The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 27 December 2013

Defeated in Auk Top Trumps!


After a lovely Christmas at home in Aldershot, I used Boxing Day morning to take a quick look at Tice's Meadow.

The forecast didn't include the merest hint of fog, so I was disappointed to be greeted by this.

Initially, I wasn't planning on any birding whilst home for Christmas, so I hadn't brought my scope.  This coupled with the conditions meant I was never likely to find the possible Scaup (site tick) that had been reported the day before, but I tried my best!  I did count 8 Pochard and heard a couple of Water Rail in the reedbed. 
The best birds though were a fly-over Yellowhammer heard somewhere in the fog, plus a cold-coloured Chiffchaff in the reedbed, that I feel was at best, abietinus ('Eastern').
I was just thinking about what a great job the volunteers had done clearing the scrub, when I took a glance at Twitter on my phone.  I was greeted by a message from top Portland birder Debby Saunders, with a full-screen photo of a Brunnich's Guillemot (Thick-billed Murre) attached!  Great, there's an absolute mega on Portland, and I'm 100 miles away with a family get-together in the afternoon, and work the next morning! It was Murre-der!  I very briefly entertained the idea of twitching it, then getting back for the do, but there was nowhere near enough time.  I just had to sweat it out.
I should have predicted it really. I mean I shouldn't have expected my crown for best Auk find this year to go without challenge, and when the Saunder's are around, you have to expect mega finds!
I was able to get out of work for my break at a good time to rush down to Portland Castle, and decided that The Aqua Hotel was the place to start, as this is where it was seen last thing yesterday.
There were one or two birders there, so we started searching.  After an initial no sign, I walked round the corner to see if the water could be viewed further towards the Port.  I bumped into the 'people of the moment' there, and they told me it had been seen already, from The Aqua, so I returned.  I wasn't there very long, when someone spotted an Auk at middle distance.  I took one look at it, and bosh!  The Brunnich's Guillemot
I knew I was pushed for time, so rather than watch it, I thought I'd make myself useful, and go round to the massed twitchers at the Marina, to let them know. 
Just as most had left the Marina, and started watching from the Castle, I looked back to the end of the line of birders, and some were looking rather animated.  Behind them, I could see a dark Auk just off the rocks back in the Marina.  The bird was back there!  So, I had to rush to the castle and usher everyone back to where they'd just come! 
I had to get back to work, so I hope those early bird(er)s got it.
After work, and a spot of lunch, I was back down there with my scope in the hope of enjoying it properly.
I was initially worried to find hardly any birders around, but it soon became evident that the bird had returned to the Castle end, and I manage to spot it just coming round the corner in front of the Port.  It travelled an incredible distance underwater, and was very difficult to keep tabs on, but it eventually showed beautifully in bright sunlight by the Marina. 

Also in the area was the Black Guillemot still, as well as at least 4 Black-throated Divers.

Nice to see and meet a few familiar faces there including Ken Tucker, Ads Bowley, Colin White, and Josie Hewitt

Whilst I was there, I noticed that 'you know who' had found a Glaucous Gull at Ferrybridge, and as that's every bit as valuable as a Portland tick as the Guillemot, I went for it!

On arrival, I was told the bird had just flown off over Chesil Beach.  I just popped up there to see if it was anywhere to be seen, only to be welcomed by the strongest wind I think I've ever stood in (or not as the case was!)

Martin had apparently gone down to Chesil Cove, to see if the bird was in view from there, and thought this was a very good idea, as there is some shelter there!
There were indeed a huge mass of Gulls present feeding in the surf (including on a large dead cetacean - Ivory Gull food!).

And, the guys eventually got me onto the bird way off in the distance, and although it appeared to be a similar size to the nearby Herring, which suggested Iceland, subsequently seeing Debby and Pete's photos of the bird on the deck, seems to confirm their initial ID of Glaucous Gull was correct.  Don't mind either way, as both are a Portland/Dorset/year tick!
What a day, and what a December the UK (and me) is having.  I've had 4 lifers!
Bring on the patch challenge in the new year.  Can I change my patch boundaries to include Osprey Quay in case the Brunnich's is still present come the first? Done!

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