Seal of approval

by on Dec.06, 2009, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, Grey Seal, Lindisfarne

Saturday was scheduled for our “Seal And Seaduck Special”  (sounds like a really bad curry concocted by the Farnes wardens to see them through the ‘hard times’, is in fact a 4 hour NEWT cruise around the Farne Islands and Holy Island).

The weather forecast hadn’t been particularly promising (that’s not entirely true – it had been promising…heavy rain and howling southeasterlies) but a ‘phone call to William on Friday raised the possibility that we would be able to run the trip.  As we arrived at Seahouses Harbour we could see Glad Tidings VI approaching with the wardens safely on board and their zodiac towed behind.  We had time to welcome David Steel back onto the mainland and then we all boarded and set out into a noticeable swell. 

The trip had a really good social event feel to it (as all of our pelagic trips tend to do); all three NEWT guides were on board, one of our clients was on her 5th trip with us (this time bringing two of her friends, for a trip they’ll probably never forget – for all the right reasons) and our friends Tim and Vera from Cottingburn House in Morpeth were among the other passengers.  Once we were across at the islands there were a lot of seals, and many of them were ‘singing’ their mournful song; surely the source of many legends of sea-monsters and mermaids.  1347 pups have been born on the islands this year and most of them have departed or moulted out of their cute baby fur already.  A Peregrine Falcon entertained everyone on board as it perched on the Pele Tower on Inner Farne before being pursued towards the Wideopens by a Herring Gull.  The next leg of our journey took us up to Holy Island and several Red-throated Divers flew by and a Great Northern Diver was on the water near Guile Point.  The weather changed at this point and sunlight illuminated Lindisfarne Castle.  We then began a slow run down the coast in search of seaduck.  Flocks of Common Scoter scattered well ahead of our arrival but Sarah managed to get some good images, showing the typical appearance of a flock of flying scoters;

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra)

We also encountered one of the most beautiful birds that winters off Northumberland – Long-tailed Duck.  Camera shy?  These birds made the scoters look like they were hogging the limelight;

Long-tailed Duck, the 'Stag Light' and St Aidan's Church

Long-tailed Duck, the 'Stag Light' and St Aidan's Church

The increasingly choppy seas were making photography frustrating but Sarah stuck gamely to it.  As she was using my camera, and a lens that she wasn’t familiar with, it was even more challenging than pelagic photography usually is.  As we passed by Bamburgh Castle (as impressive from the sea, if not more so, than it is from land) and then Monk’s House the tide turned the last 10 minutes of the cruise into a real experience.  That’s always the point when somebody on board reveals that they usually feel seasick on the boating lake in their local park…

Nobody was adversely affected by the swell, everyone saw plenty of seals, and the flocks of seaduck flying around us added up to a real winter pelagic treat.  We couldn’t have asked for more from our final journey into the North Sea for 2009.

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