Arctic Skua and Sandwich Tern

Over the last nine days I’ve completed four sea watching sessions, done a bit of weekend volunteering and purchased (physical and digital) few new books. To follow are some updates on them all.

Seawatch sessions took place on 16th, 17th, 23rd and 24th September and delivered a great variety of birds, a good number of Autumn migrants and finished off today with a relentless procession from North to South of a sea duck called a Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) – we counted 11142 in total between 0645-1000 – That’s almost exactly 1 bird per second for the entire duration of the watch (11700 Seconds). A lovely image of a Drake Common Scoter is displayed below and trust me when I say that we never get views like this!!

Since July, we have been fortunate enough to observe almost 100 Arctic Skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus) a bird known to our North American cousins as a ‘Parasitic Jaeger’. They are exceptionally powerful birds and watching them harass the local Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis), trying and more often than not succeeding, to get the Terns to drop of regurgitate their recently caught fish is a pleasure to watch – they are true aerial acrobats and the cover photo for this blog is an image by Connor Pimm (‘X) and highlights perfectly the way these birds interact with or each other.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not all about birds for me, and on arrival at Starr Gate on Saturday 16th September, I was quickly advised to watch my step as we had a visitor on station – only small, but perfectly camouflaged against the concrete of the promenade was a rarely seen Sea Slater (Ligia oceanica). They are rarely seen as they usually come out at night to feed; however, we managed to watch it for a few minutes before it scurried off into a dark crevice, no doubt to hide out for the rest of day; closely related to the more widely known Woodlouse they are around 3cm long and as you will see in the video below, they have a fair turn of pace.

Over the weekend of the 16th and 17th sea watching turned up a great mix of birds. There was a real crossover with birds soon departing for warmer climes and those coming to spend the winter with us, as in their minds, we ARE the warner climes (although probably better described as ‘less cold’!). You can view the full set of observations of the sessions via the Trektellen website by clicking here for the 16th and here for the 17th. The undoubted highlight over the weekend (American Beauty excepted) was an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) that, despite the awful conditions, was powering South, low over the sea and in a very direct and determined path back to its West African wintering grounds around The Gambia and Senegal -Always a magnificent sight.

The sea-watching regulars were subjected to a very special midweek watch when, after the very strong winds we had, decided to use their experience and go on an afternoons watch as the tide ebbed and hopefully any birds that had been blown into Morecambe Bay, would exit stage left and they did just – in what 40+ year seawatchers called a ‘magical half hour’ they were treated to a Great Skua (Stercorarius skua) , Long Tailed Skua (Stercorarious longicaudus) and the almost mythical Leach’s Petrel (Hydrobates leucorhous) and all apparently gave really good views – makes it all worthwhile (as long as your retired 😉 ).

The two sessions this weekend again had a really good mix of birds, primarily Autumn / Winter birds and you can see the full counts here for Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th – I’ve described the large Common Scoter count above and along with the wildfowl that we have seen such as Pintail (Anas acuta) , Teal (Anas crecca) and Wigeon (Anas penelope), we were also treated to a good long fly-past by the UK’s smallest bird of Prey, the Merlin (Falco columbarius) – The Merlin will take small passerine birds from the air and is often found following Swallows and Martins on their migration routes (a mobile larder!).

In a recent blog on my volunteering exploits at Marton Mere, i described how we’d crated a shallow pond in the Woodland Hide area – this pond was re-dug, all plastic liners removed and we relined the pond with a product called ‘bentonite’ – bentonite is very ‘plastic’ clat that when ‘wetted’ will swell up to 10 times it’s dry volume and form an effective, impermeable barrier and hence why it is great to line ponds. The first section was completed around 10 days ago and along with Steve Swift (fellow Volunteer, Fylde Bird Club member and Sea watcher), attended the Mere for an hour on the Saturday and completed digging out the second part of the pond, lining it with bentonite, activating the bentonite with sprayed water and then covering the bentonite with a few inches of compacted topsoil. To follow are some images of the two ponds and you can see the smaller one is already filling and holding water – a successful project and we hope that this pond fills quickly over the coming weeks – there’s certainly enough rain in the forecast! Keep an eye out for future Marton Mere blogs for progress of pop over to Facebook to the Marton Mere LNR Facebook page.

The last couple of weeks has seen me buy a few second hand books and also download a few new books on Audible – I do a lot of driving for work and probably spend 8 hours per week in the car. This is a great opportunity to ‘listen’ to podcasts or audio books and I rarely pass up the opportunity to do so. I do listen to few ‘political podcasts’ and I can come on to those in later bogs – however, most of my podcasts are nature based or have a science and nature slant – always looking to learn something new every day or improve my knowledge on a subject – I reckon I achieve that aim every singe day 🙂

The books I have purchased this week are:-
Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald – This a relatively new book and takes on the conservationists ‘status quo’ about how to reintroduce an prevent the continued loss of the UK’s avifauna (and insects and mammals) – Has some great reviews and I’m really looking forward to reading this one. Updates to follow on completion.

Birders – Tales of Tribe by Mark Cocker – This is a first hand tale of the lengths ‘Twitchers’ will go to to see a bird – I’ve read the intro so far and and it looks like it will be a good read. I’m not a fan or Twitching myself but each to their own. Update to follow on completion.

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir by Chris Packham – The trial and tribulations of an introvert loner, and I have to say that his childhood reminds me so much of my own – I’m nowhere near as introvert as the Author but the fascination with anything and everything to do with the natural world was shared – I have this as an Audio book and it is narrated by Chris Packham – This self-narration adds to its appeal (if you like Chris Packham that is) as his enthusiasm and passion for everything he did comes across in spades. The book does move back and forward from the late sixties, to the 70’s, into the 90’s and the noughties and up to the present day – it is a bit difficult to keep up with at times but as some of the writing is based on counselling sessions he had, and concerned with ‘looking back’ at pivotal events, I can see why this was done. Anyone who grew up in and around nature from the late sixties onward will relate to this book and I’d recommend reading it of listening to it. If you’d like to borrow my copy, please let me know and I’ll be happy to lend it out.

That’s about everything from the last 10 days. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my musings and hopefully exploring some of the sites and resources linked to in here. Come back again soon for some international updates!

Weekly Round-Up – 24/09/23

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