Double Crossing

No I haven’t been deceiving or betraying anyone. Rather over the last week I’ve done a couple of contrasting but equally enjoyable Marinelife surveys in the Irish Sea. This blogpost will hopefully convey some of the experiences.

Ten years ago Marinelife started operating in the Irish Sea on the former Fleetwood-Larne route, and needed local surveyors will knowledge of seabirds and cetaceans. At that time my ceteceans ID skills weren’t that good but I was accepted and I’ve been involved ever since. I’ve been privileged to cross the Bay of Biscay several times, and I’ve even been to Norway and Sweden. Local surveys are the staple of what I do though.

On Saturday I surveyed on the Stena Embla, on a passenger and freight ferry route from Birkenhead to Belfast. It was a rather ‘interesting’ journey to the port, as I passed a number of car crashes in the icy conditions. It was a relief to get on board, and I had the chance to take in this smart new boat. My previous experience of the route over the years was on older boats, the Lagan and Mersey, which have been superseded by the Embla. It’s a lovely boat to travel on with lots of nice touches, as the pictures below hopefully show:

The loading took longer than usual so it was midday before we left the Mersey, giving four hours of survey time. It was a fantastic day to be at sea, calm seas and great views of the Fylde, Cumbrian Coast and the Isle of Man. The sightings weren’t outstanding but a selection of seabirds were seen including particularly a few Kittiwakes. On this route the survey team stay on the boat as it returns overnight, so there was no survey on the way back.

On Tuesday I was on the Seatruck Pace for the December Heysham-Dublin survey. This is another route where you stay on the boat, rather than switching to a sister ship. You arrive at the terminal before midnight, grab some sleep then survey from dawn. There’s a break whilst the boat unloads and reloads, then you survey again as the boat returns.

I joined the bridge at 8am, when it was basically still dark. As it got light some seabirds were seen including a group of Razorbills as well as Kittiwakes and a Fulmar. Shortly before entering the harbour at Dublin a couple of Harbour Porpoise went past the front of the boat. Inside the harbour there were c500 Wigeon and c1000 Black-headed Gulls.

I read John Lewis Stempel’s ‘Nightwalking’ nature writing whilst we were docked. On the return journey a Red-throated Diver flew close past the front of the vessel. The highlight of the trip however was at least one Common Dolphin repeatedly leaping high into the air as it approached before going down the starboard side. As I often say a dolphin day is a good day.

The vibe on a freight ferry is very different, as the pictures below will show. But it’s very enjoyable and rewarding, not least because the crew are so welcoming and look after you so well.

If you have some experience of identifying regular seabird and cetacean species Marinelife are always looking for new surveyors for their Irish Sea routes. Details are available at http://www.marine-life.org.uk.

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