Our second successive day on and around Lindisfarne was accompanied by an incredibly stiff breeze, which contributed to a fascinating encounter…
I collected Andy, Jill and Catherine from The Swan and we collected Alison en route to the north of the county. Waiting for the tide to clear from the causeway, we spent the first part of the day on the mainland. Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Curlew, Common Redshank and Knot were all close to the edge of the breaking surf as Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Slavonian Grebe braved the icy bite of the wind out on the exposed sea. Teal, Wigeon, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Dark-bellied Brent Geese grazed on the newly-exposed areas of mudflat as the tide fell and a stunningly handsome drake Pintail flew by. Grey Seals hauled out on exposed sandbars and, over on the island, we watched a Kestrel, holding position in the breeze, as another raptor found itself in a bit of difficulty…
Between the island and the mainland, a Sparrowhawk was beating a desperate path into the wind. Struggling to make headway, its task was made all the more difficult by the attention of a Herring Gull. Exposed, and really not in its element, the Sparrowhawk was driven back by the wind as the mob of gulls began growing. Time and again it flew towards the mainland only to be brought almost to a standstill by the breeze and harassed by the gulls into turning back towards the island. Eventually it dropped towards the sea before accelerating across the gap, just a few feet above the deadly waves, and was lost from sight as it neared the relative sanctuary of the mainland. If there’s a rule when watching wildlife it should be ‘expect the unexpected’ 🙂
Our fourth North Sea Pelagic for 2015 had a reasonable weather forecast – overcast, but should have been otherwise ok…
Quite good visibility meant we were soon watching Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot, Puffin and Razorbill…then the rain started. Sailing through what appeared to be low, and very wet, cloud we came out of the other side of it and continued north. Then ahead of us, we could see weather that we really didn’t want to be sailing into. We decided to turn back south and have a slow journey close inshore as the almost obligatory flock of Common Scoter flew by. I suggested an area to Allan that I thought would hold White-beaked Dolphins towards dusk…and there they were 🙂
Heading north on the third of our 4hr evening North Sea Pelagics, the rate at which Gannets, Fulmars and Manx Shearwaters were passing by suggested that the wind was going to make the journey back south a slightly different proposition 😉 Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill were sitting on the sea, but not in the numbers of the previous two sailings and, as we turned south, the journey home was into a stiff breeze with low glowering cloud that meant it was nearly dark not long after 9. A dense flock of Common Scoter, tossed on the breeze, passed by in the gloom as we made our way back to port, and our thoughts turned to Monday and our next sailing.
Our second North Sea Pelagic of 2015 was accompanied by the usual cast of Fulmar, Kittiwake,Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin, and we sailed north a few miles from the shore. Passing Newbiggin, Bruce spotted a whale heading north, and I managed a brief sighting of it although it was travelling north rapidly and lost in the swell. We were just about to turn south again when there was a moment of pelagic magic 🙂 Allan and Jimmy spotted a distant fin to the north, and there was a growing flock of Gannet, Kittiwake and Fulmar in the area where the fin had been spotted. Then a Minke Whale surfaced amongst the birds 🙂 Once I was sure that everyone had seen the whale I started a 360 degree scan – past experience suggests that good feeding often attracts multiple Minkes…and it was soon clear that there were two whales to the north of us and a third to the south 🙂
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…
Our Bespoke Photography ‘Birds in Flight’ workshop was a day out for Max and Nigel – Max’s prize for winning the ‘Young Person’s’ category at last years North East Wildlife Photography Awards.
We met up at Newbiggin and drove up the coast to Seahouses. Before sailing across to the islands, we had a session covering ‘birds in flight’ techniques and camera settings, with Kittiwakes and Fulmars as the guinea pigs for Max to practice various techniques. In a stiff breeze, the birds were proving quite challenging – passing a few feet above our heads into the breeze and then racing back with the wind at their tails 🙂 Once on St Cuthbert II we were soon surrounded by an almost limitless supply of photographic subjects; Grey Seal, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and, the most surprising sight of the day, a Rock Pipit dripping with water and holding a small fish! It was a great day out with two talented photographers, and I’m hoping to see more of Max’s images displayed at the wildlife photography awards evening on July 9th 🙂
Sunday dawned bright and breezy, but thankfully not quite so breezy as Saturday…
I arrived in Seahouses and met Greg, John and Lee for their bespoke Farne Islands photography workshop. We were booked on an afternoon sailing to Inner Farne, but we started on the clifftops around Seahouses, practicing techniques for photographing birds in flight. Kittiwakes and Fulmars make great subjects for practicing techniques, prior to landing on Inner Farne – which is a little bit more hectic 🙂
Sailing on Glad Tidings IV we were soon surrounded by Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Grey Seals. The cliffs were a hive of activity and once we landed on Inner Farne we braved the Arctic Terns as we explored the varied photo opportunities that the island offers. ‘Puffin with beakful of sandeels’ was top of the photography target list for the day, and that was soon ticked off, before we enjoyed an extended stay on the island before leaving on the last boat of the day.
Our Farne Islands Beginners Photography Workshops on June 28th and July 11th still have spaces available so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place, or get in touch if you’d like a bespoke photography day 🙂
Wednesday’s weather was a complete contrast to Tuesday as I collected Mike and Janet from Dunstan Steads. This was their second trip with NEWT, after a Lindisfarne trip last November, and today we were heading across to the Farne Islands.
Starting on dry land, we watched Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine as Skylarks soared overhead, Sandwich Terns plunged into the sea and Gannets soared by on the gentle breeze. Crossing to the islands on St Cuthbert II, we soon had streams of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills passing by as Grey Seals popped their heads up out of the water around us and Kittiwakes called their name around the cliffs. Once landed on Inner Farne we came under attack by the feisty Arctic Terns 🙂 Common Terns and Sandwich Terns kept themselves to themselves as Black-headed Gulls attempted to rob any Puffins that flew back in with fish, Common Eider and Shags continued incubating eggs and brooding chicks, apparently unconcerned by the presence of so many people, and amidst the mayhem and noise of the tern colony one call stood out. ‘Choo-it, choo-it’ grabbed the attention as a ghostly Roseate Tern flew around the lighthouse and then off towards the mainland, and we had another four encounters with this beautiful species befopre we departed for the mainland 🙂
Tuesday was our first landing trip to the Farne Islands this year, with the breeding season well underway for some species, and only just getting started for others.
I collected Sally, Ian, Ben and Hannah from Waren Mill (you’d be surprised at how well hidden a holiday cottage can be in such a small village…) and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island for the first part of our day out, soon encountering Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Common Buzzard. Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ offshore, Whitethroat were singing their scratchy warble from the tops of hawthorn bushes, Brown Hares were chasing each other in and out of dense crops and a group of Sandwich Terns feeding close to the shore were joined by a single Little Tern.
After lunch it was time to head across to the islands, onboard Glad Tidings IV, and we soon had lines of Guillemots flying past, Gannets soaring effortlessly by, Puffins on the water close to the boat, Ben and Hannah spotting jellyfish in the clear still water and the extraordinary experience of the cliffs on Staple Island, up close and personal with the sight, sound, and smell of a seabird colony. Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags may be the staple (sorry, please excuse the pun!) fare of the islands precipitous cliffs, and Grey Seals always grab the attention of everyone on board, but the highlight for many of our clients over the last seven and a half years has been landing on Inner Farne. Female Common Eiders, easily overlooked as they sit quietly on their nests, are remarkably approachable and Puffins are a firm favourite, particularly with clients who are taking photographs, but there’s little to compare with being dive-bombed by an angry Arctic Tern 🙂 Ben had his camera with him, so we spent a while watching the behaviour of the Puffins, determining what they were about to do just before they did it (the secret to great wildlife photography…) and Ben was soon taking some impressive flight shots as birds flew back towards their burrows after fishing forays out to sea. After returning to the mainland, passing dense groups of terns and Kittiwakes as they plunged into shoals of small fish, we spent some time scanning the mudflats of Budle Bay, as Eiders with ducklings swan along the Waren Burn and Curlew probed in the soft gooey mud.
Always an impressive day out – we’ve lived up here for over 20 years and still marvel at the stunning wildlife spectacle of a trip to the Farnes each time we head across there. It’s Thursday now, so we’d like to say “Happy Birthday Hannah” 🙂
Our rearranged Farne Islands photography workshop was a second day out with NEWT for Bryan, and a chance for him to take on the challenge of Puffins in flight 😉 We sailed across to the islands on Glad Tidings IV (returning at the end of the afternoon on St Cuthbert III), and amidst the chaos of Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags we worked on camera settings for action photography, but also on the elusive, almost instinctive skills that need to be developed to capture flight photographs of such a fast moving target. At one point we swapped cameras, with Bryan taking on the physical challenge of the substantial lump of kit that is a Nikon D300s and 70-200mm f2.8 lens 🙂 As he settled into a smooth panning action, aided by the weight of my camera/lens, and began taking the shot at just the right time, he switched back to his camera with Puffin after Puffin captured through the lens, and I grabbed a couple of shots myself 🙂