Monday, 30 December 2013

Dorset Dash - The Portland Brunnich's Guillemot

This "mega" year has been somewhat frustrating for me. The anticipation of the sound of a mega-alerting pager would change to despondency when the bird I needed was on a far-flung expensive or impossible to reach in a weekend island or in Ireland ( I don't go there), and the mainland megas were all birds I've seen, apart from the Semi-p Plover (bless its little soul). I had written off the rest of the year and was hoping 2014 would turn out to be better. When the pager mega-alerted on Boxing Day I picked it up with trepidation wondering what final disappointment 2013 had for me. The words Brunnich's and Portland caught my eye, a bird I needed on the mainland at last! I ran a quick calculation through my brain, 5 hour plus drive, just over 5 hours of daylight and 2 excited daughters expecting me to take them to see The Hobbit in Norwich at 7pm. The numbers didn't add up.  I  also had to work the next 2 days, my husbands relations were about to arrive from Canada for a late Christmas and with Brunnich's Guillemots not known for hanging around this looked like yet another one I would have to let go.
Arriving at work on Friday morning my pager informed me that the Brunnich's was still present. I began to wonder whether it would hang around as I was free(ish) on Sunday. Amazingly it was still there on Saturday and my phone was going mad with texts and Tweets from friends who had seen the bird whilst I was stuck being very busy at work. My late Christmas dinner that afternoon had to be a dry affair for me as I resolved to get up at 4.30am and head west myself the next morning.
I was on my way by 5am with my Christmas present Sat-nav guiding me on almost deserted frosty roads. From 7.45 as the daylight strengthened, I started to take anxious glances at my pager. The Brunnich's had been on by 8.30 on Friday and Saturday but there had been no messages as that time came and went. My heart sank when I caught the word "No" on the first Brunnich's message of the day, thinking this was a "no sign" message and was a little relieved when I realised it was the lesser but still ominous"no news" but it was still an anxious few minutes before the message came through that it was still there and showing well.
I arrived at my destination in bright sunshine and found birders walking back from the bird down a hill to my right just south of the castle. I was told to "walk up the hill, turn left and you'll see the birders". I followed the instructions and soon came across  a line of khaki clad birders leaning over a castellated wall like defenders at a siege. I joined their ranks and was just putting my scope down when the Brunnich's Guillemot popped up almost in front of me. I hardly had time to lift my bins before it had dived again but it was soon back up and I had my first proper view. It spent the next hour doing circuits in front of the Aqua Hotel almost constantly diving and spending little time on the surface. However at times it came very close in and once surfaced immediately below me giving me a spectacular view. When it dived I could see it swimming away in the clear water.
Eventually it moved off into the marina and started doing loops around the pontoon in front of an admiring crowd. It was a beautiful, almost windless day with a little bit of warmth in the winter sunshine, a huge contrast to the conditions on my previous twitch, and it was a delight to be able to watch this extreme rarity.

There were other birds of note too. The Black Guillemot was feeding in just one small area near a pink buoy close to the breakwater and a Great Northern Diver in the marina was one of at least 3 in the harbour. I also saw a Red-necked Grebe, 2 Black-throated Divers, good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, dapper drakes with their punky females, and a steady stream of other auks flying in and out of Portland Harbour.
It was time to move on and stopping at Radipole Lake I had a look at the Hooded Merganser which was ridiculously tame. I counted at least 23 Med Gulls amongst the roosting gulls in front of the visitor centre and Cetti's Warblers were in good voice.

After a reviving piece of cake and a cup of coffee at the RSPB visitor centre I went up the road to see the Glossy Ibis which was feeding in the rather unusual location of a wet playing field next to a children's play area and also giving excellent views. It was a superb day and 2013 went out with a bang after all!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

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