Wednesday, 29 September 2010

It's all in the timing

  • My only namecheck in the Kent Ornithological Society bird reports was on Friday and goes something like ".... watched the sea at Oare in wind and rain for a few hours, then left far too early as huge numbers of skuas flew past nice and close....". Bad timing? No, just bad birding, mixed with a dash of impatience.
As the strong winds continued to blow from the north we had high hopes for a pre-planned trip across the channel, and indeed a flurry of activity a few miles out from Calais boded well - four Bonxies, two Artic Skuas and a Sooty Shearwater flew past the ferry, along with a host of Gannets and Kittiwakes and a single Guillemot.

Gannet (mottled morph)

Arctic Skua

These sightings were trumped in Calais harbour by a lovely Sabine's Gull, and I was pleased that we had done our homework after earlier discussions about confusing these, Little Gulls and Kittiwakes, so we could be sure of the identification.

I had earlier discovered that Saturday's exposure to wind-blown sand had done for my camera, so Dr Ray has kindly sold me some of his photos of the day - again, nice timing.

After an indirect drive to Le Clipon, one of Dunkirk's breakwaters that juts out into the sea and has terrific records of seabirds, we set up to watch the promised myriad of passing birds only to find that the sea was empty. A helpful French birder told us that it had been fantastique earlier that morning, but now......

Behind Le Clipon is an expanse of sand dunes and tidal estuary which provided good watching as a compensation, and Steve used his stature to creep up on some waders.
Two Snow Buntings fluttered by, three Purple Sandpipers, some Rock Pipits and three Robins were on the jetty - and a highlight was an Arctic Skua passing close in pusuit of a tern.

We moved on to Platier d'Oye and were immediately disappointed as the scrapes held only a few eclipse ducks keeping their heads down in the midst of Sunday shooting practice. Further exploration of the area revealed a Redstart and seven Spoonbills, but we had expected far more.

By then the weather had closed in, preventing further searching for Kentish Plovers and Crested Larks. Spike Milligan described Calais as having "the charisma of a blocked toilet" but at least we had a bonus of a juvenile Litttle Gull as the return ferry pulled out of the harbour.

Lessons from all this?

  • That those who spend hours waiting and watching will (finally) get better results than those who just turn up expecting to be presented with a show.
  • Good company can be enjoyed even when there's not a speck on the sea.


ascu75 aka Don said...

Reminds me of an old quote and I paraphrase here 'We sat in silence and got up having shared the best conversation ever'It's not just the company its what you look at. I am a great people watcher but there are those who look but never see.

Kingsdowner said...

Wise words Don.
Except the phrase "those who look but never see" brings back painful memories of fruitless seawatches!

Greenie said...

Steve ,
Great sightings for a 'jolly' .
Things probably looked even better in the bar on the way back .
Brilliant quip from Spike .

Wellsy said...

you enjoyed, and your day trip didnt end with a car prang like mine!!