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Heysham-Warrenpoint survey 11-12 April

We were delighted to see a beautiful dawn and clear skies as we approached Heysham harbour for our survey to Warrenpoint on CLdN’s ship ‘Performance’. This route is serviced by two ships, ‘Performance’ and ‘Point’ both night and day, with the day sailings allowing us to survey all the way across the Irish Sea in both directions. 


As usual we received a warm welcome from the steward who made sure we were well prepared for the day with a hearty breakfast and as much tea & coffee as we could drink, so we were well set up for a day of surveying. As soon as the ship was underway and had cleared the harbour, we were welcomed to the bridge to start the survey where the clear skies and unobstructed views soon rewarded us with many seabird sightings. 

We were particularly delighted to see a large flock of Common Scoter and from time-to-time Manx Shearwater. These attractive birds are generally challenging to see from land, whereas we had excellent views of both species as they flew past the ship.  The highlights of this leg were a Harbour Porpoise and a solitary summer plumage Little Auk. Little Auk are not found that often in the Irish Sea, so it is quite possible that the recent Storm Kathleen may have blown some of these tiny Arctic birds temporarily off their usual course.

Black Guillemot (Rob Petley-Jones)

In preparation for our return survey the following day we stayed overnight at the delightful Whistledown Hotel in Warrenpoint, whose restaurant has extensive views along Carlingford Lough, a beautiful sea loch with a lot of bird life. Before we even set off on the return journey we had seen such species as Redshank, Oystercatcher, and small flocks of Light-bellied Brent Geese, as well as the many gulls and Hooded Crow


Our return journey was on CLdN’s ‘Point’, whose crew once again were very welcoming, even sharing with us some of their own wildlife experiences from their travels. Once clear of the harbour we first sailed up the smooth waters of Carlingford Lough where we saw numerous Black Guillemot, both Common Tern and Sandwich Tern, over 200 Cormorant and Shag on the skerries by the lighthouse at the end of the Lough, the Shag showing off their crests in full breeding plumage.

Once out at sea the survey quickly became busy with Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, and Black Guillemot, all showing their spectacular summer plumage. 

An 'I5' Gannet (Rob Petley-Jones)

Further out to sea, there were more terns, along with Kittiwake, Guillemot, Common Scoter and Gannet, including some near adult birds with just one or two black feathers mixed in with the white - we code these as I5 and they are about five years old. It was good to see many Manx Shearwater zooming past us in groups of up to seven at a time. With their jet-black upper plumage, pure white undersides, and long elegant wings these birds are a beautiful sight to see. A particularly nice surprise was a Grey Seal that popped its head up close by as we passed. 


As we approached Heysham, we were surprised by a Meadow Pipit that decided to hitch a ride. All in all, it was a fascinating survey, with delightful sightings in both directions and we were as always looked after extremely well by the crews of both ships. 


Once again, our thanks go to the captains, staff and crew of both Performance and Point, who made this a very enjoyable survey.

Rob Petley-Jones and Don Ainsworth, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Outbound: the clear skies slowly turned to cloud cover, but visibility remained good. The swell and sea state did increase closer to Ireland briefly reaching sea state 4 but generally a mild sea state 3. 

Return: Good visibility, and whilst we had sea state 5 for much of the journey with a moderate swell of 2 meters, the excellent stability of the ship meant this was not a problem.

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1



Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 44

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3

Shag Gulosus aristotelis 4

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 5

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 48

Gannet Morus bassanus 40

Guillemot Uria aalge 55

Razorbill Alca torda 13

Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1

Little Auk Alle alle 1

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 48

Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1

Common Gull Larus canus 9

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 5

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7

Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3

Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 1

Gull sp. 1

Auk sp. 24

Terrestrial Birds

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1


Additional sightings in Carlingford Lough


Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus


Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle

Brent Goose (Light-bellied) Branta bernicla hrota

Common Tern Sterna hirundo

Cormorant Phalacrocorax aristotelis

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Guillemot Uria aalge

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Hooded Crow Corvus cornix

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator

Redshank Tringa totanus

Rook Corvus frugilegus

Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis

Shag Gulosus aristotelis

Shelduck Tadorna tadorna

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