Watching Blackpool scoter – a mug’s game?

Common Scoter mug by alula designs – the reverse can wait for another blog

Today I started working on a report at an unearthly hour so I could get out at lunchtime and do some seawatching from North Shore. Unbeknown to virtually all Blackpool residents a nature spectacle occurs offshore. But the rub is it’s often a long way offshore.

Common Scoter are seaducks that can form flocks up to 15,000 strong off the Fylde coast. Earlier in the month one of these huge gatherings was seen from Starr Gate. When disturbed by boats and even planes they can swirl over the sea for several minutes.

Today’s efforts were an exemplar in why scoter watching off the Prom is a curate’s egg. There were at least 200 in view at the edge of a sea fret, then as the tide crept in they came imperceptibly closer. But they were still essentially featureless dark and drab ducks. The females are brown but all the birds looked the matt black males actually are. I knew they were scoters but I would struggle to convince anyone who had never seen one before of their identity even with the use of a powerful telescope.

The gently shelving sands that make Blackpool a great tourist beach generally make it a challenge to see the scoter flocks well. Elsewhere favoured by these hardy seaducks deeper water close inshore means the views can be much better. In Scotland rare visitors from the US and Asia are seen annually in the throng, whilst off North Wales up to half a dozen Yank Surf Scoters with their bizarre clown like facial adornments linger some winters. By contrast only three Surf Scoter have ever been seen off Blackpool, though I was fortunate to find one of them.

Scoter mugshots from 1914, still pretty relevant in 2021

So whilst it’s frustrating there’s also something therapeutic about watching the distant flocks loafing on the waves. On rare flat calm days the true extent of the bobbing black blobs becomes clear, often as far as the eye can see. The birds that love Blackpool yet the town barely knows they are there…

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