11th Aug. It wasn’t a typical evening on the Northeast coast, nor was there any suggestion that sea watching would be productive, but come on, who really wants to be soaked to the skin, cold and blown dry by a North Sea wind? So it was perhaps with this in mind that Sam and I headed for Seaton Sluice, although I hasten to add that our proven credentials as all weather birders remains intact. I’d heard a weather forecast suggesting that temperatures were going to drop significantly overnight, but the evening was still mild with little suggestion of even a slight breeze. The evening eventually provided a glowing sunset and a mill pond of a sea that at times appeared frozen, such was the stillness and reflective nature of the salt water. Yes an evening one would expect during the height of summer, but never the less so infrequent during a season that seems to have been of benefit to our gastropods.
Having took up position shortly after 6.00pm and expecting our list to contain the usual terns and Eiders et al, a bird flew into view from the north. Well two birds actually, one being a Gannet and another looking surprisingly like an Osprey. Then it happened, it dawned upon us that it was looking like an Osprey because it was an Osprey. I wouldn’t say it was close to shore, but it was certainly close enough to pick out the detail of the plumage and the flight pattern was unmistakeable. On a couple of occasions whilst directly in front of us the bird appeared to dive towards the sea and disappear from view for a short time before we picked it up again. We were able to watch it for several minutes before it continued its journey south. Certainly one of my sightings of the year and it just goes to show that a nice evening of sea watching in the sun can provide the unexpected. Sam has been watching Ospreys in Dumfries, but I sensed his pleasure with this one was equal to my own, which had brought back memories of the Osprey I had spotted over Holywell Pond some years ago at a similar point in the year.
The Osprey was a highlight, but not the only reward the evening had to offer. Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail were both heard and there was quite a movement of waders including a couple of Dunlin, a small flock of Sanderling and a flock of maybe two hundred plus Golden Plover, again flying right in front of us and showing so well that golden plumage as they were lit by the sun. We were to see many more as we later approached St Mary’s Island. Oystercatchers, Lapwing, Turnstone, Curlew and later Redshank were also seen and a flock of fifteen Common Scoter flew south, first of all in a tight group formation before stretching out into an almost straight black line of birds. The Sandwich Terns were making the most of feeding and there were a number of fly through Common and Arctic Terns seen. Numbers of Swifts, Sand Martins and Swallows were high. Guillemots were seen close to shore and there was a large passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls of various ages. Common Gulls were seen in some number too.
Such was our enjoyment, a couple of hours flew by before we decided to walk along to St Mary’s Island, where for a time the lighthouse was brightly lit by the sun. The light was still good although temperature change over the sea appeared to make for a thin mist out in the distance which did not help long distance viewing. Gannets were still flying by in some number.
We were surprised by the lack of folk we saw on such a fine evening, although I’m never dismayed by that. I was still warm when we arrived at the Willows. We decided to check out the rocks south of the island for possible Roseate Terns, although as the tide was still quite a way out neither of us were confident of finding our target. We did find more Sandwich and Common Terns, some of which were this years juveniles and then it happened again, we found the unexpected! Sam got his eye on a Black Tern. When I picked it up I found that it was still showing much of its summer plumage. This was a UK first for Sam and I believer his bird of the evening although I reckon the Osprey has to remain mine.