It took us less than five minutes before we heard the Gropper reeling away in the same place as before but another ten before I could pin it down. Amazingly it was perched prominently right at the top of a weedy stem but was actually around fifty yards or so away from where we thought! Grasshopper Warblers are incredible ventriloquists. It was reeling away confidently until we got alongside its position at which point it dropped down into the wet vegetation. We waited and it wasn't long before the Gropper reappeared on the same stem and began to sing, if you can call that mechanical whirr singing, once more.
But we had to be off Holy Island by 11:30 since the tide would be in and the causeway covered again and besides our boat trip out to Coquet Island was booked for 14:00 from Amble some 30 miles down the coast. We stopped for some lunch on the way and arrived at the harbour around 13:10. Instantly I was dismayed when I saw the Puffin Cruise boat sailing out towards the river mouth. Had I got the time wrong and it was 13:00 and not 14:00? A hastily made phone call to the offices and I calmed again, apparently they had been so busy that they had organised extra sailings and ours did indeed leave at 14:00. Phew!
|Coquet Island Lighthouse|
On one occasion the female Eider appeared with a small Starfish which also had to be manipulated into the correct position before it could be dispatched. The fishing appeared to be so fruitful that I was surprised that there weren't more Eiders in the area.
After watching for a while the drake joined his mate in the hunt but seemed to be less skilled since he'd frequently come up with nothing. After several failed dives the male Eider did at last capture a small Crab which, in keeping with his mate, was battered on the water before being swallowed whole. It's always a treat to watch nature in action and my camera was heavily used while the pair of Eiders performed.
As we walked back to the quay from where we'd catch the boat a fisherman from the one of the local fleet threw an unwanted catch overboard which was readily accepted by one of the attendant Black-headed Gulls. The Gull had to fly swiftly away since it was pursued earnestly by several more that all wanted a share of the spoils.
It was time for us to board the boat and we made our way down the steps to greet the same skipper that took us out on the same day last year. The previous years trip was made on a low tide so the boat was unable to get very close into the island and our look at the Terns was largely restrained to overhead flight views and disappointingly at the time, long distance shots of the resident Roseate Terns which were the main focus of our trip (see Puffin Cruise 2018). We did get great close up encounters with Puffins and other Auks and even saw a Bonxie sail past but it was the Roseate's that I really wanted so we just had to have another go. I had waited patiently all week for this second chance. I quizzed the Captain whether he'd be able to get in closer this year and his reply was encouraging since the tide was higher although it was ebbing. The rest of the passengers, the boat only ships 10 altogether, didn't appear to be birders and the Skipper quietly told me that he'd spend plenty of time in the vicinity of the Roseate's breeding area so that I could "fill my boots"! You couldn't argue with such first class treatment! The rest of the assembled were delighted with the seals that stared inquisitively as we chugged past and even I have to admit that they can be very alluring.
As we approached Coquet Island from the north we had our first views of some of the thousands of Puffins that breed on the island. But I'd seen more Puffins that you could shake a thousand sticks at the day before so regulated my use of the camera and actually used the time to check exposures and settings, which is very unusual for me! But I have to admit that I love a Puffin as much as the next man or woman.
One particular Puffin took my eye since its face was dusky grey coloured rather than the normal clean light grey of breeding birds. It was far too early in the season to be a recently fledged youngster and indeed the fully decorated but subdued bill marked it out as non-breeding, probably first summer bird.
I also largely ignored the Guillemots and Razorbills for similar reasons to above and allowed hundreds of Sandwich and "Comic" Terns to pass by unhindered. I did however, spare a couple of frames for a wing stretching Guillemot and then for a "bridled" form that scarpered as the boat approached.
I was primarily here for the Roseate Terns though and concentrated almost all of my efforts to spotting them. The Captain related the history of the lighthouse and of the island itself but as usual I wasn't paying attention. History and culture just doesn't grab me, I always consider history to be so yesterday. Were rounded the eastern flank of the island and came alongside the small beach area next to the landing stage, not that anybody other than wardens are allowed to land, and quite rightly too since this place is vitally important to the breeding colonies of seabirds. Many of the Terns use the beach as a resting spot and as the boat drew a little closer to the sand I spotted a smaller bird stood in with the Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls. It was a Roseate! Species #226 for the Old Caley year list.
|Roseate Tern, front & Sandwich Terns|
The Skip held the boat steady as I took in the demure beauty of this rarest of of the UK's breeding Tern species. The pink blush to the breast that gives the species its name was clearly visible. The hood was jet black as was the dagger like bill. Soft grey wings overlaid a long pure white tail and the bird stood on short bright red legs, this one sporting a metal ring as most would here at Coquet Island since the Roseate Tern population is intensely monitored.
|Roseate Tern & Black-headed Gull|
The boat moved on around the island towards the area where the Roseate Terns breed. I knew where the nest boxes are from my visit of last year. Before we got there though I had spotted more Roseate's flying in and out from the nesting areas. Terns move quickly but fortunately there wasn't too much swell to jostle the boat so I was able to stand still enough to gain some photos of the flying birds. After a few moments I had singled out the slightly different jizz of the Roseate's so was able to pick them up easily amongst the throng of other Terns. I wonder if I'd be able to use the experience to recognise one at Farmoor if one put in an appearance? A lot of good birding is based on experience and practise so at least I'd have a chance.
The nesting boxes, the ones visible from the boats anyway, are mainly on a small ledge in front of a couple of sheds and are numbered, mostly from 70 upwards but there are also others such as numbers 31 & 4! The pilot managed to get the boat in reasonably close this time allowing me to get far more intimate photos than the year before. Terns are birds that you could watch all day since they're active, noisy and gregarious birds but our trip would only last an hour in total so I had just minutes to take it all in and gain my images.
I spotted a Roseate Tern carrying a fish in its bill which it appeared to be saving for its mate. It was still early in the season so I don't think that there were chicks to feed just yet. I followed the bird as it flew around in circles taking as many shots as I could. The resulting images, and the ones before, are easily the best I've ever taken of a Rosy, not that I had much to surpass.
I paused in my pursuit of the Roseate to snap a group of Puffins that were lounging on one of the shed roofs. Birds will happily take advantage of man made structures, I guess a shed roof is just the same as a rocky ledge to a Puffin, a place to loiter and pass the time of day.
I returned to studying the Roseate Terns, again easy to pick out now as they flew around the boat. About 120 pairs nest on Coquet Island, the largest colony by far in the UK and their success depends greatly on constant wardening and from lack of disturbance. Boats and visitors are not permitted to land during the breeding season and that gives the birds space to breed unhindered.
As the boat left back towards the mainland and the overhead sorties had dissipated I finally put the camera down, I'd been shooting almost constantly for over 20 minutes. My arms ached! But it had been exhilarating and an experience that I will be keen to take up again next summer. Hopefully Mrs Caley and I will get some decent weather too and have the chance to see the birds in sunshine!