On Thurs 7th Dec 2017, a trip over to Cut End beckoned. I rarely go more than a fortnight without visiting this corner of the Wash and, more often than not get it to myself as not many are prepared to make the walk out. There was a strong wind blowing, with cold, squally showers of rain and hail. I fancied it for a sheltering grebe or diver, quite often birds stop off here for a while enjoying the feeding in the calm waters at the confluence of the rivers Witham and Welland.
I’d enjoyed a decent morning’s birding with slavonian grebe, 4 flypast long-tailed ducks, a great northern diver, eiders, mergansers and a shag. With the rain, wind and hail lashing the hide I didn’t even bother opening the Southeast facing window until late morning, when it had abated a little. Waders were resting on the rocks and a few ducks, mainly wigeon and pintail swam in the Welland mouth. I scanned the river upstream and had my first brief sighting of the guillemot-for all of two seconds, before it flew upstream a little and out of view, aaaargh! I knew in an instant that it was a black guillemot. In the very same moment I was struck by how white it appeared, especially in flight. My previous experience is mainly of summer plumaged birds off the west coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland, I did however locate a winter plumaged individual off Holme, Norfolk a few years back, that had been seen off Hunstanton the previous day. I recall this one being mainly dark looking, with the wing patch the brightest part. My bird looked very different indeed.
Following my first glimpse I had a very nervous, twitchy wait until it drifted back downstream a bit and back into view. It was still mega-distant and it was very murky and dull. It kept disappearing, I had to get photographic evidence, nobody was going to believe me! Getting onto it for digi-scoped pics, in-between dives and frequent short flights proved very difficult. I was panicking slightly. The photos I managed could barely prove it was a bird, never mind putting it to species! My pics were posted on twitter and resulted in some classic tongue-in-cheek comments ranging from ‘its a plastic bag’, to ‘pile of poo’ on the hide window. Someone suggested I delete the pics and submit a sketch instead. Someone asked which way it was flying, well it was sat on the water! At least another birder got to see it, Paul Sullivan making it down same day, sqeezing in the walk there and back before going on to do his 12 hour nightshift.
The bird was still present next day, I couldn’t get until Saturday myself, but most of the County listers got to see it over the weekend. Most needed it for their county list, the last black guilly was about thirty years previously. This was about the twelth record for Lincs.
ONn Saturday the bird had switched from the Welland to the much closer Witham and some better photos emerged. That night, following the initial musings that the bird could, possibly be of a rarer, northern subspecies, discussions took place, mainly via twitter. By Saturday evening, after more photos, it was starting to become a more likely candidate for ‘mandtii’, from the high arctic, as all the diagnostic features of this form were starting to be revealed. Top men were on the job by now and lots of contributers were chipping in with articles, id info and photos. I’m grateful to everyone. It was all very exciting. I mean, possible first for the UK…. Pics I obtained on the Saturday were fractionally better. Others got better.
The last reliable report was from the Sunday (10th), when top Norfolk birder Steve Gantlett was one of very few people to even attempt the journey and trek in the poor conditions. Well, he certainly got his reward! managing the best photos of all. So well deserved, he had the bird for five minutes only, in an all day stint. His pics proved very popular and showed all the features in greater detail. This added greatly to the id and all were happy. I don’t normally drink more than a single beer in the evening but that night……
Following three pics and header photo courtesy of Steve Gantlett at http://www.Cleybirds.com