Thursday 7 December 2023

Seawatching highlights during 2023

 SEAWATCHING in Cornwall is my main interest in birding, mainly because the county lends itself perfectly to an incredible passage of seabirds and a its also a brilliant opportunity to find your own birds.

This summer and autumn has been exceptional and arguably better than 2022.  The following is a synopsis of around 250 hours pure seawatching from two prime sites in West Cornwall: Pendeen and Porthgwarra.

Summary: there are many highlights but the following are the best and worthy of mention:

Fea's Petrel: two sightings, 30th July at Porthgwarra and then a personal find of one at Pendeen on 25th August.  The latter was extra special because it was my first from Pendeen.  Fea's are super rare here and very few birders have even seen one from Pendeen.

Wilson's Petrel: 25 seen in a five week period including at least six personal finds.

Sabine's Gull: 34 seen with a personal recent best of 16 in one day but also finding a flock of 11 adults together at Pendeen.

Common Scoter: hardly a major rarity but we set a county record of 1115 in one day at Pendeen.

Scopoli's Shearwater: two very good candidates for this species which saw an unprecedented influx in to Cornish waters, including the county first at Porthgwarra 8th July, (subject to acceptance) and another off Pendeen.

Cory's Shearwater: witness to the Cornwall high record count of 6500 birds off Porthgwarra, 30th July.

Sooty Shearwater: a personal highlight with Paul Marshall in counting Cornwall's highest ever day count of 705 birds. 

Pomarine Skua: a good year with 46 birds recorded but one stand out highlight was finding a flock of six off Pendeen in August.

Species accounts:

Great Shearwater: seen on 38 occasions with the first sighting on 23rd June at Porthgwarra and the last on 20th November at Pendeen.  The majority were seen in a six week period from mid Aug to end of Sept.  A personal high total of 1794 was counted on 31st August at Porthgwarra. A second high count of 414 passed Pendeen on 25th Aug.  Even higher counts were noted from Falmouth Bay and Lizard watchpoints.  This species  was one of the ever-present large shears throughout the summer and autumn and gave many birders their first opportunity to observe at close quarters.

Cory's Shearwater: seen on 44 occasions with the first sighting on 4th July at Porthgwarra and the last on 21st October at Porthgwarra.  This species was ever-present during the summer months and not just from far west watchpoints.  Falmouth Bay attracted equally large numbers and as the summer progressed, birders were even treated in East Cornwall and Devon, normally exceptionally rare here.  A massive flock of a minimum 6500 birds passed Porthgwarra on the 30th July. This is a county record.  (An astonishing 16,000 were logged on the same day in Scilly).  Two more four-figure counts included 1291 on the 12th August and 1211 on 1st Sept, all at Porthgwarra, which is the UK's prime site for this species.  The prime time to see this species is the last week of July to the end of August.

Sooty Shearwater: an exceptional year for this species and the county single day count of 705 was easily the highest ever recorded on 29th Oct at Porthgwarra.  Even more unusual is the late timing for this count.  The breeding season for Sooty Shearwater starts at the end of October and adults should be sitting by mid Nov latest.  Thus, its a fairly safe bet that these late birds are non breeders. (Sooty takes six years to reach maturity).

At least 14 birds were seen from January to end of March, most likely indicating a small number of non breeders wintering in the south west Approaches.  The first "summer" record was two off Porthgwarra on 17th June.  Thereafter seen in small numbers on every seawatch.  The first significant number of 42 appeared on 30th July.  Triple figure counts included 705 29th Oct, 102 2nd Nov, 145 18th Nov, 223 20th Nov.  Prime time to see this stunning southern breeder is mid Aug to mid Nov.  Of interest, the Cornwall rolling ten year average is just 728 birds up to 2021, clearly indicating an exceptional year.

Little Shearwater: a Barolo type was seen on three days on 14th, 16th and 17th July.  Sadly I wasn't at Porthgwarra when it was found.  Martin Elliott found it mid pm at Porthgwarra and it was seen well by several other birders. (note: it was also probably seen on the 13th by Ryan Irvine and announced as a probable but not claimed at the time).  This key find (10th for Cornwall) further confirms the month of July is massively important for rare seabirds.

Balearic Shearwater: the rarest and most threatened shearwater.  Numbers seemed well down on previous years and was missing from many day counts.  Peak passage is short and starts last week of August through to third week of Sept.  Just two day counts of three-figures included 121 on 18th Sept and 118 on the 22nd, both from Pendeen.  The first record was 10th June at Porthgwarra and finally two at Pendeen on the 19th Nov.

Wilson's Petrel: An incredible 25 were logged between 1st July and 8th August.  The dates indicate quite a tight viewing period and as repeated again, confirms that July is an important month for seawatching, especially petrels.  Ignore July at your peril!  Saturday 5th August was the highest count of 11 at Pendeen though I missed some and personally saw five. The next high count was six from Porthgwarra on the 4th July.  11 of the sightings came from Porthgwarra and 14 from Pendeen.  No site holds a Wilson's trump card.  2023 easily surpasses all my previous Wilson's counts.  Improved optics, more confidence in id at distance plays a part but the general consensus is an increase in numbers from the Southern Atlantic.

European Storm Petrel: Seen on 50 seawatching occasions.  The first for the year was actually on 1st Jan at Pendeen, but normal sightings commenced 18th June with one at Porthgwarra.  The first significant counts started 1st July with 144 at Pendeen and then 75 at Porthgwarra on 4th July.  Three figure counts are always worth mentioning and my highest count of the year was 206 at Porthgwarra on 8th Aug.

A perplexing influx occurred after a big westerly storm on the 2nd Nov, with 118 on the 2nd and another 105 on the 4th Nov.  None were seen in all October, so presumably these late birds were further north breeders caught up in a big Atlantic storm while heading south.  The species winters off Namibia west to the Cape and Natal.

Leach's Petrel:  Just six birds were logged this year, all from Pendeen.  The species is rare from Porthgwarra.  The maximum day count was three birds, 22nd Sep at Pendeen, then three singles, 14th Oct, 1st Nov and 2nd Nov.  Some observers failed to year tick Leach's.  Inexplicably, Kent and other south coast sites reported high numbers including over 200.  Strong weather must have pushed them down the east coast rather than their normal west coast route. 

Pomarine Skua:  A really good year with 46 birds and recorded on 22 occasions.  First sighting of the year was one in Falmouth Bay on 8th Jan.  Up to five winter here and have done so for the last few years.  "Normal" sightings commenced 5th May with two stunning adults, photo'd off Porthgwarra.  Non-breeders were seen regularly through the summer.  Return passage started on 25th Aug with a group of six birds together past Pendeen, a stunning sight to behold.  This species is one of my favourites and no seawatch is complete without a Pom.  Another six were logged past Pendeen on the 2nd Nov.  An interesting stat is 23 of the total (50%) were seen from 20th October to 20th Nov.  The species clearly moves south quite late, probably because it breeds so far north in to Arctic Russia.

Great Skua: A total of 73 birds seen on 30 occasions during the year but only once achieved a double figure count of 12 on 2nd Nov at Pendeen.  There is some minor duplication of numbers, especially at Porthgwarra where non breeders spend the summer.  All other counts were between one and six.  This species has taken a massive hit due to bird flu and being top of the food chain.  Just one juv was seen.

Long-tailed Skua: Just three birds seen this year, which is a decent number.  This species is the rarest of the Stercorarius group and requires a good description, photos and ideally more than one observer to get this species past the rarities committee.  Its always a big call on a seawatch and when one flies past, there's always excitement.  In 40 years of seawatching records, I have only seen 21 birds.

This year's three birds were seen on 22nd Aug at Pendeen, 23rd Sep and 29th Oct at Porthgwarra.  No west Cornwall site holds the trump card, though the Lizard birders have had more joy with this species.

Arctic Skua: Seen on 49 seawatch occasions with a total of 319 birds.  The first sighting of the year was three at Porthgwarra on 18th June and thereafter seen on most days in single or pairs throughout the Aug to Nov period.  Spring passage for this species is unusual and I would describe Arctic Skua as scarce to rare at this time of year.  Return Autumn passage is more obvious and commenced 25th Aug with 145 seen in the following month to 24th Sept.  There was a pause in sightings until the last two weeks of October when another 96 birds passed Pendeen.  The pause may mean nothing more than suitable wind direction attracting birds closer to the coast.

Sabine's Gull: 34 birds seen on seven occasions, all from Pendeen and six in a flock from the Scillonian.  Sabine's is rare from Porthgwarra. The last week of August is clearly prime time though four on 14th October is notable.  The highlight was a self-found flock of 11 birds off Pendeen on the 22nd August, all adults. A total of 16 were seen on this morning, my highest ever day count since that famous day at at St Ives in Sept 83.

Little Gull:  A good autumn passage peaking at the end of October to first week Nov. Highlights were 16 on 21st Oct and 13 2nd Nov.  These numbers coincided with high numbers moving down the North Sea.

Black Tern: a poor year with just eight birds seen, all from Pendeen, end of August.

Great Northern Diver: Logged on 24 seawatches.  Spring migration was limited to just four birds in May and June from Porthgwarra.  All were adults moving west.  The species leaves Cornwall relatively late.  Its always an odd surprise to see an adult Great Northern in full breeding plumage in late June in Cornwall.  Autumn passage starts last week of October and lasts approx four weeks; thereafter, the species is seen in singles or pairs on most seawatches in the winter.

Red-throated Diver: the "default" small diver, always seen from Pendeen but hardly in great numbers.  15 were logged end of March.

More to follow...


White-crowned Sparrow at Rosudgeon - First record for Cornwall

 EXCITING news broke on Saturday 2nd December 2023 when a White-crowned Sparrow was reported on Facebook.  Photos soon appeared on the popular news channels and details emerged that it was coming to seed in a private garden. Birders assembled in a Rosudgeon residential close on Sunday morning and were rewarded with good views as it eventually perched up in a hedge and on a rooftop.

White-crowned Sparrow has a wide distribution across North America and has three distinct forms: West Taiga, East Taiga and Interior West.  Pacific populations differ to the Taiga/Interior group in calls, song, plumage details and even ground or low bush breeding.  The Cornwall bird was soon identified as belonging to the East Taiga group, ie. from Eastern Canada.  The pinkish bill colour and black lores confirm this, while the striking black and white striped head confirm this bird as an adult.

How did it arrive in Rosudgeon? A good question which no one will ever know for sure.  But, given the high number of displaced American vagrants this autumn, it surely would have been involved with that movement back in October.  Vagrant sparrows are known to hitch a ride on trans-Atlantic ships as well.  It could have done this and landed at Southampton, Felixstowe or Liverpool and made its way south west?  The species is migratory and follows the normal north to south migration path. The Cornish bird is most likely following its instinct.

There are only two other American sparrows on the Cornish list: White-throated Sparrow at Boscastle in May 2010 and three Dark-eyed Junco's: Hayle 26th Nov 2008,  Illogan May 2007, Lizard May 1983.  Thus, any American sparrow is extremely rare in Cornwall (and Scilly).

Adult White-crowned Sparrow, Rosudgeon, Cornwall, Dec 2023. Pics by Steve Rogers.

Friday 25 August 2023

Birding highlights in Cornwall August 2023

 Seawatching takes centre stage in this post.  Naturally, Cornwall is strategically positioned to take full advantage of the wealth of seabirds passing both coasts. Other than an adult Pectoral Sandpiper at Walmsley, non-seabirds have been painfully thin on the ground.

The stand-out highlight on the 1st of the month was the Fea's Petrel off Porthgwarra (for its third day). Porthgwarra is THE top UK site for this species with around 25 records. Many of these birds spend a few days here while they circuit feed the Land's End area. If you catch the correct conditions, its quite feas-ible to actually twitch a Fea's Petrel. On the same day, a lingering flock of around 4000 Cory's Shearwaters were in the same area.  This species has broken all past records for high numbers.  Among the Cory's have been several claims of Scopoli's Shearwater, previously the Eastern form of Cory's but now given its own species status by some authorities.  I've managed to see at least two birds and there are a few more other claims as well.  Once you recognise the key features, finding one is not so difficult as previously thought.  Indeed, Bob Flood from Scilly Pelagics has now confirmed this, actually calling one from a pelagic prior to photo evidence.

Great Shearwaters have been seen alongside the vast flocks of Cory's, but not in such large numbers.  Just 42 were seen on the 1st, along with two Pomarine Skuas and eight Sooty's.  A Wilson's Petrel was seen off Pendeen.

A strong westerly wind arrived on the 2nd. Although Porthgwarra scored with the resighting of the Fea's Petrel, 131 Great Shearwaters and 68 Sooty's, it was Pendeen that stole the limelight. Two Scopoli's were seen at 07:18 and 09:58, the latter seen independently from the lower car park and the main platform. Seven Wilson's Petrels, 150 Storm Petrel and 1004 Cory's were also logged in the 14 hour session.  Three more Wilson's Petrels were seen at Pendeen on the 3rd with another single off St. Loy.  Yet another Wilson's was seen further east off St Agnes Head on the 4th and two more together in Mounts Bay.  This species continues to break previous County records.

Saturday 5th August saw the first major summer storm hit the county. A severe gale (Force 9) westerly / north westerly brought nearly 50 birders to Pendeen to witness some special seawatching. No one left disappointed.  A record breaking 11 Wilson's Petrel, 270+ Storm Petrel,  280 Cory's, 39 Sooty, 86,000 Manx, adult Sabine's Gull and a Black Tern plus some spectacular high seas will remain in the memory bank.

Although not part of this geographical reporting area, it has to be mentioned about the incredible record of an immature Red-footed Booby, seen well just 20 miles away, off Scilly, the day after the storm (6th). No doubt this bird was caught up in this storm.  One can only imagine the scenes on the Sapphire! Even more remarkable is that this 2nd for Britain was refound roosting on the Bishop Rock lighthouse and remained there until at least 24th.  It is thought that it feeds at night on squid, which rise to the surface.  It spends virtually all day-time with the black-backs.

The 7th was a notable day for Wilson's Petrel with a total of seven reported: four from Porthgwarra, two from Lizard and one in Mounts bay, photographed by Rupert Kirkwood from his kyack.  The 8th saw another 12 reported, this time further east at Trevose head and from Pendennis Point, Falmouth. ID confidence and superior modern optics certainly aid finding this Southern Ocean petrel, but weather changes surely play a part in the increase in numbers.

Another species which is set to break records, (at least the 10 year rolling average) is Sabines Gull. One was found at the unusual location of Penlee Point (8th), a reward for hours of watching here by Pete Aley and Paul Kemp et al.

A Corncrake was found at Porth Joke on the 11th and was a county tick for the finders. Its certainly not an easy species to catch up with.  Indeed, most reports come from accidental flushing from a path or bracken.  A second Corncrake was found at Crugmeer on the 15th.

 A strong southerly wind on Saturday 12th was a sure sign to visit Porthgwarra.  The highlight was a Barolo Shearwater late in the afternoon.  The supporting cast included c. 1600 Cory's, 300 Greats and 70 Sooty Shearwaters. And of course one Wilson's Petrel.

Important news on the successful breeding of Marsh Harrier was announced by the CBWPS.  Three newly fledged young were seen at Cornwall's flagship reserve at Walmsley on the 13th.  Although the species is increasing in the UK, nothing should detract from the excellent management work here, under Adrian Langdon's dedicated work.

Male Marsh Harrier, Walmsley, picture courtesy Adrian Langdon.

A Long-tailed Skua and Wilson's Petrel were seen off the Lizard on the 14th.  Two more Sabine's Gulls were recorded at Pendeen.  Yet another Sabine's was seen next day at Porthgwarra.  

The first Melodious Warbler of the season was trapped at Nanjizal on the 17th, followed by a Nightingale on the 23rd and a Wryneck on the 24th. Another Melodious Warbler was found at Loe Pool on the 20th.

Sabine's Gulls once again grabbed the headlines on the 20th.  14 passed Pendeen, all of them adults.  Another eight were seen next day here (21st) along with a Roseate Tern and a Fea's Petrel. The largest single flock of 11 Sabine's passed Pendeen with a total of 18 on the 22nd.  The annual rolling 

To complete a stunning few days at Pendeen, an adult Sooty Tern flew past at mid distance (22nd).  Frustratingly, the finder's "wingman" couldn't find it.  In line with high numbers of Black Tern further north, a sizable flock of 30 was seen and photo'd off Porthgwarra (21st).

A Bee-eater was heard several times calling over Drift Reservoir on the 21st but sadly wasn't re located further west.

Wader passage came to life on the 20th with three Wood Sandpipers at Nanquidno and three Curlew Sandpipers at Hayle.  Stithians also hosted a Little Ringed Plover and a Wood Sandpiper. A sizable flock of 138 Ringed Plovers was counted on Marazion beach.

Passerines were on the move on the 24th; the standout rarity being a Citrine Wagtail at Nanjizal. A Wryneck was found in a private garden at St Erth Praze and good numbers of Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail were found at Porthgwarra.

The wind veered to the west on the 25th with just enough strength to produce a fly-by Fea's Petrel and a flock of six stunning adult Pomarine Skuas. A sizable group of 400 plus Great Shearwaters could be an indication of a repeat show from 2022.  Numbers of Cory's seem to be waining after the heady heights of July but 200 plus were also logged off Pendeen (25th).

Fea's Petrel video by Mike McKee

The presumed same Fea's Petrel passed Pendeen again on Sunday 27th, along with an impressive 500+ Cory's and three fairly close Pomarine Skuas.  A decent haul of 143 Arctic Terns was the largest count in recent times. Two Black Terns and two Common Terns added some variety.

Thursday 20 July 2023

Birding highlights in Cornwall July 2023

 July started with some notable seawatching off Pendeen Watch.  The 1st and 2nd saw a front move in from the west, creating perfect conditions for Pendeen.  Highlights included high numbers of petrels including 144 Storm Petrel on the 1st and another 24 on the 2nd.  At least three Wilson's Petrels were found. The first one was found at 06:23 and another at 09:20.  Incredibly, another was found at exactly 06:23 on the following day (2nd). This could easily  be the same bird circuit feeding, though difficult to prove either way. Sooty Shearwater numbers maxed out at 13, itself quite a high number for the time of year. Two Great Shearwaters were also seen plus an early Fea's type Petrel from the lower slope.

A small influx of Cory's Shearwaters appeared on the 3rd with four off Porthgwarra and a single off Lizard Point.

Wilson's Petrel, Pendeen, just beyond left rock, footage courtesy Mike McKee.

The first summer Night Heron continued to show occasionally at Marazion Marsh.  The elusive immature bird showed well on the 2nd at 06:00.

The warm seas around Cornwall and Scilly are clearly attractive to seabirds. On the 3rd, 18 Wilson's Petrels, two Great Shearwaters, 4 Sabines Gulls were seen off the Scilly Sapphire pelagic trip.  Not to be outdone, the following day six Wilson's were seen off Porthgwarra plus two Cory's, one Bonxie and five Arctic Skuas.  Six Wilson's from a single location matches the record set in 2022 when six were also seen from Porthgwarra.  Given the warm sea temperatures, most likely the record will be broken again soon.

On Saturday 8th, an interesting large shearwater showed strong characteristics of Scopoli's Shearwater.  It spent three hours in the wider Runnelstone area, showing at least seven times and once reasonably close.  Some video footage was taken by Mike McKee and some still grabs were enhanced by Nigel Rogers. (See two pictures below). The extensive white underwing with narrow black border, white base to primaries, smallish bill, straight and relatively narrow wings held more like a Great Shearwater and with a distinctive flight (completely unlike a feeding Cory's), hint of a W across the upperwing and generally smaller size could be seen well.  Following a lot of analysis and discussion of the video footage, combined with strong suspicions and more than a whiff of Scopoli's on the day, the video file will be shown to more experienced seawatchers, ultimately for onward submission.

Scopoli's Shearwater by Mike McKee.

Scopoli's Shearwater, Porthgwarra, video grab by Mike McKee
enhanced by N Rogers.

Cory's Shearwaters arrived in numbers on the 10th when nine were seen off Porthgwarra, along with one Great and one Sooty.  Perfect timing on the 13th paid dividends when 27 Cory's were seen in the evening at Porthgwarra along with the first Long-tailed Skua of the year. Presumably the same first summer bird was seen later off Scilly on one of the Sapphire pelagic trips.

A strong South to South-West wind on the 14th was the start of some really special seawatching off Porthgwarra. The highlight was a Wilson's Petrel, 2 Pomarine Skua's, 58 Euro Stormy, one Great Shearwater and 14 Sooty's.  The following day an absolute gem of a bird was found.  Just three birders found a Little (Barolo) Shearwater late in the afternoon. This is approximately Cornwall's 10th record and is a real prize find. Amazingly it was found again late in the day on the 16th and 17th.  

Extreme crops of Barolo Shearwater, Porthgwarra, July 2023, pics by Nigel Rogers

The wind changed to West on the 16th. The highest count of Cory's Shearwaters so far this year came on the 16th when 35 were counted passing Pendeen.  Some were passing close just beyond the rocks.

The first proper summer storm arrived on Saturday 22nd.  As always, a south to south-west wind is accompanied by rain, a lot of it.  Although uncomfortable to watch in, rain normally brings seabirds and Saturday didn't disappoint.  Nine Cory's Shearwaters and one Great passed Porthgwarra, the former very close to the headland.

The first serious numbers of Cory's Shearwater were recorded on the 26th July when 152 passed Porthgwarra.  A strong West to south westerly airflow directly from Biscay and the Approaches clearly brought with it some high numbers. Also included with this summer storm were 14 Great Shearwaters and a Wilson's Petrel in Falmouth Bay.

Weather chart for 26th July 2023 showing strong westerly airflow

A further 232 Cory's passed Porthgwarra on the 27th, plus five Great Shearwater, 17 Sooty and a sub-adult Long-tailed Skua. Not a bad haul. Summer storms are firmly on the birding calendar!

The 30th July 2023 change the record books for Cory's Shearwater at least.  A massive flock of some 6500 birds (minimum) moved west past Porthgwarra.  Many stayed for a few hours to feed a mile or so off the coast, before moving on again around 4pm.  I stress this is the absolute minimum as many more tiny silhouettes could be seen distantly but uncountable.  An astonishing 16000 were also apparently logged from Scilly.  The reason for this irruption is the unprecedented heatwave in the Mediterranean.  The traditional feeding areas have lacked the rich nutrients flowing from Spain and France in to the med. Shearwaters in particular will search out new feeding areas. To add to the scene, a Fea's Petrel appeared late in the day along with 150+ Great Shearwaters and two Wilson's Petrels.

Tuesday 4 July 2023

Band-rumped Petrel at Porthgwarra, Cornwall, 22nd October 2022

Band-rumped Petrel at Porthgwarra, Cornwall, 22nd October 2022

(The notes below are a copy of those sent to BBRC. The record has since been accepted and is the 4th for Cornwall and 5th for Britain. The first was found off Scilly on a Sapphire pelagic).


 The seawatching season has been noticeably protracted this year. Warmer sea temperature in the Approaches has seen above average numbers of Blue-fin Tuna chasing bait fish and in turn, attracting high numbers of seabirds. Berry Head and Lizard seawatchers have been setting county records this autumn with four figure counts of Great Shearwater. On the 21st, Mark Darlaston reported a decent seawatch from Berry Head, Devon. I forwarded the details to my WhattsApp group and decided Porthgwarra next day was worth a punt.

 Assembled birders at Porthgwarra included just Graham Lawlor and myself! As normal, it was slow start from first light; a few Arctic Skuas, a juv Common Tern, a Teal, a Puffin. Then a juv Long-tailed Skua flew past at 08:37. Perhaps this was the same bird from Berry Head. Things were looking up. A pulse of 24 Great Shearwaters way past the Runnelstone went by. And that's where it ended. We decided to call it a day, somewhat disappointed.

I went home for the lunchtime game thinking the seawatch was over. No chance. An expletive filled message from John Foster advised birders to get out seawatching as huge numbers of Great Shearwater were moving past the Lizard. In fact, the day-count there ended with a record breaking 10,235!

A return to Gwennap Head mid afternoon caught the tail end of Great Shearwaters moving through. The Porthgwarra day total ended at an impressive 864 birds, itself a high count.

With a lull in Great Shearwaters passing, I concentrated on the Bay area between left rock and the pinnacle. I picked up an obvious large storm-petrel about a third of the way out (based on Runnelstone position). In a split second, I knew it looked different. It wasn't the normal pondering, loafing and quick darting flight of a Leach's. Instead, it was energetic, continuous, regular, fast, similar to the quick flight of Bulwer's Petrel. I'd seen Band-rumped Petrel off Madeira in June and I immediately shouted the words "Madeiran Petrel" to the six other birders.


 After a minute or so of panic, everyone connected and enjoyed some four minutes of views. Leach's was the benchmark species but nothing pointed in that direction. As previously mentioned, the flight was so different. The fast movement, regular high banking and shearing up to 2 or 3m on straight wings (shown well in Martin's sketch and in one photo), similar to a Great Shearwater on the move was always evident. It would double back on itself with a high banking movement and then glide with slightly arched wings, presumably settle on the sea as we lost it for several key seconds, only to reappear again with fast, energetic and regular arcing flight. I couldn't see it feeding or settled on the water due to the swell.

 This bird was clearly on the move (rather than a feeding bird). The wings appeared long, straight and to my eye quite pointed. Tail was square ended with no feet projection. To be fair, my 35x mag scope wouldn't have picked out feet projection, but Paul Marshall zoomed up to 70x and saw no feet projection. Others on higher mag also saw the squared tail. One photo does show a slight "scoop" to the tail but this wasn't seen by me in the field.

 Plumage wise, the overall colour was uniform blackish brown with slightly paler upperwing coverts, and indistinct carpal patch (ie. no obvious carpal bar). The rump was white and extended down the sides to the under tail. The white rump was obvious and continually on view. Underwing looked plain black with no obvious markings.


Band-rumped Petrel, Pothgwarra,Oct 2022. All images courtesy N. Rogers.

Nigel Rogers further commented

"From the set of 9 photographs provided, the following features can be seen:

*a clear white band over the rump (IMG 3897),

* the tail could look either slightly forked (fanned tail, when probably close to alighting on the sea, IMG 3899) or straight (e.g. See IMG 3915 and also IMG 3897),

* the white of the rump extended down the rump sides (IMG 3929, and the white areas down the rump sides probably accounts for the apparent white on the undertail coverts from behind, IMG 3933),

* the wings were long (very evident when shearing) and, in direct flight, the hand was broad with a pointed tip. The outline of the wings was a smooth, the rear edge appearing only slightly curved and with no sharp bend at the carpal joint on the forewing (IMG 3908, IMG 3909, IMG 3915, IMG 3929, IMG 3930),

* the wings were held slightly arched when gliding (IMG 3893, IMG 3933),

* when shearing, which it did frequently, its rather straight wings resembled a small shearwater (IMG 3915),

* the overall appearance in the images is uniform blackish brown (apart from white or paler poorly resolved areas on the rump and rump sides),

* all the above is consistent with Band-rumped Petrel and together eliminate Leach's Petrel.  Of the features noted the consistent difference in wing shape (unaffected by issues of photographic resolution) from Leach's Petrel is very compelling evidence.


Paul Marshall also commented as follows:

Band-rumped Petrel - Porthgwarra, Saturday 22 October

Steve Rogers (finder), Graham Lawlor, John Overfield, Martin Elliott, Nigel Rogers, Ray Archer

Steve called the bird at approximately 15:50 and I was fortunate to get on to it almost immediately. It was still left of the pinnacle and showing in good light. It was on view for approximately four minutes at a distance of approximately 750 metres (judged on being half way to Runnel Stone buoy).

My immediate impression was of a large dark petrel. All manner of options flashed through my mind and for a split second my initial, over excited thought was Bulwer’s Petrel due to the size, overall dark appearance, long wings and initially no sign of a white rump. However that was quickly dispelled when features began to fall into place.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough to see 100’s of European Storm Petrels, eight Leach’s Petrels and six Wilson’s Petrels from land based seawatches off west Cornwall. It was clear this wasn’t any of those.

European Storm Petrel could instantly be dismissed on size alone and Wilson’s clearly didn’t fit. Leach’s was the next obvious option but nothing about this bird suggested that species either. The structure, plumage and flight action just didn’t add up.

It was evident that we were watching a Band-rumped Petrel and Steve called it as one soon after getting my first views of it.

The wings were long, with the arm the same length, perhaps even slightly longer, than the hand. The angles involved were subtle and shallow, never coming close to showing the obvious carpal joint angle of Leach’s Petrel. When fully outstretched, which it seemed to do a lot, they looked almost parallel, not unlike a shearwaters.

The flight action was unlike any storm petrel I’ve seen. Between relatively short series of shallow wingbeats it sheared constantly, not high arcs but a couple of metres from the surface. Progress was steady and not erratic like Leach’s Petrel.

I zoomed into approximately 60x on two occasions, to get a better idea of some of the plumage and structural features. This allowed the following to be noted:

· Overall dark plumage, not brown or black but somewhere in between, like the colour of dark chocolate.

· There was never any suggestion of the almost two tone effect on the upperwing often shown by Leach’s Petrel. They looked uniform in colour apart from a not very obvious covert bar. Although present it was much more subtle than on any Leach’s Petrel I’ve seen. Not only was it fainter but also appeared less well defined at the edges, almost smudgy.

· The white rump was narrow. The size and shape could almost be likened to a ringtail harrier. It never showed the Leach’s Petrel like blaze of white. It was clear the white extended around the sides of the rump, which reinforced the ringtail harrier like appearance, and could be seen when the bird banked showing its underparts.

· The underwings appeared entirely dark.

· The tail never looked forked and I struggled to see much of impression of a notch, it just looked blunt ended. This could be appreciated when not zoomed in but at 60x there was without question no fork.

· There was no suggestion of feet protruding beyond the tail, a feature I’ve seen on Wilson’s Petrels at this site at a similar, albeit slightly closer, distance.

 Martin Elliott further commented:

 The following notes aren't that critical to the i.d. but at least give a fuller picture of how I saw it:

 BRSP  Porthgwarra, 22/10/22 additional notes

 Although one of the last to get on the bird I did use 60x zoom so a couple of further observations may just complete the picture .

Moult- This bird showed consistently pointed pp unlike any of the previous ( up to 6 but all bar 1 in early September) "BRSP" I've seen in Cornwall. This is hardly surprising as it did not feed or deviate  (apart from apparently landing briefly in a trough) from the shearing progression described above, but even so the wing-tip was quite sharp. I assume this could have been produced by old retained p10 with at least p9 short/growing or shed?

Coupled with this the tail also appeared to be in moult - although "square" and certainly not forked it looked blunt or uneven, and this seems to be shown by N Rogers's images. According to Howell and Dunn this should not be the case for adults of either "Grant's" or castro (or Leach's?)  at this time of year,but I have no idea if this rules out any taxon in it's 2nd calendar year!

Carpal-bar - A fairly indistinct but even and moderate width pale carpal bar was visible on the left wing but the whole "arm" looked paler than the pp on the right. This was probably due to the angle of the bird to the diffuse sunlight burning out or putting a slight sheen on the right inner wing and obscuring the pattern.

The flight, structure, and plumage - particularly the wrap-around white rump- all fit BRSP rather than any other white-rumped petrel.

In either case these points do not lead me to disagree with the bird's identification as a BRSP but given the later date it is tempting to wonder if this and other recent records off west Cornwall are linked with the apparent warmer off-shore waters and lingering Great Shearwaters etc. feeding on Anchovy shoals?

Earlier records - mostly from the first week of September - were presumed most likely refer to "returning" winter breeding  "Grant's" associating with a more general southward movement of Great and Sooty shears, skuas etc.

Thanks to Nigel Rogers for the photos, quite incredible considering the distance; thanks to Martin Elliott for the artist impressions of the bird on the day and to the other four observers: Paul Marshall, Graham Lawlor, Ray Archer and John Overfield.

Steve Rogers. October 2022.


Band-rumped Petrel, Porthgwarra, Oct 2022, artist impression by Martin Elliott.

Band-rumped Petrel, flying away showing white rump, Porthgwarra, pics courtesy Nigel Rogers.

Paul Marshall further commented on the timing of the sighting:

The peak seawatching season in west Cornwall for ‘warmer water’ species (large shearwaters and petrels) has traditionally finished by mid-September. So at first glance the third week of October might seem a rather late date for a record of Band-rumped Petrel off Britain. 

However, in recent years there has been an increasing number of rarer seabirds seen later in September and into October. This year has proved to be exceptional even by recent standards.  

From July to September, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly enjoyed good numbers of seabirds. Large numbers of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna were present, a sure sign that sources of food were high. Amongst the numbers of large shearwaters there were nine reports of Fea’s-type Petrels and several Band-rumped Petrels. By late September there was no indication of anything particularly out of the ordinary going on. 

The first sign that something was up was on 4 October when 4,500+ Great Shearwater were seen heading west past Peninnis on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. Over the course of the month it became clear that large flocks of Great Shearwaters were present between Devon and the Isles of Scilly. Numbers peaked on 22 October, with c10,0000 past the Lizard, a movement that included a Little Shearwater and a Band-rumped Petrel (thought to be different to the Porthgwarra bird due to timings of sightings) 

The table below summarises the most notable seabird reports in west Cornwall and Devon during October 2022.  






Great Shearwater 

St Marys, Isles of Scilly 

4,500+ past Peninnis in 1.5 hours 


Fea’s/Desertas Petrel 

Isles of Scilly 

One on pelagic c10km off St Mary’s 


Great Shearwater 

at sea, off Plymouth 

1,200+ from boat 24-30km south of Plymouth 


Fea’s/Desertas Petrel 

Scillonian Crossing 

One east of Wolf Rock on eastbound crossing 


Great Shearwater 


2,000+ past Pendinnis Head  


Great Shearwater 

Bass Point, Lizard 

c10,0000 past in 2.5 hours 


Little Shearwater 

Lizard Point, Lizard 



Band-rumped Petrel 




Band-rumped Petrel 

Lizard Point 



Great Shearwater 


1,173 past in 4 hours 


Great Shearwater 

St Agnes, Isles of Scilly 

4000+ past Horse Point  

The last three figure count of Great Shearwaters was 570 past Porthgwarra on the 29 October. After this small numbers, mostly single figure counts, continued into November.   

The nature of the Great Shearwater movements were different to the usual passage birds seen off Cornwall. These typically pass headlands either singularly or small groups over a prolonged period.  

These movements were intense with many hundreds or thousands being seen over a short period of time. This suggests that these birds were part of one or more huge feeding flocks taking advantage of the good feeding. Given such numbers it is entirely realistic to expect other species (Fea’s-type Petrel, Band-rumped Petrel, Little Shearwater) to also be present. 

There are two reasons why this is likely to have happened. 

Sea temperature and food availability 

The following graphic taken from [insert source] shows the sea temperature around Britain on [insert date]. The warm water plume extending north from the Bay of Biscay and covering Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is clear. This warmer water has attracted baitfish, which in turn has attracted large numbers of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and seabirds.  


Weather patterns 

From early October a strong U-shaped jet stream became established. This created the conditions for several large, slow moving low pressure system to become established to the southwest of Britain. The result was a near constant and strong southeast to southwest, but predominately southerly airflow that extended from west of Iberia to southern Ireland.  

From mid-October there were remarkably few days in west Cornwall where the average wind speed fell below 20mph and was frequently closer to 30mph.  


The following graphic taken from shows the wind direction and speed on Friday 21 October and is fairly typical of the daily weather in west Cornwall from mid-October into November. 


It seems reasonable to suggest that this strong headwind would not have encouraged seabirds to move south and west into more traditional areas. Particularly when you combine this with the good feeding opportunities evidently available in inshore waters around southwest Britain 

As the impacts of climate change have an increasing impact on sea temperatures and weather patterns it will be interesting to see whether such occurrences become a regular feature of autumn.  

Paul Marshall.

Weather t

a regular feat