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Heysham-Warrenpoint 13-14 April

Summary of Species Recorded


Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 16

Dolphin sp. 1


Seabirds

Pale-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla 25

Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 16

Sooty Shearwater Ardenna griseus 1

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 63

Gannet Morus bassanus 119

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5

Cormorant/Shag sp. 123

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 5

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 44

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 115

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5

Common/Arctic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 20

Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 30

Guillemot Uria aalge 123

Razorbill Alca torda 4

Diver sp. 1

Gull sp. 8

Tern sp. 1

Auk sp. 2


Terrestrial Birds

Redshank

Oystercatcher

Carrion Crow

Hooded Crow


Weather

Outward: cloudy, good visibility, wind W 7/8 decreasing 5

Return: sunny, mainly good visibility, light showers S of Isle of Man, wind variable 2/3


Outward

Fortified by a tasty, cooked breakfast kindly provided by the steward, we were welcomed onto the bridge as we headed out into Morecambe Bay. Fortunately, the force 9 winds of the previous night had moderated and conditions were good enough for our survey. Passage through Morecambe Bay found Guillemot and the occasional Razorbill on the water. Gulls were mainly Kittiwake, with the occasional Fulmar gliding and shearing, seemingly effortlessly, over the waves. It was lovely to see Manx Shearwater back to breed in the Irish Sea, after their long migration from winter feeding grounds on the Argentine/Patagonian Shelf.


We had a very unexpected encounter with a Sooty Shearwater! These breed in the southern hemisphere and migrate up the western side of the Atlantic in spring and down the eastern side through UK waters in late summer/autumn. Perhaps recent strong storms in the North Atlantic had disrupted its migration? (Ed: there have been recent reports of Sooty Shearwater in the English Channel and also recent reports of numbers of Great Shearwater off the Outer Hebrides which may back this up)

Sooty Shearwater (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Other gull species recorded were Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a small number of Great Black-backed Gull.


Lots of adult Gannet were encountered although none were seen actively feeding. A few 5-year old birds were also seen but most of the younger birds and juveniles are thought to stay down in Biscay and the mid-Atlantic without returning north in the summer. The impact of bird-flu on Gannet was huge in 2022. However, if the spread of bird-flu was restricted to breeding colonies, younger birds remaining at sea may have avoided it.


Unwelcome records on the crossing were the many white balloons seen drifting on the surface, trailing their ribbons in the water.


We enjoyed stunning views of Carlingford Lough and the surrounding mountains as we neared Warrenpoint.


Return

While waiting to depart Warrenpoint, we enjoyed watching some of the birdlife for which Carlingford Lough is nationally or internationally important. Several Great Crested Grebe were seen diving in the lough. Opposite our berth a small flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese were feeding, upending in the shallow water to feed on plants such as eelgrass. Departing the lough, we had an excellent view of a large roost of Black Guillemot in their breeding plumage, with their oval white wing patches and splendid bright red legs.


Black Guillemot (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

Off the entrance to Carlingford Lough there were lots of Shag and Cormorant, with a large mixed roost of the birds drying their wings on a rocky reef. Many of the Gannet we saw were settled on the sea, perhaps because of the light winds and calm sea, and we observed one that looked to be in ill-health, perhaps with bird-flu? No new bird species were added on the return passage.


We had several good sightings of Harbour Porpoise but despite the good viewing conditions only one distant and unidentified dolphin was seen. We did have a close-up and entertaining view of a Grey Seal trying to subdue and eat a very large eel that it had caught.


For most of the crossing we were passing through dense blooms or swarms of Barrel Jellyfish, the largest jellyfish found in UK waters. They have a huge translucent mushroom shaped bell and a bunch of eight frilly tentacles below. The jellyfish is a favourite food of Leatherback Turtles, which are occasionally seen in the Irish Sea.


We closed the survey just before our arrival into Heysham Port.


Our thanks as always go to Seatruck, Captains Tuuling and Kurach, the officers and crews of Seatruck’s Performance and Point and the shore staff, whose assistance and interest in the marine life that we are surveying makes these surveys so pleasurable.


Nuala Campbell and Chris Lumb, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

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