Pom's past the post

There are thirty birders in this photograph, (taken this morning at Dungeness by Owen Leyshon), and most probably a further 10 inside the hide. They are sea watching - or, to be more precise, they are hoping to see a Pomarine Skua. Dungeness is famous for its spring Pom passage, from late-April until mid-May, an avian spectacle that was first 'discovered' in the 1960s and has been avidly awaited in each subsequent year. No two years are the same - the weather dictates what will happen to a large extent, and the current state of the Pomarine Skua population is another aspect that needs to be factored in. There are consequently good years for numbers, and on the flip side, bad years. The passage may start early or late, and also peak early or late. But what has been a constant over the years is the increase in the number of birders who come along to sample it.

If we go back to the mid-1970s and 1980s, when I was an avid Dungeness regular (and sea watching was a passion of mine), even on a promising Pom day at the right time of year, the numbers of birders present would not reach double figures. In fact, during early May 1982, in ideal Pom conditions, I spent a whole week on the beach, with Poms in number each day and most of the time there was just Dave Davenport and myself scanning the sea, with the odd drop-in cameo for company. Back then, to bag a Pom meant that you had to read the weather conditions correctly and have the courage of one's convictions to make the journey down to Dungeness to prove that you had. A few still use this method of fieldcraft, but many now will be responding to the modern day instantaneous birding news feed, provided mainly via tweets. In fact, flocks of Poms are tracked along the south coast, so that the Kent birder's get plenty of warning of up-and-coming flocks from their western colleagues. A couple of years ago I was out shopping one early May Bank Holiday Monday (very dudish of me) when I saw a few tweets coming out of Sussex alerting all and sundry to the arrival of Poms along that coast. I was able to phone one of my Dungeness pals to alert them of this - he was sitting in a cafe on Romney Marsh at the time. He drank up his tea, paid his bill and arrived on the beach at Dungeness just in time to catch them fly past! In the old days he would have missed out on them.

If I'm honest, I look at that image above and shudder. Yes, of course I would have loved to have seen some of the 100+ Poms that were recorded today, but not stood in a line like that. Not my idea of birding at all. But it's my loss - all those in the picture are no doubt glowing with the thought of all those spoons they saw today as I now type away at the keyboard...


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