Category Archives: 04) Seabirds

Fea’s Petrel

‘nough said

Picked up by Andy Malley and  Brett Richards most of the ensemble at Flamborough were delighted. Thanks guys. I rushed off to find signal in the hope that those further north would score too. The resulting communications via social media and ‘twitches’ to watchpoints along the east coast meant the wheeling pterodroma was recorded at multiple sites by lots of people. A triumph for modern birding  and AT LAST a British record for me :) Photos skilfully phonescoped by Mark Newsome off Whitburn Fea's type Whitburn 210914 M Newsome

Happy chaps


flamborough 21 sept 14 feas


also rans:

2 Balearic Shearwaters, Long-tailed Skua, Blue Fulmar, nearly 300 Sooty Shearwater and an adult Sabine’s Gull nearby off Buckton. More on the Flamborough Bird Obs site

ble fulmar 21 9 14 sooty

Swinhoe’s Petrel – another much closer!

Off Lanzarote Pelagics

Got a lovely note from my Spanish friends who are always a great encouragement. They got  close Swinhoe’s Petrel coming in to the chum 2 days ago (12th September) in the Banco de la Concepción area, north of Lanzarote . Do you remember we had one though more distant and no photos, 2 years ago in the same area?

This one looks like it has a metal ring on. Notice too the flight shape- quite different to the hunkered attitude and angle wings of Leach’s Petrel. Beauty!

Interesting discussion on the bird and the ring HERE.

From Dani and Jose with photos by Juan Sagardia. Well done guys!





Cory’s Shearwater variation

with Scopoli’s Shearwater bits

Chris Gibbins

I took pics of as many Cory’s Shearwater types as possible.  We saw one clear Scopoli’s Shearwater, and of course hundreds of Cory’s.  One (presumed) Cory’s was interesting as it matches what Steve Howell refers to  as ‘probably the maximum permissible tongues for Cory’s Shearwater– a clear but short  tongue on P10, plus others on 9 and 8.  He shows an example of such a bird off Cape Hatteras (USA- eastern Atlantic). The general impression was therefore very different to that seen on typical Cory’s. The structure to my eye is no different to Cory’s (within range showed by Cory’s), similarly so the  dark grizzled and rather brown head…  so an interesting bird. For example of Scopoli’s Shearwater in the same waters see HERE.

Normal Cory’s Shearwater:

Cory's Shearwater- showing pale 'tongues' in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory’s Shearwater- showing pale ‘tongues’ in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory's Shearwater- a typical underwing pattern. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory’s Shearwater- a typical underwing pattern. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

 Cory’s with pale tongues in underwing:

Cory's Shearwater- showing pale 'tongues' in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory’s Shearwater- showing pale ‘tongues’ in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory's Shearwater- showing pale 'tongues' in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory’s Shearwater- showing pale ‘tongues’ in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory's Shearwater- showing pale 'tongues' in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014

Cory’s Shearwater- showing pale ‘tongues’ in pattern of underside of primaries. Chris Gibbins, August 2014



Lanzarote Pelagics, August 2014

Beautiful Seabirds

Chris Gibbins

Another stunning pelagic trip out on the Banco de la Concepcion saw Chris Gibbins catch up with stunning seabirds in sub tropical conditions. Here’s a selection. All photos taken mid-August 2014.

White-faced Storm petrels and Cory’s Shearwater with tricky Scopoli’s -like  characters to follow…

Bulwer's Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Bulwer’s Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Bulwer's Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Bulwer’s Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Cory's Shearwater by Chris Gibbins

Cory’s Shearwater by Chris Gibbins

Great Shearwater by Chris Gibbins

Great Shearwater by Chris Gibbins

Band-rumped Storm Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Band-rumped Storm Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Band-rumped Storm Petrel by Chris Gibbins

Band-rumped Storm Petrel by Chris Gibbins




Scopoli’s Shearwater Identification

Martin Garner

Hi- this is a reblogged post. Following this interesting bird (with Bob Flood’s helpful input) a few days ago off Scilly I am just putting this one back up. Have seen a few scary Scopoli’s and scary Cory’s but for another day if I ever dig out the photos. Here’s a more straightforward Scopoli’s Shearwater and one to look for with all this seabird weather in the southwest. Hope someone scores.


 They shouldn’t be called pelagics; they should be called ‘super pelagics!’ A species I haven’t mentioned yet, seen on the Lanzarote Pelagics at the end of June 2012 was Scopoli’s Shearwater. As if Wilson’s, Madeiran, Storm, White-faced and Bulwer’s Petrels wasn’t enough! I was fortunate to pick up a Scopoli’s candidate coming  into the chum. I yelled it out to Dani and we both did the only sensible thing: fire off a bunch of photos to see if the impression of ‘extra white’- would add up. Thankfully the bird hung around and we got nice repeat views, to compare with hundreds of Cory’s Shearwaters seen over the day.

Scopoli’s Shearwater

Here’s the bird, only the 2nd record in the Canaries. You can see the extra white extending as white fingers into the underside of the outer primaries. It also has only 1 dark spot on outermost greater under primary coverts. In the field it looked slimmer winged and paler/ greyer headed. It also had a more obvious dark ‘W’ across the upper wing. Have  a look and compare with the Cory’s further down. Scopoli’s Shearwater, N of Lanzarote, 30th June 2012. all photos Martin Garner

Cory’s Shearwater

With upwards of 600 Cory’s Shearwaters seen the same day- there was plenty of comparison. Here’s a few. Normally the border between underwing coverts and under side of primaries form a nice dark ‘scoop’. However some have  paler fingers (usually not on p10) giving some Cory’s ‘extra white’.  They have 2 dark spotted outer primary coverts where the Scopoli’s have one and the upperparts are more wholly dark, lacking a more distinct ‘W’. The right lighting is essential to see these things properly! Cory’s Shearwaters, N of Lanzarote, 30th June 2012. all photos Martin Garner …and huge thanks to the wonderful Dani and Juan, founders of the ‘super pelagics’. Will be back there soon. Bring it on!

Cahow (Bermuda Petrel) what chance of seeing one off Ireland?

Cahows – Hope Springs Eternal

Paul Moore


“BERMUDA PETREL  seen from Celtic Voyager over Porcupine Bank c 170nm WNW of  Slea Head today. Per Niall Keogh”   As texts go it was a bit of a shocker,  kind of a …where were you when you heard moment, a  JFK shot,  Roy Keane walking out of the World Cup, kind of  shock.

It shouldn’t have come as a major surprise really , in recent years there has been a growing tendency  for the accessibility of rarities in Ireland to be in inverse proportion to their status; generally the rarer they are, the harder they have been to see. Kinglet, Kingbird, Skimmer, Slaty backed , Bulwer’s, Purple Gallinule have all been untwitchable or effectively so. Thus if one of the rarest seabirds in the world was to be seen in Irish waters then you could be pretty sure there’s unlikely to be a second chance; or at least that seems to be the consensus.

Globally Bermuda Petrels are very rare indeed, just over one hundred pairs breed, and amazingly, outside of Bermuda it seems there have been no sightings from land  anywhere. . According to Bob Flood of Scilly pelagics  young birds disperse to no one knows where and return to the breeding colonies anywhere between two to seven years after fledging.  Presumably they take this opportunity to locate favoured feeding areas to which they can return to in subsequent years. Adults spend the breeding season north of Bermuda and the non breeding season  in waters around the Azores. But even that is a bit of a generalization, unlike Petrels, Pterodromas appear to make an entirely personal choice as to where they forage at any time of the year, during the breeding season some stay in waters close to home while others travel vast distances to forage.

Anyone with an interest in seabirds and seawatching in Ireland would have been aware of the results of a  Data logger study of  the  Cahow which showed that at least one bird had come within a couple of hundred km of the Irish coast in Spring 2011. Of course as the data loggers can be out by as much as 150km there was the possibility it wasn’t quite that close but now one has been seen and suddenly it’s a whole new ball game.

The two birds tracked to waters off western Europe appear to have been failed breeders, in April and May, as adults they should have been feeding chicks. Given how rare they are it’s even possible Niall Keogh’s Celtic Voyager bird could be the same data logged  bird back again to a favourite spot.

If occurrences of Cahow in Europe are limited to failed breeders then it doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to see one, though as the population hopefully continues to recover the chances are slowly improving. It’s a sobering thought for anyone trying to see a Cahow here that  your chances may depend on the failed breeding attempt of a critically endangered bird – hopefully the observers of the Celtic Voyager Cahow were suitably muted in their celebrations with this knowledge  J,  though I wouldn’t bet on it!

Pterodromas appear to like feeding  in upwellings, where currents collide or where deep canyons meet underwater shelves forcing nutrients to the surface; returning to that  map from 2012,  all  6 dots in Irish waters are near the shelf, one quite near Niall’s sighting, one apparently over shallower waters to the east but the other four are  intriguing, clustered around an amphitheatre shaped  ‘scoop’ out of the shelf known as the Porcupine Seabight.



Above: 2011/2012 Breeding Season Report Cahow Recovery Program Jeremy Madeiros

Map from the excellent Bermuda  Dept of Conservation Services  Cahow Recovery Programme


This area measures approximately 300 km X 200 km and is well-known for it’s biodiversity. The first Irish Blue Whale to be photographed was here in 2008 with more since then and it was also the approximate destination for some of the pioneering Irish  pelagics in the late 1980’s when birders logged good numbers of Wilson’s Petrels north of the area. The reasons for the Seabight’s richness is the complex underwater geography causing numerous upwellings over a large area and also the fact that it is sufficiently close to land to receive  nutrients washed from the  land into shallower waters. One  marine ecologist speculated it may be one of the great seabird hotspots, you just need to get there.

The nearest point of the Bight to the SW Irish coast is approx 60 miles from the south western peninsulas of Ireland and as far as I can find out just a few birders have made the trip in recent decades. One Cork birder has been twice with the Irish whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG),  in his desire to see Blue Whales in Irish waters. He reported the area teeming with life, Great Shearwaters were the commonest  bird, a flock of over 30 Wilson’s Petrels and  many many Cetaceans, 9 species on one trip with Humpbacks surfacing beside the boat, (apparently their breath stinks) though no Blue Whales yet.

Another occasional observer is Ronan McLaughlin, an Irish Naval officer.  Ronan has been in the area a number of times and he prepared the map below, it probably deserves an article in it’s own right as he has been keeping notes whenever he can, (off duty obviously!) He also takes his camera with him and has photographed most of the main sightings mentioned below eg


map 2


(As a complete aside, with that number of Wilson’s Petrels being seen in the area then Madeiran or White – faced is surely on the cards, and what else might be out there is purely the stuff of  imagination.  The Gulf Stream washes against the south and west coasts of Ireland having originated from Florida where it greatly assists pelagic trips from Hatteras. Check out the Seabirding Blog and dream  )


So to cut to the chase, at least some Bermuda Petrels appear to like spending time in the waters off south-western Ireland in Spring, what are the chances of seeing one?  Infinitesimally  small probably, there’s only a few hundred Cahows and a lot of Atlantic Ocean, and yet if the Atlantic Voyagers got lucky so could someone else. It’s an unfortunate accident of geography for sea birders that the edge of the continental shelf is so far from land around the UK and Ireland, it’s not easy to get there and if you don’t fancy joining the navy or crewing on a Spanish trawler then your options are limited. The whale watching trip costs £1000 per head and it’s too far out for a normal charter.  Unless someone starts drilling for oil out there then the only stable base for a scope is on a headland.

If a Bermuda Petrel is going to be seen on a seawatch off SW Ireland then the first requirement is that someone needs to be looking and by and large this rarely happens. There are virtually no spring pelagics in Ireland, and almost nobody seawatches from the extreme SW in spring any more.  Spring seawatching would have been carried out occasionally on Cape Clear up to the early 2000’s and sometimes off Dursey Island and no Cahows were noted though the population would have been even smaller back then.

Another limiting factor is the lack of suitable conditions , you just don’t get many big blows from the SW in spring. Add in the species rarity and that the nearest  record to land so far seems to be about 100 miles and it would be easy to feel pessimistic. It’s not totally hopeless though, the species has been logged covering 500 miles in a day so a 100 mile diversion on the wind to within sight of land should be no great  exertion.

The relevant seawatching points off SW Ireland – the toes of the Teddy bear as I would have been taught in school – (if that doesn’t make any sense have a look at the shape of the whole island and use your imagination) are Cape Clear, Mizen Head, Dursey Island, Valentia Island and possibly Brandon Point.

Cape and Dursey are islands, with very differing access issues. Cape is only accessible by boat, Dursey by cable car, so neither is good for an opportunistic seawatch.

      Brandon is probably too far north and sheltered and only good in a west or north west wind, though nobody seems to have seawatched from there in spring anyway according to the local birders.

So that leaves Mizen and Valentia Island. Valentia isn’t a ‘proper’ island being accessed by a bridge and has had little seawatching carried out from it, but see this post on the Kerry Birding Blog highlighting a new area’s potential


Mizen Head in west Cork has long been known as a seawatching spot.  Access is no longer possible from the lighthouse, at least not legally, but there are a number of other areas. Galley Cove on the south side of the peninsula involves a clamber over rocks, Brow Head requires a walk through fields, or there’s the car park  at the lighthouse if you like your comfort though this is very high up.  These last two seem the best bet for a Spring Bermuda or who knows even a Black – Capped Petrel seawatch.

So to summarise this speculative piece, the chances are slim though slowly improving, nobody’s really looking at the right time of year and as Niall Keogh showed, blind optimism can pay off. Future planned data logging studies will be fascinating in what they reveal, in the meantime the first big blow next Spring I know where I’ll be going, and if by some miracle I do connect, rest assured my celebrations will be every bit as muted as the Celtic Voyagers.