle on the tarmac dock were a group of Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull, with a Magpie and a Pied Wagtail in front to add scale to the large gulls.
We left Ireland’s shores to return to Heysham through even choppier seas than in the morning, again with little swell but with stronger surface winds. Even so, we did sight Kittiwake and Fulmar with the occasional Guillemot and elegant Razorbill to add a dash of spice.
We lost the light at 16:36hrs, though the sunset was as beautiful as the dawn. Our thanks go again to Seatruck and their staff and crews for enabling this valuable environmental indicator survey, where even only a few sightings tell us something.
Nuala Campbell and Tony Marshall, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outbound: sunshine, sea state 4, wind W force 4-5
Return: sunshine, sea state 4-5, wind NW force 5
Summary of Sightings
Shag Gulosus aristotelis 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 21
Guillemot Uria aalge 19
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 32
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 31
Gull sp. 4
Birds in Dublin port
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Magpie Pica pica
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii