Friday, 21 May 2021

Five and a Half Hours

There is something hypnotically compelling about a rough sea. That's not just an opinion; it is fact. It must be, because there is no other way to explain my spending 5.5 hours of the day staring at it...

As forecast, it was a stormy night. Very windy, the odd shower. The sea off Cogden looked and sounded absolutely magnificent as it heaved and roared. Hunched in my old fishing chair and sheltered in the lee of a hedge, with brolly close at hand, I was warm, cosy and ready to note down a massive tally of birds. A flock of 7 Kittiwakes struggled past, then a Manxie, and then...and then...a great big long gap...

The 2.5 hours between 06:00 and 08:30 slipped away surprisingly quickly considering how few birds there were. I was pleased to see 2 dark-phase Arctic Skuas resting offshore. If they hadn't lifted off a couple of times I might have missed them, but they thought better of going anywhere and plonked back down, slowly drifting away eastwards. Also notable was a tight group of 19 Swifts which weaved its way west through the troughs like a flock of waders. The final haul comprised 8 Kitts, 2 Great Northern Divers, 15 Manxies, the 2 Arctic Skuas, 11 Common Scoter and 23 Swifts. Highlights from fellow WhatsApp group seawatchers along the coast included 2 Poms, a few Arctic Skuas, several Great Northern Divers and a possible Sooty Shearwater, so there were a few bits about. Which guaranteed that I'd be tempted out again later.

At 16:30 I was once again in position, determined to stick it out, come what may. The first hour yielded a single Manx Shearwater. After two hours I had added 4 more Manxies and a Great Northern Diver. Hotting up massively. The next 30 minutes were completely frantic: 4 Manxies and a STORM PETREL! I almost missed the Stormie. It was so close that it nearly slipped beneath my scope's field of view. So close that I could actually see its white rump with binoculars alone. So close that I got the camera out and went for a record shot. Unfortunately I couldn't pick it up in the viewfinder so ended up taking a calculated guess at where it must be and firing off a burst. Here's the best one...

Sadly I missed, and there is no Storm Petrel in this photo. But the sea looks great doesn't it?

Actually the Storm Petrel saved the day. For starters, it's a few years since I've seen one locally. So that's nice. And secondly, yesterday's post could easily be read as a tentative prediction of the species' appearance today as a result of the current weather. And if you did read it that way, well, good, and I feel duly vindicated. However, if you thought I was predicting Long-tailed Skuas, I'm sorry but you would be quite wrong there...

Anyway, the final 30 minutes of the late seawatch produced a flock of 4 Common Scoter. Totalling the notables gives me 15 individual birds, or one every 12 minutes. When you consider they didn't all come one at a time, or at evenly-spaced intervals, it gives you a little insight into exactly how stubborn one needs to be to endure an average Lyme Bay seawatch. And proof beyond doubt that a rough sea casts a spell.

8 comments:

  1. Loving the thought of those Swifts blazing their way through the troughs, must have been magical to witness.

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    1. I think one of the largely unsung pleasures of seawatching are those encounters with incongruous non-seabirds at migration times. Magical stuff. 😊

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    2. Yip, I well remember watching Nightjars coming in off and pitching into the dune slacks in Portugal some years back. I was intensely confused as to what they were until they approached closer. I also remember a bunch of us all getting onto a bumblebee which came in off at Portland Bill one day, quite bizarre - and even more bizarre that we all got onto it! I'm vicariously reliving my seawatching days via your blog, keep at it!

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    3. Over the years I've heard a few terrific 'in off' stories, but don't really have any of my own. Nightjar and bumblebee are pretty cool though!

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  2. A new hobby then Gav, taking pictures of scenes showing where a bird has just vacated. It could catch on, no really, keep at it.

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    1. Finding a small bird at long range in the camera viewfinder is by far my biggest challenge when it comes to bird photography. I am fairly hopeless at it. I don't plan to make a habit of such photos, but yes, there may be sequels to this episode! 😄

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  3. I totally agree with you, Gav. I live more than an hour from the sea, so a stormy sea-watch is always compelling to me. There's nothing more dramatic than to witness birds battling the wind and the waves, some, seemingly, with ease. Hypnotic. And the photo made me smile. I did the same thing a few weeks back with a Pom Skua at Dungeness. Fired off a few hopeful shots but ended up with some less than ordinary images of the English Channel and not much else.

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    1. Dramatic is the word, Neil. And watching it play out from a sheltered vantage point, in good light, is indeed compulsive viewing. And very hard to photograph! 😄

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