Saturday, August 29, 2020

Cley sea watch - 29 Aug

The weather chart was very promising. NW gale force winds veering N in the afternoon, a bit of rain. This coincided with a gap in my social obligations. Luck me. So, I got up when I woke up and headed the 100 miles, 2hrs 30, to Cley to arrive around 8:45 ish.

A few lines of birders, I tagged on the end got my scope up and already there were a few seabirds belting east. This was going to be epic!

Lots of birds just knocking around too. Eider on the sea, Sandwich Terns going up and down, a couple of Fulmars going west and many flocks of ducks going W, mainly Teal but a few Wigeon and some Common Scoter. Some year ticks already. Then a shout from someone and an adult Little Gull fluttering along the tide line. This was going to be Epic!

I was now properly settled in, ready to get some decent sightings, and ... and ... for the next few hours or so the only thing that moved was rain. In a horizontal on-shore direction. The encroaching rain clouds seems to have cleared everything out. There were a couple of gaps in which a distant Gannet went west, and a Bonxie did a magical trick of flying towards us from the east and moving simultaneously further away, a kind of seabird moon-walk, courtesy of the gail force wind.

Around 1pm I decided that was it. I was epically wet and wind blown. There were some shadows and flickers out there on the edge of the rain belt, but nothing I could even tie down to a genus let alone species. I learned it is one thing to spot some decent onshore winds with a few showers on a weather chart, it is another to be trying to identify birds whilst stopping your tripod from falling over in a blizzard of rain.

Anyway, that early activity. Three small skua-shaped birds went east, then another one. Long arcs of gliding. The area of the line I was in was unclear, thinking Shearwaters, maybe Manx. I am no expert, or even averagely decent sea-watcher, but they weren't Manxies. Also, my optics were better (Kowa 883), and these were soft brownish. Later I spoke with someone who said the three were two Arctic Skua and a Long-tailed Skua, one of the three being clearly smaller.

Now, I don't know. But familiarity is a key indicator, and there was not much familiar about these birds. Honestly, if someone said they were all long-tailed I'd have believed it. But deciding that those telling you something other than what you want to hear don't know what they are talking about and those who tell you exactly what you want to hear are the experts is a dangerous game of self-delusion. So they will just have to go down as Skua sp.

In summary, there was lots of action before I was there, according to Birdguides there was lots of action after I was there (more long-tailed and a Sabine's), but when I was there there was naff all. There was a time when I would have been annoyed, but these days I am at peace with the fact that I cannot be everywhere all the time, I only have certain windows of opportunity, and I see what I see. Also, who knows if I'd have seen the latter birds, or agreed with the ID.

Increasingly, its the not-knowing that's the fun, the time spent trying to work out exactly what it is that's in front of me that's the excitement. Gull-Billed Tern? Yep. Saw that Alton Water one. Nice. Tick. But zero excitement factor. Brown shape hurtling past half a mile out? Now that's interesting ...

Update. Steve Gantlett posted some great photos of a Long-tailed Skua going past Cley at 11:45. I was there during and after, and no-one mentioned it. Just shows what is going past and you don't notice. 

I was struck, again, by the contrast of the various posts on twitter with confident posts with totals stated boldly and the experience of being in with several watchers and us collectively not really having a clue on what those birds passing at some distance were.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Some Luck at Abberton - 28 Aug

Birding has been a bit lacklustre. Rainham last weekend had an Avocet and a Blackwit in the bay, then absolutely nothing on the reserve, and the first trip to Canvey of the year was alright, Peregrine, Mediterranean Gull, 2 Whimbrel, Porpoise and some typical estuary stuff, but not the magic we were hoping for. Abberton has sprung into life recently, so I gave it a go. 

Arrived at Billet's farm to the sound of thunder. Went to Wigborough bay and ... nothing. No sign of the Wood Sandpiper reported this morning. Went to Abberton Church for the Black Terns, and ... almost nothing. A Spoonbill in the lagoon was nice, 10 distant Black-Tailed Godwits, 5 Common Sandpiper, and lots of Little  Egrets.

Layer De La Haye Causeway, and a chap who had told me about the Spoonbill at the church was there. Immediately we found 2 Black Terns, mid reservoir and doing that dipping thing. It's been a while since I've seen one, and it was just great to see their distinctive somewhat stubby bodies, darkish backs and caps, short tails, and the swooping flight. So, one target down.

Back to Wigborough bay and a chap told men that the Wood Sandpiper had been at Billet's Farm screen, so , back to there and a classic bit of mud with shallow pools, really excellent with good visibility (for Abberton), and three Green Sandpipers with no sign of the woods. I waited a while, enjoying the many Yellow Wagtails, then briefly a Wheatear and a Whinchat on the last few stones of a tumble down wall. Back to the Green Sandpipeers, and slowly out of a ditch crept a juvenile Wood Sandpiper, followed by another one. It paraded around in front of a Great White Egret, one of several today.  Fantastic. Wood Sandpiper is always for me a bird that punches above its rarity value; it has an elegance about it unique amongst waders.

Just when I thought that was it, back at the car park my first (and probably last) Clouded Yellow of the year. So some nice sightings at last.

Hello Old Friend

What a year its been for notable birds. It started off with Canvasback at Abberton, then Northern Waterthrush at Maldon, then Surf Scoter at...