Sunday, 12 December 2010

Little Auks, Long Tailed Ducks, Seals and More.

Distant, snow covered Cheviots, as we set off.

No nesting birds, but plenty of Grey Seals and atmosphere.
Blue skies as we approach Holy Island.
Bamburgh Castle, with calm seas and sun.

11th December. With icy and snow covered roads causing the postponement of our pelagic last Saturday, Tom and I had had our fingers crossed all week. I’d written up the first paragraph of the report during a cold period during the week, but as the weather and seas were so kind to us today I have had to scrap the details of Captain Pugwash and first mates daring battle with massive waves and storms at sea. In the event the sun shone all day and only on occasions did the cold manage to get through the layers. A thaw had been well under way and our journey to Seahouses showed us that many fields were under water. We saw a few Common Buzzards on the way.

As we waited to board our vessel we found the first of the days Purple Sandpipers as three Shelduck flew southwards. Once on the boat and on the move towards the Farne islands we soon had a good sighting of our first Little Auk. The first of the day for us, and in fact, a lifer for both Tom and I. Not easy to admit that as a birder who lives near the north east coast! As the day went on we reckon we counted at least eleven Little Auks and all were seen well. Could have been thirteen, but we think Two may have been seen twice.

The journey around the Farnes was really interesting. Different of course from summer when every where is alive with nesting sea birds, but the atmosphere was none the less enjoyable. We did have lots of Shags to keep us company. The sea I guess could be described as calm, but still there was enough movement and seawater spray to add to the excitement of being out there. Once in amongst the Grey Seals I found the experience quite eerie, with the only the sounds of the water, the boat and the calling Grey Seals. There were of course pup seals around. The photographers amongst the party were well rewarded, but in the main I was happy just to watch and listen. We had a distant view of Long Tailed Duck, but needn’t have concerned ourselves as there were plenty more of those to come. Common Scoter and Eider Duck were plentiful. Golden Plover, Curlew, Turnstone and more Purple Sandpiper were seen on the islands as were Rock Pipits.

We eventually headed for Holy Island and this was when we started to get some really good sightings of numerous Long Tailed Ducks. One flock numbered about twenty-five. The boat got very close to them on several occasions before the birds were put to flight. I’d initially thought we had seen certainly over fifty Long Tailed Duck during the day, but on reflection I think we saw many more.

We found a few Guillemots but I didn’t catch up with the Black Guillemot although it was seen very briefly. It didn’t matter as there was so much to keep us interested. More flocks of Common Scoter, a pair of Scaup, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, and both Great Northern and Red Throated Divers. A flock of Teal flew overhead.

The boat took us to Holy Island and it was interesting to look at this area from the sea. I missed the Slavonian Grebe but it was seen by others. I really felt the cold at one point, but that seemed to be put right by a bite to eat and a cuppa hot coffee. Bar-tailed Godwit was seen at St Cuthbert’s Island, where I have watched them before, but from dry land. Having had a good look around this area we then made for a return to Seahouses as a flock of pale bellied Brent Geese circled us overhead and many more Long Tailed Duck and Common Scoter appeared. We were surprised to find two adult Gannets. The sun was shining brightly in a clear winter sky. Conditions could not have been better and I commented at one point as we got close to Seahouses, that it felt as though we were on a gentle river journey rather than the North Sea in winter! However when I had tried to take a photograph Bamburgh castle and a wave had hit the boat I had been reminded of where I was. The castle was silhouetted against the sunlit sky.

I love being out on open water. I think it is simply the open space and quietness that does it for me. I have being developing a growing interest in sea birds, so today had been a great experience and once again an atmospheric day. I’ve been on pelagic trips in various parts of the world but never off the Northumberland coast. This one was of course organised by Martin Kitching and Sarah of Northern Experience Wildlife Tours Thanks go to Martin and Sarah and also to the crew of the Glad Tidings. I’d recommend this trip to anyone. I’d certainly like to repeat it and I am sure Tom feels the same way.

Before we left Seahouses we found a Grey Plover near to the harbour and a Grey Heron was standing close to the sea. Traveling back via the coastal route give us a chance to see more of the flooded areas along with at least one more Common Buzzard, Sparowhawk, Common Snipe and the flock of Pink-Footed Geese at Cresswell. A nice ending, to a great day.


  1. yes it was quite an experience, the sight and sounds of the seals, the birds i had never even heard of before, let alone see!!and to view Lindesfarne, Ross Back Sands, Budle Bay and Bamburgh was well worth the trip.


  2. Hi jeph. Aye, I think everyone left feeling well satisfied. Cheers. Brian.