August 26th   Leave a comment

The wind was coming straight down from the top of Norway this morning. An hour at Fife Ness brought Arctic, great and one long-tailed skua. The last was what I was hoping for – a good bird for Crail. Although we get them passing every year, you need to get lucky, or diligently sea watch at Fife Ness in the right winds. The end of August seems to be the best time although they can turn up through to October. Today’s was a technical – a bird well out and requiring a lot of scrutiny as it shearwatered above and below the waves heading south fast, with the wind behind it. Long-tailed skua adults are easy – they have lovely long tails, but mine was a juvenile. Luckily, they also have a very distinctive shape – like a slender gull, with long wings, and the most useful feature, a rear end extension. Long-tailed skua’s tail feathers start a bit further back than the other skuas, giving them an odd, longer back end look compared to the other skuas. Because it is the back of the bird that is extended, not the tail, it also gives the impression at a distance that the bird has a broad based, longish tail – nothing like the adult’s tail streamers, but something more like the fat tail of a grackle or an oropendola. Another feature, and there aren’t very many at a couple of kilometers, was a fairly uniform, mealy brownish colour, like a sandy young gull. Other skuas flash white patches on their wings or undersides, and the only strong contrast on (pale) juvenile long-tailed skua is their darker primaries.

A juvenile long-tailed skua from Balcomie in 2016 – pretty much the bird I saw today. I have posted this picture before but long-tailed skuas at Fife Ness rarely come close enough or stay around to be properly photographed (John Anderson)

I seawatched again in the evening from Castle Walk for thirty minutes as the sun set. I was hoping for some skuas stopping for the evening to forage so giving better views. No more skuas, but several manx shearwaters and one sooty shearwater heading east. They will then turn north when they pass Fife Ness. Tomorrow there may be a lot of passage back north as those birds pushed south by the winds earlier today readjust.

And I have posted this photo a few times, but its one of my favourites of such a brilliant bird – a sooty shearwater powering round Fife Ness on its way round Britain before heading back down to the southern oceans (John Anderson)

Posted August 26, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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