We arrived at Heysham at 08.00, and after efficient ticket issue and a welcome lift through the port, we were soon on board the Point, where the Steward provided a very good breakfast while we waited for the ship to sail. We were escorted to the bridge just after leaving the port, where we were welcomed by Captain Lukasz Kurach who showed us our survey location and kindly made us each a coffee.
As the survey got underway, an adult Mediterranean Gull in winter plumage stood out from the mixed flock of Common Gull and Herring Gull, with a small flock of male and female Common Scoter seen heading for the shallow waters off Blackpool.
The rest of the survey on day 1 was quiet for seabirds, with small numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet, Fulmar and Kittiwake. However, the waters out from the Haulbowline Lighthouse at the entrance to Carlingford Lough are usually a good place to see divers, and we were rewarded with a fine close view of a Great Northern Diver which sat calmly on the water as the ship sailed by.
We spent a very comfortable night at the Whistledown Hotel where after a warm welcome a pint of Guinness in the bar helped to ease the strains of the day! After a good night's sleep and an extremely good breakfast set us up for the coming day we strolled along the edge of Carlingford Lough towards the Seatruck berth, checking out the small numbers of Red-breasted Merganser, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Turnstone on the way.
The Seatruck staff quickly issued our tickets, and we were given a lift onto the Performance, to be met by the Steward. He showed us up to the bridge just after the ship left its berth, where we were welcomed by Captain Tonu Tuuling. The Performance is a very impressive vessel with a bright view of the sea from the large bridge windows, so it was a real pleasure to carry out our survey from our starboard position. Despite the sea becoming quite lively toward the afternoon, the vessel sailed smoothly through the waves without a lurch!
Sailing up Carlingford Lough is always a great pleasure, and we were treated to some good views of Black Guillemot, Great Crested Grebe, and Red-throated Diver, before the start of the marine survey at the Haulbowline Lighthouse.
The first hour out from Carlingford Lough was very busy with birds, with some excellent sightings for both Great Northern Diver and Red-throated Diver, and as we sailed out into the Irish Sea we were entertained by regular flurries of Kittiwake and the occasional adult Gannet.
The sea conditions became increasingly choppy so our expectations of seeing any Harbour Porpoise were not high, but we were well rewarded with the appearance just south of the Isle of Man of a very active pod of Common Dolphin, leaping and splashing ahead of us before speeding in to bow-ride for a short spell in front of the Performance.
A few Fulmar completed the sightings for the day, and we finished the survey as the Performance passed through the outer edge of the windfarm, heading down to the passenger lounge for a very welcome supper.
Our thanks as ever go to the Captains and crews of the Point and Performance, and to the staff at the Seatruck offices. Without the support of Seatruck our valuable survey work would be impossible.
Rob Petley-Jones and Don Ainsworth, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outbound: wind W force 3-4, good visibility, sea state 2-4
Return: wind W 2 increasing 7, good visibility, sea state 2, increasing to 6
Summary of Sightings
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 26
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 11
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 4
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Gulosus aristotelis 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 18
Guillemot Uria aalge 18
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 68
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 14
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Gull sp. 5
Auk sp. 10
Sightings in Carlingford Lough
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 25 (most hauled on the reefs)
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 10
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 28
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Shag Gulosus aristotelis
Phalacrocorax spp. (on Haulbowline reefs) c.500
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
Curlew Numenius arquata 5
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 6
Dunlin Calidris alpina 15
Redshank Tringa totanus 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Guillemot Uria aalge 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 5
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus
Raven Corvus corax 1