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Nocturnal migration over the North Sea

Southern North Sea - Germany and Denmark
06 November - 15 November 2011

An ROV cable burial survey in the German and Danish sectors of the North Sea proved extremely productive for autumn migrants. As night shift surveyor most of my birding was done between going off shift at 0600 (still dark) and 0900 (when it was what could loosely be described as "light".

Some bad bird strikes onboard were caused by nocturnal "circulations" whereby birds, having lost their way during cludy conditions, circled the vessel throughout the hours of darkness, often colliding with vessel superstructure and killing themselves. At the same time these circulations provided a feeding opportunity for owls and raptors. Long-eared and Short-eared Owls took up residence onboard for varying lengths of time. Both Sparrowhawk and Peregrine also availed themselves of the plentiful migrants.

Unusual offshore species included Bean Goose, Bittern, Peregrine and Water Rail.

For other pages dealing with birding the southern North Sea see the following pages:

North Sea
Southern North Sea
Southern Norwegian Sector of the North Sea

Grounded thrushes rest on deck
Thrushes, Starlings and Skylarks resting on deck, November 2011
Many of the birds in this image are already dead - having crashed into the vessel during the night.

The general pattern was similar nearly every day. Few birds were present in the late afternoon / evening when I got up, numbers built up during the night - usually starting around midnight. There was a peak of activity just before dawn. After daybreak most birds reorientated themselves and quickly moved on. Often it was just the weaker birds that were left behind - the exception being the owls which didn't seem to have much of a problem being offshore. After 09:00 there was generally little activity and few birds onboard.

As usual clicking on images on this page will usually take you to more images of that species or other relevant information.

The book below is argueably the best bird book ever!

Short-eared Owl with Brambling
Nocturnal feeding Short-eared Owl, November 2011

Owls were seen to take a variety of prey - the Short-eared Owl pictured above returned to the vessel with a Brambling. Redwing, Starling and Meadow Pipit were among the other species taken. Unidentified SE / LE Owls were seen most nights

Species killed by collision included Water Rail, Blackbird, Redwing, Starling and Skylark.

One of many Redwings killed or injured by collision with the vessel
Redwing - killed instantly in collision with the vessel, November 2011

The combined effect of the world's vessels and offshore platforms must have quite an impact worldwide during the migration seasons....Hopefully the trend towards subsea production will help to alleviate this issue.

Offshore Black Redstart with moth
Black Redstart with moth, November 2011
Black Redstarts often seem to cope better with the offshore environment than many other species.
For more pictures click on the image above

Dead Blackbird - one of many killed during just on night
One of many Blackbirds killed during nocturnal collision with the vessel, November 2011
Picture taken with a compact superzoom camera.

Documenting the nightly activity proved quite challenging photography-wise. For more details about nocturnal bird photography see this page.

Nocturnal Peregrine
Nocturnal Peregrine with prey - sitting on the crane cable

Male Blackcap rests onboard
Blackcap were a common sight onboard

Blackcap are a typical November migrant offshore (and on the west coast of Norway where I do most of my birding). These birds may well have been continental Blackcaps moving over to the U.K. for the winter.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl coming in to land onboard, November 2011

The survey moved gradually northwards between 6th and 15th November:
Position 6th November: N 54 18' 59" E 6 19' 30"
Position 15th November: N 55 49'.721 E 6 9.474'

Species list:
* = 1-9
** = 10-99
*** = 100-999
**** = 1000+

English Norwegian Scientific Status Comments
Red-throated Diver Smålom Gavia stellata * A single flew past 14.11
Northern Fulmar Havhest Fulmarus glacialis * <10 on a few occasions
Northern Gannet Havsule Sula bassana * <10 on a few occasions
Great Bittern Rødrum Botaurus stellaris * One circled the vessel during the early hours of 13.11
Whooper Swan Sangsvane Cygnus cygnus * A flock of six swans at night on 07.11 were probably this species
Bean Goose Sædgås Anser fabalis * Several seen in daylight 11.11
Greater White-fronted Goose Tundragås Anser albifrons * A single rested on the sea 11.11
Brent Goose Ringgås Branta bernicla * A flock of six flew past 07.11
Mallard Stokkand Anas platyrhynchos * A single female on 13.11
Greater Scaup Bergand Aythya marila * A pair seen on 12.11, possibly the same pair seen the following day
Common Scoter Svartand Melanitta nigra ** A flock of 40+ 15.11
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Spurvehauk Accipiter nisus * One hunting during darkness 15.11
Peregrine Vandrefalk Falco peregrinus * One hunting during darkness 15.11
Water Rail Vannrikse Rallus aquaticus * A single dead and two other singles seen
Common Snipe Enkeltbekkasin Gallinago gallinago * Heard occasionally at night
Eurasian Woodcock Rugde Scolopax rusticola * 1-2 Seen on two occasions
Black-headed Gull Hettemåke Larus ridebudus ** Small numbers in daylight, some larger nocturnal gull flocks likely to have been this species
Common Gull Fiskemåke Larus canus ** Small numbers most days
Lesser Black-backed Gull Sildemåke Larus fuscus * Singles only
Herring Gull Gråmake Larus argentatus *** Up to 200 per day
Great Black-backed Gull Svartbak Larus marinus ** <10 daily
Black-legged Kittiwake Krykkje Rissa tridactyla ** Maximum 60 per day
Common Guillemot Lomvi Uria aalge * A few seen most days
Little Auk Alkekonge Alle alle * A single bird on 14.11
Common Woodpigeon Ringdue Columba palumbus * 1-2 birds on a few occasions
Long-eared Owl Hornugle Asio otus * Up to 2 onboard simultaneously. Hard to judge numbers seen
Short-eared Owl Jordugle Asio flameus * Up to 2 seen per day. Hard to judge numbers seen
Skylark Sanglerke Alauda arvensis ** Flocks of up to 50 daily
Meadow Pipit Heipiplerke Anthus pratensis ** Small numbers most days
European Robin Rødstrupe Erithacus rubecula * Small numbers most days
Black Redstart Svartrødstjert Phoenicurus ochruros * Up to three onboard
Common Blackbird Svartrost Turdus merula **** Big flocks most days
Fieldfare Gråtrost Turdus pilaris *** Heard frequently but did not land onboard
Song Thrush Måltrost Turdus philomelus ** Small numbers daily, probably underestimated. Few on deck
Redwing Rødvingetrost Turdus iliacus **** Large flocks, common on deck
Mistle thrush Duetrost Turdus viscivorus * Small numbers heard at night
Blackcap Munk Sylvia atricapilla ** Common, up to six onboard at once
Common Chiffchaff Gransanger Phylloscopus collybita * Occasional singles
Goldcrest Fuglekonge Regulus regulus * Small numbers on a few days
Common Starling Stær Sturnus vulgaris **** Big flocks most days
Chaffinch Bokfink Fringilla coelebs ** Commonest finch
Brambling Bjørkefink Fringilla montifringilla * Small numbers heard and and seen
Meally Redpoll Gråsisik Carduelis flammea * A single seen 08.11
Common Crossbill Grankorsnebb Loxia curvvirostra * A single female rested onboard briefly 15.11
Lapland Longspur Lappspurv Calcarius lapponicus * Flocks of 2-4 regular
Snow Bunting Snøspurv Plectrophenax nivalis * Small flocks on a few dates
Yellowhammer Gulspurv Embiriza citrinella * One or two onboard 14.11

Bean Goose, North Sea
Migrating Bean Goose (part of a flock), November  2011
This was part of a European wide movement of Bean Geese during November 2011

Roosting Long-eared Owl
Roosting Long-eared Owl, one of the highlights of the trip, November 2011
For more images of Long-eared Owl offshore click here.


Migrating Woodcock, North Sea, November 2011
Migrating Woodcock, German Sector, North Sea, November 2011

Albifrons Whitefront Marsh Harrier
This European Whitefront (albifrons) rested beside the vessel during a Europe wide movement of wildfowl This Water Rail collided with the vessel during a nocturnal "circulation". German Sector, November 2011

 Skylark resting on deck at night
Exhausted Skylark rests on deck during the night, November 2011

Night time Starling resting on offshore survey vessel
Starling resting onboard.
For more about nocturnal bird photography see this link

Migrating Scaup Journey's end for this Goldcrest
A pair of migrating Greater Scaup,
November 2011
Journey's end for this Goldcrest, November 2011
Picture taken with a compact superzoom camera


Redwing resting onboard an offshore vessel
Redwing resting onboard
For more about nocturnal photography see this link

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