I thought Autumn was done. I spent 31st October morning at Canvey Point in a SE wind with a number of local stalwarts in anticipation of a host of sea birds being blown into the Thames and ... nothing. I was resigned to a year without a skua, or any notable sea movement. But the forecast for Tuesday 5th November showed a strong onshore wind in north Norfolk for the afternoon, so perhaps the chance for some fireworks? (sorry).
Dave was unavailable so just myself and Mike pitched up at Cley around 10. There was already a big crowd at the coastguards. We took the opportunity of light winds in the morning to walk up to and beyond the East Bank with a view to concentrating on the sea alter when the wind was forecast to rise.
Mike saw a Woodcock flying strongly over Arthur's Marsh, and we watched it hurtle into the fence along the beach, Tumble over and land in the beach. It seemed to be stunned, possibly injured, so we went towards it taking some time to observe this gem of a bird, nestling into the pebbles and observing us with its large eye. Surely one of my favourite birds. As we got closer it took off and flew out to sea and along the beach, so presumably all well.
The Long-Tailed Duck was still on the pool near the shelter on the east bank, and also Pintail, Brent Goose, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and a Marsh Harrier spooking them all. We carried on beyond the path at East Hide and had some tantalising small birds but they were Goldfinches and a Linnet. I spotted some Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew out on the marsh and Mike pointed out a pristine winter Spotted Redshank much closer in - a splendid sight.
So, back to the coastguards and the sea. Our totals for occasional watches on our walk and then a concentrated with in the afternoon was as follows:
All 3 Divers in flight, 2 Black-throated and one Great Northern
Gannet over a hundred. A flock of 70 or so moved slowly west, repeatedly diving into the sea from height. surely one of the great sights of watching sea birds. All stages of plumage were seen well and close in as the wind developed.
3 Velvet Scoter, hundreds of Common Scoter, 1 Merganser, plus a few Goldeneye. All going west.
9 Pomarine Skua, 3 Arctic Skua, 3 Great Skua . All well out at sea apart form a Great Skua along the beach, and all going west.
Kittiwake in their hundreds heading east.
Little Auk 2 flying west.
Personally the highlight was the skua passage. Like most birders, I love Skuas and don't see enough of them. In particular, I don't see many Poms, so this was a chance to get to grips with them. If you haven't seen me at sea watches, I'm the guy at the end going 'what was that?' every time a skua flies past. But today my diagnosis of what I was watching chimed in with what others were saying. A heavy, consistent flight with big powerful wing beats and a substantial frame seem to fit the bill for Pom, whereas something dashing around looking for prey seems more likely to be Arctic. Crikey, next I'll be self-identifying Caspian Gulls!
And those ID books in my shelf. 'Skuas and Jaegers' by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson. Quite the book in its time. Now rendered completely useless by the internet. So much better to go onto Youtube and see the birds flying rather than just reading up about it.