I am back on board the King of Scandinavia as the ORCA Wildlife Officer, and after 2 weeks off I am noticing the changing wildlife. As the season progresses, migrating and breeding animals have arrived and are moving through the North Sea. The North Sea is home to millions of sea birds and has some important populations of these breeding on its shores.
As we arrive into Tynemouth there are hundreds of Auks (razorbills, guillemots and puffins). They are rafted, sat together, or flapping by very low to the sea. Either heading out to feed from their nests nearby at Croquet, the Farnes or on rocky outcrops along the coast. The guillemots brave it out on the rocky ledges with razorbills slightly further back in the crags. Puffins breeding on the nearby islands’ loose ground dig or use old rabbit burrows to nest. It is easy to distinguish this family of black and white looking by their behaviour, as when the boat passes their instinct is to dive under rather than fly away. Having a similar niche, though not actually related, to Penguins, these birds are excellent pursuit divers. In fact, Razorbills have been videoed at over 120 metres down when surface diving for fish to eat. Having suffered heavily from the lack of bait fish, predominately sand eels in previous years, conservation measures are being put in place and their numbers are recovering at some sites.
Our “Netherlands” porpoises are putting in regular appearances, to the delight of the keen spotters out with me on deck watches. In fact an individual porpoise is so regular we are considering naming it! It usually involves an hour wait out of IJmuiden harbour into an area full of wind farms. The other hotspot is just before the mouth of the Tyne coming into Newcastle. Porpoises are semi-resident but will move into different areas over time. It will be lovely to see a calf travelling with the regular pod this summer.
Common terns are increasing in numbers in the harbours, and greet us screeching as they surface feed on the food the boat’s propeller brings to the water’s surface. These are long distant migrants with the Dutch and UK ones wintering mainly in Gulf of Guinea coast. Also known commonly as sea swallows due to their delicate flight, they are found breeding in areas where there are small fish and that are safe from ground predators.
Two new birds for me this first trip back were an Artic and a Pomarine skua, both flying towards the Netherlands coast in Southerlies. Marjan, a Dutch biologist and ORCA supporter, told us there is an excellent place for watching Pomarines off the Dutch coast which sounds like it is well worth a visit sometime….
Senior Wildlife Education Officer ORCA Organisation Cetacea