Sunday 29 December 2013

The year that never stops giving

I wasn't upset when the Brunnich's Guillemot turned up on Boxing Day. In my mind I was done with 2013, possibly the most incredible year I'll ever have. In Scotland for a family gathering, I doubt anyone could even tell from my demeanour that another highly rare bird had turned up 500 miles away. Despite ever-increasing levels of filth from down south (even Shaun went!), and increasingly poor blog titles, I was happy knowing I'd had a great year, and was thus calm. At peace. And anyway, Brunnich's Guillemots never stay, they melt away, they die, they disappear down Great Black-backed Gulls.

Bradders got it on day one as you would expect. Then the Monkey and Hawky went on day two. Shaun scored on day three! Hell's bells! Surely it wouldn't stay? It did! On day four, as I was travelling back from Scotland, the bird was announced at Edinburgh, Newcastle, York and King's Cross. Plans were hatched that involved pretty much the entirety of Wanstead's patch-workers, none of whom had so far got their act in gear and gone down. It required another early start on no news, but I'm on a roll, and frankly how could I fail? Dipping in 2013 just isn't my destiny it seems. And so it proved, God knows what I have done to deserve it, but sure enough....

800mm + 1.4x converter @ f8. Err, Boom?
It never came as close as the photos on the net would lead you to believe, but the views through the scope were excellent. Bradders pointed to a lump of seaweed floating about a yard off the beach. "It was there". Oh, did I mention that Bradders came for seconds? He just couldn't resist a day out with the boys, and is attempting to fit in as many as possible before the big life-changing day that is just around the corner. And he also wanted to see a White-billed Diver really well, which fitted in with my plans perfectly. 

On arrival plenty of activity in Portland Harbour, but no sign of our wayward Auk. A Black Guillemot was something of a rarity in itself in this location, and a small group of Red-breasted Mergansers kept us occupied until after an hour or so somebody picked up the Brunnich's around the corner from where most people were stood looking/chatting. As we had been told from previous observers, it barely spent any time on the surface, and the distance it could cover underwater was very impressive indeed. It spent most of the time in the darkest corner of the harbour where you could only see it from a raised position, but I got lucky when it came towards the beach where I had camped out hoping for a sea-level shot, and popped up almost into a patch of sunshine. I managed just five shots of it before it dived, of which the above is the most pleasing.

Job done, we considered our next move. The Diver was still at Brixham, and would be a new bird for both Bob and I. Tim, Nick and Bradders were only too happy to facilitate this grip-back, and so we pointed the car west, via a Glossy Ibis at Radipole that seemed not to care too much about people - easily the best views I've ever had of one. Once added to our memory cards we proceeded to Devon.

A surprisingly slow journey for somewhere that looked as if it was just around the corner, but we eventually made it to Brixham to discover many many birders wandering around the harbour in camo gear. Completely bonkers. I do not understand why so many of us who pursue this hobby feel it necessary to attempt to, err, blend in in quite such a stupid way. In this instance the camo looked superb against the concrete wall of the breakwater, yachts, and sandy beach. How I didn't bump into any of them at all is a complete miracle. Please, if you are reading and you own any clothing that has a camo pattern, go and burn it immediately and dress like a normal human being. The only acceptable form of camo is a bright red hat.

The Diver showed very well immediately, although sadly not the monster views that we had been hoping for. Still, stonking, and needless to say the best views I've ever had. The bill is a thing of wonder, and now that I've finally seen one, I now believe what I once assumed were comically exaggerated illustrations in the field guides. I've not had a two tick day since the Baillon's/SB Dowitcher double-header back in September last year, and this was most welcome, especially as it involved yet another 500 mile round trip. I have to stop doing this, it's getting worryingly easy.

I didn't think that I'd be blogging again until New Year's Eve, but yet again I'm typing up a twitch. I've had four ticks in December, pretty much in three weeks, and two in November, for fifteen in all - this is better than 2012, which itself was a pretty special year. And as I already mentioned, I've not seen many of the really big ones - I was away for the Pacific Swift and the Hermit Thrush, and the Cape May Warbler and some of the other far-flung island birds just aren't in my reach or desire at the moment. But if and when I am up for it I take what I can get, and 2013 has given me an awful lot. I do however sincerely hope that it's over now!


  1. Amazing photos Jonathan, just started reading your BLOG a great read.

  2. Great shot of the Brunnich's, Jono. The best I've seen on the interweb. Superb write-up, as always.

  3. Cheers guys, I think there will be some better ones as the bird apparently came closer in later in the day when I was in twitch mode on the way to Devon! I'm just pleased that I had my wits about me to make the most of my brief opportunity.

  4. Brilliant stuff. Just to put your sighting into context, earlier in May I visited Varanger and hoped to locate Brunnich's. Sure enough we found guillemots by the tens of thousands but it took us over an hour to scan through the huge flocks to find one, yes we were happy but my god it was hard work....... I should have waited and come on your trip and dropped onto one in

    Have a great 2014


    1. Hi Dave, I went to Hornoya and we found it very difficult picking them up in the great floating rafts at first, but soon got our eye in. Much easier flying past the cliffs later on.

  5. Great image of the Brunnichs Jonathan.
    Good luck in 2014


  6. Jonathan, what camera gear did you use for 'the' Brunnich's image ? Regards Mark

    1. Full details: Canon 1D Mk4, 800mm f5.6 & 1.4x Mk3 converter, atop a series 4 Gitzo tripod and a Wimberley Mk2 tripod head. ISO 800, manual exposure 1/1250 @f8, central focus point active (only one available) on the bird's head slightly behind the eye. More on the "how" on my other blog (see link above on right hand side somewhere)