During one of our recent trips, I'd made a comment about ticks turning up at Christmas time, and how I always had to wait until the 27th December before I was released from Christmas duties. This happened in 2005 with the Black-throated Thrush in Somerset, and in 2008 with the Cornish Snowy Owl.
Low and behold, on Boxing Day, a photo of a Brünnich’s Guillemot was posted on twitter having been taken in Portland Harbour. Confirmation of its continued presence came at about 10:00hrs, and those fortunate enough to be free on Boxing Day had time to get down to Portland for a most unexpected Christmas tick.
I was unavailable on Boxing Day and back at work on Friday 27th, so I had to play the waiting game again. With each report, I dared to start believing that it would actually stay until Saturday. GAS had a prior engagement on Saturday, and so he embarked on a crazy, epic solo trip on the Friday, not leaving Stoke until 10:00hrs and finally arriving in Portland at 15:00hrs due to the horrendous Friday traffic. He met up with legendary West Mids birder Hughie King and together they watched it feeding away in the harbour until dusk, when it flew out to deeper water.
And so it was an early start on Saturday and we headed down to the south coast. CJW had returned from his Christmas break in Billinge-by-the-Sea, but PJ was away in Norfolk for a few days. KSt joined up with us again, and the journey was easy, arriving in Portland Harbour at 07:45hrs, just as it was getting light.
As we were getting out of the car, we noticed birders running towards the quayside. We couldn't quite believe what was happening, but within moments of parking up, we were watching the Brünnich’s Guillemot diving away in the half light. It certainly was a moment to savour. We were watching a bird we'd only ever dreamt of seeing, probably following a trek to Shetland and a dreadful ferry crossing and not on the south coast of England.
As the light improved, the views became slightly better, but it was diving frequently and it was hard to keep track of where it came up. It fed all the way over to the right, then it came all the way back over to the left and fed amongst the boats. It was amusing to watch birders trying to keep up with it, running backwards and forwards along the whole length of the quayside. We just stood still in the middle.
Views around the Harbour
Eventually it stayed still long enough for me to get this full frame shot
There was quite a bit of birding to do as we stood and waited. We managed to see the Black Guillemot feeding distantly offshore - an England tick for me. There were plenty of Shag and Red-breasted Merganser plus two Great Northern Divers. I eventually captured the star bird on video, and at 09:00hrs, we headed off for our second destination of the day.
We made the 83 mile journey along the coast to Brixham Harbour, where the south coasts second star attraction was. Probably as a result of the same storm that blew the Brünnich’s Guillemot in, a White-billed Diver had set up temporary home in the harbour. The journey took about two hours to do, and parking in the centre of Brixham was a slight problem. Eventually we found a space and walked down to the harbour side. Amazingly, the White-billed Diver surfaced a few feet in front of us. It was a truly incredible view, but unfortunately it started to swim out of the harbour and further away. We had made it by the skin of our teeth. We walked round to the other side and watched it feeding in the open water, still showing well but not the same incredible views as it had been giving before our arrival. We also had to answer questions off virtually every passer by. One asked if it was a photography competition! Most were genuinely interested about the bird, why we were watching it and even how far we'd travelled to see it. There were three Black-throated Divers also present.
The stunning Brixham White-billed Diver
Just before Christmas and following the Ivory Gull trip, I had made a collage of the best birds we'd seen during 2013 thinking that the year was finally over. How wrong could I have been. Almost the best trip of the year was saved for last.
PJ returned from his mini-break in Norfolk and headed down to Portland Harbour on Monday 30th December along with NDP. Despite the inclement weather and extremely strong winds, the Brünnich’s Guillemot showed well.
On the return home, Radipole was his next destination, seeing Mediterranean Gull and the Glossy Ibis.