Saturday 28 December 2013

Brünnich's Guillemot, White Billed Diver and a Glossy Ibis - An End of Year Twitch 28th December 2013

Many a trip is organised over a few pints down the local pub especially with like minded birders. It seems as the beer flows dreams about seeing certain birds in outlandish places start to be put into their planning stages but all too often they are left at the bar and are never realised. It had been planned during the previous week to see the Ivory Gull in Yorkshire but as it had done a bunk just before the weekend arrived it scuppered the plans slightly but the date was left open for a day out regardless. John Friendship-Taylor met me at the pub on the evening before and we started to talk about what we could do the following day, and the conversation rather quickly turned to talk of the recently discovered Brünnich's Guillemot down in Portland Harbour in Dorset. I did have an alternative motive as there was also a White Billed Diver further along the coast in Devon and I knew if I saw 2 new birds today I would finally reach my 300th bird for Britain (BOU). By the second pint it had been agreed, despite the long distance, and plans started to come together. The other half of our wildlife watching group regrettably couldn't make it due to work commitments and so as we had a couple of seats in the car I rang a few guys to offer lifts which were quickly filled by local birders  Martyn Hopper and Andrew Dove. At 5am the following day we set off and headed for Brixham Harbour. Despite the fact that the birds had been showing well the day before the word "mobile" had also been used at the end of the evening and a degree of pessimism, as always, set in during the 4 hour drive. With the help of IPhones and the Sat Nav we managed to find the harbour and my heart had been lifted by an alert from Birdguides to say the Diver was still there as we reached the town. We parked up at the end of the harbour by the replica of Francis Drake's Golden Hind ship and almost straight away a bird came up out of the water and looked around. I couldn't believe it! We had the White Billed Diver right infront of us almost immediately from getting out of the car. It showed incredibly well during our time there and at some points we were almost looking down on it from the harbour wall. The bill on the bird was amazing and almost looked like a sword. A very impressive bird! Here's a pic and a ropey digiscoped video.

White Billed Diver, Brixham Harbour, Devon

Realising the days time restraints we had to leave the Diver and head to our next site. One of the party hadn't seen Cirl Buntings before and as we were just around the corner from a very reliable site we decided to head there next. We arrived at Labrador Bay RSPB after half an hours driving and were rewarded almost immediately with views of a number of Cirl Buntings in the normal hedge by the car park. Martyn Hopper managed a count of 11 with some cracking looking male birds in amongst them. Once again we dived into the car to head to the main target bird of the day, the Brünnich's Guillemot at Portland Harbour. Brünnich's Guillemot is a very hard bird to see for us in the UK, and I think I'm right in saying this is the first twitchable bird on the UK mainland. I have heard of people heading all the way up to Shetland in the past only to dip the bird so knowing the lengths that people have gone to see it we just had to try for ourselves. We had a 2 hour drive from the Cirl Buntings to Portland but we had good news from a few Norfolk birders following a call from Kieran Nixon to say the bird was showing well in the harbour and the regular updates on Birdguides was looking like a dip was hopefully going to be unlikely. After a frantic search to work out what car park we had to be in we finally arrived at the site to be greeted with the news that the Brünnich's Guillemot had just swam in amongst the boats. The other birders didn't seem too concerned though as they said it would soon come out, and sure enough after about 20 minutes it did just that. I can't quite believe just how showy this bird was as it slowly cruised a long the birder strewn shoreline looking up at all the people admiring it before diving and resurfacing in a completely different area. It really put on a show during the hour or so we were there and it was a real treat to see. Despite this though the combination of heavy showers and tons of birders running along the bank meant I never really achieved a decent picture of the bird. Fortunately Northants County Bird Recorder Mike Alibone attended on the previous day and has very kindly allowed me to share some of his pics on this blog.

Brünnich's Guillot (on left), Portland Harbour Dorset - pic by Mike Alibone

Brünnich's Guillemot (on left), Portland Harbour, Dorset - pic taken by Mike Alibone

Brünnich's Guillemot (on left), Portland Harbour, Dorset - pic taken by Mike Alibone

Brünnich's Guillemot (on left), Portland Harbour, Dorset - pic taken by Mike Alibone
These photos offer a superb comparison with the Common Guillemot to the right and you can clearly see the shorter bill, lack of white behind the eye, thin white gape stripe and white on the underside of the throat all telling it to be a Brünnich's. The white flanks also look a lot cleaner than the Common Guillemot which is also an identifying factor. Whilst waiting in between the Brünnich's Guillemot's regular sorties out into the open a brief scan across the area showed it to be full of birds with a Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Common Guillemot, Common Eider and numerous Shags and Red Breasted Mergansers along with a few Great Northern Divers and a couple of Black Throated Diver thrown in too. We reluctantly left the site to head into Weymouth itself to see another local bird that was causing a bit of a stir and sure enough when we found the flooded playing field right in the middle could be seen a Glossy Ibis calmly wandering around despite the kids shouting nearby and the nearby busy road.

 It looked stunning despite the now cloudy conditions and was a fitting end to a great day. We were lucky enough to see some real rarities today, and the fact that they all showed so well was just incredible. I think the bird of the day though, despite the Brünnich's Guillemots rarity has to go to the White Billed Diver - that bill was just astonishing! I genuinely cannot think of a better way of spending a day during the last weekend of a superb year of wildlife watching. It is a fitting end, and I finally did it! I hit 300 birds for Britain!!


  1. Congrats on the 300 Dave.
    Pretty impressive no.s 299 and 300

  2. Thanks Rob! Yeah I was pleased with that :-)


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