MARINElife Survey Birkenhead to Belfast 21st -22nd of May 2016.

An early start to get to Liverpool in time for boarding the Stena Lagan began at 05:00am and due to hardy any traffic I was in Birkenhead in plenty of time to enjoy a good breakfast and time to check out the local birds on the river Mersey.

Once through check-in, I with other foot passengers, were taken by bus to the ship and I was soon onboard and heading for the reception team. As with last month’s survey I was allocated a cabin by the very helpful Crystal in the passenger office. Upon leaving my personal items in my cabin and returning to the passenger lounge, she then escorted me to meet the Captain on the bridge. 

Our route would take us west towards the Isle of Man, passing its southern point and then on the Northern Ireland and to the port of Belfast.

As the ship left the Mersey docks there was a very heavy down-pour and my thoughts turned to possibly surveying in foul weather with no hope of seeing anything!

As the Stena Lagan moved along the Mersey the weather abated and as we passed Crosby Beach the rain stopped, the view cleared and it stayed almost clear all the way to within an hour of Belfast Port.

The first of two Grey Seal was seen in the Crosby Beach area, quickly followed by a second ten minutes later.

Birds were very few and far between on or over the sea until the ship was out in to Liverpool bay. The usual Cormorants were loitering on the navigation buoys and the first Terns were seen. 

As I looked out from my superb vantage point on the starboard wing of the bridge, I was assisted by one of the crew who kindly set up the wing instrument panel so that it showed me all the relevant readings that are needed to conduct a successful survey.

Gannet rafting after an unsuccessful dive!
 The ship sailed through Liverpool Bay and I looked beyond the stern where the high speed Steam Packet ship could be seen as it was fast approaching a tanker at anchor. The ship’s name was “Merganser” a very apt name seeing as identifying birds was part of the survey!  

The Merganser Tanker
Sadly this survey did not produce any cetaceans but it did give me sightings of notable birds such as, Black Guillemots, Sandwich Terns, Arctic Terns and Eider Ducks.

The usual birds seen at sea made many passes in front of the bows and were also recorded over the starboard side. One species that always stands out is the Kittiwake (a real sea gull) both adult and juvenile where seen throughout the voyage. General Kittiwake records are down across the UK so it was good to see good numbers of these threatened birds!

 With an hour from the port of Belfast the weather changed to light rain, then thunder and lightning was heard and then I concluded the survey as the torrential rain made it impossible to carry on the survey as I couldn’t see anything.

A brief respite gave views of 3 Eider Duck and a total of 6 Black Guillemot. As we docked the ship was surrounded by many gulls and Common Terns and a Grey Seal feeding in the wake created by the ships manoeuvres. 

Harland & Wolffe Shipyard
  The rain stopped and the sun came out which gave superb views of the port including the world famous Harland and Wolffe shipyard. And as with the aptly named ship earlier, alongside was a drilling platform by the name of “Borgholm Dolphin”. I look forward to doing this survey route again maybe later this year or again next year?

15th of May 2016 – Coventry & Warwickshire RSPB Group Trip to RSPB Lakenheath Fen.

Having missed some of the trips this season with commitments to surveying and wildlife officer weekends, I was looking forward to joining the company of fellow RSPB members on a trip to RSPB Lakenheath Fen which is situated near the village of Brandon in Suffolk. Ironically, many on the coach are regulars at a certain other reserve near a village called Brandon!

I left home in glorious sunshine after scraping a light covering of ice from the windscreen to make my way to Coventry to catch the coach at 07:00am. The coach left on time and as before the banter with the regulars was good spirited.

Arriving at RSPB Lakenheath Fen we all made our way off to explore the reserve.

Highlights of the day go to seven superb bird species that were seen throughout the day.

Firstly five Cuckoos were seen during the day with one female watched for some considerable time as it surveyed the reeds from its perch high in a tree.

Female Cuckoo
  It made many attempts to drop in to the reeds to what we all presumed was to lay an egg in either a Reed or Sedge Warblers nest?

Female Cuckoo over reed beds
 Whilst sitting overlooking the main lake, a drake Garganey and a Kingfisher were going about their business at the top end of the lake. Hearing booming Bittern, it wasn’t long before we had two sightings of two of them moving over the reeds.

As we walked around the reserve a total of six Marsh Harriers made an appearance, both female and male birds and a single Peregrine was seen high above footpath.

By far the most impressive bird of the day was that of the stunningly beautiful Hobby.I managed a total of twenty seven birds and following a few conversations later on, there were many more than that!

After lunch a walk along the dyke separating the reserve from the Little Ouse River gave up two Little Egrets and plenty of Greylag geese in the surrounding fields.

One of two Little Egrets

 This was the last trip for the season and I'm looking forward to more later in the year.

MARINElife Wildlife Officer trip from Ilfracombe to Lundy Island 7th of May 2016.

I arrived in Ilfracombe at 9:30am for my second Lundy trip of 2016 where the weather was dry and cloudy. I collected my ticket from the Landmark Trust office and proceeded to board the MS Oldenburg. Upon making my way up to the bridge I was welcomed on-board by Jason the ship’s Captain. 

Entering the bridge’s office I met up with Fiona and Liz who were on board to do this month’s survey. Following introductions I left and proceeded to start my tour around the upper and lower decks introducing myself to the passengers. 

As the Oldenburg got under way I started to chat to many passengers about the possibility of seeing cetaceans. It’s always a great moment when you explain to passengers that there is a good chance of spotting Dolphin, Porpoise, Seal and much more. The ones I did speak to were very interested in the work of MARINElife and took a leaflet with a view to logging on to the website and to hopefully support the charity in the future.

One of the passengers was Charles who also volunteers for MARINElife whom I met last year when he did a Lundy survey. Charles was going to the island and staying for a number of days to do university research work relating to the Lundy Seals, a lucky opportunity indeed.

Assisting passengers with Cetaceans awareness
As the ship passed Morte Point on the mainland we had our first sightings of Harbour Porpoises. Two animals about five minutes apart. During the crossing there was lots of trees and large branches floating by, one in the distance even looked like a tail fluke which got everyone’s attention for a few seconds, sadly if was just another remains of a tree! 

Birds of note were Manx Shearwater and Gannet along with Guillemot and Razorbill rafting as the ship passed them by. The usual common gulls were seen along with Kittiwake and Fulmar.

Manx Shearwaters
 As the Oldenburg made its way slowly towards the landing bay there was no sign of any Seals on the rocks, however I did see one before returning to the ship. As the 208 passengers disembarked, they began making their way up to the higher levels. I joined up with Fiona and Liz and we had lunch outside the island’s shop. As Liz hadn’t seen Puffins before we took the central track towards halfway wall, arriving at Jenny’s Cove, I got my scope on to a total of fifteen Puffins both on the rocks and rafting on the sea. While we enjoyed the many birds and the stunning view we managed to assist over sixteen people in getting to see their very first Puffin. 

After a good hours spotting we began our walk back to meet up with Fiona for a cold drink in the Marisco Tavern, as we did, we saw Skylark, Meadow Pipit and many beautiful Wheatear.

Whilst walking back, the islands Sika Deer were spotted in a small group, the Lundy Ponies were grazing as to were the Highland Cattle. Other animals observed were the usual sheep and wild goats. 

Sika Deer
 The crossing back to Ilfracombe was a pleasant one and I got to chat to more people about MARINElife and I’m sure that there will certainly be a few Lundy day trippers looking to attend one of the training days that are organised for 2016.

Grey Seal
 Before disembarking I thanked Jason the Captain for his and his crews’ continued support for MARINElife. I look forward to my next trip in June.

Sea species seen were;

Common Dolphin 1, Harbour Porpoise 4, Grey Seal 1.

MARINElife Survey - Liverpool to Belfast - 23rd April 2016

Arriving in Birkenhead after an early start I met up with Jenny at the Stena Terminal. As usual the staff where ready for us and we were soon on our way to join the “Stena Lagan” our ship for this survey.

Once on board we were allocated a cabin each by Crystal in reception and then she took us to the bridge to meet Captain Tullio Scocchi.  As the ship began to move towards the entrance of the river Mersey we could see many people enjoying Crosby Beach. The ship was soon heading out in to Liverpool Bay and then on towards the Irish Sea with its many offshore windmills and drilling platforms. 

Grey Seal
Our route was to take us towards the southern tip of the Isle of Man and then on to Belfast. Our first sighting of a Grey Seal which was bottling effortlessly in the water was as we passed Blackpool with its famous tower clearly seen in the distance. We soon had our second Seal which was also doing the same off the starboard side of the ship.

A very distant Blackpool through a heat haze
 The trip gave us two pairs of Harbour Porpoise, the first were observed before we passed the “Chicken Rock Lighthouse” on the Isle of Man and we also saw another pair as we approached the port of Belfast.  During the passage Jenny also caught sight of our only Common Dolphin which was great as this was only her second survey for MARINElife and a good sighting for the day.

Manx Shearwater
  Birds along the way were the usual species seen while at sea, however the ones that stood out were the graceful Manx Shearwaters back now from Patagonia to breed in the UK. Other notables were two Great Northern Divers.

Great Northern Diver
 As the ship started its way in to Belfast Lough we concluded the survey and thanked the Captain and his crew for their continued support and splendid hospitality. I look forward to doing this route again in May.