Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Long Tailed Skua and Arctic Skua at Dungeness

Cold tones, contrasting underwing patterning and longer distinctive tail profile - this is a Long Tailed Skua!

The tail profile shows well on this image, but was much harder to see through binoculars on the day.

Sea watching at Dungeness on Sunday was rewarding with watching and photographing the skeins of Brent Geese close to the shore line. Also, through the sea spray and buffeting wind, there were two Skuas chasing Terns for their catch. One, an all dark bird, had a significant wing moult but was still powerful enough to pursue Sandwich Terns fishing offshore. This bird was a dark phase Arctic Skua. A second Skua appeared and disappeared behind choppy waves, again harassing the Terns. This bird appeared pale - but a similar size to the darker bird. With binoculars I couldn't get a better view to get a true identity, such was the distance out to sea.
I took photographs, but forgot my glasses so couldn't make out the fuzzy images on the back of my camera. Heading back to the car, I met David from the Bird Observatory who'd been watching the same birds from further along the beach. "Did you see the pale bird?" he asked. "Yes" I said. "It's an Arctic Skua, too big and heavy for a Long Tailed Skua".
When I arrived home later, I put my glasses on and looked at the images on the back of my camera. Now I could see straight away a pale Juvenile Skua but with a much longer tail profile than an Arctic. I was looking at pictures of my first Long Tailed Skua, all be it a Juvenile bird. The camera never lies and saved the day for this 'rusty' bird watcher.

Dark phase Arctic Skua in pursuit of a Sandwich Tern's fish catch.

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