20 September, 2013

Sunday's Skuas and a Teeny Gloat

While I firmly believe that a single shearwater, seen closely enough to be appreciated, is enough to make a seawatch worthwhile, there is something about skuas.

There's the ever present chance of excitement, of course; some poor innocent getting mugged. There is the ID challenge - all of them have something you've got to look hard at. Yes, even Bonxies - how old is that one, eh? And there is the fact that even the oddest immature is still prettier than a Herring Gull ;)

Sunday saw quite a treat for me; 33 lovely skuas [[ok, some more lovely -ie. close - than others]], which I brushed over fairly quickly [yes, that was fairly quickly]. True, I managed to miss an adult Long-tail plonk down right in front of me at naked eye range.. but [having had a few days to get over it] that's seawatching. Better that than be one of those poor nameless two at Berry Head ::Fervent prayers to the Goddess of Birding that She never torment me so::

The first skua took more than an hour to arrive, but it was a Pom - I took this as a good omen - albeit a distant one, powering through well above the surface in typically badass style. Bonxie and Arctic followed within 20 minutes and there was a steady stream for the rest of the day - interestingly, they came in alternating runs, B-A-B-A-B-A, with the two never present at the same time! Oddness.

Every skua got a time - bar the sp., which is very remiss of me - and the notable ones got little notes as well [little notes due to little notebook]. I had thought about going through every one of the 33, but that'd be daft, especially when it's a 'Bonxie at 1159', so the bird went straight through and wasn't a juv. or otherwise remark-worthy.

The other Poms were a light morph adult at 1440 and a juv. at 1712, both close enough to age, but neither came in properly close, let alone tarried.

Much more fun from the Bonxies - a two [adult and juv] 1627-1649 and a three 1641-1655 not only on view together but came in and had some fun, so 5 Bonxies; up close and personal. :) They weren't all harrying at the same time though [ooh, that'd be nasty] - the twosome had had theirs and were sat down when the three arrived. After that things got a bit mixed, but never more than three up at once. Not that three wasn't enough, mind! Interestingly, it was the juvenile which was going after the Balearics - though seemingly not very seriously. Perhaps it was playing with them just because they were there, or maybe it just wasn't very good at vexing poor innocent shearwaters; I've seen adults attacking Sooties more than once with horrible thoroughness.

I have to say that the Arctics stole the show. One light morph adult in particular [1407-1419] gave such a display of Kitt and tern harassment that I nearly applauded! So close, as well - comfortably inside the Lead Stone - which is pretty much a Nose specialty. The [lack of] range let me appreciate the sheer speed involved in these chases; you see them happening further off and are wowed by the agility, but it's hard to get your head around just how fast the birds are going.
It was interesting as well to watch how the skua would pick a victim, chase them for a second or two and seemingly know if they had anything; it would suddenly break off and go for another, or pursue until it succeeded, with no obvious difference in the target's behaviour. [That my puny human eyes could see, anyway]

Earlier, the first WOW I wrote down - [[Yes, they are a feature of my notes as well as my blog]] was for the dark-intermediate [1119], the LT-ish bird. Arctic Skuas are very variable, not only in plumage but in size and structure, [which isn't always evident in the literature, especially as the obvious ones are really obvious]. Anyway, this one was very slender and rakish, full up front, and with the dirty yellow collar of a dark-int,* and the light bouncy way it flew and then stalled and dropped to the sea; at range, especially in some murk, it would have been very problematic.

The first Arctic [1048] was a proper dark morph and a hefty one at that - an adult, though, not all the big fat ones are juvs - which came by nice and close and lifted over the Ore Stone for reasons best known to itself. It's not the first time I've seen an Arctic do that, maybe they're looking for Puffins? ;)

The rest were a mix of ages and morphs; the inevitable dark and light adults together [1432], a nice 2cy intermediate [1324], a dark-intermediate juv [1500], and the last bird of the watch - another light morph adult at 1815. The two juveniles who tried their luck close in with the Gannets - at 1455, they didn't hang about long! - really made me laugh. They were like puppies, bounding in, looking at the Kitts but then seeing the little knot of circling Gannets and going"Wow! Look at the size of them, how much fish must they have??".... then slinking away with their tails between their legs, poor things.. ;)
The second close light adult [1552], being a plumage and tail state match AND in secondary moult like the first one, made me think it was the same bird. Fortunately, it was so close I could see exactly which secs it had dropped - the outermost ones - whereas the first one was missing it's next to outer [Would they be S9? I honestly can't remember, and none of the two whole books I looked at numbered secondaries..]. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to be able to say that the Arctics, at least, weren't circling***.

Ok, that's a lot of burbling about skuas I dun saw.

Finally, that gloat. Many of you will also read the wonderfully-titled blog Brett's Goosey Ganderings. As those of you may know, a little while back he put up a pic of a Mystery Gull and held a poll to ID it. Only one responder got it right. Yes, that was me. :)
It wasn't that hard, I must admit, and not only because of the obvious - it's ALWAYS a Herring Gull! - but also because there's a gull that looks very much like that one, hanging about the Harbour!
[[In case you're wondering, I've blacked out those bits for those of you who want to go and have a guess yourselves without spoilers.]]
[[Oh, stop laughing, the rest of you. There's nothing wrong with larophilia.]]
[[Well, unless you take it too literally, but that's just so wrong I don't even know why I'm writing about it..]]

Last of all... Er, not a lot to report. There was a Chiff out the back this afternoon!

[[*Yes, 'officially' there are dark, intermediate, and light, but AFAIC, those 'darks' with off-yellow collars aren't properly dark. You can't be Dark unless you're all dark, end of. See p.229 of 'Flight ID Of European Seabirds' for a proper dark, a dark-intermediate, and an intermediate** ]]
[[**Which is quite a dark one; they can show a paler underside while still not being light. Or is that light-intermediate.. Oh, sod it.]]
[[***See? They're all an ID challenge!]]

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