Monday, 17 November 2014

Bouncing beans!

Day 3 of weather standby and things are somewhat tedious. The wind had been a relentless Beaufort F8 generally from the SE but last night it slowly backed around to the east and increased to severe gale F9. This morning I was greeted with F8 conditions once gain- 5-6 metre seas with occasional big swell trains of 7-8 metres. The relentless easterly was averaging 36 knots according to the ships' instrumentation. Late morning and I saw three 'grey' geese flying across the waves and battling against the wind. As they flew alongside the bridge I took a quick fuzzy snap through the bridge window and realised they were Bean geese! A good record. I'll readily admit to having limited experience of bean geese- but having studied the photos. the small orange bill patch, relatively short, deep-based bill and relatively short-necked appearance had me thinking that they were the tundra race 'rossicus'. All exciting stuff and I watched them battle eastwards until they were lost from view. Some 20 minutes later the 3 birds came back down wind, circled the vessel, then made a very difficult and somewhat dangerous landing on the main deck. This was no mean feat in gale force winds and heavy seas! Two of the geese clattered into some gear on the deck and it was apparent that they were surprised by the heavy motion of the ship and the slippery nature of the deck. All 3 individuals appeared unscathed and after carefully checking their surroundings in that all too familiar nervous goose fashion they set about checking their feet- lifting each foot in turn and checking the webs with their bills. This was followed by a brief spell of flight feather preening before all three birds got their heads down and started sleeping. I'm sure they must be very tired from battling the gales during their migration. 

I had some concerns about their abilities to subsequently take off as the ship is a jungle of masts, wires and railings. However, late this afternoon the birds launched themselves into the air and flew off into the wind. Two minutes later they re-landed on the deck and as I write they appear to be settling down for a night on deck! Hopefully they will resume their migration as soon as the conditions improve.

time for a snooze!
rough seas and heavy swell

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Owls all at sea

Gale and severe gale force winds have put a stop to migration. After a couple of days of brisk northerlies which brought down thousands of fulmars, kittiwakes and gannets plus a smattering of little auks it now feels very quiet with just the occasional common seabird passing by. However, a couple of days ago I was treated to four short- eared owls flying over the sea and heading WSW. Quite a weird sight seeing these lovely birds on passage over the waves. I saw them all in the first hour of daylight so my photos. are not the best but they will have to do. I saw two single birds then two together and it was interesting to see them occasionally harried and mobbed by the herring and great black backed gulls- as if the owls did not have enough to contend with! Although their buoyant flight was relatively strong one bird almost ditched as it banked sharply to avoid an aerial assault from a herring gull. Hopefully they all made it ashore. I'm eagerly anticipating the wind going back around to the North and East as I'm sure a red flanked blue tail or dusky warbler could be on the agenda.

southerly gale F8 with 6 metre waves

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

North sea birding.

After a brilliant spell of Scottish autumnal birding I find myself back at sea - a big reality check as the North sea can be very daunting at this time of the year- and I'm looking at being here until late December! Anyway, gotta earn the dosh to pay for next years trips to Shetland and the Hebrides!

Still some light vis. mig. ongoing with wrens, robins, goldcrest, starlings, black redstarts, a woodcock, brambling, redwings and fieldfares all recorded on the deck or flying south past the vessel. Bird of the trip so far was a very tidy grey phalarope sitting on the sea about 5 NM east of Peterhead a few days ago. Today saw some good seabird passage with several thousand fulmars, hundreds of kittiwakes, scores of gannets, two pomarine skuas and 40+ little auks all heading south past the ship. Hopefully there is still time for a 'big' sibe to grace the deck of my vessel- or maybe even a firecrest! Here's hoping. I was quite content seeing several 'blue' fulmars today though.