Sunday 26 July 2009

Black-browed Albatross at Porthgwarra

As predicted, the seawatch today at Porthgwarra was truly superb. A strong south-westerly wind in front of an advancing Atlantic low depression is a locally known signal that some good seawatching could be on the agenda. Perhaps surprisingly then, only 14 birders showed up. Sadly no one had any cameras with them....I'm hopping mad with myself but considering the rain and normal distance of birds at Pg, no one thought a camera would be needed ! Until 8.30 am that is.

Fourteen of us saw the first or second year Black-browed Albatross today just before 8.30am. Brian Mellow first found the bird, with myself, Royston Wilkins, Linton Proctor, Mark Warren, Mark Wallace, Daniel Eva, Chris Craig and remaining visitor birders from up the line.

It appeared from the extreme left of the coastline as it lazily progressed round the coast, hugging the cliffs no more than a couple hundred yards off-shore. The views were exceptional and it even circled a couple times directly in front of us. The complete fly past lasted about three or four minutes. The slow, meandering flight was similar to a Cory's Shearwater and it seemed to be on view for ages.

The bird was aged as immature, first or at most second calendar year. The underwing was generally dark with a narrow pale underwing bar, barely noticeable unless you looked for it. The bill was a horn grey colour with a darker tip. I saw no hint of pink or yellow which would be associated with an older bird. The head was white, contrasting against a grey nape and collar extending down the side of the neck. The upper tail showed a dark lateral band. Undertail white. The upperwing was blackish brown, slightly browner on the mantle and back.

Previous records:

There are surprisingly just two accepted records of Black-browed Albatross from mainland Cornwall:

1982: St Ives Island. 5th Oct.
1988: Porthgwarra. 30th Aug.

1999: At sea. Outside of the two mile maritime boundary, 10 miles offshore. This record is not included in the totals as it is outside of the Cornish mainland area two mile limit.

Nationally, there are 23 accepted records.

Albatross Sp.

1964: nr Marazion 23rd Aug
1981: Trevose Head 4th Dec
1985: 80 km south of Lizard 29th Apr (outside Cornish mainland area)

Of interest:

1985: The record of the bird seen 80km south of The Lizard on 29 Apr was considered to be an albatross, but the species identification was not established beyond doubt - and it was outside the 'mainland' area anyway!

Thanks to Derek Julian (CBWPS) for the data info.

Additional sightings during the morning included:

1 Great Shearwater
16 Balearic Shearwater
4 Sooty Shearwater
2 Puffin
4 Great Skua
2 Pomarine Skua
3 Arctic Skua
4 Storm Petrel
1 Whimbrel
2 "Comic" Tern


  1. Excellent record. Shame you didnt take your camera Steve!!

  2. Well done Steve....better take your camera next time just in case!


  3. Well done Steve. Homework paid off.

  4. Great spot Steve, I wish I was there. also your header is a cracker.

  5. I'm new here so excuse my ignorance. My family were messing around on the Carrick Roads at the end of last week and we startled an albatross. I had thought they didn't appear around here so came here thinking it might be the same bird. However, this bird had a distinct yellow head and neck so I guess not. Who should I pass this on to?

  6. Hi "anonymous" - thanks for the comment. I would guess that from the yellow head your bird is most likely a Northern Gannet. They do enter Carrick Roads and can be quite unexpected here, given their size. Cheers. Steve

  7. Hi all i'm looking for an old frend of mine Mark Wallace who used to live in penzance and is from the Northeast,,can anyone help?