Posted by: orcaweb | April 22, 2015

White-Beaked Dolphins, Seals and birds galore!

08/04 – 17/04 2015

Week 1:

Hello everyone, my name is Ruth and I am a new Wildlife Officer on board the DFDS King Seaways, rotating with Rachael every 2 weeks.

Following last year’s Wildlife Officer Season volunteering with ORCA over the Bay of Biscay, I was certainly ready to get back into surveying whales and dolphins again. My cruise survey to Norway in March was also a great warm up to the season, seeing my first White-beaked Dolphins, many Harbour Porpoises and an unexpected Humpback Whale! All species, previously seen in the North Sea!

After the launch of the new centre, and Rachael piloting the season, I was eager to meet the crew and explore the ship and the sea alike. The first crossing to Amsterdam however, did not present idea conditions with a sea state 5 revealing many white caps to confuse with sightings. The next morning’s conditions improved, but presented little in the way of cetaceans (the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises). Instead though, I was treated to the sights of Cormorants, Egyptian Geese, Great Crested Grebes, Oystercatchers, Shelducks and Great Black-backed Gulls as the ship sailed into Ijmuiden, Holland.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

Shelduck

Shelduck

The following morning heading back towards Newcastle revealed excellent conditions. It was whale watching heaven with mirror calm seas, no waves or ripples in sight! I didn’t have to wait long as accompanied by two keen birders, I saw a Harbour porpoise skim the surface. Only a few minutes later a pod of 8 White-beaked dolphins appeared! They came right up to the bow of the ship gracefully skimming the water’s surface. Some swam so close, that I had a great view of their white beak (thought not to always be white), and could even see them underwater as the sea was so flat, clearly able to see the ghost-like appearance of their pale saddle patch behind their dorsal fin!

White-beaked Dolphins

White-beaked Dolphins

White-beaked Dolphins

White-beaked Dolphin

White-beaked Dolphins

White-beaked Dolphin

White-beaked Dolphin underwater

White-beaked Dolphin underwater

With calm seas revealing all activity, a number of puffin pairs were visible sitting on the water. Other birds such as Guillemots were also clear to see. I also saw a tiny bird (possibly a warbler species) flittering around the ship, likely to have been living on board as a stowaway).

Puffins

Puffins

Stowaway bird

Stowaway bird

Approaching port, with Tynemouth in sight, I also caught a glimpse of a grey seal swimming at the surface.

However, the return journey was not as calm or as exciting in the way of sightings. The following day was very much the same too, but I was also able to add a new bird species to my list – the Arctic Tern! The Great Crested Grebe seen previously, was also spotted in the same place coming into Port as before – I was getting very good at knowing where it would be!

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

The next day some dolphins (possibly white-beaked) were seen fleetingly at a distance, as well as Gannets, more Puffins and Razorbills as well! A lovely rainbow was also clearly seen on the horizon ahead of the ship.

More Porpoise sightings followed as I came into Holland, with  Egyptian Geese now visible on the grassy island before docking.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese

At the end of my first week on board I had also seen Eider Ducks, Fulmars (gliding through above the waves with wings held out stiff), Common Scoters and abundant Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls. Whilst approaching Amsterdam, I was attempting to develop my Dutch which I had been picking up from the passengers, and was able to point out my great crested grebe, shouting ‘Fuut!’

Common Scoters

Common Scoters

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Fulmar

Fulmar

That evening during the activity session with children, we did some crafts making Jellyfish and porpoise puppets. Here you can see Keira, Libby and Rebecca showing off their jellyfish.

Keira, Libby and Rebecca making Jellyfish

Keira, Libby and Rebecca making Jellyfish-

– Ruth (Junior North Sea Wildlife Officer)

18/04 – 22/04 2015

Week 2:

Quite settled into life on board, I was excited to experience what my second week on board might bring. During the first morning, I was able to see a Harbour Porpoise and two White-beaked Dolphins on the Port side of the ship! To my delight, a family who had been eagerly waiting for some cetaceans to show saw all of these!

A new bird species was also spotted – unrecognisable at first, but narrowed down to be a diver species – any suggestions as to what kind of diver?

Diver species

Diver species

Shortly afterwards, a strange phenomenon was noticed by a passenger – iridescent clouds directly above the ship. This apparently is a rare sight, quintessential to a rainbow. It has been described as a diffraction phenomenon caused by small water droplets or ice crystals individually scattering the light from the sun. The crew in the bridge saw us looking up and where baffled by our stares, unable to see this for themselves.

Iridescent clouds

Iridescent clouds

Later on, a Great Skua was seen – a first on this route for me! To top off an exciting day of sightings, two Grey Seals were clearly visible on the way into Newcastle. One was seen eating something, can anyone guess what it is? There must have been a lot of food stirred up in the harbour today as just as the ship was mooring, a Herring Gull eating a starfish was pointed out by Jarek, one of DFDS’ night guards who is also enjoys wildlife photography in his spare time.

Great Skua

Great Skua

Seal

Seal

Juvenile Gull eating a starfish!

Juvenile Gull eating a starfish!

The following day heading back to Holland was far less busy with sightings – only birds today! However, among these were large flocks of Common Scoters, Black Headed Gulls, Shag and a Curlew displaying its very long bill. I also witnessed the comedic scene of a herring gull taking on a crab. You can see the crab bearing its pincers defending itself from the attack.

Curlew

Curlew

Gull eating a crab

Gull eating a crab

In the evening children made use of the activities the centre has to offer, as well as exploring their creativity. Gabriela for example drew from scratch and coloured in some of her favourite wildlife. These included a dolphin, an orca and a shark – all expertly drawn, I was very impressed!

Gabriela's drawings

Gabriela’s drawings

The days that followed brought more Tern species my way, with some even being seen Newcastle side! I saw more Arctic Terns as well as its larger cousin, the Sandwich Tern. Lots of Guillemots could also be seen floating on the water’s surface. The great viewing conditions also allowed me to spot two White-beaked Dolphins and also a Harbour porpoise! Each of these were also seen by passengers who joined me on the deck watch.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Guillemots

Guillemots

It seems that the cetacean sightings were increasing with the weather warming upon the true arrival of spring – perhaps inviting more of the 230 fish species that a live in the North Sea for our cetaceans to feed on. The next couple of days I was able to see a few Porpoises, one on most deck watches, as well as more Gannets, Guillemots and Scoters for all to see. During one evening deck watch, I was accompanied by a Gannet, swooping this way and that in front of the ship, using the thermals that the boat created to give it uplift, allowing an easy ride. It was fairly comical to observe this bird occasionally waggle its tail as well.

Gannet

Gannet

The final deck watch out of Amsterdam was an uneventful one, will the waves picking up to a sea state 6 – very little chance of seeing Porpoises here! However, the next morning presented a beautifully calm flat sea with few ripples in sight! Wildlife spotting heaven! I was up early and eager, without having to wait long for some activity. Ahead in the distance bobbing on the water was a grey seal!  Fifteen minutes later, another seal was bobbing in the water ahead on the starboard (right) side, it’s snout was pointing upwards, and at first did not look like a seal, however, when it yawned and turned to face the ship, my suspicions were confirmed. As the ship passed, it even lifted a flipper as if it was giving us a wave.

Seal

Seal

IMG_2793 (2) IMG_2791 (2) IMG_2790 (2)

One more seal was seen on the starboard side as well as a few Harbour porpoises ahead of the ship, poking their dorsal fins out the water briefly, surfacing a few times for us to get a positive ID on them. However, I was only able to capture the ripples left by their rapid surface roll. The calm weather also presented passengers with some Puffin sightings and Guillemots galore! What a lovely way to end my first two weeks on board, I hope the lovely flat seas stick around for Rachael, who I am handing over to now.

Ripples following a porpoise

Ripples following a porpoise

Puffins

Puffins

Don’t forget you can support ORCA and our vital work in helping whales and dolphins by becoming a member or giving a donation.

See you in two weeks!

– Ruth (Junior North Sea Wildlife Officer)

Puffin flying awau

Puffin flying away

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