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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland Harbour

On what must have been my best ever experience of harbour birding, I left Lowestoft on Saturday 28th December at 5.30pm and arrived at Portland harbour Quay at 10.20am. I had arranged to see Dick W & Ali R there. They had graciously offered me a lift but I declined as this period was family time in Wales but no harm in a 60 mile detour off the M4 on my journey over! As I walked up along the Quay side thronged by a group of what must have been around 120 birders, in the first harbour, I could see Mergansers and a smaller throng of birders scoping the Tystie, I walked past as top priority was the Brunnich's, I walked to the second harbour with wooden jetty's for the yachts I spied a larger knot of birders all scoping something quite close on the water, immediately in front of me sitting in he water just 30 feet away was the excellent Brunnich's Guillemot! This, unfortunately was the closest it got all morning. It was immediately apparent that this bird would constantly dive and be under water for some time (around 70% of the time only spending 30% of its time above the water line) It had a curious diving action seemingly to flop over to 1 side with its wing half out stretched to dive not really aerodynamic. I took a good look at it when it was above water. The upper parts were black and not chocolate brown in ordinary Guillemot. It's bill was blunter and less dagger like that on ordinary Guillemot. The bill showed the distinctive white line running parallel just above with the cutting edge of the upper mandibles and extending onto the face. It appeared a much darker bird with the black on the head extending onto the upper breast and sides punctuated by a paler whitish flush on the chin. The dark black eye had a line extending down from it and away. The bird was regularly diving and could be up to 30 yards away when it resurfaced. It swam out into the harbour and almost over to the first one before it made its way back to the wooden jetty running alongside and parallel with harbour wall at the Osprey Quay, it then swam up a channel very close to the Quay side for those fortunate to witness it, after a sudden downpour of rain where we all took cover under the leisure centre eaves. The bird then went missing for some 45 minutes. In the meantime we admired the incredible tally of at least 15 Red- breasted Mergansers, with 7 females and 6 males seen in this one harbour alone. A fine Great Northern Diver was also seen at the back of the harbour. A Razorbill that surfaced just in front of us raising our hopes briefly for a millisecond. Walking back along the harbour wall, to the first harbour ,the fine winter- plumaged Black Guillemot or Tystie as I prefer to call it. The Tystie was only my third sighting in this plumage. It swam near an orange buoy. Further out incredibly were 2 incredibly handsome Black- throated Divers which swam together showing silky grey necks and distinctive white flashes on their rear flanks. A female Eider was also later seen close in by the bout and way out an ordinary Guillemot was also sighted plus a pair of Red- breasted Mergansers. Suddenly a movement towards another section of the harbour further along had us peering through the fence and seeing the excellent Brunnich's Guillemot swimming close in following the harbour wall then diving its unique floppy dive(!) then swimming out into the harbour. I decided to view from the far end and when I reached there 10 minutes later the bird was swimming out of this part of the harbour under the bridge and back towards the Osprey Quay area. Walking back it was again close into the harbour the light suddenly approved and I finally bagged some half decent shots albeit a mid distance. It swam out to the harbour almost toying with going into the first harbour before swimming back again heading for the wooden jetty area where it dived and wasn't seen again by me during the rest of my visit. In the meantime the group of 13 Red- breasted Mergansers had grouped together in single sex flock the male throwing their heads back in display, an incredible sight. The Great Northern Diver was still patrolling at the back of the dock too. Some really superb winter harbour birding!

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