Wednesday, 30 March 2016

An offshore mystery

The Safari decided not to venture out onto Patch 2 early doors in the heavy and frequent hail showers yesterday morning  so we had to wait while lunchtime before we could get out. Half way through the morning we heard the gulls start kicking up a fuss and looking out of the window – really need to keep these open for better listening now – we saw the local Starlings and Feral Pigeons flying about bunched up too; something had upset them, not another unseen Osprey???
At last lunchtime arrived and out we went. The choppy water made viewing tricky and at first we saw nowt.  After a while, close in not far behind the surf, a dark shape came and went. Focusing hard on that area it took a few more minutes before the shape popped in to view again and was seen to be a small female Grey Seal. Always nice to see and we’ve not seen very many so far this year.
After a few more minutes of seeing nothing all of a sudden a huge flock of Common Scoters numbering at least 500 lifted in to the air just this side of the horizon. Last time we saw a flush like this a boat was involved this time there was no boat so what had caused the panic? We saw nothing to suggest anything in particular. It would be nice to think a pod of Humpback Whales had come up from beneath them blowing their bubble traps but that’s a little unlikely. We didn’t see any dolphins break the surface so a superpod of Common Dolphins haring through them at breakneck speed chasing Mackerel is also unlikely. A flock of Common Scoters that size covers some acreage of sea and for them all to get off the water as one surely there must have been something they didn’t like out there. Any other suggestions?
Whatever it was they were in the air a good while before settling back down small groups going this way and that disbanding the original ‘super-flock’. A small number of gulls became interested in something below the surface and followed it/them/nothing for about half a mile or more dipping and plunge diving from time to time. Interesting enough to attract the attention of a Great Black Backed Gull to come in and bully the other gulls off their prize. All very mysterious!
This morning we did manage to get out on the seawall and straight away it was obviously very different to yesterday even though we’d recently had heavy rain – not as wintry as yesterday though.
As soon as we put our eye to the scope’s eye-piece a distant Gannet (120, P2 #45) was seen cruising steadily northwards. Between us and it and a good way offshore well over a hundred little dark bouncy dots passed through our field of view, possibly as many as 200 all told in the time we were out watching. Our first Meadow Pipits (P2 #46) of the year for Patch 2. Above and slightly behind us a Rock Pipit (121, P2 #47) was heard as it too made its way north.
A steady movement of Common Gulls was also evident with singles and small groups flying over the tide-line or in the middle distance, a flock of five Kittiwakes came by in the middle distance too. A Curlew flew north along the water’s edge and a pair of Eiders went south while out on the horizon four more Gannets played follow my leader as they swooped low into the troughs and rose again. The sixth Gannet of the session came through a few minutes later. For a while it was busy with northbound migrating birds, how long had it been going on for before we got there we wonder. There was no wondering about when it finished as it all went very quiet all of a sudden, our cue to leave.
Once back indoors we saw we’d had an email from SD alerting us to a pair of Goosanders coming our way…yes we’d left too early! And not by long either – drat!!! Their similar-ish looking cousins, Red Breasted Mergansers, are much, much more likely to be seen here, indeed checking our records it appears the Goosanders would have been our first ever at Patch 2. He also mentioned he’d seen a Black Throated Diver going past, that would have been while we were just about arriving at work so would have been out too late for it anyway – still a great find though.
During the morning there was no repeat of the gull commotion, not that we noticed – the windows are still tightly shut against the chilly weather.
At lunchtime there wasn’t as much excitement as earlier either. A small group of Meadow Pipits went through at about the same range as this morning but there was little else to get enthusiastic about. Odds n sods of Common Gulls still drifted by but the Common Scoters were scattered far and wide and very settled on the rising tide. We scanned the horizon for more Gannets or maybe an Arctic Skua or Manx Shearwater but nothing and in the shallower outer estuary the first of the year’s Sandwich Terns hadn’t shown up yet either.
Looking at the weather forecasts and Atlantic charts it looks like Friday will be the day the birding floodgates open but we’re on covering duty for a colleague so won’t be able to get out. Hopefully the flood will still be going strong on Saturday.
The Patchwork Challenge results for February are out and in our two patch categories Inland North and Coastal North our results are as follows.
For the nature reserve we're lying in 10th place but if 'Points per Bird' was counted we'd be 4th with 1.108PpB - not bad at all. We're not doing so well on Patch 2 down at the lowly position of 29th if league positions were from PpB we'd be a fraction higher at 25th but with a better PpB than the nature reserve at 1.15 so the quality of birds in the north must be better on the coast so far, but all could change in the next couple of months.
How will we have fared during March?…Well there’s still a day left to add something new so fingers crossed.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 in the morning with high hopes for some good sightings.
In the meantime let us know who's been frightened of the big bad nothing in your outback.

No comments: