Before I tell you what I did find I think I need to tell you a bit more about Skuas. They are medium-sized to largish seabirds (the smallest is about the size of a Black-headed Gull and the largest is similar in size to a Herring Gull), that make their living by chasing other birds such as small gulls and terns and harrying them until they drop whatever food they are carrying, at which point the skua dives down and catches the food for itself. In other words, they are the pirates of the sea-bird world. The four species that are regular in the UK all nest in northerly parts of the northern hemisphere but come further south outside the breeding season. Two species, Great Skua (S. skua) and Arctic Skua (S. parasiticus) breed in the very north of Britain while the other two mostly breed inside the Arctic Circle and have never bred in the UK. They are very impressive birds to watch and when one appears in the middle of a group of feeding terns or Kittiwakes they stand out immediately as something different, with their swept back wings, mostly darkish coloration and purposeful flight (Great Skua is a little more lumbering than the other three). [Note for North Americans - the three smaller species of skua are known as Jaegers on your side of the Atlantic, so if you have heard of them and are confused, I am talking about the same things]
This morning, when I got to the end of South Gare the first thing I saw was a (relatively) huge crowd of fishermen, accompanied by several children. This was mostly explained by the fact that it was a Bank Holiday Monday during the summer holidays and the weather was nice. It was also partly explained by the fact that (as my father would have said) the Mackerel were 'in' - in other words there was a large shoal of Atlantic Mackerel just off-shore. The fishermen were catching lots of them - sometimes two or three on one cast. Some of them were keeping them (one had a large bucket full of Mackerel) while others were throwing them all back - I don't know why, because they are delicious. The Mackerel were probably there because they had been chasing another shoal of smaller fish, such as Sprats, and these were also providing food for the large numbers of terns, Kittiwakes (a small marine gull) and Guillemots. These gave me plenty to look at and gave me hope that I might see some skuas. My hope was not ill-founded and after a few minutes I saw my first Arctic Skua of the day - a dark, long-winged shape dashing across the waves towards a group of terns over on the other side of the river mouth. Over the course of the next hour-and-a-half I saw several more Arctics (or the same two several times) and three other skuas which I didn't positively identify but which were most likely also Arctics. As well as these there were hundreds of Common and Sandwich Terns, and Kittiwakes and smaller numbers of Guillemots, Gannets, Cormorants, Shags and large gulls as well as a few Grey Seals just offshore. Sadly I didn't see any Poms or Long-tails, even though an adult Pom with its unmistakable spoon-shaped tail feathers, was seen just behind where I was sitting, on the other side of the river at Seaton Snook while I was looking in the wrong direction from South Gare. Never mind! I am planning to go to Seaton Snook tomorrow morning to see if I can strike lucky there.
I didn't go home empty-handed however. One of the fishermen who had been throwing (actually kicking, in his case) the Mackerel back into the sea must have noticed my disapproval and asked if I wanted any of them so I went home with two lovely fish which Sue and I ate for tea this evening.
|A small group of Common Terns (Sterna hirundo)|
|A Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) - the all yellow bill and black-tipped 'dipped in ink' wings |
distinguish adults of this species from other common species of gulls
|A Common Guillemot (Uria aalge)|
|A Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) comes up for a look around.|
The scientific name of this species means 'hook-nosed sea-pig'.
|The two Mackerel that I was given|
|And one of them just before I ate it this evening|