Weekend here and I was looking forward to getting out to sea on the the first Serenity Winter Boat Tour taking in The Farnes and Holy Island. An excellent morning for it too with good sunshine and a fairly light breeze. Whilst the surveys I took part in last winter found little in the way of variety, this trip had the potential to be completely different as the area around The Farnes, Stag Rocks and Holy Island is well known for good wintering numbers of divers, grebes and seaducks.
I headed out hoping to add Black-throated Diver and Black Guillemot to the self-found year list and came back having failed to do either but the four hour trip was far from a failure.
'Serenity' is a Catamaran and as such has greater access into shallower waters and in theory should be more stable for photography and viewing. Restricted to a maximum 12 passengers during the winter it provides ample space and the luxury of a toilet. I had a hot cup of tea in my hand within five minutes of boarding, making me feel very welcome.
The journey to Holy Island to catch the tide correctly was fairly quiet, a few Guillemot and Common Eider, some diving Gannets and two divers, one of which, looked large but provided back end views only.
As we arrived at the narrow channel between Ross Back Sands we began to pick up some birds, 3-4 Long-tailed Ducks pitched in ahead of us and we edged closer to appreciate them, the males are one of my favourite duck.
Large numbers of common waders roosted in the relative safety of the small islands and nearby sandbanks. Mostly Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits with the odd Knot and Curlew amongst them.
The trip back along Ross Back Sands, closer to the beach yielded much more with a Red-necked Grebe, 10 Slavonian Grebes including a group of five, 17 Long-tailed Ducks and several diving groups of Common Scoter.
As the tours also taken in The Farnes and the Grey Seal colony we headed out to the islands from opposite Budle Bay. Heading into Staple Sound, Keith the on-board wildlife guide, a personable Kiwi, picked up the first of what was to be around a dozen Little Auks. One in particular was reasonably confiding and offered a few photo opportunities.
As we cruised around the islands, allowing the other passengers to fill their boots of cute creamy seal pups daubed with the various colours indicating age, we picked out two Peregrine on two different islands, a Blackbird on Staple Island, several Rabbits on the Wideopens (a Farnes tick for me) and most frustratingly of all a Wheatear (sp) on Staple Island that without scope despite seeing it from two different sides of the island eluded specific identification. In all probability a late Northern, or at least that's what I kept telling myself all the way back.
An excellent day's birding, helped by the weather and boat skipper Andrew and his guide Keith's friendly demeanour. I believe the trips are running each weekend throughout the winter, weather permitting.