Posted by: mynaturaldiary | September 1, 2017

54.718 N, -0.675 W & the wonders in the deep

Some of the Sunday crew RSPB Saltholme hide guides went to sea with the help of Yorkshire Coast Nature, thanks to Richard, and the Skipper, Sean, of ‘All my Sons‘.

On the inshore North Sea this time of year, you can expect to find seabirds, including passage Skuas and Petrels (if you are lucky). If you are even luckier, you will see Minke Whales.

Out at sea, some 10 miles off the coast of Staithes

the sheer cliffs of the Yorkshire Coast seem distant.

A close watch of the seas surface reveals a wonder surfacing from below – an adult Minke Whale.

Northern Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

These are some 6-7m long, and surface for a few seconds to breathe before returning deep to hunt for the shoals of Mackerel and Sand Eels.

Patience is needed when looking for whales – they can submerge for 15 mins or so between breaths. Patience, also a sharp lookout, and a fast boat. After a while, another whale surfaced.

and yet another..

and again…

and even more….

One can only be at the right place and the right time for the next experience –  a whale circled and passed under the boat.

You can see its white flukes

showing clearly as it swum underneath the boat in the video above. And then, even rarer, it broke its head out of the water to take a good look at us all.

Shades of the 107th Psalm.

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

Wonderful! A totally unexpected treat, and a very rare occurrence

Of course, on the day many seabirds were also seen. Leaving harbour, Cormorants flew past and rested on the sea.

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Their white throat helps identify them from their darker cousins, Shags. Also seen were Puffins

Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

and a passing Common Tern, searching for Sand Eels.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

These birds were all close to the shore, less than a mile out. Heading deeper into the North Sea lies the realm of true seabirds, who only come onshore to breed on the Cliffs of Britain.

Gannets are our largest seabirds, with a wingspan up to 1.8m.

Gannet (Morus bassanus)

They are very impressive when they fly overhead.

The wingspan is very large, about 1.8m , enabling it to glide, or to flap powerfully. Their dagger like beak reveals their ‘trade’ of diving for fish; they are streamlined for the twin fluid mediums of the air and the sea. Bills are one of a bird’s giveaway identifiers, being adapted to their ‘trade’ of feeding themselves.

The other true seabird this far out were Fulmars – they are the North Atlantic’s ‘albatross’ to which they are distantly related.

Notice in the video the combination of wingbeats and gliding close to the sea’s surface, which is typical for them. The stiff wing is formed for gliding

Their eyes are deep set, so it is difficult to catch sunlight glinting on their eyes in flight.

Notice the complex bill structure, split into plates.

They rest on the sea when feeding or tired.

Again with a glint in its eye.

Notice in these photos the tube nose (called naricorns) which they breath through.

They run over the water when they get enough lift to start flying.

We’ll see some more Fulmars later in this post.

Great Black-backed Gulls also share the sea around the boat.

These are powerful birds – our largest seagulls, with a wingspan of about 1.6m.

Great Black-Blacked Gull (Larus marinus)

This one is an immature gull – the bright yellow bill hasn’t emerged yet, which is a sign of maturity.

They devour what they can, bullying other birds into dropping their catches. They are noted for ‘their air of glorious villainy’. Watching it eat ‘rubby dubby’, the local name for ‘chum’, it is hard to disagree.

Out at sea, the canopy of the sky changes with the weather. The day went from bright cloudless skies, to overcast, and then to soaring Cumulonimbus

which duly formed, brought rain and claps of thunder, clearly visible from a safe distance.

Returning home back to port, Staithes offered fine views.

How nice to see it at sea. So he bringeth them unto their desired location indeed.

Thanks Sean for getting us back.

On land, a quick detour to Cowbar, on the northern side of Staithes allowed good views of the cliffs and Cowbar Nab. Nesting Fulmars still feed their young.

And on Cowbar Nab, Oystercatchers feed.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

This post ends with some ‘slow TV’; the horizon at sea

and onshore, looking out to the sea from Cowbar Nab.

The sea that is always counting.


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