Monday, 10 May 2021

The 'P' Word

I reckon I'd be on pretty safe ground if I suggested that skuas are at the top of most south-coast seawatchers' wanted list. Especially Poms. There is something deeply appealing about Pomarine Skuas, especially spring adults. They are dark, majestic bruisers. And their amazing spoon-shaped central tail feathers have a ludicrous but slightly sinister air, like the decorous trappings of some dandified pirate. Factor in their scarcity and you have an irresistible combo.

I didn't see a single Pom last year, so have been rather keen for one this spring. So far it has not been a 'Pom year' in this neck of the woods, in fact skuas in general have been quite thin on the ground. My tally thus far was just 3 Arctic Skuas, all evening birds. So this morning I traipsed out once more to watch the sea, hoping for a Pom.

From 06:00 to 08:00 was the slot I had earmarked. Two hours. The West Bay shelter seemed like a good shout in the conditions, so I sat myself down and took a deep breath...

At 06:23 a Bonxie went east, reasonably close. My first of the year, and a fine start. Just six minutes later I picked up another skua with my bins, obviously a light-phase Pom or Arctic. It was a lovely Arctic, and the second skua in just a few minutes. Promising! By the time my two hours were up, 52 Kittiwakes had passed in little parties, also a flock of 10 Common Scoters, a couple of Manxies and two rather late dark-bellied Brents. Nice, but not hectic. I kept checking my watch and willing the sea to cough up another skua, but time ticked away...

I was almost down to my last ten minutes when a very distant dark shape casually sheared up above the horizon. It was well off to my right, and tiny through the scope. Zooming up I could see it was going to be a Pom or Arctic, but the range was too great to say either way. My suspicion was Pom. It just had a beefy but relaxed kind of vibe. Sure enough, as it came closer I could see the tell-tale spoons. It was indeed a stonking Pom! Because I had picked it up so early I got maximum value. The bird seemed to take ages to pass, but probably it was only a minute or two. I punted out a quick text message and hoped the Pom would get picked up further east.

It did...

The Pom goes past West Bexington. Not close, but who cares? It's a Pom pic! (courtesy Mike Morse)

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