Sunday, 8 June 2014

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

We hadn't been down to Weymouth to see Judith's mum Rita for some weeks, so with a bit of decent weather forecast we set off early on Saturday morning. On the way down it was pretty bleak, wet and cloudy, but by about 10am it cleared and the rest of the weekend was gorgeous.
On Saturday we went west and visited some artists as it was Dorset Art Week. Nice just to get out and about and the countryside was looking gorgeous. There were foxgloves everywhere in the hedgerows and everything looked very green.
Sunday was a VERY early start to get down to Portland Bill and do a bit of sea watching. I was there just before 5.30, with a lovely post-dawn light and a light on-shore breeze. The sea was relatively flat and with almost perfect visibility I set about scanning the waves.
There were lots of auks - mainly guillemots and a few razorbills - flying in and out of the colony on the cliffs. It took some while but eventually I managed to pick up a puffin as well. That was the only one I saw in almost two hours though, so it must be a very small colony. Gannets were almost constantly moving along the coast as well, adults and juveniles. None were fishing though so the shoals must be either further out or along the coast.
What I had mainly gone for though were shearwaters. Over two hours I saw around 30 or more Manx. Of course, I can't be sure of the actual numbers and whether it was the same group lingering or a passage along the channel. They were moving in both directions though so I suspect it was a group just offshore. I also managed to get one Balearic shearwater as well. They had arrived about a week earlier for a Summer residence. Both birds look and behave like mini albatrosses. They skim over the surface, often with very few flaps as they glide the updrafts of the waves. The difference between them is in their colouration. Manx are dark above and very white underneath, whilst Balearics appear almost brown, especially on their undersides with no real contrast between this and their upper side. The real seawatchers will also talk about flight patterns but that is beyond my skills.
The only other bird of note on the sea was a great skua, or bonxie, passing by in the company of 4 gannets.
On the land a pair of ravens were hanging around, cronking calls heralding their arrival to pick on the gulls. Rock pipits were also clearly in residence around the rocks (!) but otherwise it was pretty quiet.
Later on the day we drove east along the coast, stopping on the way to view some lovely Southern Marsh orchids in the verge on the way to Swannage.

On the bird front I got one more for the year list, in the shape of a Sandwich tern off Durlston Point. There were lots of hirundines in the fields as well as swifts screaming around. All in all, a very pleasant couple of days.