Wednesday 8 March 2023

Brown-headed Gull in Choshi

 Less than five weeks after heading up to Choshi to see Little Gull, I was back again for Brown-headed Gull. Japan's third record?

In retrospect, I think I was quite lucky with the Little Gull. It only took three hours on-site to see it, admittedly it felt much longer at the time, while some people have had to make several trips to connect.

It was raining when I arrived at the outer harbour on Monday, my only free day this week and the only one forecast to have rain. Three or four birders under their umbrellas were scanning the harbour, beyond the line of off-loading fishing boats and the bustling of attendant trucks impatient to whisk the catch away for processing. Standing on the opposite side of the road to keep out of work's way, and peering between bow to stern docked vessels doesn't give the best view of the harbour but it was pretty obvious no one was watching it. So I sat in the van having breakfast with one eye on the harbour (hundreds of Black-headed Gulls) and the other on the birders, wishing them every success. Breakfast can only delay the inevitable for so long and leaving scope and camera I headed out to join the harbour patrol. In recent weeks I've come to the firm conclusion that leaving scope, camera or both does not increase the likelihood of something interesting being found, despite what people might suggest.

I never got the hang of umbrella birding, I don't have enough hands as it is. No doubt never even touching one till I was in my 30s has played a part.

Being out in the weather didn't get me any closer to my goal and by about 11 o'clock I was ready to try the inner harbour. Glaucous Gull, Glaucous-winged Gulls and a Thayer's; not bad considering I wasn't even looking at large gulls. 

A much needed coffee then back to the outer harbour again. Still nothing. At least there was no more rain. The phone pinged. Brown-headed had been seen flying by and the Little was on show, inner end of the inner harbour! 

Nope, Little had gone and the fly-by Brown-headed didn't fly back. I walked downstream to the main body of the inner harbour and scanned its length without any hope. The Brown-headed had flown in this direction. It must have been sitting on the water because after a couple of minutes there it was! Flying directly away half way along the harbour. Yesss!!! Fantastic. Too far for a record shot...? I tried... And that was it, couldn't find it in the camera so I didn't know whether it kept going, dropped onto the water, turn left onto the breakwater or right into the ship-side melee. I drove a few hundred metres to the 'bend' in the harbour and scanned from there. Nothing, well another Thayer's, 2nd winter this time. 

After about an hour the undermining internal debate began. You didn't see the mirrors... not surprising given the angle. It could have been a funny first winter Black-headed... no, it was a more powerful, broad-winged gull with huge, round-ended white primary patches! You can't tick it... that was it, for heaven's sake! Nah, UTV... that was never untickable views! You didn't see the mirrors...

From euphoric, successful twitch to dismal failure. There was no point arguing with myself, the damage was done.

Back to the outer harbour. Zero. The afternoon was rapidly slipping away. 

Try the far end of the inner harbour again. No, again. 

I got back in the van watching the Black-headeds passing back and forth, the knot of about 10-15 people scanning the Black-headeds sitting on the wall looked about as hopeful as I felt. After four o'clock, the light's going to go soon. Still got 600 km to do before work tomorrow. And I did see it! That was it! Sorry, UTV.

That guy is running, running with his scope over his shoulder, running to his car. They're all running! It was like Le Mans in the old days, plus tripods. My first thought was to jump out and ask where it was. Stupid thought, there I was already sitting behind the wheel and the first runners were reversing out of their spots to head for the exit, that put me near the front of the convoy heading to, as I might have guessed, the outer harbour.

The boats, bar one still swilling out the hold, had all put back out to sea and the truck drivers finished for the day so parking quayside was now possible. We spilled out to join the group already present, all told there were probably no more than 50 people. Not a vast crowd for such a major rarity.

But where was it?! It was no longer flying just off the quay and had apparently settled on the breakwater.

There it is!!! Whaaaat? My untickable views this afternoon were better than this! It's the big-looking 'Black-headed' on the top ledge, directly below the 'V' in the tetrapods.

All was not lost, with the last light it came back across the harbour and performed as close as 25 metres for about two minutes before disappearing completely again. Two whole minutes to savour, from 39 hours marked at different times by discomfort, tiredness, stress, anguish, disappointment, not even to mention the expense of it all. What a great twitch!

If the light had been better it would have been possible to get some good shots. If the light had been better and the bird stayed a bit longer. Anyway, these may not win prizes but they're a whole world better than the record shot I failed to get in the afternoon could ever have been.

On a final note, the moult of the inner secondaries isn't surprising but why is S1 so short? P7 looks oddly short and P6 perhaps slightly so, not sure what that's about.


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