Friday, May 06, 2016

Portland sea watch - Wed 4 May

7am and I am in prime position by the Obelisk, looking west towards Pulpit rock, a prominent tower of rock on the end of a short spit. To the right is a gap (known as "the gap") which looks west toward the North Devon coast. I am joined by one other person. And so it begins.

Gannets are in evidence drifting by in small numbers, there are a few Manx Shearwaters, lots of auks (the settled birds are mainly Guillemots but there are a few Razorbills), and Fulmars and Kittiwakes in low numbers, Larger gulls, Cormorants and an occasional Shag make up the supporting cast.

7:00 Great Skua E

7:15 is that an owl? In the distance a large pale bird with round wings is flopping along low over the water. No its not an Owl, its a male Hen Harrier which slowly makes its way east. A group of regulars turn up from the Obs just in time to get their eyes on what is a Portland rarity.

7:25 Great Skua E quite close in, coming from Chesil. 3 male Common Scoter E

7: 30 Great Northern Diver, summer plumage, overhead going west. Nice.

7:40. Common Scoter 6E, Sandwich Tern 2E, then 15 Common Scoter E.

8:00 10 distant terns going E are Commic Terns. Then 2 Sandwich Terns, another Great Northern Diver, 8 Common Scoters

8:20 Common Scoter 8E, Commic Tern 20E

8:25 Little Gull called in from the Obs, and we pick up a first winter steaming west. It latches onto a small party of feeding Commic terns and feeds. The less experienced of us (i.e. me) get the opportunity to see why this is not a Kittiwake which has similar plumage in its first year. Its all in the flight.

8:30 Commic Tern 7E

8:45 Common Scoter 3E, and the Little Gull departs.

8:55 Great Northern Diver 1W

9:00. This is officially the start of Skua Hour. Anticipation is high. 20 Commic Terns E in two flocks.

9:10. A tight bunch of waders coming in from SW at medium height. 8 Grey Plover, easy to pick out with their resplendent black bellies, and 12 waders which it is eventually agreed are Barwits (Bar-tailed Godwits) on account of their medium size, straight bills, and general browny-grey featurelessness.

9:20 5 Common Scoter 5E

9:30 20 Barwits east, and a Whimbrel by the Pulpit playing with its food.

9:45 distant diver E

10:00 am. Skua hour has finished with none of the hoped for Poms. Some of the regulars head back to the Obs and we remaining few are concentrating extra hard as departing birders normally mean a good bird is about to appear! A tern drifts by from the east close by, a Commic Tern. I have a brief look, call it out, and return to scanning the distance for that elusive rarity. One birder notices long streamers - is it an Arctic Tern? The bird turns ands comes back. It has an all black bill, and a local makes the call on what should have been obvious the moment it came past; its a Roseate Tern. It disappears through the gap, but fortunately remerges more distantly with two commic terns and fishes for a while. We get to see the smaller size, the paler more uniform plumage, and those never-ending tail streamers. It feeds, and we see the faster wingbeats, the more buoyant bouncy flight and the dipping down to the surface. and whilst we are enjoying the sight of this rare bird gracing our sea watch I am thinking of the patch Black Redstart , and that this is the second time in about as many weeks when I have screwed up the id of a scarce bird, on both occasions because I did not expect that bird, there, at that time and I identified on the basis of my preconceptions, not the evidence in front of me. As a wise man once said, the hardest lessons to learn in life are those you thought you had already learnt.

10:45 a summer-plumage Black Throated Diver emerges from behind the Pulpit and steams east. The throat patch and sparkled back are clearly evident. A fantastic bird to effectively end our sea watch. A few more Common Scoter come through, but there are just a handful of us left, and the tourists have arrived and one after another they come up and ask the time-honoured question "what on earth are you idiots doing?" "what are you looking at?" It is time to go.

The top fields are empty apart from a Sedge Warbler, a few Whitethroats, and a handful of Swifts and Swallows over-head. I have a large Full-English breakfast in Weymouth, even though its mid-afternoon, then take a walk round a sun-drenched Lodmoor. It is rubbish, with just a Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper, but the Marsh Harrier does a fantastic leisurely circuit of the reserve and a pinging Bearded Tit flies past, so its just a nice way to end the two-days. Then its the 180 miles to East Herts. I set the cruise control, and sit back with the incomparable Richard Hawley on the cd player and the early evening sun behind me lighting up the beautiful spring countryside and the by-now clear roads.

Here's a appropriate song for the trip.

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