A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

MEGA!! Brünnich's Guillemot at Anstruther Harbour, Fife!

Brünnich's Guillemot: probably the one bird above all others that I regret not going to see. Having no car and not knowing any other birders at the time who could provide a lift, I had no other option but to sit and watch as the images came flooding in of the 2013 Portland bird, the first twitchable individual of its kind and more than likely seen by thousands of birders. Fast forward nearly 3 years, and it was therefore a huge surprise on late Sunday afternoon to see the report flash up on my phone – Brünnich's Guillemot: Anstruther, Fife – One showing well in the harbour.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Safe in the knowledge that the Portland Brünnich's (which also hung around in a harbour) stuck around for the last 6 days of December, I was relatively hopeful that the Fife bird would follow suit, doing the decent thing and making itself accessible for anyone that wanted to visit.

Still being present in the harbour the next day, it soon became apparent that this particular bird wouldn’t be going anywhere far, looking to be in full moult and having significant feather damage, possibly caused by oiling. Indeed, the photos showed a particularly raggedy individual, often pictured with its eyes half closed and looking in an extremely sorry state. Instead of hoping it wouldn’t swim off and leave the harbour, it now seemed more of a question of whether it would last the night!

With the bird’s longevity now in jeopardy, I decided to book a day off work, me and my Dad heading up to Cumbernauld on Tuesday night and making our way to Anstruther the following morning. Arriving at the harbour in good time and having already received the news that the Brünnich's was still there, before we had even got out of the car we could see a small black and white shape floating in the water amongst the boats – Brünnich's in the bag!
Brunnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Spot the Brünnich's! The favoured spot between the boats
Heading over to the opposite wall and setting up the scope, we were treated to excellent views of this arctic alcid, bobbing quietly in front of the moored boats and most definitely looking a bit on the peaky side. Staying this way for the first half an hour, it was therefore a surprise to see it come alive in the afternoon, scooting over to the jetty surrounding the harbour and constantly diving down in the hunt for fish and other crustaceans.

Showing no fear as is the case with many other high arctic species, the Brünnich's often came to within 6 feet, drifting over towards the assembled birders and seemingly oblivious to the small crowd it had attracted.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Looking closer at the photos and with the bird being at such close range, the poor condition of the feathers was obvious, the wings reduced to small matted stubs and showing patches of raw pink skin on the edges. The feathers also appeared to be coated in an oily substance, and the normally white belly was stained a slight browny-yellow.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
The dreadful condition of the wings was obvious whenever the Brünnich's flapped or preened
Despite its shortcomings in the looks department, it was still fantastic to see the bird so close up – always my favourite way to see a new bird and something we’ll remember for a good while yet!
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Sadly however, come Friday morning, news filtered through that the Brünnich's had unfortunately not survived its visit to the Scottish coastline, being found dead first thing in the morning washed up on the beach by the harbour. This fate, judging by the bird’s poor condition, seemed inevitable, and its behaviour, demeanour and all-round peaky look was reminiscent of the storm-wrecked inland Red-throated Diver on Fairhaven Lake a few years ago which too met a tragic end. A sad end to a super bird – RIP Brunny!
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
The Brünnich's looked quite peaky when floating on the water
While the ID of this particular bird was in doubt by some birders, mainly due to the extensive white above the bill, a number of other features all pointed firmly to Brünnich's; the thick short bill complete with white gape line – a diagnostic feature of Brünnich's, the dark pattern on the head extending past the eye and the general body shape and structure. Several experts in the arctic more familiar with Brünnich's, particularly during plumages unfamiliar to us such as in moult, were also happy with the ID, but now the body has been recovered testing can be undertaken to rule out the (relatively slim) chance of hybridisation and eliminate any doubts.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
The white gape line on the bill was obvious, as was the lack of flank streaking, the pronounced gonydeal angle and the white coming to a sharp point on the foreneck. The pale tip to the bill is also a pro Brünnich's feature.
With Brünnich's usually occurring up in the high arctic seas of Canada, Greenland and Iceland, there have been 44 past records of these arctic alcids in Britain. Despite this high number of occurrences, the Anstruther bird was only the second truly twitchable record, with the majority of others being either one day birds, being found washed up dead on the shore, or occurring off Fair Isle, Shetland and Orkney.
Anstruther Harbour, Fife
Anstruther Harbour - complete with Brünnich's
A fantastic bird to finally grip back after the Dorset individual, and a bird I’m extremely glad I took the day off to go and see! 

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