Saturday, 17 January 2009

A skylark sang as the credit crunch came

Saturday morning saw me at Sand Bay. Those of you with long memories will remember that over the winter of 2007/08 I had a bit of mad project to regularly stand for an hour on a windswept beach and record the birds seen over that hour. It was a good thing to do, as Sand Bay is one of those places whereby a walk produces a couple of birds, but a prolonged stand brings it's rewards, especially at High Tide. But before that....

I was partaking of the breakfast trough this morning when from the conservatory a Grey Heron was about its business on a neighbours roof. Anyone got fish near me? Maybe not for much longer !! It was there for a good 5 minutes before heading off over the farmland.

So with high tide at about 10.30am, and a cancelled bit of fencing for a neighbour, I hot footed it down to Sand Bay.

That's my shadow in case you're wondering who that slim Jim is. This is looking towards Sand Point and I took the photo really as a record and to show the readers of this blog where I stand and stare. Where the marsh ends and the sea begins is a haven for waders. Difficult to photo at that distance but the photo below is a x24 image of the same view at the same time, where through the scope I could spy Curlew and Shelduck.

During the hour, a flock of 20 Linnet, a Rock Pipit, a couple of Stonechats, couple of Grey Plover, Knot, about 500 Dunlin in split flocks (below), 20 to 30 Shelduck and Curlew, a flying quartet of Redshank, a couple of calling Oystercatcher and a smattering of mixed gulls. Sadly no Merlin, not seen this year at all.

Apart from the wading birds this area regularly has Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Great and Blue Tit on the shrubs and as with today's excitement, skylarks. Being stationery means I can listen and yes, there it was a Skylark rising up from the Marsh and singing to itself. Spring is a long way off, but that little birds song warmed the heart wonderfully.

One thing I find is being stationery for that long people come and chat while walking dogs, children, small horses and grandmothers. Today was no exception, a man with a Jack Russell type dog who liked to chase a rubber doll, the dog that is not the man; another guy who having given up a Rock n Roll career now lives in a Gypsy caravan behind the Bay and walking his Alsatian. Finally a guy with a very obedient Border Collie who looked bored to tears as we chatted about birds. The dog was very knowledgeable apparently. This latter guy had watched Sand Bay for 40 years and it was great to hear of the changes, as he said as the Marsh expands more into the Bay each year a fine mixed habitat is becoming available.

But there was one bird that failed to be ID. Out to sea was a huge seabird, barrel chested like a cigar on white wings. Overall impression was completely white with just the faintest hint of light grey on the back. Black wing tips, but no obvious mirrors, all white underneath, no black underwing. Flight was slow and laborious, maintained at wave height. No gliding, no change in direction, so riding the waves, just a powerful direct slow wing beat flight. Given this bird was easily visible at half a mile with the naked eye, it was big, and I'm stumped. So a call to you gull watchers out there any ideas?

And finally I've noticed the last two times I've been at Sand Bay, people are now collecting drift wood in vast quantities. I asked one guy today who had his whole family out there collecting, and he said with the cost of fuel, they're now burning driftwood to keep warm.

A sign of the times, sadly this picture reminds me of the dark dark days of the Miner's strike in the 1980's and people beachcombing in the North East for coal, driftwood and anything of value just to survive. Something I'd hoped never to see in the UK again.


  1. Andrew in terms of size was this seabird bigger than Herring Gull, smaller than Gannet?

  2. Andrew I was thinking the same as RV. I am aregular seawatcher and the only pure white bird to stand out with the naked eye is Gannet. It fits your description well....?

  3. The flight and the slight grey on the back do not fit Gannet for my money. At a distance and over the sea Herring Gull often looks very white. The flight description fits HG, Gannet nearly always breaks into some sort of glide or shear at some point (it doesn't always though) so Herring Gull would be my guess.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Nice posting here and I loved the Grey Heron picture,


  5. Hi Rare Visitor, Stewart and Alastair. Thanks for the suggestions, I think Gannet is possibly unlikely, just because in the scope the profile wasn't right, it was a heavy bodied cigar shaped bird, I forgot to mention its bulk. But by then it was heading away from me. Size wise it was Great Black Backed but pale so maybe as Alastair says it was a Herring Gull, but at that didtance and in the sunlight looked white. Oddly though not having underwing markings, non obviously seen anyway. Oh well, can't win them all.

    Hi Jo, Thanks, hows the wildlife camera coming along?