Tag: Harbour Porpoise
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 🙂
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.
Yesterday was our annual Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses and, after Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Fulmar, Puffin and Guillemot, the marine mammals put in an appearance. Harbour Porpoises were typically brief and shy, but the White-beaked Dolphins drew plenty of ooohs and ahhhs from everyone on the boat 🙂
We’ve got very limited places available for our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings on 2nd, 10th and 24th September, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to reserve your place before they’re all filled!
Starting at Newbiggin we set out south down the coast and soon found ourselves standing on a track with nine Blackbirds ahead of us, along with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and House Sparrows. Little Grebes slept and dived as young Grey Herons stalked along the water’s edge and demonstrated just how inelegant they are in flight – and especially in landing 🙂 A lunchtime stop overlooking the North Sea produced rafts of Eider, Fulmars arcing effortlessly over the waves and a Harbour Porpoise feeding just offshore as Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone explored the shoreline. The afternoon was dominated by waders; Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin. Greenshank, Oystercatchers arriving for their high-tide roost stunning in beautiful light against a dark brooding sky and Common Snipe demonstrating their exceptional camouflage in amongst clumps of rush. Stonechats flicked their tails nervously from precarious perches on barbed wire and Goldfinches, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs swarmed in rank vegetation and nearby trees.
See you at the Bird Fair next year 🙂
It’s always a pleasure when clients who haven’t met before get on so well with each other. Of course they always have a shared interest in wildlife, and other shared interests feature regularly (camping, walking and cycling in particular), and long quests in search of an elusive species soon become a talking point…
I arrived at Church Point for an afternoon/evening search for Otters, and quickly met up with John, then Lucy, Matt and Graham and finally Kate. Conversation quickly turned to Otters, and the pressure was ramped up when Kate revealed that her attempts to see an Otter had stretched over several holidays…and eight years 🙂 Conditions weren’t promising – a howling wind that was tossing Starlings and Lapwings around and a male Marsh Harrier was battling into the breeze, almost at a standstill. Whitecaps on a pond is never a situation that fills me with joy on an Otter safari, and we continued checking all of the likely locations. Mediterranean Gull, Avocet, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Grebe and Yellow Wagtail were all added to the bird list for the day, Kate spotted a Red Fox creeping into the reeds, but there was still no sign of the sinuous predator. Early evening, the conditions changed 🙂 The wind died off and the sea was suddenly very calm, so much so that we were able to enjoy watching Harbour Porpoises from our picnic spot. Things were looking up…
We settled into position at the site where I’d planned to spend the last couple of hours of daylight, enjoying a chat with Cain, then the day suddenly got really interesting. First a Barn Owl, white death on silent wings, ghosted by just a few metres away from us. I concentrated on an area of water with very few birds on it – often a good indication that there’s something the birds are unhappy about. Scan left to right – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan right to left – two Little Grebes sleeping, scan left to right – three Little Grebes sleeping? The third Little Grebe didn’t look quite right…which wasn’t a surprise as it was an Otter with just it’s nose sticking up through the blanket of weed on the water’s surface 🙂 A quick text to Cain and he joined us again, and the Otter entertained us for an hour. Emotional at seeing her first Otter, Kate still grabbed her camera, pointed it down the eyepiece of our ‘scope and started filming it 🙂 The magic continued, as a Long-eared Owl flew around the edge of the bushes in front of us before perching on a fence post, baleful orange eyes staring at us. Then a second Otter swam across in front of us, while the first one was still hunting in the darkening gloom and the eeirie cries of Curlew coming to roost cut through the chill evening air.
mid-Summer can be a quiet time for birdwatching, but there are some days where everything just falls into place…
I arrived in Seahouses to collect Nigel and Barbara for a day birdwatching further south on the Northumberland coast, and we headed towards Druridge Bay in beautiful hot summer weather. With a flat calm sea we started with a little while seawatching. Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Eider and Fulmar were all flying by, but our attention was gripped by at least 6 Harbour Porpoise, including a mother with a very small calf 🙂 Moving on we watched the elegant trio of Little Egret, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit. There were at least 22 of the latter, in a mixed roosting flock with Lapwing, Wigeon, Curlew and 9 Mediterranean Gulls of varying age. More gull interest came in the form of 8 Little Gulls, also with a range of ages. A Sedge Warbler clambered to the top of the reeds briefly before dropping out of sight and breaking into song, a male Linnet looked garishly pink, male Stonechat and male Reed Bunting vied for the award of ‘most attractive’ and we steadily made our way north. Male and female Marsh Harriers impressed, as they always do, Great Crested Grebe sailed serenely by and our wader count for the day rose, with Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank. A quick ID masterclass was helped by Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls all sitting in a line, surrounded on both sides by Cormorants.
Nigel had mentioned a species that they hadn’t managed to see previously, and as the cold wind cut through the overcast conditions – did I forget to mention the weather had changed 😉 – we went in search of it. “Curlew…curlew…curlew…stripy mean-looking face with shorter bill”, and there was another ‘lifer’ for Nigel and Barbara – a Whimbrel, and a great way to end the day 🙂
Our penultimate evening pelagic had near perfect conditions, calm seas, good visibility – and recent sightings of White-beaked Dolphins in our regular search area…
Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Gannets and Fulmars were expected, but we had a real surprise in the shape of three Harbour Porpoises. In proper porpoise style they didn’t approach the boat, but they didn’t beat a hasty retreat either so everyone managed to see them. We began making our way back south, closer to the shore, but there was still no sign of any dolphins. An interesting sunset over St Mary’s generated a rainbow over the mouth of the Tyne and a remarkable ethereal atmosphere with the quite flat water.
Then, as we approached the mouth of the river, Allan spotted something splashing between the piers. Might be Harbour Porpoise? Might be Sea Trout or Salmon? No, neither of those, as two White-beaked Dolphins breached at the entrance to the Tyne and then swam across in front of us and back again before heading offshore, as daylight faded to black 🙂
One of the oddest pelagics in 17 years of organising them. Started with absolutely mirror-calm sea, bringing some of the best photographic opportunites with Fulmar, Kittiwake and Lesser Black-backed Gull that I’ve ever encountered, progressed through sightings of adult and calf White-beaked Dolphin, adult and calf Minke Whale and Harbour Porpoise, then on to flocks of Common Scoter appearing out of the descending mist…and finished with visibility down to less than 50m!
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.
Our annual Whale and Dolphin Cruise on Glad Tidings V is one of the highlights of our North Sea Pelagic programme. With over 40 people booked on to this year’s sailing, we were going to need to be organised and efficient getting everyone on to the boat – luckily I’m married to Sarah, so organisation and efficiency just seem to happen to me 🙂
Saturday was also the first day of our Whales, Waders and Wildfowl holiday, so I collected Bill from The Swan and we drove north, pausing in Amble to collect Ruth as we passed through. Warm, sunny, windy and with plenty of whitecaps offshore were conditions that could make finding cetaceans tricky. As we sailed south we came across a raft of Gannets, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters and plenty of Grey Seals ‘bottling’ amongst them. There wasn’t any sort of feeding activity of note though, but eventually we managed brief views of a small group of Harbour Porpoise nearby. Continuing on our way, there was a sighting of Minke Whale from the front of the boat…just as I watched a White-beaked Dolphin breaching away to the east 🙂 Eventually we had seven or eight dolphins around the boat, allowing everyone on board the opportunity to enjoy close views of our favourite cetacean. As we made our way slowly back towards Seahouses, two more Minke Whales appeared and we’d struck gold, silver and bronze in one trip 🙂
Probably my favourite pelagic of all of the North Sea pelagic trips that we run (although I enjoy all of them immensely!) is our 10hr Farne Deeps – Northumberland’s ‘Ultimate Pelagic’. The forecast looked about as promising as it gets and I arrived at Royal Quays in good time, to discover that most of our participants were already there 🙂 This was just a day before I would be heading south to the British Birdwatching Fair and five of our participants would also be visiting Rutland over the coming weekend.
As we sailed north east we soon found our first cetaceans of the day, a small pod of Harbour Porpoise. 10 minutes later our progress northeast was slowed as we enjoyed prolonged views of a Minke Whale. Continuing towards the Farne Deeps, a deep-water offshore area that I’ve been interested in since the late 1990’s and the North East Cetacean Project has been surveying since 2009, we encountered our first White-beaked Dolphins of the trip. In an interesting rolling swell seabirds were passing by too; Fulmars, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, Great and Arctic Skuas and the occasional Puffin all attracted interest. Small groups of White-beaked Dolphins were found in locations where we expected them before we headed further offshore to the area that we’ve shown to hold large aggregations of dolphins in the mid-late summer. Almost exactly where we would expect them to be we found several dolphins breaching. Others began bow-riding and soon there were groups of White-beaked Dolphins in every direction; tail-slapping, breaching, spy-hopping and just generally performing. Eventually as many as 60 of these stunningly beautiful dolphins were in view and all of the photographers on board were busy filling their memory cards. 16 years of organising North Sea pelagic trips and they just get better every year 🙂