Tag: Arctic Skua

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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Out to sea

by on Sep.05, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

After a week in which I carried out 2 offshore surveys for the Northeast Cetacean Project, and attended a meeting of the PAW Marine Wildlife Enforcement Working Group, it was fitting to end with an 8hr pelagic off the coast of southeast Northumberland and Druridge Bay.  Birdwatching from a boat off our coastline has to be one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Saturday in early September, and this was no exception.

Most of the birds were concentrated well offshore and we had excellent views of Gannet, Great Skua, Kittiwake and Fulmar (including one of my favourite birds, a ‘blue’ Fulmar).  ‘blue’ Fulmar may be just a colour morph of our regular Fulmar but it’s an exciting bird on a pelagic, so I made sure everyone knew it was there, and we enjoyed several fly-bys and it kept diving into the melee while we were ‘chumming’.   Great Crested Grebe, Arctic Skua, Sooty Shearwater and Manx Shearwater all passed by but didn’t linger, a single cetacean was seen distantly and we engaged in some more ‘chumming’ just off Newbiggin with the intention of providing close views of Mediterranean Gull for all on board.

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A matter of timing

by on Aug.31, 2011, under Bamburgh Castle, Birdwatching, Holy Island, Northumberland

Being in the right place at the right time is so critical to everything we do; if we’re searching for Otters we need to be there when they rise from their slumber and become active, if Badgers are the target for the trip then arriving the correct length of time before sunset is important, and if we’re visiting Holy Island then timing is a real key to success.

I set off up the A1 with Jo on board, and collected Paul from Bamburgh.  The plan for the day was a simple one; spend a few hours birdwatching on Holy Island, then leave as the tide was rising and check sites down the coast towards Bamburgh.  From the top of the Heugh, we scanned across the sandflats whilst listening to the ghostly moaning of a group of Grey Seals.  An Arctic Skua was harassing the roosting terns and gulls, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits were probing along the water’s edge, Grey Plover, many of them still in their incredibly beautiful breeding plumage, seemed to be everywhere that we looked and a Kestrel chased a Peregrine through the dunes around Snook House.  Back on the mainland we found a Whimbrel in a group of Curlew, our second Peregrine of the day beat a menacing path along the shoreline and there was a real surprise in the shape of 5 Pale-bellied Brent Geese.  Budle Bay produced a Little Egret, a flock of 150+ Grey Plover and a distant feeding frenzy of Gannets that could be seen above the breaking surf.  Finally, as the tide begin to crash against the dunes in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, we watched as a flock of Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Sanderling and Dunlin braved the onrushing waves for longer than the human visitors to the beach 🙂

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A tale of 3 pelagics

by on Aug.04, 2011, under Druridge Bay, North Sea, Southeast Northumberland, White-beaked Dolphin

After our stunning pelagic on Friday, we had 3 more evening trips in 5 days, all concentrating on the southeast Northumberland coast.

Saturday was a massive contrast with Friday; only 2 brief White-beaked Dolphins, but Gannets and Fulmars were in great abundance and 3 Great Skuas, 2 Manx Shearwaters and 5 Sooty Shearwaters added to the birdwatching interest.

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Monday was the day that the weather forecast was really, really wrong.  Just 20 minutes out of the Tyne, the heavens opened and most on board headed for the shelter of the wheelhouse.  With the North Sea appearing to be coming to the boil, fortune favoured the brave, and the 2 participants who stayed on deck with me during the deluge were the only ones lucky enough to see the White-beaked Dolphin that surfaced just a few metres away from us.  Manx Shearwaters, Arctic Skuas and lots of Gannets provided entertainment once the rain had ceased, but the dolphins remained elusive.

That brings us to yesterday evening.  A very calm sea and cetacean reports from earlier in the day (12 unidentified dolphins south past Tynemouth at 06:30, porpoises just off Cullercoats from the SarahJFK and 2 White-beaked Dolphins in Newbiggin Bay at 17:15 all seemed to bode well).  We’d just passed between the Tyne piers and started to head north when we came across 8 White-beaked Dolphins and 3 Harbour Porpoises!  After enjoying several views of them, I explained to all on board that it isn’t usually that easy and we continued north.  Arctic Skuas were seen as we passed St Mary’s Island but the real entertainment began when Andy spotted a distant fin north of Blyth.  After a wait of several minutes the dolphins began to surface in ever-increasing numbers, eventually we were surrounded by over 30 animals bow-riding, breaching and milling about.  As the dolphins began to drift away, presumably to feed once they’d finished playing with our boat, we continued north into Newbiggin Bay.  Our return journey produced more dolphin sightings, including one animal repeatedly ‘spyhopping’, and some incredible views of animals swimming slowly around the boat.  The only downside (if there really was a downside) was the murky, overcast conditions made it seem like dusk almost from the moment we set sail.  We can choose times/dates appropriate to what our clients want to see, we can use our knowledge and fieldcraft to maximise the chances of encountering any desired species…but we can’t control the weather.  Wouldn’t it be a dull life if we could though?

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White-beaked Dolphin,Northumberland,dolphin watching trips,whale watching trips,wildlife photography holidays

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Deeply moving

by on Jul.29, 2011, under Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland

Yesterday brought a new product to the NEWT stable, as we launched our first RIB trip to the Farne Deeps on Ocean Explorer.

As we headed southeast at a speed of 27knots Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Storm petrels were seen.  In less than an hour we were over the edge of the deep water, and the first cetaceans of the trip were spotted; 2 fins were seen, and just a few minutes later we found ourselves surrounded by White-beaked Dolphins 🙂  At least 6 animals, including a calf, came to investigate the boat – bow-riding, racing past within a few metres of us and, for the lucky crew member with the wetsuit and camcorder with underwater housing, performing like the stars that they are.  Eventually they vanished back into the deep as unexpectedly as they’d arrived, and we watched for a Minke Whale that surfaced to breathe just once.

After an exhilarating ride around some of our offshore waters, we finished with something a little more familiar to most of our clients and a sailing around the Farne IslandsGrey Seals watched us from the rocks as some impressive white surf rolled along the edges, and an Arctic Skua (the only one of the trip) harrassed terns as we headed back towards the harbour.

We’re running 3hr evening trips on Ocean Explorer on August 2nd, 9th, 16th and 25th, searching down the coast to Dunstanburgh and back up to the Farne Islands for seabirds and cetaceans.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out more and book your place, or click here to book now.

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The icing on the cake

by on Jul.18, 2011, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Otter, Southeast Northumberland

As the rain hammered down while I packed the car ready for Sunday’s Otter Safari I was filled with optimism; the weather forecast (really, I should stop believing these…) suggested that the afternoon and evening would be dry and bright.

When I arrived at Church Point Marc and Marika were already there, and we were joined by Becky and Jim soon after.  The trip was a present for one of each couple, and we set off for an afternoon of birdwatching combined with searching for Otters.  First stop was one of our Little Owl sites, and Becky’s sharp eyes picked out a juvenile bird that was doing a very passable impression of a stone.  Our next stop, beside the River Coquet, produced Common Terns fishing, flyby Curlews (and a discussion of separation from Whimbrel), 4 Common Sandpipers and some impressive thunderstorms away to the north and west of us.

A heavy shower as we reached the NWT reserve at East Chevington kept us in the car for a few minutes, during which time we were entertained by a family party of Stonechats.  As the rain eased we walked to the hide overlooking the north pool.  Amongst the throng of Common, Sandwich and Arctic Terns and Lapwings were 3 adult Knot, still in breeding plumage.  Suddenly the entire roosting flock lifted, and the unmistakeable figure of a Spoonbill flew across our field of vision.  It seemed intent on landing, but the constant harrassment from the terns meant that we were treated to several flypasts, including one where it was just 20m away from us.  As if this wasn’t spectacular enough, 2 Little Egrets appeared, while the Spoonbill was still circling, and were subjected to the same treatment.  Eventually a semblance of calm returned and we watched a juvenile Marsh Harrier as it pranced comically in the wet grass, presumably eating worms that had been brought to the surface by the rain, and a second juvenile harrier harrassed by crows.  Another creature to benefit from the rain was a very young Hedgehog busily eating worms and, in a real ‘aahh’ moment, pausing briefly to sniff the air.

Our picnic stop, overlooking the southern end of Druridge Bay, produced rafts of Eiders and Common Scoters, the piping calls baby Guillemots rising from the waves below, Gannets and Sandwich Terns plunging into the sea, at least 3 Arctic Skuas and the majestic lumbering menace of a Pomarine Skua passing south just offshore.

Changeable, showery weather often produces good sunsets, and this was no exception; as a band of steel grey cloud drifted along the horizon, sunlight shone through a narrow gap, fading from gold to orange to red to pink.  And there, in the reflection of the dramatic sky, was the main event – an Otter, twisting and turning, creating panic among the waterfowl, perched imperiously on a boulder and then vanishing into the deepening shadows of the water’s edge.  Clouds of Noctule Bats and Common Pipistrelles swirled overhead, occasionally passing within a few feet of us, a female Tawny Owl called from the nearby trees, and the scene faded to darkness…

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Bird Watching Magazine Reader Holiday Day 3: 09/07/2011

by on Jul.13, 2011, under Birdwatching, Coquet Island, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Southeast Northumberland

On Saturday morning our destination was Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland and another poor weather forecast ( a bit of a running theme during the holiday…) suggested that we may well get wet.  An addition to the mammal list for the trip raced across the road ahead of us; a Stoat – an endearing predator and one of NEWT’s favourite animals.

We arrived in Amble for our sailing around Coquet Island with Dave Gray’s Puffin Cruises; as Dave manoeuvred the excellent Steadfast into the harbour, the rain arrived from the northeast.  The sailing around the island produced excellent views of Roseate Terns, as well as Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots.  As we sailed in a wide arc from the island to begin the journey back to the harbour an Arctic Skua was harassing terns away to the north.  Four more Arctic Skuas were followed by a real seawatching prize as a Pomarine Skua lumbered menacingly by before settling on the sea.    Our final Arctic Skua flew over the harbour just before we docked and I suggested that the Country Barn Coffee Shop at Widdrington would be the best destination once we were back on dry land.

Refreshed, dried and ready to go we visited the NWT reserve of East Chevington.  The tern roost allowed close comparison of Common and Arctic Terns, but the bird described by one participant as ‘bird of the holiday’ was a superb male Marsh Harrier.  A juvenile harrier appeared briefly over the reedbed as well, but the male perched for several minutes on a fence post.  Just after we reached Druridge Pools, the heavens opened, lightning flashed, thunder rolled and 2 Wood Sandpipers bobbed along the edge of the main pool.  A trip to Cresswell, and the most northerly breeding Avocets in England, followed and we all enjoyed  views of a very obliging Brown Hare, Little Gulls and both Little and Great Crested Grebes.  Another excellent evening meal and entertaining conversation (including David’s comment about Captain Birdseye in a cape..a reference to my appearance during the Coquet Island trip), concluded our final night in Seahouses.

As I put my coffee cup and glass of orange juice on the table at breakfast on Sunday morning I looked out over the harbour and the words “it’s a glorious morning” were quickly followed by “and there’s a Spoonbill!”.  Everyone rushed to the window to watch, as Northumberland delivered a fantastic finale to the holiday; poor weather forecasts, some stunning downpours, big seas, beautiful weather, iconic landscapes, excellent birdwatching…all in four days!

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Northumberland; Birdwatching on the high sea

by on Sep.19, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Yesterday was our final full-day pelagic for the year.  With a couple of late cancellations, ten of us boarded the SarahJFK and headed out to sea.  Before we reached the end of the Tyne piers there was already a bit of swell…

Once we were out and heading offshore it was exhilarating, with an often icy westerly breeze and long rolling waves from the north.  Small groups of Pale-bellied Brent Geese passed by during the day and a small group of Greylag Geese and Pink-footed Geese as well – a sure sign that the autumn is here.  There was an almost complete absence of Fulmars, leading to speculation about what these enigmatic seabirds are doing when we can’t find them, and only one Manx ShearwaterArctic Skuas were a bit thin on the ground, but we did find a good pelagic prize – a sub-adult Pomarine Skua that passed by with two Great Skuas.  Excellent views of the latter species, and some stunning Sooty Shearwaters were the highlight of the day, and there were lots of Kittiwakes and Gannets, although that accolade could have gone to the 2 White-beaked Dolphins that were seen briefly on 3 occasions late in the afternoon.

Northumberland birdwatching, pelagic, Great Skua

Great Skua or 'Bonxie'

Pelagic, Birdwatching Northumberland, Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Pelagic Birdwatching Northumberland Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater - the epitome of grace

The swell proved a bit too much for some participants so, in between scanning for birds and cetaceans, I spent some time providing sympathy and advice for the worst of the stricken 🙂  Don’t let that put you off signing up for any of next-year’s pelagics though; it’s actually quite unusual for anyone to be really seasick on one of our pelagics, but the big swell (probably originating a few days ago from the near the north west coast of Norway) combined with a strengthening westerly breeze was a freak combination of conditions that managed to hinder the enjoyment of all the birds around the boat for a couple of the girls.  I was once asked, by someone who was a self-professed non-sailor, why I would spend so much time on a small boat in the North Sea…I think that now I would just send them a link to the images in this post and the videos in my Farne Deeps trip report

We’ve got one more pelagic this year, around the Farne Islands, Holy Island and the Skate Road on Saturday December 4th, so give us a call on 01670 827465 for further details or to book.

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Birdwatching by boat off the Northumberland coast

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Birdwatching, Farne Islands, North Sea, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

Now, you shouldn’t need to read too many of my blog posts to realise that seabirds and cetaceans occupy a special place in my heart, and that I’m in my element once I’m on a boat off the Northumberland coast.

Saturday was our annual ‘Whale and Dolphin Cruise’ on Glad Tidings V, out of Seahouses.  With 36 participants, including the other NEWT guides (Sarah and Andy), all safely on board we set off down the coast.  We were soon enjoying views of two Arctic Skuas and then panic on the deck as our eagle-eyed skipper spotted two Sooty Shearwaters off to one side and everyone rushed to see them.  These ocean wanderers are one of the great sights of pelagic seabirding in the North Sea at this time of the year.  For one participant though the real excitement was the bird sitting beside the shearwaters; a Puffin 🙂  It’s a few weeks too late to see them at their breeding colonies, but I’d told Sam that we had a good chance of coming across one.  Throughout the day we found a few more, as well as plenty of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots  and a few Razorbills.  Perhaps the best entertainment of the day was provided by several feeding groups of Gannets, throwing fountains of water into the air as they hit the sea.  There was clearly a lot of fish for them to eat, and it was real mystery to myself, Sarah, Andy and John that there were no cetaceans feeding in the same areas.  Oh well, if they weren’t so mysterious it wouldn’t be such an adrenaline rush when we do find them I suppose.  A lone Manx Shearwater avoided the boat, as they tend to do, and we headed northwards to the Farne Islands, hoping to see the White-tailed Eagle that has been there for the last week.  We were in radio contact with other boats so we knew it had just killed a Shag and was eating it.  As we neared the islands our one cetacean for the day appeared, a Harbour Porpoise just to one side of the wake of the boat.  Just as we arrived, the eagle crept into a cleft between a grassy bank and some rocks so only one or two people managed to get a glimpse of it’s head as it dropped out of sight.  Grey Seals were playing, splashing and racing around and we headed back into the harbour, after a marathon effort by our skipper and everyone on board.  We’ve already set the date for the 2011 Whale and Dolphin Cruise – Saturday September 10th so put it in your diaries and give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place.

Blue skies, calm sea, what more could you wish for?

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