Tag: Sooty Shearwater

Weather window; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 10/09/16

by on Sep.12, 2016, under North Sea

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.

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Don’t stop believin’…; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 02/09/16

by on Sep.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay, North Sea

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.

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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 🙂

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Never mind the Balearics…

by on Oct.12, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Sea

…here’s the Bonxies.

Watching the weather forecast during the week, and having a day on Holy Island on Thursday with Malcolm (trip report to come soon!), convinced me that there was somewhere I needed to be at dawn on Friday.  Arriving at Church Point in the half-light there were a few cars already parked, and a wander along to the point with Mike H found the owners of those cars already intently scanning the angry-looking sea.  Andy McL, Tim C., Eric B., David D. and Jimmy S. were all clustered around the ‘seawatching hut’.

It would be good to be able to report that I’m thoroughly domesticated and house-trained and, after the few hours I’d planned to spend seawatching, I went home, via the supermarket to do the grocery shopping, and did all of the housework.  However, back in what Sarah refers to as ‘the world according to Martin’ that couple of hours to see if there was any movement of seabirds turned into a plan to stay until 12:00…then mid-afternoon…and finally, as the light faded to the point where you could hallucinate the sort of sightings that Ellington’s second best birdwatcher * was enjoying a few miles to the north of us, I gave up just after 18:00.  11 hours on Church Point, but a not-too-shabby day list;

Black Guillemot 1

Great Crested Grebe 1

Pale-bellied Brent Goose 20

Dark-bellied Brent Goose 2

Long-tailed Duck 4

Goldeneye 9

Velvet Scoter 15

Shoveler 24

Red-throated Diver 24

Black-throated Diver 3

Great Northern Diver 7

Manx Shearwater 53

Sooty Shearwater 62

Balearic Shearwater 2

Great Skua 261

Pomarine Skua 3

Long-tailed Skua 3

Arctic Skua 8

Red-breasted Merganser 7

Little Gull 3

Arctic Tern 1

‘blue’ Fulmar 12

Short-eared Owl 1

*Ellington’s best birdwatcher is, and it really goes without saying, Iain’s better half, Janet 🙂

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Whales and Dolphins; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 31/08/13

by on Sep.03, 2013, under Birdwatching, Grey Seal, MInke Whale, North Sea, Northumberland, White-beaked Dolphin

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 🙂

Northern Gannet,Morus bassanus,North Sea,Northumberland,North Sea Pelagics,whale watching, dolphin watching,whale watching Northumberland,dolphin watching Northumberland

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White-beaked Dolphin,Lagenorhynchus albirostris,North Sea,Northumberland,North Sea Pelagics,whale watching, dolphin watching,whale watching Northumberland,dolphin watching Northumberland

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Deep water; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 14/08/2013

by on Aug.27, 2013, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland, White-beaked Dolphin

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 🙂

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Supporting cast; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 19/07/2013

by on Aug.06, 2013, under Birdwatching, Grey Seal, MInke Whale, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, White-beaked Dolphin

In late July there are a few species that we’d be amazed to not find on a North Sea pelagic trip; Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet are all great birds to see, and are all part of the experience that is the North Sea in mid-summer.  There are other species that can overshadow the regular cast list though; Sooty Shearwater is a real ‘birders bird’, close views of any of the skuas grab the attention and, with seabirds covering such vast distances, there’s always the possibility of something completely unexpected.  But, for crowd-pleasing spectacular there’s little that can compete with our marine mammals.  Grey Seals often pop their heads up as we pass, but the real awe-inspiring species are whales and dolphinsOur previous pelagic had been illuminated by Minke Whales but on this trip we were confident of finding a different species.  Ten years of finding, studying, and mapping the distribution of, White-beaked Dolphins gives us a narrow target area to search in the third week in July…

As we headed north, a shout from Jimmy alerted everyone to the presence of a small pod of dolphins ahead of us.  Sure enough, the White-beaked Dolphins came across to investigate our boat and we soon had 12 of them around us 🙂  Once I was sure that everyone had seen them – which didn’t take too long! – I waited for them to surface alongside us so that I could take photographs of their dorsal fins.  Through a combination of NEWT pelagic trips and survey work for the North East Cetacean Project, we’ve built up a catalogue of individual White-beaked Dolphins off the Northumberland coast.  Having been the first pelagic tour operator to regularly find White-beaked Dolphins off the Northumberland coast, and the only one to have contributed to the Marine Conservation Zones project, we’re proud to have been involved in leading the way in groundbreaking research to map the distribution and abundance of White-beaked Dolphins. We’d like to thank all of our clients who’ve contributed, and continue to contribute, to the catalogue too 🙂

Of course, dolphin dorsal fin images aren’t the most exciting shots you can get, and the glassy calm water produced lots of other interesting possibilities…

White-beaked Dolphin,Lagenorhynchus albirostris,Northumberland,North Sea,North Sea pelagics,dolphin watching Northumberland,whale watching Northumberland

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Every cloud has a silver(y) grey lining

by on Sep.25, 2012, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Our final full-day pelagic for 2012 was on Saturday and, although I was really looking forward to it, it’s always a shame when we reach the end of our offshore season.

With strong winds on Thursday, and charter boats cancelling trips on Friday, I still felt that we’d be able to sail.  We gathered at Royal Quays just before 09:00 and boarded the SarahJFK.  Brian spotted a Great Spotted Woodpecker just after we set sail, and as we headed downstream we could see a little bit of swell and a few whitecaps offshore.  A skein of Pink-footed Geese high overhead were heading south, and we weren’t too far out of the river when we had our first skua of the day; and it was one of those ‘is it, isn’t it?’ moments as what was probably a dark Pomarine Skua flew north low over the waves.  Three Great Skuas were heading the same way, and another one later caused a ‘dread’ amongst the birds gathered round a fishing boat.  Fulmars and Kittiwakes were with us throughout most of the day and Gannets were soaring by on the breeze.  Our first Sooty Shearwater was in a raft of gulls behind a trawler, and we had at least five more during the day.

As the swell began to ease slightly we were 8 miles off Cresswell, heading north west, when I saw two small waders flying up and over a wave crest.  As they dropped onto the sea I shouted “Grey Phalaropes!” and called to Allan to stop the boat.  Eventually we all had excellent views of these two tiny birds as they bobbed about in the swell.  They were the 2nd and 3rd that I’ve seen on pelagics I’ve organised, following the 1st out in the Farne Deeps in 2010.

Grey Phalarope,Northumberland,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching trips,pelagic wildlife trips

Grey Phalarope,Northumberland,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching trips,pelagic wildlife trips

Grey Phalarope,Northumberland,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching trips,pelagic wildlife trips

We headed towards the coast, and turned to make our way back towards Royal Quays.  Our only Manx Shearwater of the trip was followed soon after by a Pomarine Skua, found by Cain, six Red-throated Divers (including four flying south together), 42 Pale-bellied Brent Geese heading north, 20 Wigeon and 30 Common Scoter.  With only one Manx Shearwater, and no Arctic Skuas at all, this was quite an unusual pelagic but, if you like waders, and you like seabirds, then phalaropes are a dream bird 🙂

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A Whale of a time on a millpond

by on Sep.09, 2012, under North Sea, Northumberland

Our ‘Whale and Dolphin Cruise’ has become an integral part of the Northern Experience Pelagics annual itinerary, and with an excellent weather forecast for yesterday’s sailing (and some detailed discussions between Martin and our skipper, John) optimism was running high.

As we boarded Glad Tidings 5 with 50 clients, there was a really sociable atmosphere.  Plenty of returning clients, and lots of new faces, were soon scanning the sea all around the boat.  Martin started in the wheelhouse with John and they soon spotted a distant whale surfacing.  The quite young animal surfaced again as we passed, another could be seen away to the north near the Farne Islands, and we headed in the direction of a feeding frenzy of Gannets.  Another whale appeared, then another, and another.  All told, in 4 hours we had 5 or 6 different Minke Whales 🙂  Gannets provided a spectacular wildlife experience as vast flocks plunged into the sea in search of Herring, 3 Sooty Shearwaters soared effortlessly past the boat, a single Great Skua carved a path through the circling mass of Gannets, Fulmars glided by on stiff outstretched wings, a small flock of Kittiwakes lifted from the water as the boat approached, and one of the largest cheers of the day came when a small pod of Harbour Porpoises surfaced just ahead of us.  Martin was kept busy, answering lots of questions from our very enthusiastic clients about whales and dolphins in the North Sea, and managed to grab a few images as well 🙂

Sooty Shearwater,Northumberland,North Sea,pelagics,bird photography

Sooty Shearwater

Northern Gannet,pelagics,North Sea,Northumberland,bird photography

Northern Gannet

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Northern Gannet

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Minke Whale

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Minke Whale

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Minke Whale

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Minke Whale

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Long, lazy swell

by on Sep.19, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Grey Seal, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Southeast Northumberland

When I was on the coast just south of Cresswell on Friday evening, I didn’t hold out much hope for Saturday’s pelagic going ahead;  a menacing sea, with waves forming towering peaks, didn’t look likely to abate.

However, the sea is often fickle and Saturday saw nothing more than a long, lazy swell as we set sail into the North Sea for a day of offshore birdwatching along the coastlines of Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland.  Conditions changed throughout the day with, at times, the sea as calm as a millpond.  3 ‘Blue’ Fulmars, 5 Great Skuas, a probable Pomarine Skua, 3 Arctic Skuas, 5 Sooty Shearwaters, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Manx Shearwaters, Teal, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Gannets, Mediterranean Gulls and Swallows! were all appreciated and a Grey Seal and 2 Harbour Porpoises added some mammalian interest.

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The whistling wind

by on Sep.13, 2011, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Saturday’s Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses turned out to be an excellent few hours of birdwatching off the Northumberland coast.

As we left the harbour, the swell of the tide had the boat rocking gently up and down.  A mile or so later and we were in what I think of  as ‘proper’ pelagic conditions; choppy sea, lots of whitecaps, an eerie wind whistling around the boat…and birds everywhere.  The atmosphere when the North Sea is like that is filled with anticipation.  A Pomarine Skua, athletic, muscular and menacing harrassed Kittiwakes, our first Great Skua of the trip (the first of several) lumbered by, Arctic Skuas flew along the wave troughs and the fragile, delicate figure of a Long-tailed Skua headed north in the rapidly strengthening wind.  Fulmars soared effortlessly by, small groups of Gannets, those masters of efficient flight, featured throughout the trip and Sooty Shearwaters, a real seawatcher’s bird, entertained as they circled the boat.  Added to that there were Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Manx Shearwaters and Herring, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls  and Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Roseate Terns.  With so many whitecaps, and some ‘interesting’ swell, we weren’t fortunate enough find any cetaceans, but one participant summed up offshore wildlife so well “You’re on a boat, it’s an experience, enjoy it, you never know what you’ll see.”

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