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?

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