Our 8th 4hr evening pelagic for 2016 was one of those spectacular evenings…
As we headed north there was very little swell, but the sea was quite choppy and dark which doesn’t make for the best observing conditions. After a brief encounter on the northward journey, when Tim spotted a single dolphin, we headed towards the shore. As we entered Newbiggin Bay I told our youngest participant (just 8 years old) that he would have the sharpest eyesight on the boat and the best chance of finding any dolphins that were around…just as his mum looked out of the wheelhouse and spotted White-beaked Dolphins less than 50m away from us 🙂 After an entertaining half hour with that group around the boat we headed south and it wasn’t long before I received a text message to let me know that were dolphins breaching off Seaton Sluice…just as we reached there! This time the group was bigger, at least 10 animals, and they entertained us against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset over St Mary’s Island 🙂
I collected Susan and Mike from Seaton Burn and then Frank, Gabrielle, Boudewijn and Odette from The Swan before heading to the coast. Boudewijn’s sharp eyes picked out tiny insects as we made our way along footpaths with dense vegetation alongside as Swallows and House Martins swooped low over the fields, picking off flying insects that had strayed just a bit too far from safety. Adult Swallows were feeding young in a nest just a few feet away from us and, out on the water, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Pochard were all decked out in the shabby chic of late summer and a Grey Heron caused alarm as it flew in, scattering Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls from the edge of the pool. Cormorants dived, doing their best Otter impressions, Common Sandpipers bobbed nervously on the riverbank, a well-grown brood of Goosander were remarkably well camouflaged amongst piles of rocks and Little Egrets were stalking tiny fish in the shallows. As the wind started to pick up and the first few drops of rain began to fall, Swifts scythed their way through clouds of insects overhead. Whimbrel was a nice addition to the wader list for the day along with Curlew and Redshank which are much more expected. Common and Sandwich Terns called as they flew by and Eider were rafting on a flat sea as we had our picnic. Our final site for the day was where I was confident we’d find an Otter. Starlings were murmurating, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits flicked through the vegetation just ahead of us, a roe Deer emerged from behind a reedbed to take a drink at the water’s edge…and then the sky turned dark rather quickly and the rain started hammering down 🙁 That did produce one entertaining moment though, as a rather large Great Crested Grebe chick took shelter on its parent’s back just before we admitted defeat to the weather.
After our successful search for White-beaked Dolphins on Wednesday, we sailed at 18:00 on Friday for our 7th 4hr evening pelagic this year.
As we sailed past North Shields the heavens opened and as we left the shelter of the piers, the surface of the sea looked to be boiling as the rain hammered down. That was round about the point where I checked my mobile for any recent dolphin reports…and there was a text message to say that there had been 6-8 White-beaked Dolphins just off Seaton Sluice for the last hour and they were heading south, inshore of the yellow buoy off St Mary’s Island 🙂 I went across to that side of the boat, indicated the area we needed to be watching…and up they popped 🙂 For the next hour we watched up to 20 dolphins as they fed, breached, tail-slapped and did all the stuff that makes dolphins so fantastic to watch, then we left them behind and headed up to Blyth where we found another 4! Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots. Kittiwakes and Fulmars provided a supporting cast and a stunning sunset brought the curtain down on the evening 🙂
After a couple of cancelled sailings, with weather conditions that we felt would just be uncomfortable for everyone, we set sail on our 6th 4hr pelagic this year on Wednesday evening.
As we headed north, small rafts of Puffin were seen regularly, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet provided a supporting cast and with a boat full of clients all scanning the sea, in good visibility, I was feeling confident…
The call from Tim “dolphins!” had everyone suddenly very animated…and there they were; 4 White-beaked Dolphins, including a very small calf 🙂 One of the adults came across us close to the bow, and then they quietly slipped away from view after five minutes or so. Encounters with dolphins are always exciting, but your truly learnt a very painful lesson; even when you’ve photographed hundreds of dolphins and seabirds from moving boats, in everything from flat calm with glorious light, through to challenging swell and heavily overcast…it counts for nothing if you’ve managed to leave the house without any memory cards in your camera 🙁 After the dolphin encounter, one of our clients was kind enough to lend me a memory card so I’ve got lots of images from the second half of the evening!
Monday was our 5th evening pelagic and we boarded JFK Two at Royal Quays with Common Terns flying back to their nests and a chilly breeze stiffening the flags on the boats moored in the marina.
Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls soon formed a stalking party just behind us and Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter were all seen, as well as a couple of Curlew. Away to the west of us the weather over Northumberland looked poor, and on the eastern horizon we could see rain. The dark, brooding waves lapped against the side of the boat and, as we made our way back down the coast, breaks in the leaden grey cloud brought another spectacular sunset 🙂
No two days are ever the same – that’s pretty much the only thing that’s guaranteed where wildlife is concerned..
We set sail from Royal Quays for our fourth evening pelagic this year and although we had blue skies and sunshine, in sharp contrast to Wednesday’s trip, the sea was a bit choppier with a stiff westerly wind keeping us close to the sheltering effect of the land. Gannets, Guillemots and Puffins are regular at this time of the year, and we weren’t too far from the Tyne when the Herring Gulls started following us. With barely any effort they hang in the air just behind the boat, obliging subjects for any photographers on board. This time they were joined by a Kittiwake; delicate and incredibly agile, it twisted and turned around the rear deck providing a bit more of a challenge for the lenses that were pointed in its direction.
As we made our way back down the coast, the setting sun provided an impressive backdrop for St Mary’s lighthouse. Despite all of the whales, dolphins and seabirds we’ve found over the last few years, the thing that still seems to be commented on more than anything else, is just how incredible the views of the sunset are from a boat in the North Sea 🙂
Our third evening pelagic for 2016 sailed from Royal Quays under an unremarkable grey sky and with good visibility and a calm sea.
Three hours later, and after Common Scoter, Gannet, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar and Kittiwake had kept everyone occupied, we were heading south towards the marina. The ‘ping’ of a text message arriving on my mobile distracted me from my focus on the water close to the shore…
‘bottlenose dolphins going south past Seaton Sluice, heading towards St Mary’s, swimming slowly along the tide line’.
A quick ‘phone call brought more information ’10-15mins ago they were right where you are now’…and then they surfaced 🙂
Collecting Rhiannon and Phil from Alnwick, we headed to the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland…
Cormorants were doing their best Otter impersonations as the breeze strengthened and the first rain shower of the afternoon caught us out on the river bank. Tufted Duck, Mallard and Teal were all looking relaxed so we were confident there wasn’t an Otter around. Little Grebes featured throughout the trip, bobbing to the surface before diving again in search of small fish, and a Little Egret put in a brief appearance before dropping behind a clump of rush. Swallows sitting on nests were remarkably tolerant of us and, as dusk approached, a Roe Deer was feeding quietly in the open beside the water. Greylag Geese suddenly stretched their necks up, staring at the water as flocks of Starlings swirled overhead in a pre-roost gathering. Tufted Duck and Mallard joined the worried staring and one area of the pool was bereft of birds. That’s always a good sign, but this time the cause of the birds’ consternation didn’t reveal itself; presumably staying tucked away in the relative warmth and comfort of the reedbeds as a breeze that would be more fitting for mid-winter than mid-summer whipped the water into a choppy mess.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try…
Friday was our second North Sea pelagic trip for 2016 and as we sailed from Royal Quays the sky looked a bit dark away to the north…
By the time we were off Whitley Bay we were under blue skies and sunshine while away to the west of us Northumberland was being battered by storms of hail and rain. Suddenly the wind picked up and the sea became a mass of foaming white horses and the first drops of rain hit the boat. With the wind whistling around the boat we soon picked up an entourage of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but against a dark grey sky there’s no denying they’re quite impressive birds. Just a few metres above the deck they seemed to be sheltering in the lee of the wheelhouse as we headed into the wind. Gannets flew by and a flock of Common Scoter, looking to be just perfectly placed in the dark weather conditions, overtook us and headed north. Fulmars flew effortlessly just a few centimetres above the waves while Puffin and Guillemot made flight look like a much more laboured undertaking and away to the east a double rainbow had formed. As conditions settled back down we found a small group of Gannets diving into the water and it was time to head back to port.
Wednesday was the first of this years NEWT North Sea Pelagic trips and the weather forecast looked good…
Allan had been out with a party of anglers all day, and the sea was still pretty calm when he sailed back to Royal Quays before the start of our trip. I’d been seawatching during the morning, watching what was only the third record of a live, offshore, Sperm Whale for Northumberland, and there were lots of Gannets feeding, so clearly lots of food available which is always a good sign 🙂 The sea is a fickle mistress though and , driven by a stiff breeze that had picked up just as we sailed, the long rolling swell from the north slowed our progress. Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes passed by, a Grey Seal poked it’s head out of the water near St Mary’s and a flock of Common Scoter were characteristic even at a distance. With the swell building further we headed to the relative calm of Newbiggin Bay and our sailing back down the coast was close to shore where, sheltered from the breeze and with the tide pushing us from behind, it was like a different world 🙂