Saturday 6 May 2017

Pom Party

Everyone loves a skua, especially a fully spooned-up spring Pom. So it was very nice to see this tweet from Mike Morse early yesterday evening...

As regular readers will know, West Bexington is just a mile or two E of my chosen patch. So of course I was a little bit gripped. But at the same time I was rather pleased. How come? Well, I know I'm leaving myself open to accusations of being unbearably smug after the fact here, but I predicted exactly this scenario at exactly this time. Yep, Poms past the patch, late on Friday. Not out loud, not in print anywhere, but quietly to myself. And if my free time late yesterday hadn't been compromised by a prior engagement I would have been at Burton Bradstock from about 4:30 pm. Honest!

This was because several days ago the weather forecast indicated that the mostly NE wind we've been having for a while would move a bit more easterly on Friday, with roughly due East (and quite brisk) set for late afternoon/evening. I was optimistic of some Pom action, and earmarked the slot for a nice seawatch...and then we got invited out. But the forecast held good, and look what went and happened!

Although I'd missed out on that chance, I was aware that a small number of Poms had passed Portland over the last few days, so they were definitely on the move still. I therefore hoped that the Bex birds weren't the only ones to have been pushed a little further E than usual, and that despite the wind reverting to a rather unhelpful NE again, one or two might do the decent thing and come past early this morning. In fact I more than 'hoped', I was borderline confident, and set the alarm for 5:30.

Arriving in the Burton Bradstock car park about 5:50 I faffed about a bit trying to find somewhere comfy to sit down out of the wind, eventually settling on a spot on the beach, with my back to a wall. I then fiddled about with the scope, getting the legs set right, getting it level, and so on. Like an old woman. Eventually I aimed it at the horizon and tweaked the focus. As I did so a distant bird reared up above the waves. A skua! Literally the first bird I clapped eyes on! It banked slightly and I could see it was a pale phase, but there were clearly no spoons. Must be an Arctic, surely. Suddenly, in the same field of view, another appeared. Also pale, also spoonless. But two together? Could they be Poms? The birds were still distant, but evidently coming towards me. A better view of one bird convinced me that it had shortish, but blunt tail projections; it was a Pom. At this point another two birds appeared. Strewth! A flock! I quickly scanned left, and could hardly believe my eyes when the four became seven! All pale phase, at least a couple sporting full spoons. Absolutely magnificent! I heard myself talking out loud again: "SEVEN Poms!! Wow!!" and stuff a bit like that...

By now the flock was drifting slowly westwards and I realised they would probably be out of view before coming close enough for really crippling views...and then it dawned on me that the first two I'd seen might not actually have been the lead birds. Quickly I swung the scope well right and scanned slowly back again. The scope was suddenly full of Poms, all up above the horizon now, and quite tightly grouped. I struggled to count them. Eleven! And then another cruised in from the left. Twelve! TWELVE! I could scarcely believe my eyes...

When they had disappeared from view I punted out a tweet, plus a text to Steve over at Seaton. I really hoped they'd keep moving W and make someone else's day too. But nothing happened. Steve wondered if they'd drifted back S, or even gone overland. And then came a tweet from the opposite direction at 8:15: '12 Poms through Chesil Cove heading east...' It seemed a bit unfair really.

Steve reckons I've always been a bit jammy with Poms. This may well be true (and I'm always happy to accept any jam going) but in my defence I have to point out that this morning's jam was genuinely the result of a plan. Of course, plans don't always come good, but once in a while they do, and when that happens I am big-headed enough to enjoy taking credit! Mind you, another five minutes faffing and I would have been bemoaning yet another failure. Okay, it was possibly a little bit fluky then...

So, context: I don't know how often Lyme Bay sees a double-figure flock of Pomarine Skuas, but 'not very' is my guess. It's certainly my first anywhere. I once had a flock of nine, I think it was, at Dungeness in May 1990. And I'm pretty sure that is my only previous flock, with all my other Poms ones and twos. From Seaton they were very scarce. I had a puny total of 17 on 13 dates, with just 12 birds (8 dates) in spring. That's in about 10 years of sporadically moderate effort.

Which is why this brief little encounter with those absolutely stunning birds has got itself a whole fat post of its own.

Finally, if I'd missed the Poms this was my seawatch (05:55 - 07:25): 1 Grey Plover W, 3 Cormorants W, 1E, 2 Shelduck W, 4 Common Scoter E, 3 Mute Swans E, 3 BHGs E, 1 Kittiwake loitering, handful of Manxies likewise.

Yep, Grey Plover would have been the highlight.


  1. Are you a birder again then Gav? Look's like it...

  2. who are you and what have you done with Gavin?

    1. I'm Derek. Gavin's out fishing. On his bike.