Saturday, 4 October 2008

Standing in the teeth of a gale...or The return of the hooley!

I knicked the title from the opening line of a Runrig song...seemed very appropriate for this afternoon. (I was at Donnie Monroe's farewell concert at Stirling Castle a few years ago now...brilliant...beyond brilliant...very emotional)

But that is not what this blog is about. Leach's Petrels is where we are at. After a top up of the Land Rover with recycled cooking oil and donning the waterproofs it was time to head down hill for the tide. A savage wind was blowing from the south west and finding decent shelter on Blackpool's north promenade is like trying to find shade in the Sahara. The safari tucked in behind a huge stone lighting tower, the steel lamp post a couple of metres away was doing an Irish jig.

For those of you who don't know what the fuss about Leach's Petrels is, John Dempsey (see Song of the Leach-less 4th Oct, Merseybird blog in links on right) describes them as enigmatic, mysterious, awkward, indestructible and ridiculous. If you've never seen a picture of them John's blog features some fantastic shots by Rich Steel and Fylde Bird Club's Chris Batty also has a superb picture on 1st October (see blog links on right)

Trying to watch from behind the column was not easy. Sand, salt and cold wind in the eyes, buffeted binoculars, salt spray on the lenses all made it difficult. Even following a bird as large as a Herring Gull through the waves was proving hard. Passers-by gave us looks which suggested we 'weren't quite right'. But we knew they were walking past probably the best, most spectacular wildlife sight Blackpool has to offer. The waves crashed against the sea wall throwing spray and foam 50 feet in to the air, the surf was wild (pictures and video to follow). In the gloomy distance the Isle of Man ferry struggled to make headway in to the wind. It was only a mile or so away but we could barely see it - how were we going to see a bird no bigger than a Starling in all this mayhem.

The pictures mentioned above are great but they don't give the sense of absolute awesomeness of something so tiny battling its way through such a hostile and enormous environment.

A bit of black amongst the waves and spray!...only a piece of seaweed tossed from the crest of a wave...doh the heart was going...

Two hours we had been stood there getting knocked around by the wind, imagine spending your whole life out in those conditions with only the crashing waves to shelter you from the fierce wind! That's why these little birds have such devotion and following amongst birders - they are tough beyond belief; dancing their way across the sea; almost defying the waves to cover them in spray or dunk them under.

A lump of drift wood is thrown 15 feet in to the air by the wind.

There...THERE...300 yards out just beyond the worst of the surf - a glimpse, a tiny angled wing, a flick of black, the hint of pale rump. That was it! That 1/2 second, or even less, was it - a Leach's Petrel. Up and over one wave and into the trough behind, perhaps not to be seen by another human being for years. I saw soul is fulfilled...for this season. Luckily the binocs were pointing at that patch of sea at that particular moment.

Why are they so good? I think the Blackbird singing before dawn in spring is beautiful, the exotic birds of foreign holidays are - well - exotic, the rarity you find on your 'patch' is exciting and the big twitch to see someone else's rarity makes for a good day out but Leach's Petrels have to be EARNED - that's why they are special.

I can feel a tear coming to my eyes...

What else did we see...not a lot, a few Herring Gulls, a single Black Headed Gull and the stiff wings of a Fulmar or Manx Shearwater (impossible to tell in the gloom).

Before the driving rain arrived we cleared the crust of salt spray from the windscreen and pointed the Land Rover towards a welcome hot cup of tea.

Where to next? More of the same perhaps.

In the meantime let us know what you have seen in your outback.

1 comment:

Jack Hewitt said...

thanks for all your comments on my blog. youve got a great one here!

it looks cold on your beach photos! brrr!