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Seal of approval

by on Dec.06, 2009, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne

Saturday was scheduled for our “Seal And Seaduck Special”  (sounds like a really bad curry concocted by the Farnes wardens to see them through the ‘hard times’, is in fact a 4 hour NEWT cruise around the Farne Islands and Holy Island).

The weather forecast hadn’t been particularly promising (that’s not entirely true – it had been promising…heavy rain and howling southeasterlies) but a ‘phone call to William on Friday raised the possibility that we would be able to run the trip.  As we arrived at Seahouses Harbour we could see Glad Tidings VI approaching with the wardens safely on board and their zodiac towed behind.  We had time to welcome David Steel back onto the mainland and then we all boarded and set out into a noticeable swell. 

The trip had a really good social event feel to it (as all of our pelagic trips tend to do); all three NEWT guides were on board, one of our clients was on her 5th trip with us (this time bringing two of her friends, for a trip they’ll probably never forget – for all the right reasons) and our friends Tim and Vera from Cottingburn House in Morpeth were among the other passengers.  Once we were across at the islands there were a lot of seals, and many of them were ‘singing’ their mournful song; surely the source of many legends of sea-monsters and mermaids.  1347 pups have been born on the islands this year and most of them have departed or moulted out of their cute baby fur already.  A Peregrine Falcon entertained everyone on board as it perched on the Pele Tower on Inner Farne before being pursued towards the Wideopens by a Herring Gull.  The next leg of our journey took us up to Holy Island and several Red-throated Divers flew by and a Great Northern Diver was on the water near Guile Point.  The weather changed at this point and sunlight illuminated Lindisfarne Castle.  We then began a slow run down the coast in search of seaduck.  Flocks of Common Scoter scattered well ahead of our arrival but Sarah managed to get some good images, showing the typical appearance of a flock of flying scoters;

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

We also encountered one of the most beautiful birds that winters off Northumberland – Long-tailed Duck.  Camera shy?  These birds made the scoters look like they were hogging the limelight;

Long-tailed Duck, the 'Stag Light' and St Aidan's Church

Long-tailed Duck, the 'Stag Light' and St Aidan's Church

The increasingly choppy seas were making photography frustrating but Sarah stuck gamely to it.  As she was using my camera, and a lens that she wasn’t familiar with, it was even more challenging than pelagic photography usually is.  As we passed by Bamburgh Castle (as impressive from the sea, if not more so, than it is from land) and then Monk’s House the tide turned the last 10 minutes of the cruise into a real experience.  That’s always the point when somebody on board reveals that they usually feel seasick on the boating lake in their local park…

Nobody was adversely affected by the swell, everyone saw plenty of seals, and the flocks of seaduck flying around us added up to a real winter pelagic treat.  We couldn’t have asked for more from our final journey into the North Sea for 2009.

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Quality…and quantity

by on Jun.13, 2009, under Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Our Otter Safari started later than originally planned – and finished a good while later as well. It started with a courting pair of Great Crested Grebes; entertaining us, and prompting the whirring of camera shutters and DV tapes. Then, they started to look very nervous; that’s often the first sign that there’s a predator at large. The second sign was when nervousness turned into rapid departure. Finally, an otter appeared on the water surface. Sleek, handsome and supple, it twisted, turned, dived and ate it’s lunch. After a short while underwater it surfaced – alongside a second otter! Down they went, and reappeared as a trio!! With several broods of ducklings around, the mother ducks went into a frenzy; feigning injury to distract the otters, which were carving through the water like porpoises. The chase brought them closer until, suddenly, they were less than 50ft from us; lazily floating along and fixing us with a stare that seemed to say “if only we were a bit bigger…”. With 2 video cameras running we recorded much of the action, so tomorrow will see it uploaded to our gallery and to YouTube as well. Wildlife may not always perform to plan, but our success rate with otters keeps on rising and, with a little patience, the views can be mind-blowing. After the otters we spent a while checking through flocks of terns and gulls and watched 2 Marsh Harriers drifting over a coastal reedbed. Finishing the day with even more quality wildlife, a Barn Owl was hunting exactly where Martin predicted. To join in the Northern Experience, check our calendar and look for Otter Safari (or ‘Otters and Badgers’ for an evening with a difference, or ‘Druridge Bay’ for an excellent day’s birdwatching in southeast Northumberland with the possibility of Red Squirrels, Otters and Roe Deer as well).

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“Much better than on the telly”

by on Dec.06, 2008, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Holy Island, Northumberland

The road beneath our wheels was a clear sheet of ice as we proceeded cautiously, past several drivers who hadn’t. The day promised clear skies and sunshine, but the strong northerlies overnight had whipped the sea up to the point where taking a boat trip would have been foolhardy at best. Of course, we always have a Plan B…so as the tide receded we were by the Holy Island causeway with a Landrover full of clients. Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit were all probing the soft mud as Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Shelduck walked along the water’s edge. Then, mayhem…waders in the air as far as the eye could see. Tight flocks of Dunlin and Golden Plover weaving this way and that. It could really only mean one thing…and there was that one thing – a Peregrine Falcon tearing through the maelstrom. Eventually it settled, sentinel-like, on the mud and the waders settled back down. At the other side of the causeway a flock of Twite were shuffling amongst the seaweed and we set out on a walk in the biting cold of this winter’s day. A Common Seal (not common at all in Northumberland) was feeding in the surf just offshore from the end of the Crooked Lonnen and a flock of Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing lifted from a field as a Carrion Crow harassed each bird that gained the prize of a juicy worm. A few Grey Seals were seen as well and we left the island, stopping to eat our lunch at a site overlooking the mudflats.

Heading south down the coastal route we eventually arrived in Druridge Bay. As a stunning sunset developed Whooper Swans flew over our heads, softly calling to each other, and a Starling roost began to form. Small flocks flew by on their way to this evening rendezvous, eventually becoming bigger flocks, and then there they were; above the skyline, twisting and turning like one amorphous being. More and more birds joined the throng until there were probably 10000, circling and circling over the roost site until the climax of the dance and the final headlong dive into the reedbed.

Like Rooks going to roost, Minke Whales feeding on Herring shoals, a Peregrine Falcon stooping at prey…a Starling roost really is a must-see.

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