Tag: Bottlenose Dolphin
Following an invitation from DFDS, I arrived at the Royal Quays passenger terminal on Saturday morning for the ‘Whale Tales of the North Sea’ event, celebrating 10 years of DFDS and the charity ORCA working together.
I spend part of my time working for MARINElife, but I’ve also been an ORCA member for nearly two decades and NEWT’s involvement with them goes back to 2010. when I led a familiarisation trip for the wildlife officers ahead of their season onboard. Our own Whale and Dolphin trips during the summer usually pass by one of the Newcastle-IJmuiden ferries, either as we sail out of the Tyne, or return at the end of the day, and the NEWT team enjoyed a mini-cruise to Holland in 2010 as guests of DFDS. We’d highly recommend it 🙂
Following a packed lunch, Michaela Strachan presented a series of short clips of some of her experiences with whales and dolphins around the world, which kept all of the younger members of the audience entertained. With only ~90 different species, cetaceans are poorly represented compared to terrestrial mammals (~4200 species), birds (~10000 species) and insects (~1000000 species, with potentially another 5-29000000 million species still to be discovered!). What they lack in numbers they make up for in sheer size, and some of the film clips demonstrated just how big they are.
Anna Bunney from ORCA gave a presentation about the cetaceans of the North Sea and there we have an even smaller range of species. Harbour Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin, White-beaked Dolphin and Minke Whale are all relatively common, but there’s a range of rarer visitors to the waters of North East England; Risso’s Dolphin, White-sided Dolphin, Killer Whale, Sperm Whale, Pilot Whale and Humpback Whale have all appeared in recent years and historical records contain some real oddities.
Educating people about the wealth of marine wildlife in the North Sea is something that ORCA and DFDS are doing really well, and the data that surveyors are gathering onboard is a valuable resource, combined with the ferry data gathered by MARINElife on other North Sea routes and the small-boat survey data from the North East Cetacean Project in Northumberland.
Many thanks to DFDS for the invitation to join them for the celebration with ORCA 🙂
If you’re not already convinced that our marine wildlife is awesome, here are a few pictures that should speak for themselves 🙂
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 🙂
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 🙂
I arrived in Seahouse to collect Jill, Pete, Liz and Bernie and we had a couple of hours on the coast before heading back to the harbour and boarding Glad Tidings. We were only just out of the harbour when the skipper slowed the boat almost to a halt…as a group of 5 Bottlenose Dolphins passed across our bow 🙂 We watched as they had a quick fly-by of another boat that was leaving the harbour and then they were gone.
As lines of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot passed by, there was a notable change in the weather. Blue skies and sunshine were replaced by cloud and falling temperatures, and a heavy mist was shrouding the islands. The Farne Islands are a surreal place as it is, but when some of the islands were just dark shapes in the mist they took on a whole different persona. The loud cries of Kittiwake echoed around the gullies, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern were all incubating eggs or chicks, a handsome male Red-breasted Merganser was sitting on the water just off the Inner Farne jetty and the whirling parade of Puffins carrying fish back to their nests was the focus of everyone’s attention, although female Common Eider sitting motionless on nests with small ducklings were greatly appreciated too.
With the first rain drops beginning to spatter on the car windscreen just after we returned to dry land we headed along the coast so I could reveal some of the better spots for wildife photography; what’s there? what time of day? what time of year? Then it was time to head back to Seahouses. Are the Farnes the best wildlife experience you can enjoy in England? Britain? the world? Possibly…
Pat and Jenny’s second day out with NEWT was to a location that really comes into it’s own during the winter…
Bar-tailed Godwit, Purple Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Common Redshank and Turnstone were all showing well on the rocks below us and I started scanning just beyond the bay, and there were 7 Bottlenose Dolphins heading south 🙂 One of them was an incredibly distinctive animal that we first encountered in Northumberland last winter and this latest sighting will be added to our database of dolphins re-sighted close to our shores. Heading across to Holy Island dense flocks of Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Knot filled the air and we enjoyed views of both Dark-bellied and Pale-bellied Brent Geese as well as Greylag, Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese. Skylarks put in an appearance too, always a nice bird to see as they’re scarce in Northumberland during the winter, and then potentially the bird of the day remained unidentified as a distant ‘ringtail’ harrier made a brief appearance in the dunes on the north side of the island before disappearing from view. The one that got away…
Our 2015 North Sea Pelagic season got underway at the end of June, with Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets galore, Guillemots, Razorbills and plenty of Puffins on the sea and a dense flock of Common Scoter towards the end of the evening. Despite sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin, White-beaked Dolphin and Minke Whale in the days leading up to the sailing, they weren’t hanging around any of their usual haunts. Perhaps our second evening pelagic of 2015 would bring better luck…
As I drove to Newton to collect Sue and Julian, the first few raindrops hit the windscreen of the car. My optimism that the rain would soon pass over was drenched, literally, by a torrential downpour that the windscreen wipers couldn’t cope with and which sounded like I was in a tin can being pelted with stones 🙁 We set off for Bamburgh, completely surrounded by storms and found a flock of Common Scoter and Eider on the sea, and a miserable looking Puffin on the beach. The rainfall left the air warm and humid, so as the afternoon passed into evening paths were covered in slugs and snails. Common Toad and Common Frog crossed our path too, and the air was alive with small insects – and a good handful of Common Pipistrelles hunting them. A Fox trotted along the edge of Cresswell Pond, where Avocets and Black-Tailed Godwit were roosting and feeding. A male Marsh Harrier flew by, causing consternation amongst the Swallows, and Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser both looked elegant as Mute Swans and Shelduck watched carefully over their young. A Whitethroat sang from rank vegetation just a few metres away from us, and dusk brought Swallows, Sand Martins and Starlings to roost.
The day will remain in the memory for years to come though, as a pod of dolphins put on a remarkable display. We’d just finished our picnic and I decided to have one last scan before heading up the coast. Top Tip – always have ‘one last scan’ 🙂 Close inshore I saw a small group of dolphins breaking the surface. White-beaked Dolphin should be here in a few days time, but these were big, dark animals and we soon confirmed that they were Bottlenose Dolphin. Now, these are big impressive animals, and we spent nearly 40mins watching at least 12 of them as they slowly travelled north. They weren’t just travelling though; synchronous breaching, tail-slapping, lob-tailing, spy-hopping, flipper waving and fighting continued as they passed by our viewpoint and eventually out of sight away to the north. I’ve spent a lot of time watching dolphins, both with clients and when carrying out offshore surveys, but I’ve never seen a group of dolphins so animated as these were. Wonder if they’ll be there for this evening’s pelagic trip 🙂
…I was mulling over the options for last light when the buzzing from my pocket told me I’d received a text message. Not from Sarah, but from Stephen “Hi Martin. If you’re stuck for Otters…”
A quick dash along the track back to the car, a quick car journey down the coast, and we were soon staring intently at a duck-covered pond. A little bit of panic amongst the ducks, but no sign of an Otter. We always want our clients to see the wildlife that they desire, but in this case Georgia was so excited at the prospect of seeing an Otter, and we’d put in so much effort in pretty unpleasant weather conditions, that I was willing one to appear…even though I know that’s not how wildlife sightings tend to work. With falling light levels I tend to put my binoculars down and just scan with my eyes, so that’s what I did, not just because that’s my usual approach but also because I was chilled to the bone from earlier in the afternoon, shivering and barely able to hold my binoculars steady…and a brief dark shape rolling at the surface in the middle distance was just what I was looking for. Switch to binoculars while giving directions to everyone else in the hide…and the Otter popped up into view 🙂 A second animal appeared briefly a couple of times but this one was obligingly hunting back and forth along the edge of a reedbed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a client so overwhelmed by wildlife, so much so that I could have cried. The Otter created a problem all of it’s own…there was no way we were going to get Georgia to leave the hide while it was still showing, and last food orders at The Swan were rapidly approaching. The girls knew what they were planning to eat though so a quick ‘phone call to Sarah, who was on her way to the pub, sorted the issue of getting their order in on time. Eventually it was so dark that Otter, reedbed and water’s edge merged into one and we headed back to The Swan.
I’d arranged to take the girls back to Newcastle to catch their train on Sunday morning, but a text from Alan changed our timings slightly and soon I was standing on the dunes at Cambois with Fran, Georgia and Sarah…watching a small group of Bottlenose Dolphins through the mist, rain and, yes, once again, bone-chilling wind 🙂
Our last couple of evening pelagics each year tend to finish in near darkness as we arrive back at Royal Quays. We have such long daylight hours during the middle of the summer up here, that it comes as a bit of a shock when it starts getting dark by 10pm 🙂 Yesterday was our final evening pelagic for this year, and conditions weren’t as good as they’d beeen on most of the previous sailings; a reasonable amount of swell, choppy surface and occasional whitecaps don’t make for easy observation. We knew where both White-beaked and Bottlenose Dolphins had been seen on Tuesday though, so that would give us a fighting chance. Guillemots were rising and falling with the swell, Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were following us throughout the evening and Gannets soared majestically on the breeze. A Grey Seal was bottling as we sailed by and, just off Lynemouth, we began making our way south. Then a call from Hector “Martin, over there!”. Three White-beaked Dolphins, then five 🙂 With a very small calf among them, this was another opportunity to study how their behaviour differs from dolphins without young calves, and our observations will be included in the next report of our White-beaked Dolphin research off Northumberland, and add more to the collective knowledge about these beautiful animals 🙂
That may be the end of our evening pelagics for 2014, but we’ve still got a few spaces on our Farne Deeps trips, which are our best trips for encountering White-beaked Dolphin and other marine mammals, on 12th and 28th August from Royal Quays, and our birdwatching-focused trips from Royal Quays on 23rd August, 6th September and 13th September. Our Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses on 30th August is an excellent introduction to offshore wildlife for all the family too 🙂 Give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details, or have a look at our North Sea pelagic page.
I know I may go on a bit about how wonderful Northumberland is but, even after more than 20 years living here, there are days when even I find it hard to believe just how good it can be…
I collected Colin and Hazel from the hills above Budle Bay and we headed south along the coast for an afternoon and evening around Druridge Bay. Colin was keen to improve his handling of his new dSLR, and they were also quite keen on searching for Otters. The afternoon started with some top quality birdwatching; Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Scaup, Common Snipe and Dunlin are all nice, but the standout bird was the Stilt Sandpiper that has been enjoying a tour of Cresswell and Druridge Pools over the last week. Arriving at our picnic spot just south of Cresswell, I mentioned that, with such good visibility and relatively calm seas, whales and dolphins are always a possibility, perhaps tempting fate to deal us a poor hand… A few minutes later I was scanning the sea out towards the horizon when I saw a splash. I raised my binoculars, to check that it wasn’t a distant boat, and there was another splash, and another, and another, then four together 🙂 As the synchronous breaching continued I trained the ‘scope on the area where the dolphins were, and was surprised to see that they were Bottlenose Dolphins. In early August, the default dolphin for the Druridge Bay coast is White-beaked Dolphin, and that’s the species we’ve been finding on our recent pelagic trips, but this has been an extraordinary year so I shouldn’t be too surprised to have found myself showing Bottlenose Dolphins to our clients too 🙂
The evening continued with some very obliging birds in front of Colin’s camera; Common Snipe, Dunlin, Linnet, a flock of Starlings taking a bath and an assortment of wagtails then, as light levels began to fall, we switched our attention to the patient waiting game of looking for Otters,as flock after flock of Starlings flew towards their evening roost. Soon, we were watching the sleek, sinuous shape of an Otter as it hunted and fed. It passed out of sight for a few minutes, only to reappear and surface just in front of a second Otter! A third one was slightly further way from us and eventually we watched as one of them came straight towards us before disappearing behind the reeds.
The day isn’t over ’til it’s over though, and Northumberland’s wildlife provided one last moment of magic as a Tawny Owl was perched on the road sign outside Colin and Hazel’s holiday let at The Ducket 🙂