October 6th   Leave a comment

I woke up before dawn this morning to hear the gale roaring in from the south. It was impossible to look out to sea first thing into the wind and see any detail. By late afternoon the wind had calmed down enough so it was pleasant, if a bit cold, looking out from Crail, with perfect viewing conditions over the huge waves. There was a continuous stream of seabirds passing, with many pushed in close by the southerly wind. Within 10 minutes I had seen three pomarine skuas and three arctic skuas, within the 100 minutes I watched before it got too dark I saw 8 pomarine skuas, 6 arctic skuas and best of all, at least three long-tailed skuas, including two adults. There were another five skuas seen less well that were probably a couple of long-tails and three more poms. To put this in perspective this well exceeds all the pomarine and long-tailed skuas I have seen from Crail in the last 11 years. After my complaints last week of not having much experience of juvenile pomarine skuas, this evening was a masterclass in skua identification. I began to see the differences in the wing flashes, the shape of the keels and the subtleties of tail shape in terms of pieces contributing to a distinctive whole rather than just a shopping list of characters to impossibly check off one by one in the few seconds that an individual was visible before a wave blocked my view again.

Pomarine skua

Pomarine skua

There were lots of other great birds past too. Amongst the thousands of guillemots and hundreds of razorbills that passed I picked up a single black guillemot (just my 4th for Crail), flashing its big white wing panel and looking small making it stand out. In the same fashion I had a puffin – normally very rare at this time of year – a first year with a very sooty face (looking like it hadn’t bothered to wash it for a week at a distance). There was a steady stream of little gulls, especially as dusk approached. I counted 52 mostly passing out of the Forth looking appropriately tiny compared to the tens of kittiwakes that were passing every few minutes. Heading in the other direction were a few late sandwich terns and an arctic tern. Other highlights were three black-throated divers, a couple of red-throated divers, some manx shearwaters, a group of three barnacle geese and a flock of four grey heron flying in convoy low over the waves as if they were migrants off to Africa (as many continental grey herons do). It’s fairly dull for a birder to just recount the list of what they saw, but sometimes it is all about lists – the sheer number of species – and this evening was one of these. I’m still smiling about the fact that I came home from work and was able to sit comfortably in my son’s room with a cup of tea and watch the Arctic and other far flung parts come past my window.

Little gull big sea - no apologies for posting this photo again - that's how it was today

Little gull big sea – no apologies for posting this photo again – that’s how it was today

Posted October 6, 2014 by wildcrail in Sightings

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