Category Archives: 04) Seabirds

Barolo Shearwater

“get on… this… small shearwater!”

the other boat

The other boat- do you know  the geezer with the wacky hat, perched next to mast and looking through bins? This was his best ever pelagic: “Never seen anything good on a pelagic” said he as we set sail.

We thought it was over all over. Late afternoon and we were only couple hours off docking back in La Graciosa. Nevertheless the sight of an ‘at sea’ Eleonora’s Falcon chasing a small bird- probably a Grey Phalarope was till startling enough. Until one Marc Hughes sat next to me released a nervous stream of words: “get on….this…. small shearwater”.

He never said “Is this a Manx”, ” Look at this funny Manx”- etc. etc. On clocking the bird- Manx Shearwater never even entered the thought process. Once again sharp-eyed Dani called it large: BAROLO! Unfamiliar blunt whirring wings/ rapidly flapping (much more so than Manx), whole different jizz, and then as it turned that open ‘white face’. Amazingly Johannes got some photos of the bird as we sped along and the bird twisted and turned. Very cool. The first Barolo Shearwater on the Lanzarote Pelagics- a species in series decline with Canaries population on verge of extinction.

Marc Hughes sat next to me on our wee yacht, knifing through blue sub-tropical seas, shares the moment (sorry ’bout the wind noise):



Barolos_Shearwater-0444Barolo Shearwater- all photos by Johannes Dag Mayer (with thanks). The photo directly above nicely shows 2 rows of white-tipped coverts ( greater and median) a key feature if you get to see or photograph them.

See more on Johannes photos on his Flickr stream >>>HERE<<<

gang on lanza

Huge thanks again to  Juan and Dani who set the whole thing up, here with my travelling companions from North Wales, Rob Sandham and Marc Hughes.


Another great wee adventure on the Lanzarote Pelagics…


Fea’s or Desertas Petrel?

by Martin G.

2nd or 3rd photographed record for Spain

One off the early highlights  on our 2 day Lanzarote Pelagic in late August 2013: a Pterodroma. I think it might also be one of the first ever seen in Canarian waters. Around mid morning after an overnight sail on our 2 ocean- going yachts we were 50 miles north around the Banco de La Concepción. I picked up a ‘different seabird’. Skinny winged and rather small but rolling/ shearing high. Already at a little distance and flying away from us I called a nervous ‘Look at This’. Dani Lopez-Velasco who knows these much better than me quickly locked on and confidently verbalised my suspicions: PTERODROMA!

Thanks to radios the guys on the other boat also got on it, and more remarkably Tony Blunden actually got some photos.

our boatsView from ‘my boat’ across to the other guys. Two 12 berth boats at sea for 44 hours. Party on!

Initial views of the Pterodroma, it looked  skinny winged and rather small and seemed to show some white in the underwing. We surmised perhaps it was a Zino’s. However Toni’s photos do capture the jizz well but amazingly show rather large bill, so a Fea’s/ Desertas seems better call. Of course these things are not easy!

Wind in our sails feels great but makes for bad sound recordings. Marc Hughes’ narrative at lunchtime of the first day gets better as you listen :)


Below- the bird in question. All photos by Tony Blunden (with thanks!)





Now That’s What I Call…

… a Seawatch!

Flamborough Head: 11th September 2013

Paving the way, seawatching off Flamborough Head in evening of  9th Sept. produced a full breach Minke Whale, followed on 10th Sept. by 10′s of Sooty Shearwater, 1 juv. Long-tailed Skua, juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and 3 Blue Fulmar. The morning of 11th looked the most promising:

Joined by regulars Phil C., Craig T., Andrews L. and A., and several visitors, I watched from 6:15 to 9:30am. The day after the strongest NW winds. Some numbers from my time:

110 Sooty Shearwaters

4 juvenile Long-tailed Skuas

2nd winter Caspian Gull (6th record for Flamborough)

2 Balearic Shearwaters

1 adult Sabine’s Gull

2 Blue Fulmar

Plus quite a few Manx Shearwater, Arctic and Great Skuas, ducks including Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Common and 1 Velvet Scoter, Tufted Duck, Red-throated Diver and Little Gull (and a wacky all-white Black-headed Gull).

2cy Caspian Flamborough 11.9.13

caspian Gull 2cy flam 11.9.13This 2nd winter Caspian Gull was a surprising bonus. Large gull regularly pass the head in front of the ‘seawatch spot’. This one caught my eye immediately. It dropped down as to look for food briefly and then flew through. Thankfully all got on it. Previous records from Flamborough include 4 juveniles (one here) and a 4th winter type (here) (thanks to Alan ‘Birdguides’ Tilmouth).

caspian gull 22nd winter Caspian Gull, Flamborough, 11 Sept. 2011

Blue Fulmar Flamb 10.9.13Blue Fulmar. Saw 5 birds- 3 on 10th and 2 on 11th Sept. This single D type (thanks Brett Richards) came close than most on 10th Sept.

sooty funny 10.9.13Sooty Shearwater. Flamborough is king when it comes to these. This odd bird on 10th Sept. has obvious paler area over the breast.

velvet and commonVelvet and Common Scoter. 11th Sept. I like to push the limits of what can be photographed on a seawatch. This Velvet Scoter was nearly ‘half way out’- which is a long way. I had to get someone to tell me when they passed a marker as I couldn’t reliably make them out through the view finder.

bonxieMoulting adult Great Skua. Modern DSLR cameras enable you to capture quiet a lot, even in murky light at long-range on a seawatch.


Casting back a week ago to Thursday 5th Sept. I took lovely daughter Abi on boat trip out of Staithes, North Yorkshire. This was part of exploratory trip with fab colleagues from Yorkshire Coast Nature. A recce. In flat calm conditions we had super views of up to 4 Minke Whale including large bull and few close seabirds, like the Sooty Shearwater below.

sooty staithes

Minke staithes

abi at staithesAbi does her ‘Titanic’ impression ;)

Red-billed Tropicbird and friends

off Lanzarote

by Martin

I am away this week with friends. This is where I will be :)

Reporting when we get back. 2 days and 2 night at sea. Not been done before. A frontier birding experience all round!

Some old posts with past highlights: here  and here .


The pioneering pelagics will be continuing off Lanzarote. I’ll be joining the guys Dani and Juan for a ‘Birding Frontiers’ special 2 day gig over 27th-28th of August.

Dani writes: “For the first time the plan is to take  2 sailing boats out to the Banco. and we will be staying overnight! That will be very exciting, as we will be able to chum in the late evening and early morning in the best areas, when there’s much more bird activity. I am really excited with it! We could probably give a couple of short lectures with photos, etc…the day before, and maybe some birding in the island the day after.”

For now I’m wowed by Juan’s photos of Red-billed Tropicbird around the harbour from which we sail… Guess I am hoping they are ‘gettable’ in August.






All photos above by Juan Sagardia, Lanzarote, May 2013

British Storm Petrel

South Landing, Flamborough

Sometime humans go all nocturnal in order to see nature that only comes out at night. Night before last (20th-21st July) was a very well organised such event. The YWT’s Living Seas Centre -where a certain lovely (so says her dad) Abigail Garner works :) – hosted the event in collaboration with the RSPB, the Yorkshire Naturalists Union and the Flamborough Bird Observatory.  Neil Glenn had joined me for a day around Flamborugh and we got treated to a feast of moths and the hoped for Storm Petrels appeared with one trapped at 12:30 am and a second bird around the nets.

Did You Know?

  • European Strom Petrel is (yes or no?) the smallest bird in world with webbed feet
  • 2 (cryptic) species in Europe (one a potential vagrant to Britain/ Ireland)
  • St. Peter and the Virgin Mary are invoked in vernacular names

Storm Petrel 1 South Landing 21.7.13

British Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus, South landing, Flamborough, 21 July 2013. Not that long ago considered to only occur in the North Sea as rare storm blown waif in the autumn, rather than the summer visitor in some numbers. The brownish coverts visible here may not be part of the plumage of Mediterranean Storm Petrel Hydrobates melitensis making this shorter billed bird with brownish wing coverts-a bird ‘showing characters’of British Storm Petrel.

Song and Calls

I had a couple of opportunities to hear and record the eerie songs and calls of British Storm Petrels on Mousa, Shetland, this spring.

Listen to singing male etc <HERE> 

(famously described as “the sound of a  fairy being sick”)

Ant and Living seas centre

Anthony Hurd, welcomes nocturnal creatures to YWT’s Living Seas Centre at South landing.

mothing at South Landing

Local keen lepidopterists lead by YNU show techniques and displayed an excellent selection of species

living seas centre

Living Seas Centre provided excellent base for viewing moths and giving presentations

andrew lassey explains petrelAndrew Lassey of Flamborough Bird Observatory gives excellent and fulsome info on European Storm Petrels, ID, aging and ringing history in the North Sea.

2 Species

British Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus

Mediterranean Storm Petrel Hydrobates melitensis

Wonderful wirte-up on Mediterranean Storm Petrel by Magnus Robb  in Petrels: Night and Day . Also more in   Flood and Fisher’s  Storm-petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel . Increasingly viewed as 2 separate, cryptic species. Mediterranean Storm Petrel has reached the Atlantic (Algarve, Portugal) and a bird ringed on Malta has reached the Netherlands, though not as a nestling it may have been a British bird which wintered in the Mediterranean (lots more in Magnus Robb’s write-up). At least those trapping birds in tape luring can bear in mind biometrics especially length and depth of the bill.

stormie 1

Bill length was carefully measured as the potential vagrant (species) the Mediterranean Storm Petrel has on average a slightly longer and deeper  bill. Anything over 12 mm could have raised the stakes. Our guy had a bill length of 11mm.

Last petrel ringing I attended 2 years ago when we saw this bird at Spurn

ant and stormie………………I think Anthony Hurd enjoys the variety that his work brings ;)

with grateful thanks to Sal Cooke, Ant Hurd, Andrew Lassey and all the other folk- involved. Also to Neil Glenn- fine day together birding the Great White Cape

Shetland Spring Birding Part 2

1/2 hour of Migrant Madness 

It was on Unst where the most favoured memory (amoung many) of the week’s holiday with Shetland Nature happened. So let’s fast forward:

Marsh Warbler at Skaw May 2013 RBMarsh Warbler at Skaw, Unst (Robbie Brookes). Part of a half hours of scarce/ rare migrant fun. below right- one of the 2 female Red-backed Shrikes that shared the same patch.

Team effort is a key element for Shetland Nature holidays, both in the group and working with Shetland residents. Tuesday afternoon, Unst resident Robbie Brookes contacted us to say he’d seen and acrocephalus Warbler at Skaw that looked interesting. Worth a check, red backed Shrike female skawwe arrived at Skaw to banks of mist rolling in on NE breeze. Woah, special conditions. We soon located a Garden Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and another bird ‘flew’ in’ to join them but remained obscured. With a little effort we were soon having great views of a spring Marsh Warbler and discussing the finer ID points. Up in the background popped  a female Red-backed Shrike. Fantastic! 2 minutes later another Red-backed Shrike, both on view at the same time. Hold on. Fog, nor’ east winds Now we’re cookin’. In the next half hour we found 6 Spotted Flycatchers and a Lesser Whitehroat. Then the icing on the cake: 2 of our guest returning from the beach said a couple of bird had been flitting about on the stream. Quick stroll down and BOOM! a Little Bunting; regular in autumn but very rare in spring. What a stunning bird and a life tick for most of the group.

Little Bunting Skaw 5

Little Bunting Skaw one

Little Bunting, Skaw, May 2013. This was like a little wee jewel feeding along the stream at Skaw. Having already seen Marsh Warbler, 2 Red-backed Shrikes and bunch of other migrants the previous half hour, this rare spring bunting (c 11 spring records ever in Shetland), brought adrenaline to a peak

Spotted Flycatcher  May 13Spotted Flycatcher- c 6 at Skaw in little rush of migrants

Garden Warbler Skaw unst May 13Garden Warbler, in same patch of Spearmint as the Marsh Warbler

Sanderling  May 13Sanderling- beautiful in fresh plumage and bound for the high arctic; one of the background birds on the beach at Skaw, Unst

Dunlin GutcherDunlin, on seaweed strewn beaches around Unst and Yell. Dunlin gave lovely breeding displays with wing-lifting and trilling calls. Both the Shetland breeding schinzii subspecies and more northerly bound ‘alpina’ were seen, the latter often with the Sanderling. This presumed shinzii was unusual in having such obviously white tips to the scapulars…

Against this peak birding moment in Unst we savoured the majestic Hermaness with oodles of  Bonxies, singing and displaying Dunlin and Golden Plover, another majestic  seabird cliff, stunning spring Snow Buntings on Hermaness and Lamba Ness, Arctic Skuas and Arctic Terns.

Here some off the Unst ‘regulars’ –  seen on most days:

Snow Bunting Sumburgh May 2013

Twite male Sumburgh June 13

Whimbrel Unst June 13

Snipe unst June 13

Arctic Skua Unst may 2013

and the Bonxie (Great Skua) show on Hermaness couldn’t fail to impress, beginning with superb views of Golden Plover:

Golden Plover Hermaness June 2013

Bonxie 2 Hermaness June 13

Bonxie 4 Hermaness June 13

Bonxie 5 Hermaness June 13

Bonxie 6 Hermaness June 13Tim Appleton get close and personal…

Bonxie Hermaness June 13

Bonxie7 Hermaness June 13

John and Bonxie hermaness


Seabird Watching Resources

Getting ready for the season

July’s around the corner. The month is synonymous with the traditional start of our seawatching season. Mega migrants and occasional vagrants will draw me out on Flamborugh head. Locally, Spurn is also now recognised as a top seawatching spot. Elsewhere there are lots of favoured spots, as well as the glories off pelagics (e.g. Lanzarote specials coming up in late August and September).

A few very helpful resources:

from Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher:

Pterodroma Petrels multimedia ID Guide



………………………………….Lots more info on the Scilly Pelagics website

Southport Pelagics report, Australia

from Paul Walbridge in Australia:

“Here is the Annual Report for Southport for 2012, our third such production and hopefully getting better with each year. It’s free to anyone who wants to read it and feel free to pass on to anyone you think would be interested. Cheers – Paul.”
Download this report jam-packed with superb photos including several iconic species full of and detailed info. Not detracting from this superb report, but for curiosity/learning, one of the birds may be mislabeled/ mis-identified. Can you spot it?

 The Petrel 2012


Desertas Petrel movements

and…Michael Hoit kindly drew attention this paper which covers winter movements, winter range and habitat preferences of the Desertas Petrel. Click on:

Access codes are required for the full article, however the distribution data and maps can be seen without access codes HERE. Interesting how far north (approaching Iceland) and how relatively close to the west coast of Ireland several birds are in the months of October and November.