It took me 8 years to see Long-tailed Skua in Yorkshire but now it has taken me a mere 8 weeks to see one in Northumberland. I was working on one of my sites yesterday morning and decided that I would spend a few hours late afternoon by the coast birding when finished and so I headed for Seaton Sluice, north of Whitley Bay. I have tentatively decided that St Mary's Island to Seaton Sluice should be my patch up here in Newcastle and thus I had made a couple of previous visits to scope the area and a seawatch that I forgot to post to here but which included Manx Shearwater, Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Great Northern Diver and several Little Gulls. For a first effort in spring I thought that was probably pretty decent.
Slightly more galling was the news that 8 Long-tailed Skuas past Hartlepool Headland had been resighted off of Whitburn about 10 minutes after I packed up and had passed Seaton Sluice about 30 minutes later. I was annoyed as this was the species I was hoping for with the wind switching from NW to NE after thousands had passed North Uist but it was not to be alas.
Back to yesterday and I was at Seaton trying to find a Red-backed Shrike or Grotfinch in the dunes and riverside vegetation without success. As I ascended to the top of the dunes I noticed a load of Kittiwakes passing close inshore with a sea fret on the go and a mild onshore wind from the north easterly quarter. As I didnt know the best place to set up at Seaton I jumped in the car and moved the short distance to St Mary's Island where I set up with a couple of lads who by the sound of things are in the 6th form somewhere locally. Apologies if you read this chaps but I can't remember your names.
Groups of Sandwich Terns and Kittiwakes were moving north past the island between 50 and 300m offshore. This was quite exciting and we were quickly rewarded with two very fine pale phase Arctic Skuas truck and trailoring north picked up by the other lads. We were just discussing how good the views had been when I picked up another skua slightly closer in at about 200m offshore and immediately called it as an adult Long-tail. It was great that the Arctics passed by so soon before because it made my first spring adult Long-tail all the easier to call. An absolutely cracking bird and one that will live long in the memory.
Not long after this a third pale phase Arctic Skua spent a brief period hassling Kittiwakes in the bay but this soon disappeared. To cap a superb 20 minutes a squadron of 4 Manxies flew north. And then the fret disappearred and the wind dropped. The last two hours were somewhat fruitless after this but great way to be introduced to the local scene.