My patch, Birkenhead Docks is a place which is full of surprises: from the discovery of breeding Common Terns (Cheshire’s largest colony) in 2015 along with Raven, Lapwing and Ringed Plover, to the finding of 4 county rarities in the winter of 2015-16 (Great Northern Diver, Scaup, Shag & Iceland Gull) along with the unreal photographic opportunities of birds such as Peregrine, Kingfisher, Lapwing, Common Tern and Snipe! But on the 25th of May at 20:01 whilst making a routine walk round the East Float I came across something which I never thought I’d ever see ”in” the Docks.
Throughout the day there had been reports of 2 Laughing Gull’s in the UK, one at RSPB Old Moor in Yorkshire and the other at Hastings in Sussex. Being me I somehow convinced myself that one might have turned up on patch (you never know), so I headed down after dinner to see what was coming into roost that evening along with Terns, Waders and Gulls. It was evident when I left the house that there weren’t going to be any decent images taken on today’s trip as the lighting was horrific, but my head was full of optimism and didn’t really care, I just wanted to have a look around. When I reached the Docks after a 10 minute walk I noticed that there wasn’t much gull action taking place, there were the resident Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls on nest with a small party of 3 Black-headed Gull heading SE and that was about it. Other birds around the Docks were a pair of Oystercatchers which I’m still trying to locate their nests or young, along with a pair of Shelducks which were still (2 months!) investigating a number of potential nesting sites.
I then made my way round to the formidable East Float which if you’re looking for a rarity at the Docks then the East Float is the place to be: Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, Common Scoter, Shag, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull and most recently Scaup. It’s not just rarities which the float is great for as it’s also the East Float were you find breeding Ringed Plover and Lapwing which is what I went to check on first. I had no sign of any adult Ringed Plovers or there chicks, but there were still 3 Lapwing chicks about with the adult female and were showing rather well! After spending about 15mins watching the female and her young foraging I walked over to a spot which over looked the “Tern Raft”, which if you haven’t guessed already were the Common Terns breed. When I arrived my attention was caught by the fowl mouths of a group of lads who seemed to be very excited about something which was in the water, when I looked round to see what they were looking at I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I thought my eyes had somehow deceived me. But there it was an Atlantic Grey Seal.
Despite the downpour happening around me I whipped out my camera from its bag and start firing away, what made the experience ten times better was the fact that the Seal wasn’t alone, it had just caught its self a lovely Eel which it was happily munching away on. You could the bones of the once lively eel shatter in powerful jaws of the Seal.
After putting news out of the Seal in the Docks and calling a few mates who I knew would love to see one, I made my way back home with a huge grin on my face. Who would have thought it? A Seal in Birkenhead Docks eating an eel, brilliant! When I got home fellow dock birder Michael Grant aka Oscar contacted me to say that it’s not the first time they’ve appeared in the Docks, but that it’s extremely rare and unpredictable when they do!