Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Sea. Gull.

Struggling a bit for keyboard time at the moment, which means there is loads of blog material unblogged. So here's a follow-on from my previous moany one about the rough seawatching deal we get here. And it's not moany at all...

At Burton Bradstock I have finally sussed a little spot which provides some shelter from a south-westerly. I've used it now in wind speeds up to somewhere in the twenties (mph) and it's been okay. Not brilliant, but not bad. Though in a gale I think it would probably get blown out. Mind you, the more west and less south there is, the better the shelter, because as I've mentioned before, a south-westerly is basically straight in. There is no cover from rain, so I employ the brolly technique which I learned at Berry Head. For comfort and stability I use a vintage fishing chair - an original Fox Adjusta Level item which must be around 30 years old - and keep low. So far, so good...

When the wind initially got up a few days ago I began to test things out, and have now put in six short sessions. Rather than enumerate them all, here are the grand totals from all the seawatching I've done since last Friday evening...

Balearic Shearwater 36
Manx Shearwater 184
Common Scoter 219
Arctic Skua 2
Bonxie 3
Kittiwake 11
Common Tern 2
Sandwich Tern 4
Mediterranean Gull 30+
Curlew 1
Whimbrel 1
Mallard 6

I rarely (read 'never') count Gannets or auks, but the former have certainly been numerous, and I did see a Razorbill on the sea close in, with its youngster (a tiny little thing) which was a first for me in Lyme Bay. I've also seen my first juvenile Black-headed and Med Gulls of 2020.

I am actually very happy with that tally. Mostly it has felt reasonably busy out there, and dead spells have been relatively few. All the skuas were this morning, and very welcome. I have missed them.

This evening I popped down again, and the wind promptly dropped. Also, due to the pattern of cloud cover, the light was absolutely dire. With the horrible glare and lack of birds I wondered if I'd even last 30 minutes. And then some gulls appeared...

Presumably there were whitebait shoals close in, because a constant stream of gulls were passing W, close in, on occasion gathering into a noisy flock and pausing a while, before moving on and being replaced by more. The first bird of interest was a worn 1st-summer (2cy) Common Gull, and then I spotted a 2nd summer/3rd-winter (3cy) Yellow-legged Gull, my first local bird since January. It was a right pig to pick out of the flock, and I lost it twice, but I really wanted a photo. My first effort produced a Lesser Black-backed Gull! Oops. Then it went missing. Eventually I found it again, loitering on its own, a bit beyond the melee. I got one pic on the water, then it took off and I somehow managed a single burst of flight shots...

They're a bit rubbish, but I reckon this might be the first YLG of this age that I've seen in July, so definitely worth a nice NQS collage...

Note virtually adult bill colouring, and shade of grey in comparison with Herring Gull

So there we go. While many of my fellow birders were at Portland Bill, wrestling with the intricacies of Yelkouan Shearwater identification, I was up to my ears in gull again. And loving it...


  1. That Razorbill record is intriguing. Presumably if the young bird was that small it couldn't fly, so where on earth had it come from?

    1. I certainly didn't see it fly, but I don't know what kind of size they have to be in order to do so. The juv was a lot smaller than the adult, with a dinky little bill, and I've certainly never seen the like in my time here or at Seaton. And of course I wondered the same as you! Very strange.

  2. The young auks have the ability to simply pitch themselves off of the cliffs and execute a controlled crash landing into the sea.
    I've seen film footage of them doing this with their parent flying alongside them on the way down.
    Yes, they are very small.

    1. It was probably a bit bigger than when they do that, Ric. The nearest breeders are on Portland. Burton Bradstock is a long way to swim!