The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Monday, 23 December 2013

Ebony and Ivory


Having already had a day off work and not used it for birding, I was determined to get out there today, despite the dreadful weather.  With the low tide being in the afternoon, I could at least have (another) lie in! 

The forecast was for the rain to leave by mid-afternoon, but in continuing precipitation I started at the reasonably sheltered Sandsfoot Castle.  Even so, the rain and wind still narrowed my horizons, and I no doubt missed a few things.  But, it was nice to catch up with the long-staying female Eider close-in, and glimpse a single distant Black-necked Grebe.  I moved down to the shelter-less beach, and was rewarded with two close Slavonian Grebe.  I'd like to come back to these in better weather, as It'd be nice to get some photos.

I moved round to Ferrybridge, but the conditions were still awful, with no end in sight to the rain.  However, it was clear that there was little to be seen at the site anyway.

I was going to give up, but then I remembered how I'd earlier discovered a new way to look into the Harbour, by The Aqua Hotel in Castletown, so I decided to give it a go.  Viewing from the car was a good option here, and I soon found a lot of the Harbour's residents were taking advantage of this little bit of shelter, including a Razorbill and a Great Northern Diver.  I then got a couple of glimpses of an Auk with a very pale head.  It looked all the world like a Black Guillemot (even though I've never before seen one in winter plumage), but it seemed to lack the extent of white in the wing I would expect, and I thought it unlikely.  It was very difficult to catch up with, as it dived remarkably frequently, and moved great distances underwater.  Eventually though it started to preen, and I then glimpsed a red foot as it scratched itself. Clinched! 

I put the news out, and headed round to Portland Castle as I suspected, correctly as it turned out, that any new observers would head there.  Martin then turned up, and after an anxious wait, I managed to get him on it, and relief was achieved!  So, my only good finds since moving to Portland have been Black Guillemots (and may even be the same bird)!

I like to think that I've got pretty good at phonescoping, especially without any sort of adapter, so I hope the best shot I achieved of this bird will convey accurately the quality of the light and conditions at the time!!!!!

Having missed an opportunity to go to Hull and back (excuse the pun) on Saturday, when I noticed that Garry Bagnell was advertising space in his car for Sunday I just had to take him up on it, particularly as I was really not up to driving for this one (the Baikal twitch was enjoyable, but the journey was a killer!).
After no sleep at all (too excited) I drove the 2 hours and met up with Garry on the M25, before we picked up William Bentley along the A1 on way up.  As we came within striking distance, the lack of news started to worry us, and then we got the dreaded 'no sign' message.  We thought about a contingency plan of going for the Buff-bellied Pipit in Cheshire, but that was not a lifer for any of us, and about a million times not as good looking as our main quarry!
Almost as we had reached the point of decision, the message came up that had us punching the air, the bird had just flown in!  A very anxious journey through Hull and along the awfully slow minor roads towards Patrington Haven followed.  As we arrived at Outstray Road around 11, we were concerned to see a lot of birders driving away!  Why was this?
We needn't have worried, as on arrival at a very cold and windy Patrington Channel, the Ivory Gull was immediately in view, preening on the shoreline rocks. Yes!
What we really wanted next was to see it closer, or at least in flight, but it gave us a very long and cold wait, presumably digesting it's mornings meal, safe in the knowledge that it's food source was reliable.
It was nice chatting to some of the New Generation Birders as I waited, including Espen Quinto-Ashman who I've now bumped into for two weekends in a row since I took him for the Baikal Teal!
Eventually though, after an initial short 'stretching it's wings'-type flight, it flew in towards the salthouse, and gave us wonderful views as it did fly-pasts, and stalled in the wind, virtually overhead, and then down to the unique birdtable, stocked with Mackerel and Carp. 

  It was great watching it as it fed so close, with the constant background claps of camera shutters only a minor distraction.  It had an odd feeding action, vibrating it's beak to break off the flesh, like a jack hammer.
After half an hour or so, after a quick drink and wash in the puddles, it all of a sudden took off, and headed back out onto the estuary.  Such a pleasure to see this bird, and without doubt my bird of the year.

The whole day was tiring, but ultimately rewarding, and I have to say, being in the middle of it all as the news of the Steller's Eider in Lothian broke (a bird Garry needs) on the way back was quite surreal!

Thanks to Garry and William for making the day so enjoyable.

Wishing everyone a happy Christmas and new year!

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