Wednesday 8 September 2021

Back to VizMigging

The wind moved into the west which brought an end to exciting seawatches. It's since turned south-s'easterly which can be good for VizMigging  -visible migration - which for me means observing and counting birds on their autumn migration from a single vantage point. I'm normally in Tarifa at this time for the most spectacular VizMig in western Europe, it wasn't to be this year...

Instead, my vantage point was the 'big dune' at Druridge this morning. No flocks of Honey Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles or White Storks but a great vantage point at the innermost part of the bay which funnels coasting birds in to one point. I only had an hour or so before work from 7.30am to 8.30am. The wind was light and the skies were clear.

Typical view of a passing Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipits and Swallows were piling through as I arrived and continued to do so. House and Sand Martins came through in lower numbers with only a few Skylarks and Pied/White Wagtails. A few waders included 2 Ruff, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and four Snipe. 

The final tally for one hour was:

Barn Swallow - 557

Meadow Pipit - 288

House Martin - 36

Sand Martin - 14

Skylark - 4

Pied/White Wagtail - 2

The last couple of evenings have been warm, sunny and calm and I've had a couple of brief looks on the sea. Yesterday I photographed a wader coming in-off, it flew over my head as I photographed (I nearly went-over backwards) and had me stumped at first. Any guesses what it is?

Out of context wader

The Scoter flock numbers around 350 but is always changing, last night there were two Great-crested Grebes with them, tonight two Tufted Duck. The flock is constantly changing and requires regular scrutiny if a 'Surfy' is to be found. 

Tonight I had two treats, an aerial battle between an Arctic Skua and a young Sandwich Tern and a beautiful sunset. An adult and juvenile Roseate tern were nice as it won't be long until they're gone. 

Let battle commence
Off they go

Sunset, that's the Simonside Hills behind the turbines. 

Thursday 2 September 2021

Still seawatching

Last week I was mostly seawatching. Well, since then, the wind has remained out of the north and I've continued to be 'mostly seawatching'.

I've had two sessions on the patch and two trips to Snab Point for rarer species, just to give myself a better chance of seeing them. 

On Tuesday evening I had a two-hour seawatch from the dunes at Druridge. It started quietly so I decided to count 'everything' - I don't normally do this, because, when you're counting a long string of Gannets, you might just miss a skua or shearwater slipping through. Anyhoo, I did count the Gannets - 977 in two hours, give or take. That's about 500/hour on average. 

Other highlights from Tuesday evening included:

Pale-bellied Brent - 7
Bonxie - 2
Arctic Skua - 1
Roseate Tern - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 2
Manx - 8
and a Grey Heron  - not a common sight on a seawatch.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Fea's type Pterodroma petrel was tracked north up the East Coast. It was due at Newbiggin after 5pm, but I was cutting it fine, leaving the office at ten-to, I headed for Snab Point. I hadn't even got my scope set up when news came through from Church Point. Six minutes later I picked it up about 2/3rds out turning and towering, I got a fella, Dave, who was also there onto it and we watched it for the full three-four minutes it took to pass us and head north into the Bay. Despite the distance, the light was fabulous and the dark 'V' from the wings to the back could be made out as it banked and turned. What a bird! Much better views than the one I saw from Druridge a few years ago. 

This morning, Janet and I were back at Snab Point before work. A juvenile Sabine's Gull had been tracked up the coast. Shortly after being reported at Newbiggin we got onto it, straight out, above the horizon. It was really obvious compared to the Kitti's we'd been watching coming through. A bit of a 'tick and run' - we headed back to work.

This evening I headed back to my dune perch, with a new bit of kit. A foldable camping seat. This one just has a back and base, no legs, so ideal if there is a dune to sit on. I've been standing recently but it's hard work standing for three hours, let alone six or seven. 

It started quiet. There weren't even many Gannets. 

About forty minutes in I picked up a pale-phase Skua to the south, about half way out, the flight was slow and buoyant and I fancied it was a Long-tailed Skua. As it came closer my suspicions were right, a beautiful dusky-grey and white adult long-tailed skua, drew level with me and continued north. What a bird!

It picked up after that, with a couple of Bonxies and Arctic Skuas, and then a group of five Arctic Skuas together at half-five, close-in. Two adult Pomarine Skuas had been tracked north and they promptly came through just before half-six. Nice pale birds complete with spoons. Three little gulls, more Arctic Skuas and four Purple Sandpipers went through.

It had turned into a canny seawatch. I was thinking of going home to make tea when a juvenile Sabine's Gull appeared in the bottom of my scope, filling it. It was close in!

Now this is where my new seat was my undoing...

The Sabine's was in my scope, it landed on the sea, I panicked looking for my phone to try and video it (as it was that close). The phone had fallen onto the sand, as I reached from my new seat for it, it shifted, so did I, and the scope went over. I set it back up but couldn't find the bird.  If I'd been standing up, as I have been for the last year or more, this wouldn't have happened. Frantic scanning of the sea where it was last seen and then, back on my feet with the scope set up properly, a prolonged scan yielded nothing. Gone! F'ing seat!

Two more tracked 'Poms' came through at 19:18 - both adults with spoons and four Little Gulls were on the sea, two adults and two juvs.  

During a quiet spell tonight, I contemplated the pros and cons of modern communications that allow birds to be tracked up the coast. This morning, when the Sabine's Gull was at Tynemouth, I knew I had time for a bowl of Muesli before heading for Snab Point. You can now twitch seabirds. Whilst this undoubtedly means that more people get to see rare seabirds, it does take some of the fun out seawatching. Even though my views of the Sabine's gull at Druridge were brief this evening, before falling off my new seat, I still enjoyed that experience more than the tracked bird at Snab Point this morning which gave prolonged views. 

Tracked birds still need to be found by someone. I love seawatching and still put the hours in when nothing is being seen. It doesn't work if everyone sits at home waiting for Whatsapp to ping. Long-tailed Skuas are my favourite skua (by far) so finding an adult tonight was a real treat, it wouldn't have been the same if I knew it was coming like I did with the Poms. As I said... Pros and cons.

Here's some gulls...

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull

Adult Common Gull

Adult Great Black-backed Gull