NEWT Pelagic 05/09/09

•September 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

After a few days of rain Saturday dawned bright and sunny and, with westerly winds, we wouldn’t struggle to get the SarahJFK well offshore.  Reasonable sea passage over the previous days led to quiet confidence.  Lines of communication were in evidence to two seawatching sites with good birds already that morning; Whitburn (Sabine’s Gull) and Newbiggin (Cory’s Shearwater).  Our first Mackerel stop produced just one fish – hardly likely to attract hordes of hungry birds to the boat – and we headed north.  With strong winds this was a real pelagic experience.  Eventually we found birds…and Mackerel.  Manx Shearwaters were passing by during nearly all of the 8 hours we were out, and a few Sooty Shearwaters were seen as well,

Sooty Shearwater 05/09/09 (c)Ross Ahmed

Sooty Shearwater 05/09/09 (c)Ross Ahmed

single Arctic and Great Skuas gave excellent fly-by views

Arctic Skua 05/09/09 (c)Ross Ahmed

Arctic Skua 05/09/09 (c)Ross Ahmed

and we headed further offshore to check out a feeding flock of Kittiwakes.  As Allan slowed the boat and we began scanning the birds – whenever we happened to be on the crest of a wave – Tim Dean announced calmly “adult Sabine’s at the right hand end of the flock”.  There it was, our prize for persistence and the panaceae to the physical hardship of a pelagic on increasingly choppy water.  Tim and Ross Ahmed both managed to take a few record shots of the bird.  Many thanks to both of them for kindly supplying their images.

(c) Ross Ahmed

Sabine's Gull 05/09/09 (c) Ross Ahmed

As we headed back towards the Tyne a flock of Roseate Terns were alongside the boat calling and we returned satisfied (especially the two birders onboard who are chasing a big year list this year)

NEWT Autumn Pelagics

•August 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The legendary Northern Experience Pelagic programme continues…

Saturday 5th September 2009 

An 8-hour pelagic departing Royal Quays Marina at 09:00.  Cost £45 per person.  Target species; skuas, shearwaters, cetaceans. One place remaining


Saturday 12th September 2009

Whale and Dolphin Cruise.  A 4-hour pelagic departing Seahouses Harbour at 10:00.  Cost £30/adult £20/child.  Target species; skuas, shearwaters, cetaceans


Saturday 19th September 2009

An 8-hour pelagic departing Royal Quays Marina at 09:00.  Cost £45 per person.  Target species; skuas, shearwaters, cetaceans. FULLY BOOKED


Saturday 21st November 2009

Tystie Trek.  A 2-hour pelagic departing Seahouses Harbour at 10:00.  Cost £30/person.  Target species; Grey Seal, Black Guillemot, seaduck


Saturday 5th December 2009

Seal and Seaduck Special.  A 4-hour pelagic departing Seahouses Harbour at 10:00.  Cost £40/person.  Target species; Grey Seal, Black Guillemot, seaduck


All of our trips are on boats which are fully licensed and insured to carry our clients.

Our pelagic trips from Royal Quays take place on the SarahJFK, a 44ft converted lifeboat which is used for sea-angling charters and for the last eight years has been chartered for our pelagic trips.  The boat offers an excellent vantage point for observation of wildlife.  All trips are limited to a maximum of 12 participants, allowing all on board a good opportunity to see any birds or cetaceans which are found.  Some truly outstanding opportunities for photography occur on our pelagic trips as well, with many birds being attracted very close to the boat.


Over recent years the pelagic trips have proved very successful and they are an excellent way to enjoy our offshore wildlife in the company of other birders who are always willing to help any less experienced participants.  More experienced birders may well find that the North Sea is a new frontier for their birding.  Pelagic birding is very unpredictable but highlights in recent years have included the 1st British North Sea Wilson’s Petrel (2002), Long-tailed Skua (2002), Sabine’s Gull (2005), Harbour Porpoise (2006), Minke Whale (2006 and 2007), Great Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater and Pomarine Skua (2007), excellent views of Sooty Shearwater in each of the last seven years and several very close encounters with White-beaked Dolphins.

Our Seahouses based pelagics are on one of the Glad Tidings fleet of boats, operated by Billy Shiel MBE.  The November and December trips offer an exclusive chance to search for wintering Black Guillemots and the seaduck that spend the winter months off the North Northumberland coast.

Participants should bring their own food and drink and warm/waterproof clothing.

To reserve a place on any of these trips, please contact Martin Kitching or (01670) 827465 and send a deposit of £10 per person per trip (cheque payable to ‘Northern Experience Wildlife Tours Ltd’, non-refundable if you cancel at a later date) to NEWT Ltd, 18 Frances Ville, Scotland Gate, Northumberland, NE62 5ST.  The balance of payment is due 2 weeks before sailing.

Like a millpond

•August 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The final Northern Experience evening pelagic of the year saw the best weather of the last three Fridays.  Demand for places was so high that we chartered a second boat, and collected nearly a full boat-load from Mill Dam, South Shields.  The plan was to take the two boats out in tandem; the ramifications of one boat seeing something good, and the other boat being out of sight, just weren’t worth contemplating.

Much like last week, Manx Shearwaters were much in evidence; presenting photo and video opportunities throughout most of the four hours that we were at sea.  We must have seen well over 100, not surprising when 250 were recorded passing Newbiggin yesterday evening.  Waders were in evidence; a Turnstone and a Sanderling flew side-by-side, heading south, and a fast-moving line of ‘curlews’ low over the sea were thought by one person on the SarahJFK to be Whimbrel.  Video footage taken at the time suggests that the minority view was the correct one.  A distant ‘V’ of birds above the horizon proved to be Curlew.  Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Gannets, gulls, gulls and more gulls all stayed close to the boats throughout the evening.  A lone Arctic Skua was pestering a group of terns, but there was no sign of the Bonxies reported by fishing boats earlier in the day.  A Moon Jellyfish passed along the length of the boat before dropping out of sight beneath the hull and the Fulmars were squabbling amongst themselves, almost close enough to touch.

As the sun began to set over the Cheviots, an orange moonrise was away to the east and coats were donned as the temperature began to fall.  As the atmospheric ‘at-sea’ experience gave way to the reality of sailing back along the Tyne, our total species count was announced as 22.  And then myself, Ipin, Janet, Joanne and Sarah headed into Tynemouth and the Gate of India; a sociable end to a typically sociable evening pelagic.

Out to sea

•August 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

With a love of seawatching, pelagic trips have played a big part in my life each summer for the last 10 years.  The second of this year’s Northern Experience/NTBC pelagics was yesterday evening and it proved to be a good one.  Initially there were very few birds to be seen, but then we started to find Manx Shearwaters, not just the ones and twos that we expect on a North Sea pelagic, but several groups in double figures, including 22 together.  At least 60 were seen in total.  As they passed by the barrage of long lenses on board, it sounded like a 1970’s typing pool.  Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin were all seen and there were good numbers of Fulmar, Kittiwake and a whole plethora of gulls, including a very dark juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull that kept impersonating something more interesting every time it rejoined the feeding frenzy around the SarahJFK.  A few Gannets were seen, although not as many as last week, and still no skuas.  Last year, and this, has seen a worrying trend developing; if we go back before then, we could almost guarantee Great Skua on our evening trips, now we’ve had five evening pelagics in two years with no skuas at all.

A couple of jellyfish attracted interest but quickly disappeared under the boat before we could get a good look at them.  One looked like a Blue Jellyfish and the other probably a Barrel Jellyfish.

Looking forward to next Friday…

Good seawatching on the way?

•July 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m spending this morning writing species accounts for Birds in Northumbria 2008, and the afternoon leading an Otter and Badger Safari, but I just checked some of my favourite weather sites…and there seems to be the potential for good seawatching on the northeast coast on Saturday morning.  Living just a short car journey from Newbiggin has some real advantages.  Here’s hoping.

Less than classic conditions

•July 29, 2009 • 2 Comments

Sometimes it pays to seawatch when conditions are less than ‘classic’, so this evening I headed to Newbiggin for an hour.  With not even a breath of wind, I was curious to see if there were any birds moving.  There were a few, and curiously enough they were all heading south – moving ahead of oncoming poor weather from the north maybe?

Manx Shearwater 14

Fulmar 12

Gannet 6

Kittiwake 50

Common Scoter 6 males

Why seawatch?

•July 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Pterodroma, a genus of seabirds that are enigmatic, beautiful and, particularly if you live in NorthEast England, very rare.  They’re just the sort of birds that encourage the sort of obsession that leads to long days sitting in the cold, wind and rain on east coast headlands, or long days on the North Sea, waiting and anticipating the appearance of a bird from a wave trough.  You know you’ve got it bad when you don’t feel the cold during a 14-hour seawatch and then, when you’re driving home with the car heaters on full, you don’t feel any change in temperature.

Possibly the most physically demanding aspect of birdwatching, but the one that can always lead to the unexpected.  That’s what I keep telling  myself anyway…