Monday, 13 May 2013

Long-tailed Skua

It had to happen eventually - and seems even more timely following my last post! This afternoon the wind was again blowing SW/W around force 5-6 with the odd shower and a good deal of sunshine. I persuaded The Urbanski Birder to join me for another look at Cricieth, arriving around 1415 hrs for a couple of hours.

Immediately, Eddie connected with a group of distant skuas on the water off the castle and when a couple flew up then dropped down (shuffling the deck for want of a better description) we were able to see the spoons and confirm them as Pomarines. It was then a case of wait and see, and as usual at this site, it took a long time for the birds to change gear, get up and fly another short distance. They are easily overlooked and visitors are advised to scan very carefully with scopes from one of the shelters to have a decent chance of ticking this species here.

In the meantime a handful of Northern Gannets, just 15 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Sandwich' and a "Commic" tern were noted with a Red-throated Diver and a few Guillemots on the sea. A fine pale-phase Arctic Skua moved west when shortly afterwards El Player (don't ask!) picked up another very distant skua. The bird was  heading our way at very long range and initially looked good for Arctic. As it got a little closer I thought I could make out a bluntish tail and considered a sub-adult Pom... but was the chest really heavy enough and surely the wings weren't broad enough at the base?

At this point a very beardy passer-by popped his head in the shelter and asked us what we were doing. I managed to multi-task by fielding his questions with one eye on him and the other still watching the mystery skua come closer and closer..... There was an ominous silence, he departed, the light improved and then our star find suddenly banked, lifted above the horizon and confirmed our growing suspicions by revealing the longest thinnest rat's tail of any skua; it was an immaculate adult Long-tailed Skua and was heading our way!

We then enjoyed a fantastic performance. The bird decided to head west then turned and headed back towards Black Rock Sands (seemingly flushing the group of 15 Poms in the process and affording excellent comparison) before starting to circle and climb high towards Morfa Bychan. It drifted a couple of hundred metres over the beach before abandoning thoughts of an overland passage and dropped back down and headed west, landing briefly on the sea in front of us at one stage before resuming it's journey, being mobbed by a Northern Fulmar at one point on the way. Great stuff! Do I  think I missed 27 of these the other day? No, but I am happy with the one we saw today.

Also passing were a couple of distant Bonxies, two unidentified tiny specks of skua over in the direction of Harlech and three Whimbrel. After a shower had passed over the Poms took off and headed purposefully west straight past us - again mostly pale-phase adults.

Happy with our session it was time to retrace our steps. A quick stop at Afonwen produced a nice Dipper before calling in at Pwllheli's harbour channel. Rhys Jones had a Roseate Tern off Pen-y-chain yesterday and we were half-hoping it might still be around. No joy, but we did manage 19 Sandwich' and 17 Commons plus a respectable 50 Dunlin and a high figure of 37 Ruddy Turnstone. The afternoon's birding ended with a beautiful sea and towering clouds as the next pulse of rain clipped the peninsula.


  1. Replies
    1. Hey Elfyn, good to hear from you.

      Quality not quantity is the best response to your question!

      All the best


    2. I wonder if it was Mr Lewis that caught up with 27 of these?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Anonymous

      I'm sure Mr Lewis is the best person to answer that question!

      To be honest, I don't like your style. You're happy enough to mention certain names here but can't even give your own!?

      Suggest that all interested parties read my last few posts very carefully to gain some insight into where I'm coming from:

      1. I expressed my personal doubts about certain reports following many years of collective experience.

      2. Do not wish to offend anyone in the process.

      3. Confess that I sometimes find bird ID challenging - especially that of seabirds at long range in 'field' (or rather 'maritime') conditions and welcome constructive comments.

      I should have emphasised that I actually relish the ID challenges presented by a howling SW and tiny moving targets at 2k range :-D

  2. There is an uncorfirmed report of SIX Long-tailed Skuas off Aberystwyth this morning.

  3. Aha .... it's all becoming clearer now. We're in Criccieth again this week and were just returning from a walk up the Dwyfor when I stopped to scan the area around the river mouth and as far out as I could reach with just bins. Suddenly a group of 'very different' birds drifted into view. Now I've frequently seen reports of Pomarine Skuas off Criccieth but I've hitherto never managed to connect with them. So imagine my delight when that's exactly what they were, close enough to clearly see the spoony things and to enjoy these very handsome birds in bright sunshine. Dare I admit that it's a lifer? Well .... me and boats just don't get on you see so I had to get it from land!

    Anyway I phoned it in to RBA when I got back to the cottage but I couldn't understand why my report of 15 poms was suddenly mixed in with a selection of assorted skuas submitted by some other delusional character ;o) But like I say, it's all become clearer now.

    Well done on the long-tailed Andy! Probably flew right past me whilst I was busy watching whitethroats and stonechats.

    Never a dull moment on this coast. I'd just finished my fish and chips and a flock of waders breezed in onto Criccieth's main beach. Turned out to be my favourites - Sanderlings. With a group of screaming Swifts overhead too!


    1. Good stuff Paul!

      No shame in stating the Poms were a lifer, especially if you're land-locked and sea sick. There's quite a few species I haven't seen and not being a major twitcher/traveller probably never will for some time. I do get jealous when people tell me they have seen their first Bullfinch or Peregrine as they are both cracking birds and I well remember the excitement of my first time with each! The rares are just that and I appreciate nearly all birds but must admit that Dunnocks don't float my boat ;-p

      Be nice to know which route the spooners take after passsing Cricieth. I reckon they might well head inland and over to Caernarfon Bay. Winds eased off today so no seawatching for a while, looking forward to the next session.

      Good Birding & Best Wishes