Sunday, 30 April 2017

Hurst Seawatch - 30th April

A Force 5 to 6 south-east wind on 30th April over the bank holiday weekend and I was up at 05:00 and heading with great anticipation to the seawatch point at Cut Bridge at the base of Hurst Spit. On arrival Simon Boswell was already entrenched and as I walked along the shingle Whimbrel passed by offshore and three Little Gull were overhead. Over the next 5.5 hours the seawatching was pretty exceptional by Hampshire standards with good numbers of birds and some fantastic views. At Hurst east moving birds fly into Christchurch Bay and pass parallel with Hurst Spit to the mouth of the Solent - in a strong east to south-easterly such as today these birds are pushed closer to shore meaning that views can be very good, some birds even passing overhead. The highlights of the morning were the strong Little Tern passage, Black Tern, a good diversity of wader and excellent numbers of Arctic Skua. Birds of the morning were undoubtedly the Pomarine Skua, the first bird settled on the sea briefly before crossing the spit and heading high up the Solent passing over the village of Keyhaven. The second sighting was of a flock of seven birds on the water which drifted east to the mouth of the Solent before lifting up and heading back west to land once more only to be drifted back to the mouth of the Solent with the tide - when I left these birds were still present.  I left at 12:15 and thanks to Simon Boswell for providing the following totals from 06:30 to 14:30 most of which passed during the time I was present:

  • Brent Goose - 11
  • Eider - 10 offshore
  • Velvet Scoter - 4 possibly more with below
  • Common Scoter - Many offshore but with no visible migration, c.400-500
  • Shelduck - 1
  • Shoveler - 2
  • Teal - 3
  • Red-throated Diver - 3
  • Grey Plover - 20
  • Ringed Plover - 12
  • Whimbrel - 86
  • Bar-tailed Godwit - 32
  • Sanderling - 38
  • Little Gull - 12
  • Common Gull - 3
  • Little Tern - 87
  • Black Tern - 6
  • Commic Tern - 386
  • Sandwich Tern - 103
  • Arctic Skua - 26 (13LP+13DP) (LP- 05:42, LP - 06:02, DP - 06:45, DP+LP 07:20, DP 07:31, DP 07:45, DP+LP 07:52, 1LP+4DP 07:55, 4LP+2DP 08:00, LP+DP 08:22, 2LP 09:29, LP 12:30, DP 12:46)
  • Pomarine Skua - 8 (LP 07:20, 2DP+5LP 11:55)
  • Great Skua - 1 (11:08)



Whimbrel (2) and Bar-tailed Godwit (6)

Arctic Skua - Intermediate

Arctic Skua - Intermediate (same bird as above)

Arctic Skua - Light and dark phase

Arctic Skua - Dark phase

Arctic Skua - Dark phase (same as above)

Arctic Skua - Dark phase (same as above)

Arctic Skua - 2 dark phase and 4 light phase. The third bird from the left is particularly pale with a very white collar.

Arctic Skua - 2 dark phase and 3 light phase. The third bird from the left is particularly pale with a very white collar (same birds as above)

Arctic Skua - 1 dark phase and 3 light phase. The upper bird is particularly pale with a very white collar (same birds as above)

Pomarine Skua (light phase) with the Needles in the background

Pomarine Skua (light phase) - Same bird as above

Pomarine Skua (5 light phase and 2 dark phase) 

Common Tern and Black tern

Black Tern

Black Tern over the base of Hurst Spit

Little Gull - 1st summer

Little Gull - 1st summer (same bird as above)

Little Gull (adult summer)

Little Gull (adult summer) - same bird as above

Brent Goose

Weather conditions on 30th May at 06:00 showing south to south-east airflow from Biscay with an east moving front which arrived at Hurst at around 11:00 and which birds moved ahead of

The totals for other seawatching sites along the south coast make for some interesting reading (although consideration needs to be given that these sites were watched for different periods of time through the day). The totals below, for selected species, were all taken from available sources on the internet and show some interesting patterns. The totals are shown with sites positioned from the most westerly to the left and the most easterly to the right of the table. 

Firstly, St. Catherine's Point was disappointing with low numbers of most species with the exception of Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit, it would appear likely that the wind was of such strength/direction (Force 5-6, south-east) that birds were forced closer to shore and hence passed along the Solent rather than around the Isle of Wight. As is typical, numbers of birds built as one progresses eastwards with Dungeness scoring most heavily on most species with the exception of Whimbrel, Little Tern and Sandwich Tern. Commic Tern patterns are interesting, why are the totals higher for Portland than for Hurst, where did the missing 500 odd birds go to, they certainly have not gone around the Isle of Wight (unless they were too far out to see from land), numbers then are high for Selsey after seemingly having bypassed Hurst - are they moving high up the Solent and thus unrecorded at Hurst? Numbers of Little Tern passing Hurst and Selsey are consistent but then there is a drop-off in numbers at Dungeness, are these birds passing further out to sea by the time they reach Dungeness or is the drop-off due to birds have stopped over en-route? Pomarine Skua numbers are dramatically higher at Dungeness than any other point along the coast, this is presumably due to the build up in numbers as birds cross the Channel in a broad front in a north-east direction before coasting eastwards. The 30th April was the fourth best ever day total for Pomarine Skua at Dungeness but this was certainly not the case for the rest of the south coast but I was very pleased with the eight I had seen at Hurst - one of my favourite species.