Sunday 27 September 2020

Stormy Seawatching: 25-27th September

 In a move that is completely in character I have failed to update on moths, nocmig, birding and our trip to Turkey. Rest assured some of this may, or may not make the blog in the future. What does make the blog right now is this weekends seawatching. I love seawatching, it is my absolute favourite passtime. The zen-like vigils looking, counting and generally being outside, witnessing migration feels about as real and immersing as it gets. My patch is excellent for vizmig and pretty good for seawatching. The forecast of northerly gales all weekend had me salivating. I didn't get the numbers of skuas and shearwaters that others managed including record breaking totals at Flamborough, just a few miles up the road but plenty of patch high counts and good birds made it rewarding nonetheless.

Juvenile Arctic Skua

I arrived at Barmston chock full of enthusiasm at 06:40 in the teeth of an F9 northerly and intermittant heavy rain. Four hours produced the only Sooty Shearwater of the weekend, a somewhat unbelievable statistic given that 2,000 or so passed Flamborough in the same period. 56 Fulmar represented the 6th highest count for the patch rather surprisingly. A small skein of six Pink-footed Geese pushed south over the waves. A single Grey Plover called as it headed south. After four hours, a tactical reassessment took me to Ulrome, 2km to the south, in an effort to connect with the hundreds of skuas that were being displaced by the high winds. A brace of dark morph Arctic Skuas were the sum total but they prevented a complete blank. 147 Cormorants and 3 Pintail north were the only other significant sightings.

Barnacle Geese

The relatively poor returns from Friday didn't dishearten me as others scored heavily and a slight easing of the winds provided sufficient encouragement that birds would try to escape the southern North Sea. The wind was slightly offshore which didn't look promising for shearwaters and skuas but locating again at Ulrome I remained hopeful. A delightful pale-morph juvenile Long-tailed Skua danced over the surf in the gloaming and wildfowl were evident with small parties of Teal, Wigeon and Common Scoter moving north. Final totals of 208 Teal and 61 each of both Wigeon and Common Scoter moved north with handfuls in the other direction. News of 28 Pale-bellied Brent Geese barreling north at Grimston and Hornsea had me on tenterhooks and they nearly slipped by in the breakers but I picked them up emerging from a trough, too late for a photo. Will Scott at Bempton alerted me to small parties of Barnacle Geese heading south-east there and a few minutes after 12 went north, just beyond the surf. Ten, in all likelihood, one of Will's skeins went south half an hour later. A couple of Shoveler and a Pintail sneaked north amongst their commoner cousins to round off the wildfowl interest.


An interesting juvenile skua headed north at 09:41. It flew like an Arctic but its coloration was cold. It was too light in build for a Pom and had too much white in the underwing for a long-tail. Advice from friends was that it was a particularly cold Arctic Skua and on reviewing the photos including the header it was evident that the dark, unbarred axillaries, rather bland undertail, faint double flash and structure (bill, head shape, wing shape, tail) all fit with Arctic and not the other species, but it was a challenge in the field and I would have let it go as skua sp. had I not got pictures. A further three Arctics went north late on and a trio of Bonxies also passed by.


I experimented with the Trektellen app for entering my data which was excellent. I entered gulls half-hourly, using clickers to tally them and everything else went straight in. It was easy and captured the times automatically, mapping the most regular species as buttons to speed entry. This ease of capture meant the second highest count of Great Black-backed Gulls was recorded. This species must occur regular in the autumn in decent numbers but now, hopefully I will be able to record common species more accurately. Eighteen Purple Sandpiper headed north in two flocks of 5 and 13. This is an uncommon passage species and this was easily the highest site count for passage although 54 were recorded at Fraisthorpe during a low tide, making a probably unassailable peak count.

Despite my daughter having her (covid compliant) 11th birthday sleepover last night, I was allowed to tread the hallowed turf again this morning for a few hours. I had another productive and wildfowl centric watch, kicking off with my final skua of the weekend, a Bonxie, playing truck and trailer with a juvenile Gannet. An early flurry of Red-throated Divers featured a single Black-throated Diver. Better was instore when 4 Velvet Scoters flew north. Unbeknown to me they had been tracked from Grimston to Hornsea and onward to Flamborough before getting picked up even further north off Durham and beyond. Virtually no auks were seen on the previous two days but I had plenty battling through the foam. Two early Dunlin skipped over the waves and looked worryingly like Leach's Petrels but sadly they proved not to be. Passage died very suddenly at 09:30 and I took the prescient option of heading home not long after to earn brownie points. Fingers crossed the patch does better next time but it was a fun three mornings.

The full counts are on Trektellen:

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at