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 🙂
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 🙂
In late June, a big part of the Farne Islands experience is the aerial bombardment you’re subjected to as Arctic Terns defend their eggs and chicks…
I collected John from Bedlington, Colin and Martin from Morpeth and then Sue from Old Swarland (for her 4th trip with NEWT). A breezy but warm morning brought Curlew, Yellowhammer, Grey Seal, Shelduck and a Brown Hare running though short vegetation right on the shoreline. After lunch overlooking the Farne Islands we boarded the St Cuthbert and headed out of Seahouses Harbour. We were soon being passed by Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Gannets and soon the unmistakeable sound, and smell, of the seabird colony reached the boat. Landing on Inner Farne brought the expected mob of angry terns and we watched the tiny beak of an Arctic Tern chick as it chipped way at the eggshell surrounding it. Fulmars arced along the cliff tops, Kittiwakes were hanging on the strong breeze just a few metres away from us, Sandwich and Common Terns flew by without molesting us and Puffins peeked from their burrows. As we walked through the courtyard a lady walked by in the other direction; head down, hood pulled up and explaining to her friends how she’s really scared of birds. Inner Farne probably wasn’t the best choice of visitor attraction then…
With a Farne Islands Safari on Wedneday, I’d been keeping an even closer eye than usual on the weather forecast and particularly the forecast sea state and swell height. 1m waves, strong NE winds and heavy rain wasn’t the most promising of forecasts…
I collected Paul and Rose from the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel and we headed north of Seahouses for a few hours birdwatching before our sailing across to the Farnes. A singing Reed Bunting was eventually located, and finally came out obligingly into the open, as Meadow Pipits displayed overhead and Sand Martins hawked back and forth low over the water. Gulls aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring all lined up obligingly next to each other for a mini-ID masterclass. A Shoveler escorted her ten ducklings across the pool as Coots fed young, Moorhens crept around in bankside rushes, Lapwing roosted in nearby fields and a Skylark, just a tiny dark speck against the clouds overhead, sounded inconceivably loud at the height it had reached.
Sitting and eating lunch overlooking the islands, the one thing that was really obvious was that the sea was calm, it wasn’t really windy and it wasn’t raining – so much for those forecasts then 🙂 We boarded Glad Tidings VII and headed towards the inner group of islands. Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were all heading back to their nests with food, Grey Seals were lazing around on the rocks and the sound, and smell, of the islands intensified. The onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake echoed off the cliffs and a leucistic Guillemot caught my eye as it sat on the rocks amongst all of it’s regular-coloured relatives.
Once we landed on Inner Farne, the Puffins took centre stage. We watched as they headed back towards their burrows, only to be harried by Black-headed Gulls. One Puffin dropped it’s load of small fish right next to us, it’s wingbeats whirring audibly just over our heads as it tried to evade it’s pursuers. Large, ungainly, and very, very fluffy Shag chicks had grown to big to be contained in their nests and the grumpy moaning of the assembled auks added to the wall of sound. Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns were all tending eggs or chicks, with the Arctic Terns being as feisty as ever, and a couple of them taking a particular dislike to Rose’s hat! As we walked back down the jetty to sail back to the mainland, Rose’s sharp eyes spotted one of those birds that are so cryptic in some habitats as a Ringed Plover dashed around between pebbles and rocks on the shore line.
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…