Its migration time again and as larger whales head to warmer breeding grounds, dolphins and porpoise move with temperature and prey, the birds head south to winter, the basking sharks return to the depths and ORCA Wildlife Officers Kathryn and Stephanie will be leaving the ship for the winter; the North sea is still alive with wildlife activity.
Only the observant passengers will notice our feathered friends perched on the top deck, or tucked in out of the rain and wind, as the ship transects the North Sea; North to south and East to West. I am sad I will miss some of this spectacle but was lucky to catch a glimpse of the bold early migrants taking shelter on the ship to lessen their journeys. Our first identified migrant was a grey wagtail. A grounded yellow hammer brightened one trip South to IjmuidenThen a flock of 10 Meadow pipits hopped on board at North Shields and we got to watch them cheekily depart last minute into the dunes as we went into harbour at Ijmuiden. Later a House martin and starlings landed on board taking off again when they sensed they were close to land. Just as the innate need to migrate is triggered by the day length and temperature they also instinctively forage on the deck as they would do if they were in a field pecking for any insects and grains to eat on the newly painted deck.
Then you get the odd events such as passing a Jackdaw flying in from the sea which is an animal not exactly known for its migration activities! Then a young Cormorant flew in to the deck through a small open port hole on the bow, making a racket and a bit of a mess until it found its way off back to the sea. Other birds such as swallows fly over the ship looking down on us from above as they grab snacks in the air in-flight, I have even noticed a smug look on pigeons as they race off over open sea.
Great Skuas follow the passage of kittiwakes; that provide them with convenient lunchboxes to steal from. Further out Corey’s; the larger shearwater has been seen circling on the thick air that lies over the water. Pommarine skuas migate through the southern North Sea and in the Netherlands Martin Kitching (Northern Experience) out with Lin Treadwell (Zwanenwater) saw an Osprey at the Zwanewater reserve.
On the move into our route are seals popping up outside the harbours. Both Harbour seals and the larger Grey seals have colonies near both destination ports. But it wasn’t until September that we stated to see them a bit more regularly. Leaving Ijmuiden we had 4 sightings on 1 crossing including a grey seal bobbing up eating a large fish in its flippers.
So although the ORCA Wildlife Officers are going to be hibernating for the winter there is still much to see. So take a look around if you are out to sea and maybe you will see the whales, dolphins and porpoise that call the North sea their home. And when you do please post your sightings to our blog or visit the new Planet Whale website and let us know what we have missed!