23 December, 2012

'Twas The Weekend Before Christmas, Part 1

That magical ten minutes at Hope's Nose on Friday whetted an appetite not really in need of encouragement and so with a front through in the early hours and the prospect of sou'westerlies and continuing gungy weather I got myself down to the Nose first thing.

Nobody else there, not even a fisherman! Indeed, though the odd bod wandered down, nobody stayed and when I left it was shaking my head at the wimps - I mean, who'd rather be shopping when they could be out in the wind, rain, and sewage spray??


Offshore wind, so less of the latter - I plonked down on the Steps and gave it 4 hours. Alas the Christmas Compromise of birding the morning and Shopping and Decorating the afternoons meant I couldn't make a day of it. As it was I was very naughty and spent an extra hour in the Quarry - meaning I didn't get to the Grebes again - but more on that in due course.

My Gannet clicker malfunctioned again - I thought I'd fixed it, and indeed it worked fine again once I got it home, the little $&!™**^±§§ - so I had to resort to averaging four timed counts to get a theoretical 384. Auk passage was continuous, with 743 mostly Razorbills past south, plus a count of 172 Guillemots on the Ore Stone and an amazing surge of Guillemots [which I mistook for the Ore Stone birds being flushed and so didn't click] - three flocks totalling some 240 birds. I'd guess these were birds from Berry Head returning from a feeding trip to the Exe. Certainly quite a sight, it reminded me of the Great Auk Passage of early 2011..

Kittiwakes were also moving; I counted 233, and 23 Fulmars also passed, with a few more lingering. But the stars of the day were Divers. 7 Great Northern, 4 Red-throated, and a Black-throated passed south - all but one of the GN inside the Ore Stone - and three more divers lingered in Hope Cove, with one adult Great Northern showing down to very close range :) Also in close were at least 26 Common Scoter - finally coming this side of the Lead Stone - and plenty of other seabirds, too! Gannets were diving in just off the Nose itself, with Shags, Cormorants, Razorbills and at least 4 Harbour Porpoises joining in the fun! :) I reckon that the sustained heavy rainfall has caused the overflow to discharge for long enough to attract a lot of fish in - thus the near feeding frenzy.

Gulls were around the outfall constantly, though not in enormous numbers. At least 5 Common Gulls among them were nice to see, but still no Bonaparte's among the Black 'eads. Likewise, no hints of anything exotic among the larger gulls on the slick; even the pale-headed dark Herring was absent. Further out though, I was this close to a good 'un! Just after 9:00 I was tracking a GND past when a gull flashed though my view - white wings!!!!! The diver was abandoned and I got the briefest of glimpses of a decent-sized gull with fairly pointed wings, a brown-streaked head and a seemingly flawless pale grey saddle. It dipped behind the not inconsiderable swell and lost itself in the mass of large gulls, not to be refound. So while I am confident it was an adult, was it an Iceland or a Glaucous? The wings weren't quite long and pointy enough to rule out a Glonk and it wasn't so obviously huge as to rule out a big Iceland. I didn't get enough of a view of the head to get the clinching structure there. Dammit, I can't be sure... :(

After my allocated four hours I packed up and headed out - well, I would have done, except as I got to the end of the Steps and Hope Cove came into view I saw how full it was! Razorbills, Shags, Cormorants, assorted gulls and divers! Oh the divers.... I moved around into the Quarry to get shelter from the wind and a better angle against the driving rain and the time just went.. Playing hide and seek with divers is always fun. An adult GND showed very well, very close and a 1w with a notably pale nape was interesting to look at. The sea was calm, there was an interesting quality to the light, and lots of birds to run interference. Joy. :)

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