Posts Tagged ‘Arctic Skua


All Skua’d out

I’m currently in the very North of Scotland leading the Sutherland Tour. Yesterday we visited a skua colony attended by wardens. Both Arctic and Great Skuas nest in the colony and numbers are down because of avian flu. The Great Skuas are suffering greatly … an 80% reduction in numbers at this one colony will mean populations will be low and vulnerable for some time. The Arctic Skuas are doing better.

I think a pale phase Arctic Skua takes a lot of beating.


What’s in a name

The thing about Skuas is they can be difficult to identify. I’m not talking about the Pomarine with full spoons or the Long Tailed with a pheasant like quiver sticking out of its rear end, but the juveniles. The young autumn Skuas that fly past you as you stare out to sea … it’s those that aren’t easy.

We were sat on the shingle ridge at Cley next the Sea the other week when I spotted a juvenile Skua coming up the beach along the surf-line. Often termed the pirates of the sea they are dark moody birds. Birds you don’t want to upset; birds that you wouldn’t want to argue with … especially if you’re a tern with a sand eel.

The Skua had seen an easy meal in the distance up the beach and was all set for a mugging. No doubt a chase would ensue and the tern’s last snack would need to be regurgitated to appease its nemesis.

My first impression as it passed was that of an Arctic Skua and I called it as such. But later from the photographs it looked big. It wasn’t big enough for a Bonxie but it was chunky. Barrel shaped with a double white crescent at the base of the primaries. Has to be a juvenile Pomarine right? But look at the bill and the belly is bulging but the chest isn’t.

What I’m saying is some young Skuas are not easy to identify; even from photographs or the 10 seconds or less one may be in view as it sails passed close-by let alone one that is distant.

We should try … but it is not obligatory for absolutely everything to have a name … especially if it’s hugging the horizon.

The skua is a juvenile Artctic Skua.

Skua 2






Hossing it down

Looking at the weather forecast last night there was a promise of a seabird passage. Not one you would die to see, but a decent one. The winds were forecast to be strong North westerly with rain. Had we had preceding strong south-westerly’s over the last few days it would have been a different matter. Birds in the Atlantic would have moved north over the top of Scotland and then been pushed south down towards Norfolk. As it was I guessed we would see a decent Skua passage.

‘Hossing’ seems to be a Norfolk term applicable to heavy rain. Well, when I awoke it was ‘hossing’ it down.

There was no rush. High tide wasn’t until 10am or thereabouts so the birds wouldn’t be at their closest until then. I arrived down in Cromer just after 9 ‘o’clock and the passage had already started.

In the strong winds we were treated to small but continuous flocks of Arctic Skuas and Manx Shearwaters with a constant backdrop of Gannets. The odd Sooty Shearwater slid by and a Pommerine Skua did a flypast worthy of WW1 biplane. The occasional Grey Plover and Knot flew west, against the grain as it were, and the odd Scoter flock was carrying a Tufted as well as a Teal or two.

By around 11am the real action was over so we sunk lower towards the crashing waves that were enveloping the prom. Watching the slacker water nearer the pier revealed a few birds we would have missed higher up the cliff; nothing different to what we had already seen, but closer.

Something caught my eye just outside our shelter. A small bundle of feathers sat in a puddle around 10 metres away. I raised my bins. It was a Purple Sandpiper. I guess he had just arrived and was resting. Facing into the wind he was obviously tired and was sat low to avoid being blown away. A bit like us!

Purple Sandpiper


Sinister Pirates

The sky was a pale blue and cloudless. The air was still; the gentle movement of the sea made a southing lapping sound against the hull. What had been a disturbing swell the previous evening had turned into a flat calm and the climbing sun was getting hot.

We were on the edge of a ‘fall off’ in the middle of the North Sea; the western edge of the Dogger Bank. The Wildlife Tours and Education Seabird and Cetacean Pelagic was in progress. The upwelling current was pushing plankton and fish to the surface and there were things there exploiting the bonanza. Grey Seals 70 miles out to sea, a steady procession of Gannets diving and the odd Auk bringing an occasional Sand Eel to the surface were all seen.

The icing on the cake for avian fans was an adult Sabine’s Gull that slowly drifted over the boat to settle in our wake among the Fulmars … a Blue Fulmar among them. Minke Whales and Harbour Porpoise came later on our return journey.

Perhaps personally the best part of the trip for me was the close encounters with the Arctic and Great Skua’s. These are true pirates of the sea that came floating over us as they fed on our ‘chum trail’; elegant yet sinister birds.

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Apr 2023


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