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Survey report Heysham-Dublin 23 September

Arriving at the Seatruck office at Heysham late on Friday night we were greeted enthusiastically and with great interest in the survey work we were doing, and we were driven onto Panorama, sharing our respective interests in wildlife with the driver. On board we were welcomed by the steward, and we agreed arrangements for the morning before retiring to our cabins.

We were treated to an excellent cooked breakfast at 6:30 and were escorted up to the bridge at 07:00, south of the Isle of Man, when it was light enough to commence our survey. We were very lucky with the weather, the sea being choppy and with some white caps but not enough to prevent us getting some good small cetacean sightings - the forecast for the following day after the survey was gale force 8!

Sooty Shearwater (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

We soon started recording Razorbill and Guillemot, the former mainly flying and the latter sitting on the water, in similar numbers to the MARINElife survey on this route earlier in September. We had a few Manx Shearwater sightings, but this time of the year numbers continue to drop as the Irish Sea birds head south on their long autumnal migration to the South Atlantic.

We had brief views of 5 Common Dolphin and 2 Harbour Porpoise on route to Dublin. We were also treated to a rare sighting of a Sooty Shearwater which ‘winters’ in the northern hemisphere and was on its southward passage towards its South Atlantic breeding sites.

Arctic Skua (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Rob had been lucky enough to see a Long-tailed Skua on the survey two weeks earlier, and so we were both delighted to have good sightings of both a light-phase Arctic Skua and an intermediate-phase Pomarine Skua on this trip. Closer to the Irish coast numbers of Gannet, Herring Gull, and Kittiwake increased and we had good views of a couple of Mediterranean Gull and several Common Gull.

The River Liffey was full of activity, wildlife as well as shipping. In addition to the numerous larger gulls, there were big numbers of Black-headed Gull around the shipping and at the power station outfall, where there was a feeding frenzy with many Cormorant and juvenile Herring Gull. We also had excellent views of winter-plumage Black Guillemot and a couple of Grey Seal, while small flocks of Sanderling and Redshank were seen flighting across the estuary.

The wind had increased slightly as we left Dublin, but we still had a sighting of a further pair of Harbour Porpoise, probably an adult and juvenile. We had more sightings of Gannet including several immature birds, their plumages indicating a range of ages. Kittiwake counts were higher on the return trip with large mixed flights of adult and juvenile birds passing across the bows of Panorama. Similarly, there were more small groups of Common/Arctic Tern, on or about to start their autumn passage to the Southern Atlantic.

Pomarine Skua (Rob Petley-Jones)

As we passed between the Isle of Man and Anglesey into the eastern Irish Sea, the frequency of bird sightings decreased. However, we had one final bird treat, the last bird recorded before the end of the survey, another Pomarine Skua. Failing light brought the survey to an end at 19:00 and we retired to the passenger saloon to a meal kindly kept for us by the steward, to work up some of the survey results - and to relax by watching Ireland v. South Africa on the large widescreen TV over a welcome cup of tea!

We were made most welcome by Captain Jaak Karm and the crew of the Panorama as well as the office staff at Heysham and our thanks again to them and Seatruck for continuing to support the essential survey work of MARINElife.

Rob Petley-Jones and Chris Lumb, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

(Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)


Wind: south 3-4, sea state 2-3 then 4, visibility good, sunshine followed by increasing cloud

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4


Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 15

Gannet Morus bassanus 68

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 19

Sooty Shearwater Ardenna griseus 1

Razorbill Alca torda 71

Guillemot Uria aalge 206

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 189

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 14

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 6

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 153

‘Commic’ Tern Sterna Hirundo/paradisaea 47

Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 5

Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 2

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1

Gull sp. 1

Auk sp. 43

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