Friday, 14 December 2012

Watching the watcher ...

East Head, 13 December 2012

As I arrived at East Head early this morning large numbers of Brent Geese were grazing in their customary fields to the north of the car park. My luck was in, as Bernie Forbes had already scanned the flock and picked out a single Black Brant (Branta bernicla ssp. nigricans) from amongst the 1000+ birds that were there; the critical id separation features clearly visible. B. b. nigricans is currently considered a sub-species of the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla); it breeds in Alaska and typically winters in western America. A scarce, though in recent years a fairly regular visitor to Sussex - a good start ...

With a late morning high tide the channels in the harbour were full of water. I took a slow walk around the headland and glassed the sea and dunes for life. A single Red-throated Diver flew in from the sea and several, distant, Great Crested Grebes were also seen. I was pleased to note several small parties of Sanderling feeding along the tide line, with the occasional Ringed Plover for good measure. Four Razorbills, in a tight feeding flock, were busy diving for prey. Large flocks of spiralling waders could be seen over Pilsey Island as the tide was reaching its peak. A male Stonechat and two Jack Snipe were seen in the marsh in the shelter of the dunes. A flock of around twenty Skylark reminded me of summer - though the temperature soon brought me back to harsh reality.

As I stopped to scan the sea and shoreline at the end of East Head, I suddenly realised I was being watched - as a dark whiskered head appeared from below the surf! A single Atlantic Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) was watching me and did so for several minutes before going on its way. Although Common Seals (Phoca vitulina), or Harbour Seals as they are also known, can be found around the Sussex coast in small numbers (a population of around 20 is known to live around The Solent and Chichester Harbour areas), Grey Seals are a far less common sight in Sussex waters.

The watcher being watched ...

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