Sunday, 24 July 2011

Talking Up A Storm

There is an old Irish saying "The day of the storm is not the day for thatching"; taken literally it means if you haven't done any seawatching this weekend you bloody well should have done. With a North wind occasionally switching NNW and dry and sunny it's been blissful; a slow start Saturday morning gradually came good with an exceptionally strong passage of Storm Petrels from Durham north.

Newton Stringer kicked it off with a couple of decent Stormies last night up at Beadnell, whilst at the Naples of the North (Newbiggin) we were enjoying a Sooty Shearwater that almost brushed our toes as it breezed north.

A second early start this morning saw the floodgates open with my personal tally of 15 Storm Petrels and 11 Great Skuas heading north. Three hours this afternoon added a further 10 Storm Petrels though there were more I missed, a further five Sooty Shearwaters, 6 drake Velvet Scoters, several Little Gulls a Roseate Tern and 50+ Manx Shearwaters.

Whilst the early Storm Petrel sightings were frustratingly brief as they vanished into the deep troughs between waves patience paid off with longer views, eventually some closer and feeding birds allowed us to see the white rump and the white on the underwing on a number of individuals.Circuit feeding, foot paddling was all noted though most unusual was one piece of behaviour this afternoon I've never witnessed before.

Richard Dunn and I were both watching a loose collection of large gulls and tighter Kittiwake flock well offshore when two Storm Petrels appeared to come up from the sea to around 10m in height and at least one continued to build height rapidly before being lost against the blue sky. Was this some kind of escape behaviour to avoid the attentions of the large gulls? (comments and alternate theories not involving House Martins welcome).

An update from Mark Newsome at Whitburn highlights that they have "smashed the county record for Storm Petrels" today and further north there has been at least one Balearic Shearwater seen from two locations.

My Personal tally for Saturday/Sunday as follows:

Storm Petrel 25
Sooty Shearwater 8
Velvet Scoter 6
Little Gull 3
Great Skua 16
Arctic Skua 15
Roseate Tern 1
Manx Shearwater 88
Red-throated Diver 1
Tufted Duck 1
Great Crested Grebe 2

With at least 12 other birders in attendance at various times, the crack was almost as good as the sea at times.The combination of deckchairs new and old along with enough grey hair to fill a Saga tour bus was a heart-warming sight, even the silver fox himself put in an appearance to triple the expletive count in under an hour, happy days.

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