Saturday, 29 July 2017

Seabird bonanza in the west country

The weather over the last two weeks has been very favourable.  That is to birders.  Seabird enthusiasts to be exact.  July is fast becoming a very important month in the birding calendar for finding rare seabirds in the south west.  Cornwall, Devon and even Dorset have been rewarded with some exceptional sightings.   I say "even Dorset" as this county is not renowned for rare seabird sightings, but a Great Shearwater normally seen off Cornwall and Devon coasts, gave stunningly close views off Portland on the 26th.  Many experienced Dorset birders had not previously seen this bird in their county.

The highlight for Devon was the county's 5th Fea's Petrel, video'd off Berry Head, South Devon on the 11th July.  This species breeds in the eastern Atlantic islands and just a handful of birds are seen annually, usually off Cornwall, Scilly or south west Ireland.

Off Scilly, the famous summer pelagic boat trips on the Sapphire boat have logged several rare Wilson's Petrels, most offering close views.  On 27th an incredible 20  were logged.  Cornwall has had its fair share of rarities though with six sightings of Wilson's Petrel (three from pelagics out of Penzance), the others from the Lizard and Porthgwarra.  The Lizard scored well on the 21st July with 296 Cory’s Shearwater, 66 Great Shearwater, 9 Sooty Shearwater, 1 Balearic Shearwater, 1 Long-tailed Skua, 1 Pomarine Skua, 6 Great Skua, 2 Arctic Skua, 109 Storm Petrel, 1 Wilson’s Petrel and 1 Sabine’s Gull.

Arguably, the best day was Saturday 22nd July when a strong candidate for Scopoli's Shearwater was seen off Porthgwarra.  If accepted, this would be the first record for Cornwall.  Depending on who you talk to, Scopoli's has not been granted its own status, rather a sub species of Cory's Shearwater.  The small size, different underwing plumage and geographically distant breeding populations will surely see a status change soon.  A large all dark petrel was seen by one lucky observer later in the day from the same site. 

Looking forward, August is equally a great month for seabirds and all eyes will be on weather forecasts for those big Atlantic low pressures.  We will also start to see the southerly movement of waders as they move out of their Arctic breeding grounds.  All in all, a busy time ahead.
Record shot of Wilson's Petrel, one of two seen off Penzance on a pelagic

Great Shearwater off Penzance, July 2017

Storm Petrel off Penzance, July 2017

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