Sort of a continuation from yesterday; in the evening Paul was going to try to ring storm petrels and since I had never seen one I gave him a hand. However, nothing happened in yesterday’s half on the night with the exception of a few bats and a Toad. However on this side of the night stuff did start to happen and I picked up another lifer. Not a stormie or even anything alive but I saw my first Shooting Star. The first one I was not expecting and it was the brightest. I was surprised by just how bright it was, clearly adding illumination to the dark seascape as it whizzed overhead. There was a second too but this one was less bright. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement! Paul even commented that I was easily pleased, which is true, and a good way to be I would say.
We now skip ahead to 5 in the morning as the shift began. It was another lovely morning only this time I was on the right side of it, so would be able to appreciate it all the way. There were no waders in when I arrived but still plenty of stuff around, including a personal record of 5 Little Egrets and both Oystercatcher families.
The morning began to pass with species coming and going. At around half 5 a Common Sandpiper dropped in, which I recognised by the call but only saw briefly. There were the usual assortment of regulars in, Arctic, Sandwich and Little Terns making up the bulk of the lagoon-side birds, plus the Ringed Plover and 5 Cormorants on the raft. At 6.00 I found a Red Knot feeding along the shoreline, but only one, and it soon moved onto the beach to feed. At 6.10 I found a juvenile Little Gull preening itself on the side of the lagoon too, but again only one.
Things really began to kick off at 6.55. From behind me I heard a few terns call alarmingly and turned around to see a large black gull sized bird flying along the shoreline. It was an Arctic Skua, Dark morph. It moved along the beach very close to where I was sitting, the best view of one I have ever seen. The only downside was that the morning sun was behind it, so all I got of the bird was its silhouette. I was also surprised by how big it was, at least the size of a herring gull, but it has been 4 years since I last saw one. It was great to see, even though it’s my job to keep them away…
The Skua did not stay long, only really passing through. It did cause absolute havoc in the colony, and the Sandwich Terns were probably part of the reason it did not stay for long. Its agility for a big bird while avoiding the terns was also striking, as was the size of terns in comparison to the Skua.
The tide had started to drift out over the morning so once the Skua had left and all had settled down I began to check out the birds on the beach. Most were Sandwich Terns with a few Arctic and Little thrown in. I continued scanning and stumbled across a small gull among the colony. I had a check of the key features and was left in no doubt that I had found myself a Kittywake sat on the beach. Now this may not sound much but this is a personal milestone for me. Ever since the Old Moor kittywake I have wondered if I would have been able to find and i.d a kittywake outside of its regular habitat. And now I had, with this individual on the beach. This self-found bird shows just how much I have improved even over this year.
But the Gulls on the beach did not stop there. Another quick look and I found myself another unusual gull. Sadly it was quite distant but it was still pretty clear that I had found an adult Yellow-Legged Gull sat on the beach. This is not a species I see very often, though I have seen one at spurn already, but this one was self-found so all the more rewarding. Sadly I could not get any decent photos of it simply because of the distance, but they serve as record shots for this find.
-Yellow Legged Gull
I continued to scan the beach and the sea in case anything should drop in or drift by. I found a Black-Tailed Godwit feeding up near the far end of the beach and a young Gannet flew north at 7.20. The Terns were having a really bad day. Apparently the fox dropped in 4 times last night, then the Skua this morning. Add to that an adult and juvenile Kestrel that came in at 7.50 and a Grey Heron at 8.05 that sent them up. A Brown Hare then set them off, but these are easy enough for me to deal with.
It all settled down for a bit then, with birds coming and going but nothing major really. The next headlining bird to come along was a juvenile Marsh Harrier that drifted over from the north and circled the top area of the ponds. It then drifted west, largely avoiding the colony. It is a patch tick for me though, a nice addition.
Luckily the Harrier did not come in close enough for the terns to kick up a fuss. But their troubles did not stop there. At 10.50 the worst of them all came in. I saw the birds all go up but could not make out a threat, but this time it was really bad, as all the birds were calling and in the air. Then I saw it flying straight towards me. It was a male Sparrowhawk that had zoomed through the colony. It actually had the nerve to land in Area A, which meant I had to scare it off, a pity for such a spectacular bird. I did not see it get anything, but it went back south after I flushed it and I lost it, so it’s possible it may have done more damage out of sight. The Terns took an age to calm down, and were on edge for the whole afternoon, often going up for no reason.
The next bird that stood out from the regulars was something special, a self-found lifer. Out my 18 lifers this year only Corn Bunting was completely self-find, so this is pretty special, and long awited. As I watched the dunlin, a small group quite near to the hut I spotted one among them that was definitely not a dunlin, but for the first time it was pretty clear what it was. I had finally found myself a Curlew Sandpiper, at long last. Having seen one now I can safely overrule all the dubious birds during my time here.
It was a young bird, but molting so its plumage was quite blotchy. It really stood out from the Dunlins and was pretty much the spitting image of that in the book. It basically looked like a dunlin on stilts, with a slightly longer beak. I was very impressed by how different it actually looked in real life, having made it difficult for myself over the past few days. I tried to follow the bird as it fed to grab some photos for record purposes. I grabbed 2 in focus, but the bird I photographed and the bird’s plumage I saw looked completely different. It was not until I found a different photo from a different set that I figured it must just be the lighting
-Curlew Sandpiper (Middle Bird)
-Curlew Sandpiper (Central Bird)
I spotted the bird at 11.20 and by 11.40 the small flock of dunlin it was part of had taken off and gone to the beach. As a result when I went to lunch I kept an extra eye open for them. I failed to find any Dunlin but did flush 2 small waders. When I first saw them I considered if they were little stint, but were too red on the face and when they took of the distinct wing pattern showed clearly that they were Sanderling. I have never seen a summer plumage sanderling before so this was a plumage lifer for me, another addition to what was turning out to be a great day.
-Summer Plumaged Sanderling
By now it was getting quite hot, and me with 2 jackets on was beginning to feel a bit of a mug. However, the weather meant that Beacon Lane was alive with butterflies and dragonflies. On the small pond there was Ruddy Darter, both male and female, and Emperor, the latter was ovipositing too. On the butterfly front it was manly whites and browns, of the latter however I got a patch tick in Wall Brown. A species that used to be common back home, I hardly see them anymore, so I was well pleased when I found this individual, very fresh.
On my walk back after lunch I found some more Sanderling on the beach. There were also Dunlin and the Ringed Plover. I had thankfully disposed of my excess clothing and so was feeling fresh for an afternoon perched on my dune watching the birds. If the morning was anything to go by I should be in for a good time.
The afternoon was significantly quieter than the morning, most things probably put down by the heat, as indeed was I. The haze over the pond was bad that I could not distinguish between Dunlin and Redshank in the wader roost. I did manage to distinguish the Black and Bar Tailed Godwits, 1 Black and 11 Bar, as well as count the number of Grey Plover, 13 with 1 summer plumaged ad.
At 2.30 the next treat came in, if only for about 10 seconds. I heard a peculiar call and turned round to see a pair of dark wader with distinctive white rumps drop in. They were Green Sandpiper, or so I take it, as they left almost immediately, before I could get the scope on them to look. I was scouring the bank where they had landed to get a better look, took my eye from the scope to get my bearing to see the birds flying off…
I enjoyed a quiet afternoon catching a few rays while counting terns and other birds. The Terns were still very put out due to the Sparrowhawk in the morning, but they had no real reason to worry despite their constant jittering. That’s until 4.15.
I heard the call of an alarmed tern at sea and looked to see an Arctic Skua mobbing a Sandwich Tern. It was quite far out but it was clear to see through the scope. It’s the first time I have ever seen a Skua undergo this characteristic mobbing behaviour. I have to be honest, its not pleasant to watch, though it is fascinating. This was quiet far out. The Tern got away this time, and the Skua began to approach the shore…
As a result I got the camera ready, but then lost the bird. In fact I lost both, as there two, but only one had been mobbing and only one was coming towards shore. I waited a couple of mins before deciding it must have moved off. I then heard the terns go mad, and spotted the Skua very close to the shore causing chaos. But as soon as I saw it, it began to move back out to sea, so not decent shots as such. It was still a great encounter and a behaviour tick to add to my collection.
-Arctic Skua Mobbing
The Skua left northwards I think, but I lost it again among the waves. It was almost time to head home too, having clocked up 50 species of bird during my shift today. The only other thing of note was a flock of Common Scoter that went north while I was watching the Skua. I did not follow them as I was busying trying to work out what kind of Skua I had (Poms or Arctic), but I reckon about 35 birds.
On the beach there were a few more Sanderling, this one though was a juvenile and so lacked the colouring on its head that the others I had seen had. I managed a pretty decent flight shot though as it took off.
I arrived back at the warren at around half 5, absolutely worn out. I crashed onto the sofa for a good ten mins before I managed to muster the energy to cook dinner. 12 hour shifts on 4 hours sleep are not a good idea I have decided.
I had just put my chicken on when another birder, Rob, wandered in to get a jacket and said that there was a Bonxie on the sea. This required immediate attention. Off went the chicken, on went the boots. I made it up there, the bird still there, but it took me some time to actually find it. As we watched, Rob noticed that it was pecking something, which we worked out was an auk, probably a guillemot. The brute was giving it a fair old bash, but was too far out to get any pics.
That was the final bird of the day, clocking up my 3rd yeartick and second Skua of the day, what a finish. A finish well worthy of the day I would have said.
The Daily Oystercatcher
And of course our update from Spurns star birds. Both chicks with both adults were about when I arrived, feeding along the shoreline. There was also some wing-stretching from the chicks which is a promising sign. Sometimes they were feeding themselves, but other times they were pestering their parents. One chick seems to pester the parent significantly more than the other, and I have also noticed that one of the chicks seems to wander on its own a lot; an independent chick.
But this feature has been going for a few days and I have not yet introduced you to our stars. So this morning when they were fairly close and together I grabbed a few photos. Please note that there is also a Little Egret, one of the 5, photo-bombing this family portrait.
-Oystercatcher (With Photobombing Little Egret)
Beacon Pools: Little Egret, Little Tern, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Common Sandpiper, Sandwich Tern, Arctic Tern, Ringed Plover, Cormorant, Mallard, Mute Swan, Woodpigeon, Swallow, Black-Headed Gull, Whimbrel, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Knot, Little Gull, Skylark, Redshank, Arctic Skua, Kittywake, Greater Black-Backed Gull, Yellow Legged Gull, Gannet, Black-Tailed Godwit, Common Tern, Swift, Kestrel, Grey Heron, Sand Martin, Graylag Goose, Dunlin, Marsh Harrier, Carrion Crow, Sparrowhawk, Curlew Sandpiper, Linnet, Sanderling, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Pied Wagtail, Whitethroat, Grey Plover, Green Sandpiper, Magpie, House Martin, Feral Pigeon, Herring Gull, Common Scoter, Blackbird, House Sparrow, Starling, Grey Seal, Brown Hare, Southern Hawker, Emperor Dragonfly, Ruddy Darter, Common Blue-Tailed Damselfly, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Wall Brown, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Green-Veined White, Small Skipper, Ringlet, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small White,