Red-throated Divers at Scotsman's Flash, April 18th, 1992
Fleeting visits, often of little more than 30 minutes' duration, have been a frequently-indulged aspect of my studies at Scotsman's Flash, Wigan, over the last 16 years. Such visits are often sufficient to identify slight changes in the day-to-day picture, especially at passage times, and occasionally turn up unusual visitors. Expectations were of nothing in particular when I called there on 18th April 1992.
As I arrived by the NW shore at 11.20am the scene appeared fairly typical for the time of year, Small influxes of Common Gulls and Sand Martins were the obvious features, but an optically-unaided survey of the water located a tight raft of dark-looking waterfowl in mid-flash. Through binoculars their shapes looked familiar, though hardly credible, but closer inspection through a 30x80 telescope revealed, amazingly, a flock of Red-throated Divers. The group was bobbing about on choppy water facing into a blustery NW wind, and it took a few counts to confirm that 13 individuals were present.
At that point a kind of panic set in, and I ran to Roy Groves' home to summon assistance; such a spectacle demanded more witnesses! Eventually RG, Dave Broome, Paul Pugh and Peter Kearsley were all in attendance, and it was concluded from the views obtained that the flock comprised 6 adults in breeding plumage, 3 in winter plumage (possibly immatures), and 4 in transition.
The occurrence took a further twist at 12.05pm when calling was heard, then a loud choral wailing as all the flock became exited- and from the east, high up, another diver appeared. It came down and joined the others, and was seen to be an adult in breeding plumage. At 12.30pm loud calls were heard again, some birds, as before, looking up into the sky, and yet another diver was observed approaching from the east, circling very high over the flash. At this point I had to leave, but PP and DB continued observations. The newcomer, however, remained aloft, and after repeatedly circling the site departed to the NW at c 12.50pm.
Attention was then drawn back to those on the water, and it was noticed that the flock had increased to 15 individuals- a fourth winter-plumaged bird having arrived from an unknown direction. The grounded flock then become restless and took flight, dispersing randomly at first then re-grouping (all but one), and climbed away steadily to the NW. The singleton which remained, until late afternoon, was one of those in winter plumage.
Reference to GMC/Lancashire literature reveals this to be a totally unique incident: whether it is so in a national context remains unknown. April 17th and 18th were overcast and showery, with fresh W/NW winds, although hardly extraordinary on terns of promoting maritime vagrancy. That the birds were moving "overland" is strongly suggesting by the arrivals from an easterly direction, but on the day in question large numbers were seen off the north Cumbrian coast.
C. A. Darbyshire