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.

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