as a hydrographic
has taken me all around the North Sea, the Mediterranean, the
Baltic and the waters off NW Australia.
Usually there has been little opportunity to birdwatch but occasionally
there has been time on deck......
links / trip reports for individual trips can be found lower down on
this page. Click
on the pictures below to see more detail about each area:
Sea / Med
and German Sectors
come from all kinds of survey and construction
vessels I have worked on. Most work has been related to the
and gas industry but there have also a number of other projects
hunting and salvage. The amount of time spent on deck has varied
enormously but the norm has been very little - it is far from one long
pelalgic birding trip! Many of the chance sightings I've had make me
wonder just how much gets missed.
surprising number of "land birds" seen offshore on oil
platforms and vessels; often more passerine species than
noted during a trip to work - at least during the
migration seasons. Any haze, cloud or rain can
bring "falls" of migrants onto the decks, waders do not land often but
will regularly circle a vessel at night before moving on at daylight.
Osprey was photographed as it rested on the aft mast some 10 km NW
of Ibiza in the Mediterranean in April 2005. The picture was taken
using binoculars as a telephoto lens - no easy task as I had to hold
onto the forward mast with my thighs whilst reaching around the mast
with binoculars in one hand and digital camera in the other - with the
vessel constantly rolling this was something of a challenge!
flares often cause birds to become disorientated and can at times cause
a lot of mortality
offshore presents some problems, one of which is that any land
birds are seen totally out of context and habitat, often making
identification surprisingly difficult. However, it also provides some
interesting insights into migration and the adaptability of many
species of bird.
Male common Crossbill being fed by female, Ormen
Lange, June 2009
For more details about this and other highly unusual feeding behaviour
birds finding food
"bird table" consisting of some biscuit crumbs flung
onto the roof of a 20' container on deck once attracted two unlikely
species feeding side by side - a Little Stint alongside a Lesser
Whitethroat! On other days during the same trip more likely visitors to
this food supply included Song Thrush, Chaffinch and Brambling. One
surveyor turned birder famously "planted" a tree on deck on which he
hung fruit and other food for exhausted migrants - even after the
leaves had fallen off the bare branches continued to attract all kinds
typical perhaps that flocks of Common Starling or Jackdaws raid
the rubbish skips for food - although this behaviour is perhaps limited
to rigs as ships do not tend to have open skips on deck. These birds
turn provide food for owls and raptors. I have experienced a Long-eared
Owl swooping low over the deck to snatch a Starling in each talon
before flying back up to its roost site in the crane to devour its
prey. Other such sightings have included Kestrels hovering in the
updraughts around the bridge pouncing on exhausted Robins sheltering on
the deck below, or Sparrowhawks weaving in between containers, winches
and other gear on the deck to catch unwary Bramblings.....
of birds are regularly accompanied by movements of insects,
or perhaps it is the other way around. Frequently birds that land
onboard manage to catch these insects - often prey items larger than
they would normally take. Moths such as the Silver-Y moth are regular
in the North Sea during the summer and autumn and can provide
a source of noursihment for tired migrants.
insects such as this Silver-Y moth may help birds survive as
they cross the inhospitable waters of the North Sea.
many birds that land on offshore installations and vessels
die. Already in a weakened condition when they come onboard they
succumb to starvation, dehydration and exposure. This male Common
Redstart is just
such an example:
up inside cabins...
Some birds find their way inside the vessel and I have entered my cabin
to find a Northern Wheatear sitting on my bunk or a Barn Swallow flying
around in panic. The most remarkable incident was perhaps a
Yellow-browed Warbler which suddenly turned up on top of my computer
monitor one night - I caught it easily in my hands and slipped it
Other odd experiences have been wandering out onto the deck at night
only to have a Dunlin run over the deck towards me, stand next to my
boot and look me up and down before scuttling off a few metres in a
surprising display of tameness. A Bluethroat onced perched on my foot
on the back deck of a vessel off SW
Portugal and there have been countless other episodes concerning more
run of the mill
Passerines alighting on
Somewhat surprisingly I have seen species such as Woodpigeon and
Fieldfare actually land on the sea before taking off again on several
occasions. One would have thought they were doomed to a watery death
should they land at sea.....However, passerines landing on the sea is
no new phenomenon - in 1899 off the coast off Northern Virginia a
Chuck-will's-widow (a North American Nightjar-like species) was
observed landing repeatedly on the sea - and watched scoffing
warblers. Read more about this fascinating account here
in the Auk archives.
In volume 48 of British birds (1955) there is also a mention of a
Skylark and some Starlings landing on the sea, only to take off again,
apparently none the worse for wear. In contrast to my own experiences
this article states that the birds were not actually seen to land
deliberately on the sea.
Not just birds.....
operations we often
see other marine life such as whales, turtles and others.
Click on the pictures below to see more detail about each area:
Sea / Med
and German Sectors
Sea - link
section covers both the North Sea and
the Norwegian Sea to
the north of it. Most of my time at work has been spent here, although
in recent years less and less time has been spent on deck looking for
birds. This section contains three sides covering different areas of
the North and Norwegian Seas.
Wagtail, North Sea, 07 September 2011
on picture for more details and images
a few visits thus far but very
over the years has led to
quite a number of sightings.
a lot of time spent here - but it was
here I found out not just birds fly over the Baltic but bats too.....
/ NW Australia -
November - December 2005 and early
January 2006. Sea teeming
with life and plenty of birds at times.
2006 - "Coffee break" birding at its
Gulf States Medley - link
April 2008 - "Crewchange Mayhem" tour of the Gulf States, most birding
in downtown Mobile, Alabama
North Atlantic- link
May 2008 - Offshore between north of the Shetlands and NW of Faroe
The Black Sea - link
March 2010 - Superb migration experience and once in a lifetime
Yelkouan Shearwater experience
Offshore Gabon - link
June-July 2010 - Daily Wilson's Storm-petrels
Barent's Sea - link
- October 2010 - Superb offshore birding and surprise passerines
Gibraltar and Balearics -
Visible migration under extremely windy conditions
Southern North Sea
German Sectors) - link
Nocturnal migration and bird strikes. Owl bonanza!
Rio de Janeiro - link
Frustratingly little time in a city full of new birds.
the Russian Black Sea -
April 2012 - Some good birds and spring migration along the Russian
Black Sea coast
Black Sea - Link
May 2012 - More Black Sea birding
Australia - Link
August-September 2012 Pelalgic Birding around Goodwyn A and North Rankin
Sea Medley - Link
April/May 2014 - A whistle stop tour of the southern Norwegian Sector -
plenty of migrants.
May 2016 - First trial of Canon
superzoom camera and migrating
TMPC (Sicily -
Algeria) - Link
September 2017 - Not much time on deck - much of it at night
Persian Gulf /
Dubai - Link
May 2019 - Unplanned
offshore trip without binoculars. Sooty Gull, Bridled Tern
Medley / Norwegian Sector - Link
March/April 2020 - Wild weather trip with Kittiwakes breeding on
Heidrun platform and some early migrants
Spain - Mallorca - Link
October/November 2020 - Two weeks of autumn migration near the Balearic islands