Saturday, 6 March 2010


Beatrice is the oilfield in which I have been offshore surveying this last week. It is east of Caithness in the northern Moray Firth. It holds lots of birds but at the moment all of them are Razorbill and Guillemot. Bird of the week was a single shag and only 9 species were recorded. The real highlights were a number of blue Fulmar varying from slightly darker than normal to almost totally uniform blue-grey. The better birds were seen in port and heading to and from the survey.

The journey up on tuesday was long at 496 miles (including a detour to Inverness to pick up our mammal observer). No birds of note were seen. Sadly. As we passed through Strathspey our thermometer dipped to -10.5 C. Pretty chilly. We passed through in the dark but the aftermath of the recent heavy snow was evident. We alighted at Buckie - our home port for these surveys aboard the Gemini Explorer (check out dolphin watching trips with these guys - superb stuff).

We left harbour at 3.30 on Wednesday morning and had an awkward day and were relieved to be heading to Wick for our overnight stop. Approaching the harbour it was evidently much chillier here than at sea and a Black Guillemot did little to cheer me up. A small flock of Goosander flew out to sea from the river Wick - a nice year tick. In the harbour a few Eider and Goldeneye pottered about, the latter pratting about like Mallards in the town centre. Very strange. Lots of gulls were seen - no white-wingers but plenty of northern Herring Gulls with reduced black in the wing tip and strong pale tongues reducing the black further. A Sparrowhawk over flew us as we found the local Wetherspoons at dusk. A signpost indicated we were a mere 17 miles by road to John O'Groats. This is now the furthest North I have ever been.

The next morning was a more civilised set of at 5.30 but we were on sight by 7 in order to beat the weather. Another day of survey was fairly straight forward and we finished at 1pm just before it started pissing down. Heading back to the harbour took a long time as we had to cross the entire firth. I decided to do a bit of birding once we got within the 6 mile limit and was rewarded with 8 Long-tailed Ducks including a close fly-by by two males and a female. A couple of Black Guillemots just outside the harbour were pleasantly surprising now we were proper east coast. A Red-throated Diver flushed by the boat did another flyby. Little else was seen.
Overall a pretty steady survey with only a few noteworthy birds seen during downtime.


Mark said...

Hi James....I read this post with interest as I did a lot of surveys from the beatrice platform a few years ago....It can be pretty birdless most of the time, but I had the odd good bird out Kumleins and sabs gull, for example. Will you be doing any more work out there? And yes, dogger surveys are for round three...nice work, isn't it!

James said...

nice stuff - yeah its good work - we are on the round 2 up there and we are in for the round 3 next door. Nothing good on survey so far but plenty around em. Hoping for something good this spring.

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive