Sunday, 6 November 2011

Getting Skua’d

Had a decent day up in north Norfolk today – seems like I’ve barely spent any time there at all this autumn, very unusual for me. With a fresh northerly blowing, seawatching was clearly the way to kick off, and I arrived at Sheringham around 0715 to find the shelters fairly full already. Fortunately there was a space next to Phil (complete with stylish stay-on-sock telescope case) and I was frequently grateful for his sharp eyes and regular calls of good birds. Having done quite a bit of seawatching already this year, only one species was new – Little Auk, of which I saw two fly past and one on the sea briefly. I also missed at least another couple. The photo below was taken at Cley a bit later on as it was diving in the surf.


Over the course of nearly four somewhat chilly hours, there was plenty of variety as birds passed constantly. In particular, there was a heavy passage of wildfowl from east to west, including a few species not noted for being seen at sea:

  • 8 Pom, 9 Arctic and 21 Great Skua – plus a few unidentified Arctic / Pom types
  • 9 Little Gull amongst hundreds of Kittiwake
  • 2 Red-necked Grebe
  • 6 Shag
  • Manx Shearwater – one distantly east
  • Long-tailed Duck – I picked up one of these trying to sneak through unnoticed, heading west with three Teal!
  • 8 Red-breasted Merganser
  • 3 smart drake Velvet Scoter west
  • 294 Shelduck west – probably the biggest passage I’ve noted on the coast
  • 9 Pintail
  • 8 Gadwall
  • 6 Goldeneye
  • 5 Shoveler
  • 9 Tufted Duck
  • 41 Eider, many adult drake
  • 21 Pochard
  • several hundred each of Teal and Wigeon
  • and last but not least 3 Avocet!

Quite a list!

After a much-needed hot drink and bite to eat at the Cley visitor centre, I popped down to the beach to look for the reported adult Pom Skua, hoping for some photos. It was still present, and showing well:


But hang on… is that ringing any alarm bells for you?! The bird looked quite barrel-chested and heavy in flight, though I had a few doubts in the field about the bill and the plumage features around the head and neck, but assumed that the ID was watertight and didn’t question it. Probably should’ve done now I look at the photos, because it’s got to be an Arctic, not a Pom!

Note the small pale area above the bill (a feature of adult Arctic that I’d never registered before checking Collins this evening), the fact that the black cap doesn’t extend down below the bill, the lack of any real breastband, and the almost uniform bill, which I reckon isn’t strong enough for a Pom. Leave a comment if you have any additional thoughts on the ID, especially if I’ve got it wrong!

After grabbing a few dodgy photos of a Little Auk drifting east, and taking a brief look at the Cattle Egret in Blakeney, I decided to turn my attention to passerines (and get out of the wind!) in Wells Woods. Just after parting with a disappointingly large sum of money for the carpark, a familiar (if somewhat dirty) car pulled up nearby driven by John F. Once he’d constructed a sandwich using some bacon from an Amazon package (they deliver everything these days…), we headed out in search of Sibe megas.

Heading towards the west side of the static caravan site, we got off to a good start as a familiar trill registered quickly enough for me to shout “Waxwing!” as it flew over our heads and into a tall tree. Another sign of winter coming soon…


Certainly not the greatest photo, but hard grey skies weren’t helping matters! Once Mr Bombycilla had headed inland, we proceeded to see… not very much! Lots of Redwing and Blackbird, and a handful of Goldcrest, but not a lot else. These Grey Partridge are quite regular in the area, but it’s not a bird I see all that often, so took a few snaps.


I’ll add just one final photo (setting the quality bar even lower for future posts!), taken yesterday on Sheppey in the drizzle. Standing on the raptor viewpoint, a lady pointed out two egrets in the adjacent field. Raising my bins I was surprised and delighted to see that they were both Great Whites! Annoyingly my camera was in the car, and by the time I’d legged it down to get it, they’d taken off and headed towards Shellness… so this is the best I got. “WOW", I hear you say. Not.


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