Friday 5 May 2023


Spring seawatching here is such a hit-and-miss affair. I find it impossibly hard to accurately predict a good seawatch, so constantly err on the side of optimism in case I miss out through apathy. Which means regular doses of disappointment! However, on occasion it can also be delightfully entertaining, and so the last few days have proved...

With an easterly wind forecast, Wednesday morning looked decent for something at least, if not skuas, so I was at West Bay by 06:00. It turned out to be a wader morning. A tight flock of 11 Bar-tailed Godwits held some gorgeous, brick-red males. In addition, 2 Oystercatchers, a Turnstone, 7 Whimbrel, 3 Sanderlings, 7 Ringed Plovers and 3 Dunlin went past, the latter two being Patchwork Challenge ticks. Surprise of the morning flew east at 06:35. The first Avocet I have ever seen on a seawatch looked utterly incongruous as it laboured into the headwind, several times dropping on to the sea for a brief swim. Mad! In fact it is the first Avocet I have seen anywhere along the coast locally. Bizzarely, while seawatching at Lyme Regis, James M had a flock of four Avocets do likewise that afternoon; they were seen also by Richard P at Charmouth, and predictably were patch ticks for both.

No skuas though.

A good seawatch always raises hopes for the next day, but reality was typically harsh, with almost nothing of note past in yesterday's early watch. So the pics taken at Beachy Head that morning were a bit gripping. Because a muscly flock of Poms is a wondrous thing to behold, even in some other fortunate birder's photo. But East Sussex is not West Dorset and, while it was obvious that Pomarine Skuas were on the move in numbers, the key question was: did any of them come this way? No morning news from Portland or Chesil, Pom-wise, so a late afternoon/evening watch was clearly a no-brainer. Just in case...

The first sign of skua action was the awesome sight of a light-phase Arctic in hot pursuit of some Sandwich Terns. I so rarely see them in full-on pirate mode. A total joy to watch. After a five-minute rest on the sea, it came past close enough to tempt me into photographic effort...

Arctic Skua. If you think this is bad, wait until you see this morning's pixellated mess.

Next, another Arctic Skua. Very nice try, but no cigar. Then, shortly after 6pm, news of 4 Poms which had landed on the sea off Charmouth, a few miles west of here. Brilliant! It would simply be a matter of time before they lifted off and carried on me. The wait was tense. And long. And ultimately futile. Because the darned things never came.

Apart from the 2 Arctic Skuas, the stand-out highlight from yesterday's pm seawatch was yet another bit of bizarreness. Scanning around with bins, I suddenly caught sight of 3 Tufted Ducks heading rapidly out to sea. They had evidently come over the seafront from inland somewhere. Excellent. When it comes to Patchwork Challenge ticks, Tuftie was definitely not on my list of bankers!

And so we come to today...

With a slight possibility of the four lazy Charmouth Poms coming past this morning, obviously I needed to be in the seawatching shelter at first light. Didn't quite manage that, but the timer says I started at 05:43, which is not bad for me. At 05:51 a Bonxie flew east. At 05:58 a light-phase skua flew east; it had no spoons, but was a bit too far out to ID with confidence. Having seen two Arctics yesterday, this bird's flight action suggested Pom, but I put it down as an either/or. Which took some self-discipline, I can tell you. Thankfully, at 06:07 a massively spooned-up Pom flew E. A long way out, but that tail is unmistakeable. Magic!

So, wow! Three skuas in just over 15 minutes. This was going to be a mega morning!

Two hours later, the skua tally was still three, and the sea would have struggled to be quieter.

I'm not sure why I bothered in virtual darkness, but for some reason I did point the P900 at this morning's Bonxie. This is what happened...



  1. It's the sighting that counts, clear photos are just the gravy.