Thursday, September 30, 2021

A description species over my garden

I don't have a good record on submitting descriptions to rarities committees. I avoid this process mainly by not discovering birds that require descriptions to be submitted for 'acceptance'. And should I accidentally stumble upon a 'description species' I avoid it by not bothering submitting. 

I did submit a description once, many decades ago. It was a Red-Necked Grebe in Scarborough Harbour. In winter. And it was rejected because it might have been a Slavonian Grebe. Which it massively patently wasn't. Because if it had been a Slavonian Grebe, then obviously I'd have titled the description 'Slavonian Grebe'.

Anyway, forward several decades, and I was sat in my garden early one evening peering up into a blue sky looking through my Leica 8x42s at House Martins when I glanced around and saw a large bird flying towards my garden from the south. It passed by at what I would call a middling height in that it was neither a speck in the firmament nor grazing the top of the Leylandii, and took a line a couple of houses to the East so I could get a side-on view of the bird. I duly submitted my record to the Herts bird club site (and thence on to Birdguides ! WooHoo!), and then received an email requesting a description. Oh.

So here goes. It was big, in that it was Goose/Cormorant/Heron size. It was thin, long neck, thin wings, longish tail, like a flying crucifix. It was mainly white, with a bit of black on the wing, and a vaguely recall a scrappy blackish tail with an odd feather, like it was moulting. It was taking regular quick quite shallow flaps. It was in a hurry.

Taken by complete surprise at this bird belting over my garden I looked at the head, and, yes, as you have probably worked out by now, it was a Gannet. It had a Gannet's head. That long ivory bill, big eye close to the bill, pale buff mass of stuff round the base of the bill and those black lines giving the distinctive Gannet Trim all around. I didn't look at much else to be honest, given that I was aware that for a few seconds I was looking at a sight I was never going to see again and that that beguiling head is the stand-out feature IMHO. 

So now I have to fill in a form that will convince others that it was a Gannet. How do I do that? Get my Field guide and copy down the relevant bits that make it look like I carefully studied every feature and made a note? Or just say it was a Gannet. With a head like a Gannet's?

If it gets rejected, what will be the confusion species? Great White Egret? Heron? Juvenile Cormorant? Swan?

Anyway, here goes. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

A disappointing sea watch

NE wind, autumn, Canvey Point. You know the score. 

Pitched up at 8am on a rising tide and found locals T and J already there. A good sign, firstly because they generally only appear when their considerable experience tells them sea birds will be present, and secondly because they both call out anything they see and are keen to share their expertise, which can be very welcome. Mike joined soon after.

The less good news - a bit quiet. 3 Arctic Skuas were harassing a large feeding flock of terns some way out. Then T found a Peregrine on the still exposed mud, and a scan of the mud had a Grey Plover still in summer plumage and 20 loafing Sandwich Terns. A male Common Scoter drifted in  and gave excellent scope views; I have had years when all my scoter views have been about half a mile out in passing flocks, so nice to see the bobble on the beak clearly. Mike picked up an adult Mediterranean Gull in full winter plumage, but for a while that was it; nothing much moving in the gloom.

Eventually a party of Common Terns went up river and J called two Black Terns in them, and a party of four soon after, frustratingly none of which I got.  Then on scanning an Arctic Skua came out of the mouth of the Thames, and flew straight towards us before passing just a few tens of yards off the shore. A dark juvenile, this was easily the closes I've been for a few years to this species. More scanning up river produced two terns coming out with bouncy dipping flight, and sure enough they were Black Terns, then four more appeared including one moulting adult. Having had a good look at one at Frampton earlier in the week, and noticed that whereas for a Common tern in flight the body is held level but for the Black Tern the body was going up and down as a counterweight to the movement of the wings, it was nice to use that as a clue to distant terns that they were Marsh Tern, and for that to turn out to be right. 

Two Pintail out, a Great Skua flying out of the river under the far bank, and 20 Golden Plover onto the shore, and that completed the list.

The locals seemed a bit disappointed, presumably because similar weather conditions had produced a Sabine's Gull earlier in the week, but for me from landlocked Herts there had been some excellent encounters with birds of the sea and a few decent ticks.

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...