Saturday, 9 November 2013

Humpback Whale at Waxham

At last a weekend had arrived and I was free to do some birding at last. The problem with this time of year is that most of the daylight hours are spent at work so there is barely any time to get round even our marshes let alone get to anywhere else. I had also spent 2 days on a course in Redditch during which my husband had seen 2 Med Gulls and 5 Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape, along with a Jack Snipe on two occasions and several Common Snipe. The best I had done previous to this was a flock of 12 Ruff which was at least a site record.
Opening the bedroom curtains this morning it was pleasant to see that the usual Woodpigeons normally perched on the electricity cables across the marshes had been replaced by a flock of 88 of the much daintier Stock Dove. As Stock Doves seemed to have been declining locally this was a great sight. On a follow up walk around the marsh there seemed to be plenty of birds on the move with a small flock of Fieldfare heading determinedly west, groups of Starlings milling across the marshes, a large flock of Linnets on the nearby arable fields and Skylarks calling overhead. Three Marsh Harriers seem to have taken up winter residence and a skein of Pink-footed Geese passed down the valley. The scrape was quiet and we decided to turn the pipe up to allow more water to accumulate and flood on to the grassy surrounds. I was considering an afternoon walk along Haddiscoe Island when news of the reappearance of the Humpback Whale at Sea Palling had me missing lunch and heading northwards instead. The first day of the whale had been agonising as I was at work only 11 miles from it but unable to escape. I had been condemned just to read Tweets of how fantastic it was, so I was glad to have the opportunity to catch up with it (I hoped)
I arrived at Sea Palling in murky weather. The morning's sunshine had been replaced by low cloud and intermittent rain and there was a winter chill in the air. The whale had not been seen for a while and its last showing had been brief and distant. I joined 2 other cetacean searchers in scanning the horizon. Tim Allwood turned up and explained that when he had seen the whale previously it was on show almost continuously as it fed amongst a swirl of gannets. With just a few gannets passing through things were not looking hopeful. Penny Clarke arrived and joined the watch but after 40 minutes I decided to look further south with the plan of stopping at several points down the coast so drove first to Waxham for a quick scan of the sea there. Parking at the Shangri-La track I just took my bins and walked up on to the dunes. My gaze first fell on a close-in Red-throated Diver and then, just to its left but some way behind, a black shape loomed out of the water, the Humpback Whale! I rushed back to the car, fetched my scope, texted RBA and enjoyed distant but still good views of the whale as it repeatedly surfaced and dived surrounded by its gannet entourage. Even at a distance the whale was mightily impressive and I was thrilled to see it, my first proper big whale ever. It was easy to locate, you just had to look for the gannets, wait for it to blow and then the back and dorsal fin would follow. On occasion I even saw the tail flukes flip out of the water as it dived deeper, an amazing sight.  I was joined by Penny Clarke, Duncan Mcdonald and another birder and we all continued to watch and enjoy the whale as it moved slowly north and away until it was literally on the horizon.  A Bonxie added a little extra spice to the day and small groups of Starlings were regularly picked up making their way in off the sea. All in all a very satisfying day!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alison,

    Glad you finally got the whale. It's quite a thing to see anywhere but especially locally! It hasn't been easy of late though with very few eyes looking since the initial few days and I guess a lot of people have been disappointed...