Stercorarius longicaudus
North Denes 1998

by Andrew Easton

SEPTEMBER 15, 1998 LIKE THE rest of the year had been very quiet. Having looked around Lowestoft Cemetery, Corton, Hopton and the North Denes at Lowestoft and seen nothing, I decided to walk across to the sea wall to see if anything was passing out to sea before walking back to my car in the Links Road car park. As I reached the road loop on the campsite a few yards ahead of me a medium sized grey bird with very a long primary projection stood up.

Juvenile Long-tailed SkuaMy first thought was that's a very late cuckoo, but when I put my binoculars up I was stunned to see a juvenile skua, a rather small, slim, very grey skua. Its folded wings covered the tail completely from all angles so I was not able to see the tail projection. With its total lack of any warm brown colouration and small build I was pretty certain it was a Long-tailed Skua.

It was clearly very tired as it sat back down again, and allowed a very close approach, fortunately I had my camera with me and took several photos. The broad pale terminal fringes to the mantle feathers, unbroken in the centre and much narrower as on Arctic Skua, were very noticeable. I knew Brian Brown was on holiday that week so phoned from a nearby phone box to see if he was in, which he was.

Juvenile Long-tailed SkuaWhen I got back to the skua it had been joined by a flock of Starlings which were bathing in a puddle next to it. The water being splashed on it was clearly irritating the skua and when the flock took off suddenly the skua panicked and took flight also, it flew off weakly to the north very low and disappeared over the rise but appeared to settle again. In flight it had a very noticeable tail projection.

I walked along the sea wall scanning the camp site but was unable to find anything at first, then noticed the top of its head showing above ground level where it had settled in a depression. Brian and Christine Brown arrived shortly after this and enjoyed good views of the bird and photographed it as well.

Juvenile Long-tailed SkuaIt flew once more back to its original location, showing well the tail projection and also the white shafts to the two outer primaries of each wing. Shortly after this it was flushed and almost caught by a Dalmatian, a dog that is, not an inhabitant of the Dalmatia region of the Adriatic coast . It flew off slowly to the north disappearing below the sea wall, and despite being searched for, it was not seen again.

Overall very pale, ground colour white with numerous black spots, underside had less spotting than the upperparts. Spots on ears merged giving mostly black colouration.
Tail: long and narrow tapering to a point, also largely white with black spotting, wagged vigorously from side to side.
Legs: four, one in each corner; largely white with less black spotting than on upperparts.
Collar: red, nametag not discernible.


Juvenile Long-tailed SkuaIn the photo note that the tail projection is almost as long as the bill, and that the gonydeal angle on the lower mandible is almost half way along the bill, in Arctic Skua it occurs much closer to the tip of the bill.