ID tips & tricks

Bird Watching (UK) - - Id Challenge | October: Seawatching -

QUES­TION OF SCALE

Seawatch­ing can be tough. Prob­lems come with dis­tance (and dis­tances can be vast, look­ing over an open sea), but also with a lack of con­text or any­thing to use to com­pare a bird with. If you can find any other known bird or ob­ject, such as a buoy or even a boat to com­pare an un­known bird with, it is a great help. Much of seawatch­ing is about ‘jizz’, the gen­eral im­pres­sion of a bird and its flight style; and with ex­pe­ri­ence, assess­ing size be­comes eas­ier. How­ever, for the in­ex­pe­ri­enced, there are plenty of pit­falls. It is easy, for in­stance, to mis­take a dis­tant Gan­net, es­pe­cially a young, brown one, for a larger shear­wa­ter, if you have no idea of scale. In re­al­ity, a Gan­net is a much larger bird, with a wing­span of nearly 2m, and a to­tal length of about nearly 100cm, whereas a Cory’s Shear­wa­ter has a wing­span of up to 126cm and is about 55cm long. Some seabirds, notably the storm-pe­trels, are par­tic­u­larly tiny, with a Storm Pe­trel be­ing only about the size of a House Martin! So, be aware of this when try­ing to pick out dis­tant birds.

SMALLER SKUAS

One of the tough­est chal­lenges of all is sep­a­rat­ing the three smaller skua species. Great Skuas (also known as Bonx­ies) are rel­a­tively straight­for­ward, but Arc­tic, Po­ma­rine and Long-tailed Skuas are far from easy to iden­tify, when not fully adult. All are sur­pris­ingly small birds (ap­prox­i­mat­ing to Common Gull sized) with con­sid­er­able over­lap between the species. Make de­tailed notes of struc­ture and plumage where you can see it, as well as flight style. Po­ma­rine Skuas look deep-bel­lied and heavy com­pared to rel­a­tively slim, slen­der winged Long-tailed Skuas, and Arc­tic Skuas fit rather neatly between, caus­ing much po­ten­tial con­fu­sion. Take a look at the three pho­tos above and you can see how tough these skuas are to ID.

Long-tailed Skua

Po­ma­rine Skua

Arc­tic Skua

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