Tag: Great Skua

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.

Northern Gannet,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching,Northumberland

 

 

Northern Fulmar,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching,Northumberland

 

 

Northern Fulmar,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching,Northumberland

 

blue Fulmar,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching,Northumberland

 

Mediterranean Gull,bird photography,pelagic birdwatching,Northumberland

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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.

Northern Fulmar,Northumberland,bird photography courses,wildlife photography tuition

Northern Gannet,Northumberland,bird photography tuition,wildlife photography tuition,pelagic trips

Northern Gannet,Northumberland,bird photography courses,bird photography holidays,wildlife photography holidays,pelagic trips

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?

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

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

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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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Life begins at 40

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Birdwatching, North Sea, Northumberland

Friday was our long-awaited pelagic to the Farne Deeps.  We’d originally planned the trip for August 12th, but the weather put paid to that 🙁  Rescheduling to September 3rd meant that four of the original participants had to withdraw because of other commitments, but we were able to fill those places and have a reserve list.  Birdwatching from a boat in the North Sea, with the possibility of cetaceans as well, is always an enjoyable way to spend a day.

When I arrived at Royal Quays just after 7.30 I was surprised to see that nine of the other eleven participants were already there; obviously eager to join Northern Experience on our ‘voyage into the unknown’.

As we left the Tyne we soon began to began to find Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins on the sea; all 3 species featuring regularly throughout the day.  Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes were all seen in good numbers (Kittiwakes in particular) and we continued to head north northeast, getting further offshore from the Northumberland coast.

I was watching the depth plotter carefully as we approached the edge of the deep water and, as I stepped out of the wheelhouse, thinking that things could get very interesting quite soon, almost collapsed as Allan shouted “Dolphin!”.  Within a minute we’d got two stunning White-beaked Dolphins bow-riding.  They stayed with us for 40 minutes, and during that time there were at least another three a little distance from the boat.  I managed to get ‘a bit’ of video footage 🙂

As if all the excitement of having the dolphins around the boat wasn’t enough, Geoff Morgan spotted a Grey Phalarope (Red Phalarope for any readers in the US).  After Geoff’s initial call it was 4 mins before the bird was relocated; sitting on the sea in front of the boat as we continued along with the dolphins.  The phalarope, as well as an excellent bird to see in early September, was a milestone as it’s the 40th ‘seabird’ (defined as those covered by Peter Harrison’s excellent ‘Seabirds: an identification guide’) to be found on pelagic trips off Northumberland since the first NTBC organised trip in 1987.

As well as the birds mentioned previously we also found;

Manx Shearwater 4

Sooty Shearwater 4

Arctic Skua 4

Great Skua 9

Typically, the Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas stayed well away from the boat but the Sooty Shearwaters  and Great Skuas were much more obliging 🙂

By the end of the day, nearly everyone on board had enjoyed lifers; the White-beaked Dolphins were a much sought-after species for Joanne and the result of a lot of effort 🙂  With the battalion of long lenses on the boat, there’ll be plenty of good quality images for the White-beaked Dolphin identification catalogue that forms part of the Northeast Cetacean Project.  We’ll be running at least two trips out to the Farne Deeps next year (date and cost tbc) so get in touch soon to register your interest.  With only 12 places available they’ll fill quickly.

After the 10hr marathon of the Farne Deeps, our 8hr pelagic on Saturday was just like a pleasure cruise 🙂  Again we had good numbers of Kittiwake, Gannet and Fulmar,  as well as some very obliging Sooty Shearwaters.  With some of South Tyneside’s finest on board, I was half-hoping that one of them would point his camera at the sky and randomly photograph a Cape Gannet 🙂  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  Never mind, there’s always next week…and the week after…and next year.

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