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 🙂
We’ve got a busy few weeks coming up, giving talks locally, exhibiting at the Scottish Bird Fair and delivering the bird identification training courses for the North Pennines WildWatch programme. Once that’s out of the way, we’ll be into our busy period for trips out with clients, and then delivering more training courses – this time on offshore wildlife survey techniques for MARINElife/North East Cetacean Project and our local Wildlife Trusts.
With all of that in mind we had a weekend in the North Pennines, staying at Saughy Rigg Farm and making an early start on Saturday to visit a Black Grouse lek. Armed with our new Telinga Pro8W and Stereo DATmic…we sat in the car with the heaters on as the temperature hit 3C and it started snowing 🙂 We could see the grouse – they were sitting huddled in clumps of rush, looking decidely miserable – but they weren’t performing (at least not early on Saturday morning). A ghostly-pale Short-eared Owl braved the elements, quartering the grassland in search of prey, and the mic picked up the sound of drumming Snipe, calling Curlew and cackling Red Grouse, but once the Blackcock started lekking they were upwind of us and the wind tunnel effect of trying to record them led to a change of tactic and concentrating on photography.
Over the course of the two days, we had excellent views of Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Snipe, Redshank, Curlew, Brown Hare, Roe Deer and Rabbit. The maze of little roads throughout the area offer lots of photographic opportunities so we made the most of them 🙂
Saturday saw an early start and a long drive south to Far Ings Nature Reserve in the shadow of the Humber Bridge. The reason for our journey was that Martin was one of the MARINElife researchers delivering a training course for potential volunteer researchers. MARINElife have survey teams on several passenger and freight ferry routes around the UK, gathering data on whales, dolphins, porpoises, seabirds and other marine wildlife, and those survey teams are made up of volunteers. Consistency and credibility of the data gathered is ensured by land-based training sessions, followed by ‘on the job’ training alongside experienced research team leaders.
If you would like to get involved, and add to the valuable sum of knowledge that we have about our offshore wildlife, then you can contact MARINElife through their website or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we can point you in the right direction. We’re always keen to add new surveyors to our North East Cetacean Project research team, and you’ll get your hands-on training off the beautiful Northumberland coast.
On Saturday we led a wildlife walk on Holy Island. Grim, murky drizzle on the way north looked less than promising but, as we approached Beal, the weather improved and stayed fine throughout the walk. Possibly the highlight of the day was all of the birds on the Rocket field flushing as two Peregrines flew menacingly above the pools. The journey home produced our rarest sighting of the day, at least in a Northumberland context, when we watched 3 Bewick’s Swans in a field south of Alnmouth.
Sunday really was a case of something completely different, as I headed out to the Farne Deeps for the latest Northeast Cetacean Project survey. The project, which is been run by Northern Experience and Marinelife with our funding partners; Natural England and the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, has several strands, with the surveys backed up by postcards that we’re distributing to local charter boats and marinas so they can submit their sightings, an analysis of all the records and reports we can find for the last 7 years and, coming soon, a website that will allow online submission of whale and dolphin sightings off Northumberland. Meanwhile, back on the boat…my survey team on Sunday was made up of Alan Tilmouth and Ross Ahmed who were part of the team on our surveys back in December, Tim Sexton who was on our blizzard-hit survey two weeks ago and Dan ‘Punkbirder‘ Brown. Highlights were a Common Dolphin and a small group of Little Auks.
Yesterday saw the Landy having it’s 6-monthly safety test. Unsurprisingly, with the work put in by Sandy to keep the mechanical bits working smoothly, and the electrical work that Darren has done to ensure that when you flick a switch what happens is what should happen, it passed again. Peace of mind for our clients, and the NEWT Landy will keep rolling around Northumberland, delivering them to top-quality birdwatching and wildlife experiences.
Now it’s Tuesday and I’ve got 50 miles of offshore survey ahead of me. Bring it on!
Not something I particularly enjoy but I’m currently trying to juggle at least four separate projects ahead of the ‘busy season’ starting in February. That means a lot of time in the office and birdwatching limited to our garden and the edge of Choppington Woods. After a couple of months of the Chaffinch flock containing almost exclusively male birds (the species scientific name Fringilla coelebs means ‘Bachelor Finch’ – a reference to the habit of male and female birds wintering separately in parts of it’s range). now though, the girls are back. The party’s over, boys.
This morning has seen the Press Release about an exciting offshore survey project that NEWT is a partner in. Working with Natural England and Marinelife, with additional support from the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, we’re furthering the existing knowledge of seabird and cetacean distribution in the North Sea.
As I look out of the window this morning there’s a howling northerly and it’s snowing. Back to the wintry weather 🙂 and a weekend of birdwatching, photography and filming wildlife ahead for all three NEWT guides.
I’ve just finished my 3rd consecutive day of survey work (ok, today was just a couple of hours around dawn, but you get the idea).
Friday and Saturday saw me up to 20 miles offshore, leading a survey team of Alan Tilmouth, Ross Ahmed, Allan Skinner (our boat skipper) and Jimmy (erstwhile SarahJFK crew member and very diligent data-recorder). Friday didn’t look promising as we drove to Royal Quays in thick fog, and the marina was mired in the gloom as well as we met up with Tom Brereton from Marinelife. However, once out of the Tyne we quickly passed out of the fog bank and into some stunning weather.
Yesterday had overall better visibility but slighty lumpier seas, as we covered the area from Blyth to Druridge Bay. Having completed about 80 miles of transect surveys in 2 days we’ve already gathered a lot of seabird data. The North Sea (which is relatively small) seems pretty big when you’re far enough offshore to not be able to see any land. When 3 experienced seawatchers look around and say “we don’t really have a clue what’s out here do we?” then it hammers home the importance of what we’re doing. Having found Puffins on both surveys so far, and five Little Gulls on Saturday, we’re all eagerly anticipating the rest of our winter surveys. We’ve got a few spaces on most of the survey trips (which will run when the weather allows us the opportunity) which are available for a contribution of £20/person/trip (a much lower rate than our commercial pelagics trips in July-September). Give us a call, wrap up warm and join us on a journey into the unknown.
On dry (well, drier) land, Sarah and myself set out this morning for the December Icelandic Goose Census.Two Barn Owls were a bonus in the bone-chilling temperatures. Last month I drew a blank with our goose monitoring and this month was hardly any better; just 3 Greylag Geese at the roost site that is designated as part of the census. Looks like we’ll be out again at dusk, trying to locate the birds as they fly to roost.