The 2004 QMR Great Skua

23 Sep 2004 | Marek Walford

At about 6pm on Wednesday 23rd September I got a phone call from Dave Parker to say he had a skua sp. at Queen Mother Reservoir. The bird was distant and it was blowing a gale making the task of identification somewhat difficult. However, Dave was sure it was not a Long-tailed and thought it was probably either a Pomarine or Great.

I immediately put the news on my website and phoned Derek Barker. We both decided that with the fading light and the possibility of the gates being locked that we would wait and see if it was still there the next day. Meanwhile Andy Tomczynski was less wimpy and braved the elements to see the bird. He watched the bird until dusk in less than ideal conditions and reported it on my website as an Arctic Skua.

At about 9am the following morning Dave returned to QMR and with better views was sure the bird was not an Arctic. Over the course of the morning I had many phone calls supporting Dave's hypothesis and there was a general consensus that the bird was a Pomarine Skua, although nobody wanted to commit 100%!

Shortly after midday I had a very crackly voice mail from a presumably windswept Dave Parker who said that somebody (I couldn't hear who, but presumably one of Berkshire's "senior" listers) ;0) was 99% sure the bird was in fact a Great Skua!

Meanwhile I had presuaded Fraser (didn't take much) to drive over (I was suffering from a torn knee muscle). We had less than ten minutes watching the bird but in that time it flew around and had a pop at a Herring Gull. Apparently, earlier on it flew over the carpark giving excellent views to the assembled birders who were even able to see that there was no barring on the under-tail coverts.

It was the first record of Great Skua in Berkshire since 1987 when there were seven birds seen over the few days of the infamous hurricaine. Prior to that there were just three records: Holyport (7th Jan 84) and Theale GP (16th Jan & 28th Sep 80).

It was a county tick for nearly everybody and produced a lunchtime twitch to rival the Storm Petrel twitch of 2003! Sadly, as with the petrel Brian Bennett missed the skua as he was on Fair Isle. Mike McKee also missed the skua (he was on Out Skerries) but phoned me just after I had got back to work to say he had a text from Franco who had a message from Jan that five Arctic Skuas also flew through! QMR has now produced all four skua species in the last two years.

Footnote: Andy can take consolation from the fact that it took some very experienced birders most of the morning to nail the identification!


Update: 28th September. Sadly the bird was found dead on 27th September. Several observers commented that it appeared to be struggling to feed.