Monday, 17 September 2012

Bridlington Skua Cruise – Saturday 8th September 2012

The first of two RSPB Skua and Shearwater cruises off Flamborough Head I planned going on this year. A lovely day: in fact, the weather looked too nice. The sea was as flat as a pancake, which didn’t bode well for good birds…

I got to the harbour-side at 08:00 and sat near the gangway, attempting to stake my place in the queue (but still managed to be bustled out to the way by some Johnny-come-lately, older-and-so-should-know-better birders when we all went for the boat). Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones were on the sea wall north of the harbour, and Guillemot was very close in to where I was sat waiting.

The North Sea mill pond - Saturday 8th September 2012

Some of the Yorkshire guys from the Bird Forum were meeting for this trip. Not being sure of where I’d be coming from beforehand, or going to afterwards, or even if I’d be there at all, I decided not to join in with the car sharing. Or maybe I’m just an unsociable bugger.

As we left the harbour we all got a good look at the Kittiwakes on the outer harbour wall. It wasn’t long before we had our first good bird: a Black Guillemot. I say “we”, but I think Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers fame was the only one to see it well. There was some consternation on the boat that the sighting wasn’t properly divulged at the time, but I was watching Martin as he spotted it and subsequently confirmed the ID and I don’t think there was much more he could do. Maybe he could have asked the boat to be stopped, but I’m not sure he felt that was in his remit. I think the only people who were really bothered were county listers who needed it for their Yorkshire list (I don’t keep one), and those needing for their life list (they should try northwest Scotland for birds in their fantastic breeding plumage). It wasn’t even a year tick for me, so I smugly kept my gob shut.

Anyway, there are plenty of accounts of this trip and opinions on the above tyke Tystie that I won’t bleat on about it any more. I won’t into much detail about the birds here, other than the on lifer I did get on this trip: Pomarine Skua.

It was called quite early as an Artic Skua, I guess because the spoons (the twisted, elongated tail feathers) weren’t obvious as it approached. But when we all got a good view… whoa! It was a Pom, and a stonking adult in breeding plumage.

It came in close and circled the boat a couple of times, maybe as close to 10 metres. Close enough and long enough to really take in all the identification features. This was a large, powerful skua. It had a very dark brown hood covering the face to below the bill line - not just a cap. The neck was a strong yellow colour. The line between the dark uppers and pale under parts was broken and mottled. There was a strong, mottled “necklace” and a powerful, two-tone bill. And there were the tail “spoons” of course. It eventually sat on the water and allowed us to approach. Taking flight it flew around the boat again and sat on the water, before finally heading off. Better views than I’d ever thought possible of a Pom off the Yorkshire coast.

My friend Andy texted me to gloat about the great views he was getting of this bird, not realising I was on the same boat and had in fact been waving to him across the deck! Anyway, he got some great pictures, which he’s generously allowed me to use here, so I’d better be nice! There are more of Andy’s photos on Flickr here.

Pomarine Skua - Saturday 8th September 2012 (photo: Andy Kisby)

Pomarine Skua - Saturday 8th September 2012 (photo: Andy Kisby)

Getting good views of the Pom - Saturday 8th September 2012

The skua action didn’t stop there. We had some great views of juvenile Arctic Skua and both adult and juvenile Great Skua. Nice to see so many. After all the skua fun, the other birds were just padding, but we had some good one given the calm weather and westerly wind. At least three Common Scoter, Common Tern, Arctic Tern (great views of an adult and juvenile), Sandwich Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin (the auks in juvenile and winter plumage), lots of plunge-diving Gannet, Fulmar, and a distant Balearic Shearwater. I got on this last bird, and it was certainly dark, with a loose-winged flight action, but I couldn’t pick out much more than that. The other birds I got from on board were: Herring, Common, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed, and Greater Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, and Shag, with four or five Red-throated Divers flying north past us as we came back to Bridlington. I think one or two other species were seen by others.

The Bird Forum guys decided to head off to Tophill Low NR. I would have joined them, but it was in the wrong direction if I was going to help out at the Airedale Otters bat walk in Bingley at 19:00. So I decided I’d pop into to Fairburn Ings RSPB on the way home.

I headed for the Lyn Dyke end of the reserve. It was quiet, with few birds or people around, but it was a lovely afternoon to spend watching the world go by. Through my scope I watched a male Gadwall in extreme close-up as it preened in the bright sunshine. Fantastic: such beautiful plumage. A late Chiffchaff was singing, and I heard Willow Warbler calls from the hawthorns. It was a nice way to break up the monotony of the journey home.

The bat walk later went well too, with lots of Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bats to entertain the kids; and my daughter Rowan having a great time staying up late with her friend running around St Ives in the dark!

1 comment:

  1. Nice one Nick, how did I know the text would turn up in your report?!! :P That will teach me!