26 April 2014
|Arctic and Black terns fly through|
|Arctic Skua - pale phase passes right along the tideline|
|A stunning dark phase Arctic Skua shears past|
|Two dark phase Arctic Skua fresh from a successful tern chase|
Things started well with an early movement of particularly Great Skuas and Fulmar. The wind was driving some birds much closer to shore than normal and we were soon delighted with stunning views of Great Skua, Arctic Skua and a Pomarine Skua that flew well inside the Buoy.
|This Pomarine Skua came close early on|
|It showed a thick set of 'spoons'|
Later a summer plumaged Black-throated Diver gave spectacular views as it passed close along the beach. For the first hour and a half things were steady, with only close views making it anything out of the ordinary. The local Rye Sandwich Terns and small numbers of Common Tern passed by. Many of the locals getting views of the usual species and getting wet decided to go for breakfast, while those of us who had travelled persisted. The drizzle lifted and we finally saw the horizon.
|Great Skua was the most numerous of three species seen|
|This bird showed an odd white patch in the centre of its wings|
On cue the sea went mental - it started with a small tight flock of 30 Arctic Tern mid distance that Andy picked out. A Black Tern arrived on the Patch and soon departed with a second group of much closer Arctic Tern and Little Terns. Within minutes there were Arctic Tern everywhere, flocks of over 300 at a time literally pouring past. They were close along the beach, mid distance and further out. Flocks were merging and separating; it was almost impossible to count them. Other species also passed by in the melee with Brent Geese, Common Scoter, more Fulmar, Great and Arctic Skuas, Red-throated and Black-throated Diver (both largely in summer plumage). A Manx Shearwater came shearing out of the murk and gave a great fly past and Razorbills and Guillemots hurried past. Waders joined the passage with several large flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits, some close, others like distant puffs of smoke, accompanied by groups of Whimbrel. The surge lasted about an hour and a half and then quickly wained, leaving just more skuas and divers, though two of the last few birds were Great Northern Diver - quite a scarcity off Dungeness for some reason. As I was packing up a Peregrine flew out across the Patch trying to catch a tern causing panic and a cloud of birds. On this occasion it missed, but the Peregrines at Estaca de Bares prey almost exclusively on passage seabirds in the autumn so I guess it will keep trying!
|Great Northern Diver|
|Massive feet and slow wing beats, it flies with bill high and feet low|
Totals for the seawatch from 05:30 to 12:30:
- Great Skua - 54
- Arctic Skua - 14
- Pomarine Skua 1
- Fulmar - 155
- Arctic Tern - 2,791
- Common (Commic) Tern - 910
- Sandwich Tern - 259
- Little Tern - 11
- Black Tern - 43
- Kittiwake - 7
- Little Gull - 2
- Common Scoter - 564
- Guillemot - 8
- Razorbill - 5
- Auk sp - 14
- Whimbrel - 40
- Oystercatcher - 8
- Red-throated Diver - 23
- Black-throated Diver - 21
- Great Northern Diver - 2
I eventually left the hide at 12:30. After seven hours cramped at the back of the hide and peering through the narrow window I was quite stiff and it took the walk back to the car to get blood circulating again. As I got in the car I noticed a voice mail from Andy to report a pair of Black-winged Stilt on the RSPB reserve. I was heading that way and stopped along the ARC road to view the flock of terns (40 Arctic, 15 Common and at least 15 Black Tern) feeding over the pit. Quite a sight and I don't recall seeing so many Arctics on the pits here before, presumably driven inland by the wind and rain.
I drove to the Visitor Centre, checked in and walked out towards Christmas Dell. I met Gary and Andy wandering back to their cars, having been diverted en route to an already late breakfast. The Stilts were showing really well on the first hayfield and I enjoyed views of them for the next twenty minutes or so.
|First view of the pair of Black-winged Stilt|
|A very smart male with a full black head and nape|
|The female showing a browner cap and mantle|
I bumped into Martin Casemore who said a Wood Sandpiper had been seen on the last hayfield pools so I wandered down past Christmas Dell hide. I bumped into Sean Clancy and together we quickly located the Wood Sandpiper hiding in the wet grass. It gave reasonable, but distant views. I could have walked closer but I was distracted by the distinctive 'pinging' of Bearded Tits and looking just off the path into a bramble I found a family with the parents feeding four small juveniles. With patience I got some stunning views and managed to get some nice images of the family. Brilliant birds!
|The female made the most frequent feeding visits|
|The juveniles have left the nest but not yet able to fly|
While enjoying the Bearded Tits a Sedge Warbler started singing from a close bush and allowed an approach. Twice he hopped through the brambles where the juvenile Tits were waiting and he seemed very inquisitive about his neighbours, moving between them on their perch.