Stena Embla Liverpool-Belfast 22 October
Summary of sightings
Marine Mammals Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 2
Unidentified small cetacean 1
Seabirds Eider Somateria mollisima 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 27
Red-throated diver Gavia stellata 2
Black-throated diver Gavia immer 4
Diver sp. 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 49
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 41
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7 Herring Gull Larus argentatus 189 Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 57 Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 473
Gull sp. 38 Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 193 Razorbill Alca torda 9
Auk sp. 501
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 20
Phylloscopus Warbler sp. 2
Partially cloudy, wind 15 knots inc. 40, sea state 4 inc. 7, swell 1m
We were both delighted to be back at sea again and particularly on this route. Vincent and I had hoped to team up many years ago but one of us was ill and it did not happen. Glad to say it worked out this time because it was a very enjoyable survey.
We began our survey shortly after the ship left dock with fine views over the estuary. There were small numbers of gulls and cormorants and before too long the first few Common Scoter, these being fairly reliable on the outer Mersey estuary especially at this time of year. The sea state started as a 4 but progressed to a 7, but it did not feel like it as the Embla really was very smooth. More on this later.
We encountered our first Gannet about 50 minutes into the survey. As all MARINElife volunteers will know, each and every sighting of these magnificent birds is a real pleasure. Passerines are a real cause for excitement too as we know that almost anything can turn up, and it is always a surprise to see familiar garden birds at sea. Our first (and possibly my first on a survey) was a Chaffinch!
Visibility was reasonably good but not to the horizon, and the Isle of Man came into view around 13.00. The first officer was telling us about the Basking Shark he had seen off Chicken Rock a few days before, but in the force 6 of today we were not to be so lucky. We did encounter a large raft of resting Kittiwake and auks, almost too many to count and identify in the sea state, but there must have been nearly 400 birds. Try as we might, we could not locate any cetaceans in the vicinity of this gathering. We came across a similar large raft a couple of hours later.
However, midway between the Isle of Man and Belfast we were both lucky to see two Common Dolphin moving really fast through the recording box, leaping clear out of the water giving a short but very clear and memorable view, and there was no mistaking the identification. Just over an hour later Vince got a fleeting glimpse of small dolphin or porpoise, again just off the bow.
Soon after this, two warblers few around the portside of the bridge, quite possibly Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff but tricky to identify as they were buffeted by the wind.
As we came to the outer approaches to Belfast Lough we had some good sightings of Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver, as well as a flock of 20 Starlings coming in from the sea.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the ship itself, where Stena have really done themselves and their passengers proud. The Stena Embla is less than two years old and very different to the outgoing Stena Mersey and Lagaan, which are now somewhere in the Baltic and Turkey respectively.
The passenger areas are very comfortable with a great forward-facing restaurant on the seventh floor that would lend itself well to casual cetacean surveys from the luxury of an armchair. We were allowed a sneak view of the Plus Lounge which was very smart and worth the extra money if you can afford it, especially as it also forward facing. I think I will be planning some solo casual spotting trips soon! The ship is very quiet, and the crossing was very smooth despite the force 7 winds.
Above all as expected, the staff and crew on board were very welcoming and friendly. Thanks again to Stena Line and Captain Haptar for their hospitality and for enabling us to carry out an important health check of the Irish Sea.
Duncan Fyfe and Vince Green, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)