September 25th continued…   Leave a comment

It has been a frustrating week with birds not quite materialising or being missed but all’s well that ends well. A Brunnich’s guillemot was seen yesterday and photographed just outside Anstruther harbour on a trip out to the May Island. There was some initial uncertainty about its identity: it’s what is known as a mega-rarity, with only a handful of recent Scottish records and most in the northern Isles, and almost always later on in the winter. And it’s tricky to identify without a good view, which is usually difficult for a seabird. Photos were taken and then the features became clearer. Anyway it was relocated in Anstruther harbour this afternoon and put out on the grapevine. I got the text just after 4 while I was cooking Sunday dinner, thankfully just as everything had gone into the oven. I was out at Anstruther about 20 minutes later and after a sprint around the harbour wall (which is a long harbour wall, I have to say, when you are running carrying a telescope) there was the Brunnich’s guillemot obligingly snoozing on the water only a few meters out. There were a few other local birders there already and I joined them sat on the harbour edge to enjoy this vastly unexpected bird. Brunnich’s guillemot is the high arctic replacement for common guillemot and I have never been to the right part of the Arctic – so not only a new bird for the Crail list (no. 224) but one for my life list as well, and of course for the year list too, no. 153. I watched it for about three-quarters of an hour, able to see every feature that distinguishes it from a common guillemot. In short – more like a razorbill than a guillemot. It is a moulting bird and looked quite happy in the harbour so is likely to be here for a while – they are one of those species that although rare, once here, tend to hang around. So it should hopefully be a major attraction for birders in the coming week. This evening, its position in the sheltered harbour, and so close in, was absolutely perfect. The high Arctic came to visit me today. And I got back to Crail – very happy – in perfect time to put the Yorkshire pudding in the oven.

What made it a Brunnich’s guillemot rather than a common guillemot? A whole series of characters that were easy to see considering its position 25 or so meters from me, through a telescope, on a calm sea with perfect light – but I dread to think how difficult it would be in a swell and at a distance.

The Brunnich's guillemot in Anstruther harbour this evening. My poor phone photos taken through my telescope - but such a good view that they suffice to identify the bird

The Brunnich’s guillemot in Anstruther harbour this evening. My poor phone photos taken through my telescope – but such a good view that they suffice to identify the bird

With reference to the numbers in the pictures above:

1 & 2: Distance from the bill tip to end of feathering at base of bill, and this point and the eye is a ratio of 1 to 2.

3: Change in angle of bill halfway along the lower bill

4: Decurved upper mandible

5: Mostly dark around and behind the eye

6: White line along the cutting edge of the first half of the top of the bill, below the nostril

7: White unmarked flanks

8: Thick neck and general razorbill like shape

9: Grey black upper colour – never looking brown (or milk chocolate as would be expected in the strong light)

Posted September 25, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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