Thursday 26 May 2011

Check out the spoons on that

So, finding myself with a couple of birding colleagues on a westerly facing headland on North Uist in late May in a big westerly I was somewhat surprised not to be able to find any skuas. This was quite disappointing. A big white swan-like Glaucous Gull on the beach did little to cheer us up, having got up at 6am, barely having slept due to anticipation. Too soon it was time to get back to our bunkhouse and prepare for our morning of meetings.
Later, we visited Balranald where we were met by the RSPB site manager. I had a quick chat with their membership officer who said "are you the bloke who got up at 6am to look for skuas?" I said yes and she replied that it apparently had all kicked off at 9am with strings of Poms coming in really close. I could have burst into tears! Anyway, I made my way back to our little group, where the RSPB guy was just about to start explaining their work with crofters to manage the machair. I was waiting for my chance to mention to Tony how unlucky we had been, when over his shoulder I noticed a flock of birds. Putting my bins up I could scarcely believe my eyes - Pomarine Skuas! As politely as I could, I blurted out, "excuse me, there are some skuas" and we all turned round to watch a flock of 19 fully spooned-up Poms cutting the headland off just behind us. Awesome!

Even better was to come. We headed north, on to Harris where we met a ranger for a look at his patch. It was early evening and the light was stunning, though the westerly wind was still strong. I had dropped back to have a pee in this somewhat tree-less landscape when I noticed Tony and Ant waving at me frantically from the dunes ahead. At first I thought this was a wind up but not taking any chances, I sprinted over to hear Tony saying "skuas!". There on the sea in a small bay was a tight-flock of Pomarine Skuas, huddled up out of the wind. Shortly the 27 took flight, and loitered around seemingly sussing out where to head, before gliding very close overhead. Absolutely awesome views were had for the next few minutes as they drifted around before heading northeast. Apparently all I could say was "Check out the spoons on that!". Fantastic.

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