Sunday, 14 August 2016

Sea watch, part 2

After last weekends quiet visit to Strumble, I was in Scotland visiting my parents. The weather was quite windy (average 20knots) from the West so I decided to spend a few early hours from my former favoured patch - an old viaduct on the Solway Firth, that has become something of a spring passage skua watching mecca. I've personally had a Pom, with full spoons, pass over about 10ft above me. August storms have brought Manxies, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and most of the commener terns into the inner firth, so hopes were high as I made my way out just after 5 am last Friday.

The first bird of note was a Green Sandpiper (a year tick), but aside from streams of Black-headed Gulls heading int the wind the going was tough until about 6:45 when the first Gannet appeared heading into the wind. Gannets used to be my indicator of windblown birds trying to make their way out, so attention was hightened. First a Common Tern (another year tick) flew past followed by the first of over a dozen Sandwich Terns (and another year tick). Fulmar and Common Scoters flew out but little else of note.

A juvenile Peregrine provided some entertainment as it tried to snatch a Lapwing, which promptly dropped into some long grass. The Peregrine flew round several times trying to spook the Lapwing into flight but it was having none of it. Several times the Peregrine hovered over the Lapwing for several  seconds - something I've never seen a Peregrine do previously. Eventually it gave up on the Lapwing and decided to have a go at a near by Curlew. The Curlew knew better and launched a counter attack on the hapless Peregrine with took off (if it could have done - it would have been with its tail between it's hing legs).

Back on the water I noticed a dark "gull" sitting on the water some way out (the first is narrowed to about a mile wide at this point). A pale head and not much of a bill had me trying to convince myself why this was a gull. 2 Fulmar distracted me momentarily, and then whilst watching a couple of Sandwich tern the gull took to the air and I could no longer try to convince myself it was a gull. No, it was a fine juvenile Long-tailed Skua, that I managed to follow for several minutes before it was lost to sight. A sight tick for me as well as my first skua of the year.

Not long afterwards a dark phase Arctic passed close by heading east. Whilst I was following this bird it banked up sharply to attack a passing carrion crow. At this point it was joined in the attack by a dark phase Pom'. Wow a good mornings birding.

Saturday was a much drier/brighter day and featured a number of Swifts heading West - at least 35, one of which looked a great candidate for Pallid - a similar sandy brown to that of a Sand Martin, it appeared to have blunter wing tips, but unfortunately I only saw it for some 12-15 seconds and never in direct comparison with any other Swifts, so it will be one that got away.


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