Sunday, September 23, 2007

Runswick Bay, windy day

Doodled about with pic of Pom below to show definitive underwing pattern and barring on under tail coverts. Interestingly the tail now looks shorter. (No I didn't chop a bit off in Photoshop.) JB comments - " I would go for Pom - on broadness of wing base and steep hook on bill".

Common Tern

Common Tern showing classic dark wedge (caused by moult) in primaries, also note relatively long bill and short tail.

Arctic Skua

Pomarine Skua, juvenile.

Pomarine Skua, juvenile. You can just see the barring on the upper tail coverts if you click for big. The bill colouration is a useful feature also (but not wholly conclusive).

Pomarine Skua, juvenile. Showing the classic double white patch on the underwing, (but beware, apparently some Arctics can show this feature). The lighter, well marked underwing is conclusive, however. Arctic Skua juveniles have a uniform underwing which is darker than the bird's body. The bill can also be seen to show the 'Glaucous Gull tip'.

Passed on the seawatching and anything much else this morning, the south-westerly whined all night and I didn't fancy getting buffeted around on the Kettle for any number of hours. We decided to have a family trip to Runswick Bay. After numerous arguments about not wearing new items of clothing to the beach (yes the wallet succumbed) we eventually set forth.

I'd anticipated a relatively birdless trip but immediately was struck by the large numbers of birds in the bay - principally terns but there were loads of auks as well and a few skuas. There appeared to be a pile of small fish in the relatively calm and sheltered bay.

There were about 80 Common Terns feeding close inshore, amongst these were a very few adult Arctic Terns and about 20 Sandwich Terns. 5 skuas hunted the terns remorselessly, 4 adult Arctic and 1 1stW (as I thought, but look at the photographs because the 1stW shows a classic "double patch", a bicoloured, thick bill with well demarkated dark tip, surely this is a classic juv/1stW Pom. That's the trouble with using the camera, fail to look properly at the birds. (Trouble with electric viewfinders as well, you photograph a poorly seen shape.)

The skuas were fascinating. You'd watch a tern catch a fish and 2-300m away a skua would leave the water and home in on it, picking the bird with the fish out of 20-30 terns swirling in the sky. The skuas formed a cordon around the feeding terns and were generally successful quite quickly. The only bird that held out for a marathon chase all along the bay shore was a Black-headed Gull.

As the afternoon wore on the tern numbers decreased and the skuas closed the cordon closer until terns were being chased by two or even three skuas all over the Kettle end of the beach. Whilst the most skuas I counted at any one time were 5, I suspect more were involved drifting in and out of the bay.

I'd have spent the whole day taking photographs but ...... this was a family trip so I failed to spend the time necessary to get the shots that were possible, and anyway had to spend time photographing the fashion parade (oh yes! lost that battle) and supervising offspring as Louise took the opportunity to walk to Kettleness (pay back for the hour I spent taking the photos I did get). Anyway small people played in sand, I got more time watching (slightly distant) skuas and terns (and failing to pick out the Pom, maybe it had siddled off). Also on offer were Red-throated Diver, Guillemot, Razorbill, Peregrine, Teal, numerous gulls, 2 Gannets 0 Kittiwakes, 0 Fulmars, 40 or so House Martins and a Chiffy.

It seems it was too windy for the clearwing.


jonathan pomroy said...

Hello Alistair, this is an email from anotther birder enjoying family time at Runswick yesterday afternoon. I was at the lifeboat end and loved watching the skuas. I was too far away to confirm your Pom, to be honest I was just enjoying their flghts after the terns, particularly the on light phase Artic which came close to us at one point, about 3.30pm. What a great place to be with the family this was- Sandcastles and Skuas!
Can I also say how much my father and I enjoy your site- he lives in Sleights whilst my wife son and I come across, from Skipton,to whitby to see mum and dad, oh and to go birding! I think it is a brilliant area to watch. We regularly enjoy the snow buntings at Cowbar(and twice Lapland bunt)and yesterday to see 4 Red-throated divers in near breeding plumage at Sandsend just after dawn swimming within a few feet of each other was a priviledge indeed. Incidentally I am a wildlife artist and lots of my paintings are based on sketches made along this stretch of coastline- my website
I hope our paths cross sometime- in the meantime please keep your very enjoyable and varied notes going.
Many thanks,
Jonathan Pomroy

Alastair said...

Glad you and your family enjoy the blog. Sorry I didn't notice you on the beach or would have had a chat.

Sorry not to reply earlier but I haven't figured out how to post via my mobile - could read the blog, not post. I've been working away for this week and no computer access.

Yes, Sandsend is a good spot also, there are often divers there. I'd be delighted to receive any records from you - Laps and Snow Bunts are of interest for sure.

I especially like your swifts, did you see my pix from Mallorca at Easter - there were just skyfulls of them for days.

Best regards,