Archive for September, 2016
We always try to provide a weather forecast a day or two before a trip; it helps people to decide what footwear would be appropriate for example. Sunday’s update for everyone booked on yesterday’s Otter Safari was ‘Current weather forecast suggests dry and warm with only a very light NE breeze.’ By yesterday morning that had changed to ‘…likely to be cooler than anticipated, damp/misty and windy…’
I arrived at Church Point to collect Pamela, Conrad and David & Dianne, and we set off for an afternoon and evening searching for Otters around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. A beautiful ghostly pale adult Mediterranean Gull in the car park provided a nice comparison with the Black-headed Gull it was sitting next to and in the heavy mist that was about as far as we could see at the start of the tour. Another Mediterranean Gull, this time a juvenile moulting into 1st-winter plumage provided an even more educational experience. Gulls may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they’re great for learning all of the basics of moult and aging 🙂 Cormorant, Little Grebe, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Heron and Lapwing were just about everywhere we went, Ruff demonstrated their obvious sexual dimorphism, Starling murmurations were developing in the misty gloom of mid-afternoon and Little Egrets were delicate, luminous, silently stalking along the water’s edge. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the edges of nearby fields but was subjected to continuous harrassment from corvids and a late brood of quite well-grown Swallows watched us from their nest. As dusk approached we were overlooking a stretch of water that I had high hopes for. Suddenly, hitherto unseen on the water in the dark shadows of bankside vegetation, Teal scattered in an almost perfect circle, including some that flew straight into the tree-lined bank and the impenetrable darkness was bisected by the typical line of bright water of the wake of an Otter 🙂 In the deep gloom of dusk, and the softening blanket of mist, it was proving difficult to pin down, and not everyone managed to, and the sequential flushing of Grey Heron along the bank hinted at it’s progress before it eventually surfaced near a group of Mute Swans, diving in a slightly more obliging location for a minute or so before it disappeared into the darkness.
My obsession with the weather forecast tends to intensify whenever we’ve got a pelagic wildlife trip coming up, and even more so when it’s one of our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings. In the far reaches of the Farne Deeps even a fairly benign wind direction like southwesterly (which isn’t a problem in nearshore waters) can produce ‘interesting’ conditions…
I’d been out on Friday carrying out survey work for the North East Cetacean Project, and the southerly wind had piled the sea up into a white-capped deep rolling swell. Sunday’s forecast was for similar, but Saturday looked as though we’d have a nice weather window 🙂 Heading north from the Tyne we had the wind and the swell behind us, so it was a fairly smooth journey. By the time we reached the edge of the Farne Deeps, having encountered our first group of White-beaked Dolphins along the way, that swell was up around 1.5-2m. Then the dolphins started to appear – a group of 10 were joined by more and we’d soon got up to 25 White-beaked Dolphins around us 🙂 At one point we had 11 bow-riding between the hulls, packed together like sardines in a tin, and another ten alongside us. Eventually they stopped playing and gradually peeled off to return to feeding, just before Anthony spotted a Minke Whale ahead of us…which proved to be two Minkes, an adult and a juvenile. As we headed back south, with a Harbour Porpoise putting in a typically brief appearance in a flat, glassy calm, sea and odd Sooty Shearwaters added to the day total (which was around 50) Anthony asked me if I would scan the horizon out the east through my binoculars, as he’d seen what looked like very distant splashing. Sure enough, there were the splashes, which eventually resolved into a group of at least 30 White-beaked Dolphins and a memorable end to a stunning day.
As a wildlife guide I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with the weather, and weather forecasts…
I arrived at Church Point to collect Steve and Christine ahead of a day around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland, and looking inland there seemed to be a lot of low, dense, cloud. The forecast suggested showers late morning, and a brighter afternoon, so we headed north along the coast with the intention of spending the first hour or so out in the open, before seeking the shelter of the various Druridge Bay hides once the poor weather arrived. A Kingfisher flew by, whistling, adding a touch of sparkling iridescence to the gloom as the first few raindrops began to add a dimpled pattern to the water’s surface. Suddenly it was dark, really dark, and the rain intensified as we drove to our next location. Then the heavens opened while Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Cormorant and Grey Heron just got on with whatever they were doing. House Martins and Swallows strung out in lines along telephone wires must have been seeing the long journey south as an even more attractive prospect 🙂 More Cormorants followed, as did even heavier rainfall, and then the weather started to break – passing through an extraordinary transition where we had bright sunshine, heavy rain and an incredibly intense rainbow low above the horizon as a juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered the nearby reedbeds. Lunch time overlooking the North Sea produced a beach with plenty of Ringed Plover scuttling around and then, for the afternoon, glorious sunshine brought out Painted Lady butterflies and dragonflies that weren’t going to hang around to be identified! Two more juvenile Marsh Harriers obligingly settled amongst clumps of rush before one of them engaged in a fruitless pursuit of an adult Moorhen, during which it flushed lots of Common Snipe. Our final juvenile Marsh Harrier delivered probably the most impressive spectacle of the day as it disturbed Lapwing and Curlew, forming a dense nervous cloud of birds as it passed by, and at least 17 Little Egrets. We finished the day with a walk through some mixed woodland in vastly improved weather, although the trees were now bending in the rapidly strengthening breeze.
Friday was the latest of our 2016 pelagic trips from Royal Quays and, once we’d recovered the participant who’d inadvertently headed to the ferry terminal, we sailed north east from the Tyne. A few Sooty Shearwaters passed by and one was rafting with Guillemots, Fulmars soared effortlessly in the stiffening breeze and an Arctic Skua (a worryingly infrequent find on our pelagic tours over the last couple of years) was harassing Kittiwakes. A feeding flock of Gannets revealed the location of our first White-beaked Dolphins of the day, unidentified (but obviously very large) cetaceans were breaching on the edge of the Farne Deeps and another small group of White-beaked Dolphins came alongside as the breeze, and swell, started building.
Heading inshore to calmer waters we decided to search the nearshore from Druridge Bay down to Souter Point. Everything seemed quiet and I’d just taken my usual ‘end of pelagic’ shot of St Mary’s Island when Teri said she was sure that she’d just seen fins breaking the surface near a pot marker. A couple of minutes of searching didn’t produce any more sightings…and then suddenly the sea erupted with Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂