Thursday, 12 August 2010

Not quite coming up Rosies

Of late I have found (or more correctly created) more opportunity to go birding. On most Thursday evenings my beloved goes out and, now that the offspring are largely independent, Dad's taxi is in less demand; so I decided to do my own thing tonight and went to St. Mary's Island, to see if I could remove an embarrassing gap in my list by seeing a Roseate Tern.

I was greeted by bright sunshine a high tide on the turn and a strong wind. The ancient scope stayed in the bag; it almost needed a tonne weight to keep the bins still.

The first bit of excitement was provided by one dark phase and two light phase Arctic Skuas chasing feeding terns. There was a steady movement north of Gannets; probably fifty in all, but I saw no Shearwaters.

Plenty of Sandys fishing and lots of Common Terns. A party of fifteen dots in the distance came slowly towards me, being blown sideways more than they were making forward progress. Eventually they reached overhead; Arctic Terns, giving a softer, more joyous version of the angry call that greets you when running the gauntlet on the Farnes. I reminded myself that these delicate birds, with their very buoyant, almost weightless flight spend their first years as non breeders travelling huge distances. Some of these journeys will encounter much stronger winds than that which gradually froze me to the spot at St. Mary's.

Still no Rosie. One likely candidate, sleek, long-tailed and pale, looked wrong for a Sandy, but I will need a very good and convincing view before the gap in the list is finally filled. The problem with the beak thing - Sandys have a black beak with a yellow tip - is that I find it very difficult to pick out the yellow tip on a Sandy in flight, unless the background gives good contrast. I find the shaggy hairdoo and the overall shape and jizz of a Sandy more of an ID help; but then you need to have watched a lot of Sandys to recognise the shape and jizz.

I find that my degree of colour blindness is compensated for by greater visual acuity (although age has gradually dented that). I tend to ID birds as much by shape, pattern and, particularly in the case of tweets, by facial 'expression'. This works OK if the birds are relatively still, but birds being pushed along by a strong wind are a different proposition.

Lots of waders were flying back and forth, looking for emerging rocks as the tide receded. Redshank, Golden Plover, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Dunlin.

I only stayed for about 50 minutes and left as the sun dropped and the wind rose. Perhaps I will have to wait until Bird Forum starts to report a build up of Rosies at South Shields.

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