Monday, 27 August 2018

Sunday Seawatching

I watched with envy as news of a Great Shearwater north past Flamborough Head on Saturday morning came out. I last saw one at Flamborough 10 years ago and then I was floating on the Yorkshire Belle just offshore. I have seen only one since - a fairly distant bird at Pendeen last year. News later came out of a Fea's-type Petrel north from Whitburn and tracked along the Northumbrian coast. This is a species group I have yet to encounter and as each outpost flashed up with positive news I smiled at my wife and commented how much I was enjoying our afternoon out without the kids.

In fairness to my infinitely better half we had just enjoyed the surprisingly weepy Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again after visiting her father who was just home after making his own threats to visit St Peter. Mike is on the mend now and it has been a pretty worrying time which has contributed to my lack of birding in the late spring (allied with an incredibly busy work schedule). One thing to aid my chances this autumn is I am moving my office base from Newcastle to Leeds in order to see my wife and kids a bit more and actually live at home during the week. When not on fieldwork...

So onto yesterday and the day after a blow always produces something, or so I'm told. For me it was creeping desperation to get in the mix as a colleague would phrase it. I set 5 alarms between 5 and 6am and it only took two to get me out of bed. Rain was forecast for midday and I was hoping for a leaden sky to help with viewing. I found myself driving east into the sun at 05:45 and cursed. Fortunately when I got down to the seawatching ledge below the foghorn a bank of cloud covered the horizon and more or less remained in situ throughout. It was 8 degrees C and pretty chilly but out of the wind on the ledge it was ok. I was beaten to the punch by Lee Johnson who had been going since 6am. He was still counting the shearwaters on his fingers and thumbs when I got there but had run out quickly. I cracked open the notebook and Manx Shearwaters were passing in numbers with Sooty Shearwaters liberally spread amongst them. We were joined a few minutes later by Craig Thomas and got down to an extremely productive morning.

Common Terns were moving en masse (although not in Spurn roost numbers). Soon after we started a lone Whimbrel whinnied overhead as it sallied north. A hulking skua lumbered north at mid-distance showing itself to be an intermediate morph Pomarine Skua at 06:40. It was an adult bird that had dropped its spoons. The odd Puffin was still to be seen moving offshore. Almost everything was moving north in reaction to the previous days blow displacing them into the North Sea. A group of Manxies seemed to hold a darker individual but it evaporated before the ID was clinched. At 06:55 a waif of a skua floated north, initially well off but coming in to mid-distance. It was partnered by an obvious Arctic Skua and as that powered away, the difference in build and flight-style revealed a smashing Long-tailed Skua. This was my first for Flamborough after having a couple in Northumberland, 4 off Spurn whilst working and a couple at Barmston. Lee had a Bonxie flying each way prior to my arrival and this made it that rare occurrence of a 4 skua day, all before 7am. Small numbers of Bonxies continued to run throughout with a southerly passage dominating in the first couple of hours before this reversed in the latter couple.

A small, dumpy wader flew south and was watched by Lee and Craig before seemingly ditching midway out. Neither was completely happy with what had been seen and what was probably a phalarope was let go. Me? I was busy scratching down the numbers and never saw a thing... A second Pom went north at 07:30, this time a light-morph adult with full-spoons one of the more majestic seabirds in my humble opinion. By this time Sandwich Terns had started to move and the Manxie/Sooty passage had quietened down a little. Two Black Terns fed off the head for 5 minutes at 07:47 before drifting north-east and out of view. Craig briefly had a Minke Whale surface and perhaps an hour or so later I had presumably the same animal briefly. A beautiful juvenile Common Gull initially passed south before returning to loiter with the gull flock beneath the cliffs.As the watch progressed a trio of Balearic Shearwaters headed north amongst a pulse of Manxies with individuals at 08:51, 09:17 and 09:56. All were at mid to close range and gave great viewing opportunities.

As the watch progressed a few Common Scoter and Teal passed with the majority heading north but the wildfowl highlight was a single female Goosander south. Also later in the watch were a scattering of waders with 3 further Whimbrel north, 3 Curlew north and 1 south, 10 Redshank south, 8 Dunlin south and 5 Turnstones south (coming from offshore - the usual backward and forward of Turnstones and Oystercatchers around the cliff base was ignored with bigger fish to fry). 10 Black-headed Gulls north were par for the course and hopes of a biggie faded as time went on. We abandoned the watch at 10:45 prior to the rain arriving half an hour later and I had my seawatching urge sated. For now. Full counts from yesterday are below:

Teal N: 25 S: 15
Common Scoter N: 23
Goosander S: 1 (female)
Cormorant S: 29
Shag S: +
Gannet N: +++ S: +
Manx Shearwater N: 335 S: 10
Balearic Shearwater N: 3 (08:51, 09:17 & 09:56)
Sooty Shearwater N: 40
Fulmar N: +
Curlew: N: 4
Redshank S: 10
Dunlin S: 8
Turnstone S: 5
Sandwich Tern N: 112 S: 10
Common Tern N: 305 S: 3
Black Tern N: 2 (07:47)
Great Skua N: 26 S: 15
Pomarine Skua N: 2 (06:40 ad intermediate morph without spoons & 07:30 adult pale morph with spoons)
Arctic Skua N: 14 S: 5
Long-tailed Skua N: 1 (06:55)
Puffin N: 12 S: 2
Guillemot N: +
Kittiwake N: +++ S: +
Black-headed Gull N: 10
Common Gull N: 1
Herring Gull N: + S: +
Lesser Black-backed Gull S: 1
Great Black-backed Gull S: +

Present: Shag, Fulmar, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull 3, Common Gull 2, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Linnet, House Martin & Swallow.

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