Friday 12 May 2017

Sharing is Caring

I should definitely play my hunches more often. I was down at Burton Bradstock beach not long after 05:00 and, despite the pathetically gentle onshore breeze, was absolutely brimming with confidence. Yesterday morning I did an hour and twenty minutes in two bites, and my highlights were flocks of 6 and 22 Common Scoters. Poor. Yet Pom Skuas were reported here and there; Steve had one at Seaton finally! Even 2 Long-tailed Skuas popped up along the S coast - the nearest at Berry Head, Devon. I just had a strong hunch that there would be some more Poms pitching up in Lyme Bay later in the day, making an early start essential...

However, by 06:00 I'd managed no more than just a few Common Scoters and a Great Crested Grebe. It was very slow. I began to worry that if there were going to be any skuas I might only get one chance, and I didn't want to accidentally miss it because I was looking at Twitter or playing Minesweeper or something. A heads-up from the West would be nice. I texted Steve...

06:02 'R u seawatching Stevie??'
06:03 'Do I need to be? Is it busy?'
06:03 'Ha ha! Not so far!'
06:04 'Just doesn't seem as good weather conditions as forecasted?'

Steve was right. Hardly a breath of wind. It didn't look promising at all. And yet...

At that precise moment a very distant bird appeared above the horizon and climbed rapidly, coming straight towards me. "Is that a Whimbrel?" I thought. It then stopped abruptly, turned E and sailed gently down to land on the sea. A skua! Too far out to ID, but definitely a skua.

Some more tippy-tappy...

06:06 'Mind you, just had my first v distant skua, has landed on sea...'
 [note 'first' skua. Confidence!]
06:07 'Oh there's no harm in me popping down for an hour is there...'
06:08 'Let me know when the Long-tailed comes past!'

Ah, if only...

I kept an eye out where the skua had landed, and after a little while picked up two familiar shapes cruising E, low to the waves. I had to zoom right up to clinch them, but definitely 2 Poms; I assumed my initial sighting had been one of these two.

06:16 '2 distant Poms E'

Soon we were chatting on the phone, talking up the potential and generally being wishful, when my scope eye was suddenly full of Pom! Another two fully-spooned stunners were muscling E at no more than 2-300 yards! I rang off a bit abruptly. Brilliant!

Then it was Steve's turn...

06:29 '9 Poms on sea off Spot-on'

Steve was so excited he inadvertently sent it twice!

NINE!! Shortly we were talking on the phone again. All nine had evidently taken off, circled over the Spot-on kiosk, directly above Steve and Richard, the only two birders seawatching there, and then headed my way! To say Steve was ecstatic would be an understatement. I now had the heads-up I had been hoping for.

At 07:05 they came past me. Simply superb. Probably 400 yds plus, low to the waves, powering eastwards with seemingly no effort. All pale phase birds except one, which I guess was intermediate-ish, and I reckon all or nearly all of them had full spoons. In a previous post I promised birdy #recordshots, so duly made the effort...

I reckon a couple of those specks actually look Pom-shaped. Amazing. I can only make out 8 in the photo, but even that's a minor miracle.

With the aid of the technological marvel that is Twitter, those 9 Poms were tracked all along the S coast from Seaton, via James McCarthy at Lyme Regis, via me at Burton, all and sundry at Portland Bill, and on round past Hurst Point in Hampshire and into the Solent. I'm not sure how far they got after that, but they do appear to have stopped for a breather somewhere before Selsey Bill. It was great to be aware of the shared experience and, as I've yet to meet a birder who isn't fired up by seeing skuas, to know that a lot of fellow birders were on cloud nine this morning!

Something weird is happening. Has birding changed dramatically while I've been away, or something? Because I am seeing LOADS more decent birds than used to be the case.


  1. Shush, don't tempt fate, just enjoy it while it lasts.

  2. Nice!! Methinks 8 of them dropped down in the Solent somewhere between Hill Head and Stokes Bay, as Stokes Bay rarely miss out and Sandy Point on the eastern edge of the Solent (& Selsey etc) didn't get them, or not yet. 1 of them powered on through... They must've split up once the reached the IOW/Solent as we at Hill Head had the 8 & 1 was much higher so we missed it

  3. Hi Gav - great post, love it! Funny to see our text conversation too.

  4. Ahh gripping stuff, wish I could join in the funtimes too dammit! Gotta love a fully-spooned up Pom...or nine!

  5. Many thanks for the comments, all. An event which highlighted lots of the potential positives in birding - spectacular birds, racing pulses, camaraderie, etc - and none of the negatives.

    Except maybe severe grippage for some!

  6. Yes, grippage indeed! I was at the bus stop when I got Steve's message and knew I couldn't miss it. And it was heading inland! Still, it's a deserved reward for all the seawatchers as we all know that seawatch spectacles are truly earned as they can't really be twitched. Last time I saw 9+ Poms was at Dungeness in 2008 when I chose a fantastic day to be there. Perhaps I'll write a nostalgia post about it on the blog...

    1. Yes Tim, not the kind of text you need to receive when you're about to climb aboard a bus heading inland! I feel your pain!