Thursday, 14 February 2008

Aberdeen or bust

On Thursday 7th I had a lecture on surveying Aberdeen bay for seabirds on a potential windfarm site. Today a whole week later I'm a hardened seadog able to discern at a miles distance a Guillemot from a Razorbill (lucky guesses!). An email on Friday and a phone conversation with Lucas Mander, an ornithologist with IECS (Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies), a commercial outfit within the University of Hull led to me becoming the 3rd bird observer and official field ornithologist on the Aberdeen Windfarm site. Exciting stuff. I jumped on a train at Hull at 1105 Monday morning and 7 hours later I was in the granite city.

We were to stay in an old lifeboat called the Gemini Explorer (who do very good Cetacean Trips in the Moray Firth, plug plug) and our crew were very welcoming, Davey the skipper, Iris, his wife and cook and George the mate. The team from the University of Hull was made up of myself, a 2nd year undergraduate in Biology with Ornithology, Ray Eades, a field ornithologist (and birder), Sue Travers, a marine mammal observer and Lucas Mander, the boss and ornithologist. We were working with a couple of mammal observers from the university of Aberdeen and an acoustics expert to record cetacean sounds also from Aberdeen.

The first night a meal at La Tasca was followed by a restless night in the bunks of my cabin. I really needed a piss but i couldnt get out my bunk without treading on Lucas (I quickly learnt my phone makes a great torch). At 6 i got up and the boat was rolling. For those that know the seastate was a 3 despite the lack of wind (the swell quickly dropped off). I felt very sick and couldnt face my breakfast. We were steaming to a site near the Ythan estuary to do our control survey and birds seen before the start included a couple of Fulmar, Shag and a Gannet.

I felt a lot better once I was up top surveying. To ease me in I was the recorder solely on the first day. It was sunny and my stomach sson hardened as we surveyed for 9 hours from the top of the boat. Highlights being many Red-throated Diver, Eider, a single Long-tailed Duck and a single Red-breasted Merganser. The latter 2 were year ticks. A few glimpses of Porpoises were also good.

As we got back to Harbour we had a couple of Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins riding our bow. A UK tick for me! In the harbour a Red-throated Diver and a couple of Mergansers were good but me and Ray had bigger fish to fry. A Glaucous Gull was supposed to be in Torry and a couple of King Eiders amongst the Eider flock at Girdle Ness. Needless to say we dipped them both but got good views of Purple Sandpipers and a Common Gull roost in Nigg Bay. A few Rock Pipits sat on the foghorn and I took some blurry photos with the Institutes DSLR which i will include when i get copies including one which had a shot of the city's smog at sunset. Chokingly beautiful. Got a mammal lifer in the form of Common Seal in the harbour. Ubercool.

A trip to the Italian followed with my diminished appetite now fully restored and a couple of beers to chill out. I was having a ball. Back on board we went to bed at around 11pm. I slept like a baby. Up at 6 again and the sea was like a millpond. A hearty breakfast and we were surveying at 7.30 from Blackdog back towards Aberdeen. Very little birdwise of interest initially but a Puffin late doors was a year tick. We also had a couple of hundred Eider, over 70 Red-throated Divers, 3 Long-tailed Ducks (all drakes), a redhead Merganser and a good laugh. The highlights were 2 parties of Harbour Porpoises which were milling on the surface giving crippling views. So good!

In harbour I was packed and ready to go. We ran to the train station at after docking at 13.07. Our early train was at 13.21. 3 of us made it but Ray (who is a little older than the rest) was struggling to get through the barrier. The whistle went so Sue was very naughty and stopped the train departing. Ray made it. Highlights of the journey back included a field of Bison (mmm tasty) near Arbroath and 7 Buzzards from the train. I arrived back in York very tired but having had a great time.

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