GOB 140 – Quality Not Quantity

This article first appeared in the February 2021 edition of Birdwatching magazine

I’m always a day late for sea watching. When a good day is promised I’m otherwise engaged or doubt the forecast and miss the epic accumulations of seabirds. Yesterday was Tesco delivery day and ‘she who must be obeyed’ would have been more than miffed if I’d left her to it. So, this morning was my usual ‘you never know stuff might still be about’ outing. Totally lacking confidence, I dragged myself out of bed in the half light and by 7.00am I was ensconced in my usual spot. This is a (freshly restored) Victorian seaside shelter; the blue and white livery aping a Greek village.

The tide was out – another mistake I regularly make, timing is everything and mine stinks. Nevertheless, I settled into my seat looking like an Extinction Rebellion adherent in my hoodie, face mask and combat jacket; fitting for this crusty curmudgeonly member.

I checked the sandbar between me and the wind turbine array that stretches across the bay and beyond, no seals were hauled up. The incoming tide soon covered the sand bar, although a handful of Great Black-backed Gulls hung on until the water reached their oxters.

There were gulls, a few fulmars and a kittiwake on a mostly calm sea with just a few white horses. Obviously, my usual ‘dip’ was happening.

Wait! There goes a lone Common Scoter, only my second of the year. Then several parties of scoter all heading into the wind in the east. Then out of the west a dark brown bird heading between me and the green buoy. In pre-Covid times this is a marker for groups of sea-watchers to call out their sightings. Scoped at maximum zoom I could hardly believe my eyes, year tick number one a stunning juvenile Long-tailed Skua! Ten minutes of nothing and then another shock. shearing along closer to me than any I’ve seen outside of the Mediterranean, a Balearic Shearwater! Looking at my records the last one I saw was 13 years ago… in the same place!

You know what its like, you can’t quite finish the take-away curry, so, you heat up the leftovers the next day and while there isn’t a lot of it, but maturing overnight, boy does it taste good. This was my sea watching today, quality, not quantity.

Next along a dozen Sandwich Terns, then a lone Black Tern, another year tick that I’m more used to seeing over fresh water. Another blank gap then a whole bunch of common terns are drifting with the wind and diving into the sea. I follow their beautiful behaviour in my scope when one bird drops like a stone trying to avoid a stunning Arctic Skua. I’ve not seen one since lockdown and it’s a beauty, twisting and turning in the air harrying first one then another tern making it drop its catch, which the skua snaps up in mid-air. The terns drift west but the skua glides down into the sea. Over the next half an hour I check it every now and then until it eventually takes off and heads east.

I stand to stretch and scope what’s left of the exposed sand and rocks. Gulls and Oystercatchers are leaving the remaining mud. On the last rocks are a small group of Teal… I can’t remember ever seeing them by the sea? My empty stomach tells me it’s time to pack up and I take one more scan following a party of Wigeon to the green buoy, coming in from another angle a Guillemot gives me yet another year tick. Isn’t birding brilliant!

Rant it out!