Saturday 25 June 2011

Rollin’ along in the North Sea

We are currently heading back across the North Sea in pretty mild conditions again.  We said goodbye to our passengers in Copenhagen yesterday morning and then left straight away, heading for Rosyth just near Edinburgh, Scotland.  Let’s hope the weather holds as it looks pretty nice at this stage and we are hoping to head down the west coast of Ireland on the coming cruise.  The next cruise is one with Noble Caledonia and the passengers and rest of the Expedition team come on tomorrow afternoon.

So the last week or so has been enjoyable, but I’m glad to be getting back into some more expedition type cruises.  We will be using the zodiacs a lot more and in the wilds much more than the cultural visit to the Baltic.  After Riga, Latvia we visited Tallinn, Estonia where we visited several sites including the old town.  However, we did have a visit to a local park and it was nice to see a few birds, including fieldfare which was very common and new for me, as well as three species of flycatcher including spotted, pied and red-breasted, plus nuthatch.  Again red-breasted was a new one for me.  It was very strange to see these three species in a town park, where the spotted and pied flycatcher are becoming less and less common in the UK, and pied flycatcher seems mainly limited to larger areas of woodland.  Tallinn old town was very enjoyable, with a beer in the main square and a chance to watch the World go by, seems it was all going by in Tallinn as well, with some interesting sights and a lot of high heels!  Boarding back at the ship I managed to get some nice shots of Arctic terns which although not nesting were showing some territorial behaviours.  Some nice flight shots and resting shots although the light left a little to be desired.

Next day was Turku in Finland, another country, another day.  We entered through some interesting island groups, with the archipelago containing something like 50,000 islands.  Turku was a very different city to the previous two, being very much a city showing less tourist appeal.  There was not the beautiful architecture of Riga, nor the old town and history of Tallinn.  However, it did have its own appeal, despite the wet weather we encountered for much of the morning.  Again parkland areas contained good numbers of birds, with fieldfare again being common, great-spotted woodpecker, both spotted and pied flycatchers, wood pigeon, and even saw red squirrel and red fox.  As we left Turku again through the archipelago we saw barnacle geese in large flocks, a lot of great cormorants, common eider, tufted duck, and mergansers, plus osprey and white-tailed eagle.  The only white-tailed eagle that was close flew right over the bow of the ship...but of course I didn’t have my camera!  Also got a single Arctic skua near the open sea as we left the islands.

The next morning we docked in Stockholm, Sweden, right in the middle of town.  Again the weather left a little to be desired with drizzle and then quite heavy rain for much of the day.  City tours in the morning with a visit to the Vasa Museum being a highlight.  This incredible ship sank on its maiden voyage due to it being too high and it basically overbalanced and sank.  The ship is really incredible to see, having been really well preserved before being raised, and now having been treated so that it is stable and will not deteriorate.  In the afternoon we led a zodiac cruise through the canals of Stockholm, heading out along the King’s Canal that started near the main part of the city, and gradually headed into parkland areas, and then came out into the main channel.  It gave really beaut views of the city, but also of the lovely countryside once we got into the parkland.  We found a few birds, including small flocks of barnacle geese, a heronry with large grey heron chicks in the nests, a kestrel, great-crested grebe, and both tufted duck and goldeneye.  It was all going so well with freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate, until we hit a few waves at the end of the canal and the hot chocolate urn fell over...what an explosion.  There was hot chocolate EVERYWHERE which although hot luckily didn’t scald anyone.  The laundry was busy that night and I had to wash the zodiac out with a bucket when I got back to the ship!  This was ‘Chocolate Madness’ on a completely different level!

Then it was a morning visit to Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland.  We had slightly better weather and did a tour of the botanic gardens, walked down through the old town, and visited the Gotlands Museum which has a really impressive collection of medieval and Viking paraphernalia (plus free wifi).  I spent some time in the local parks photographing the very tame jackdaws and a few fieldfares, which were again quite numerous.  There was even a pair of goosanders and a family of oystercatchers at one of the ponds, plus a lot of swifts flying over the town.

Then next day we arrived into Copenhagen just before lunch and berthed again right in the city...all part of being on a small ship.  The afternoon we did a city tour and visited a few of the palaces etc.  I have to admit that by now my enthusiasm for palaces, cathedrals, museums and cities was seriously flagging.  So I tried to find some birds to photograph, managing to find a few bits and pieces including rather habituated hooded crows.  We overnighted in Copenhagen and the following morning people disembarked, and I spent a bit of time photographing more habituated magpies and hooded crows, managing to get a few nice shots.  As the final passengers disembarked we basically let go and headed off back across the North Sea.  It was an interesting cultural tour, to an area I’ve not visited before, but I have to say I really do enjoy proper expedition cruises far more.  Mind you seven new countries, bringing my tally up to 79 countries, can’t be too bad!

Even feral pigeons are good looking up close

Check me out!

Fieldfare with food in beak

Fieldfare bob, bob, bobbing

A stretch of the gull

A more normal pose

Orthodox church in Tallinn

The walled city in Tallin

Within the old town in Tallinn

Cobbled streets of old town

The central square in Tallinn

Arctic tern at Tallinn Port

Nice light behind and tail spread

Coming in to land

Don't get too close!

Standing ground

Arctic terns getting stroppy with each other

Male great spotted woodpecker (above) with newly fledged juv (below) in Turku, Finland

Juvenile great-spotted woodpecker

Wood pigeon amongst the clover in Turku

Stockholm barnacle the rain

Adult Eurasian oystercatcher

Common swift in Visby, Gotland

Fledgling fieldfare in Visby

The old walled city of Visby, Gotland

Further along the ramparts

Old windows

The full wall

Adult jackdaw in Visby

Adult jackdaw on the edge of the pond

Adult jackdaw

Fledgling jackdaw being fed

Still hungry!

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen with the ship behind

Changing of the guard at the Palace, Copenhagen

Still changing

Hooded crow in Copenhagen

Mute swan with a cityscape

Adult male blackbird with a beakful

Magpie coming closer

Juvenile magpie peering at me

Glistening in the sun

Juv magpie calling

Hooded crow coming in

Up close

Calling to his pals

Mute swan against concrete

North Sea oil rigs

More rigs