Adventures in the sea air

This past week has been one of a distinctly salty theme, with each one of my sporadic outings over the past few days connected, in some way, to the coast. All things included -spectacular wildlife, tantalising rarities and some intriguing, conservation-themed visits – it has been a jolly good one, providing a welcome reprieve from tedious paperwork and job hunting.

Starting off on Saturday and early morning found myself and Matt setting out for Amble, more specifically, for to the Northumbrian Seafood Centre where we spent a pleasant half-hour educating ourselves on all things Lobster. Yes, the relatively new centre is home to the Amble Lobster Hatchery – an ambitious scheme established in an effort to restore the areas lobster population to its former, numerically superior a glory. This is done by rearing individual crustaceans from egg to larvae to juvenile lobster, before releasing them back into the wild in the chilly North Sea. The hatchery serving a dual purpose by bringing visitors up-close and personal with crustaceans of all sizes, and making for an interesting stop-off point should you find yourself visiting Amble with time to spare. We certainly had fun!

Moving on from the hatchery, a short search for the day’s target species – Caspian Gull – drew a blank and, for a short while, we made do with admiring the moulting Eiders foraging for chips within the barnacle-crusted confines of the harbour. That, until we made a spur of the moment decision to embark on an impromptu Puffin cruise around the RSPB’s Coquet Island reserve. The venture culminating in splendid views of numerous Grey Seals alongside a whole host of endearing seabirds, the latter unsurprisingly including, you guessed it, a number of Puffins. The undisputed highlight of the forty-five-minute voyage coming from the sites Roseate Terns which performed admirably as we ogled the island from the boat.  Luckily, we also managed to catch up with the wayward Caspian Gull upon our arrival back to the harbour. Hooray – species number 211 for my Northumberland year list.

Later on Saturday, another short bus journey found us paying a quick visit to Druridge Pools where two Little Owls showed wonderfully in the intermittent afternoon sun and a Merlin passed briefly overhead on route North. An unexpected highlight here coming in the form a large mixed-flock of perhaps 300 or so House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting, all feeding en masse in a nearby wheat field. Not something you see every day given the recent, disheartening declines in these species within the wider countryside.

Another day, another adventure, and following a thesis-themed meeting in Newcastle, I made my way to St. Mary’s Island, in order to catch up with the visiting White-Rumped Sandpiper, unearthed earlier that morning by local birder, Alan Curry. Sure enough, immediately upon arrival, the charming American wader put in an appearance foraging amid the wrack. This time in the company of a few rather lovely Summer-plumaged Turnstone, as well as the odd Sanderling and Dunlin. Truth be told, the bird itself exceeding all expectations – it wasn’t half as “dull and brown” as I had anticipated – and provided a useful lesson in the identification of this particular species. A lesson which may well come in useful given the likelihood of one turning up on my own patch at Blyth this Autumn.

Finally, this week’s coastal antics concluded on Wednesday with an early morning visit to Newbiggin where, in the company of a few familiar faces from the birding scene, I enjoyed a two-hour stint of blustery seawatching. The high-points of the morning coming in the form of a superb Great Skua powering North above the breakers, and a pair of much more dainty Arctic Skua harrying the Sandwich Terns just offshore. Other interesting titbits here included approximately c750 Gannet moving past among smaller numbers of Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common Scoter, Arctic Tern and Golden Plover; though before long I was forced to depart in order to work on something else boasting a clear, coastal theme: my dissertation. It will all be over soon, James…

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