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Afternoon scruffs

Posted by on July 26, 2012 10:58 PM | 


If you think the female Whitethroat looks a tad on the tatty side, you should have seen the state of John G and I after a very humid afternoon in full respirator/chemical suit/visor/20 litre spray pack get-up while working on a cleared site in the Birkdale dunes today.
Way too hot for that type of mullarkey, but there you go - there were plenty of Meadow Browns, two Oak Eggars, Gatekeepers etc, and even a few Common Darters about as we set to work.
John put up a net nearby in the hope of catching something unexpected, but all we got was the Whitethroat above and one of a large feeding flock of Goldfinch, which were ringed, weighed and released.


Little Grebe still with young, Percy Sledges and Chiffchaffs still singing and one of the local Buzzards put in a close up and personal fly-by clutching what appeared to be an unfortunate rodent.
The Emerald Damselflies of yesterday were slightly more obliging - this blue-eyed male is almost in focus....


And what better way to cool off than reflect on the pallid beauty of the white-type Early Marsh Orchid I bumped into on Tuesday.


With conditions getting a bit breezier over the next few days a seawatch would have been on the cards, if wasn't for the lack of a decent tide.
Although from what I understand from a colleague humid conditions early on today meant the rig wasn't even visible off Ainsdale on the falling tide at 0700.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...


Adult Med Gull on Formby Beach from Lifeboat Road. Plenty of Common and Sandwich Terns still about. Of the usual waders, Grey Plover numbers seem to be on the increase over the last week or two, though Bar-Tailed Godwits and Knots still in the majority. Although fairly standard stuff today, despite the Med, it's really worth a visit at the moment for the (almost!) guaranteed fantastic views of the numerous terns and waders.

I noticed a Sanderling last week with a twisted leg it couldn't really use. Watched if for a while and it seemed to be feeding quite happily despite the disability. I wandered off wondering about its chances, yet was surprised to see it again today, still happily probing away. Formby's little miracle!

I'd like to ask for the opinion of those significantly more experienced than myself!
Juvenile Skua flying around the gull and tern roosts along the shore at Formby Point this morning. As a very mid-level birdwatcher with some areas definitely needing more work (Skuas being one of them!), I don't have much experience of these birds.
It was the size of a Common Gull, but longer winged, appeared very dark grey/brown on initial view (though on closer inspection - it came very close - extensive barring seemed to 'lift' the dark appearance), dark head, short-ish bill, vent and rump very distinctive broad barring (most striking feature), fine barring on the underwing which continued on to the flank before fading out, square tail with no obvious projection, pale patch on the primaries, flight a steady glide with a few relaxed wingbeats.
Having spent an hour with the grown-up books and the internet, I'm thinking Pomarine? I had very good views of the bird, just missing experience, knowledge and a camera unfortunately!
Any help in my continued education would be appreciated!

Hi Gaz,
Skuas present a continual learning experience for birders - especially juvs, which come in a bewildering variety of colour morphs!
Your description does fit several of the characteristics of a young Pom, although they are scarce birds on our coast.
Even the youngsters are big and bulky, giving off an air of relaxed power, in much the same way as a Goshawk does in steady flight.
Hard to say without seeing the bird though.
What do others think?
Meanwhile, don't worry about failing to id your bird - no one can put a name to every skua they see (I certainly can't), just enjoy your close encounter!

Hello, Gaz
As John says, Skuas are difficult; other observers' Skuas even more so! There's no way to give a positive specific ID based on your description, but here are a couple of thoughts:
It's most unlikely to have been a Pom. Size and wing-shape details don't fit; Pom is a hefty bird. Any first-summer or older bird would have some kind of a tail-projection; there's no way one of this year's juveniles, which might have a square-ended tail, would have reached these waters by late July; late September would be more likely.
At a rough guess, 90% of identified Skuas on this coast are Arctics; this fact alone makes that species the most likely candidate. The size and slim wings fit with that also. However, any adult Arctic should have a very conspicuous long tail-spike at close range;I suppose it's possible that the projection had been broken off, as Skuas live a fairly robust life-style. The spike on a juvenile Arctic might be less noticeable, but again it's very unlikely, though not impossible, that a juvenile Arctic would be off our coast this early in the season. The same date-problem applies to juv Long-tailed Skua, which anyway has a very noticeable thumb-shaped tail projection. Your description seems to rule out Great Skua. I hope this helps; I'd put my money, hesitantly though, on Arctic Skua.

Thanks for the info! Birdwatching in isolation, experience and knowledge like that is pure gold for me. Although now a slightly faded memory, it definitely didn't seem to be a particularly bulky bird, with those long wings giving it an almost elegant appearance. I think it was the barring on the rump and no obvious projection that had me stumped (excuse the pun!). When doing my homework, I was basing everything on appearance and it certainly didn't occur to me that the juveniles I was comparing it to simply couldn't be here now. So the help and education is much appreciated.

And as you say John, I'm more than happy with my very enjoyable views of a bird with which I don't usually cross paths - an unspecified juvenile Skua!

Thanks again.

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