Seabirds update 12th August 2017

Interesting Seabird Records

We’re sure folk are wondering what is up with some of these unprecedented seabird records in the south west over the last month or so. Dave Flumm sent us the following link which he had been alerted to: Great Shearwater deaths in NY region, with hundreds of dead or dying emaciated birds appearing on the eastern US seaboard in an unprecedented wreck of this species in late June/early July this year.

Given that Great Shearwaters undergo a big loop migration after breeding up the US coast, across the North Atlantic below Iceland and down the west coast of Europe through the Western Approaches and back south again, it could well be that this years early good numbers are directly or indirectly related to poor feeding conditions earlier – birds moved on quickly until they reached good feeding areas, or perhaps that they were physically in such poor condition that they were pushed directly here. Or perhaps it is totally unrelated, but with all things oceanic being interlinked, and unknown factors at play including pollution and climate change it must be considered.

The biggest story this year, however, is the number of Wilson’s Petrels seen, with examples including 20 on a Scilly pelagic, 56 on one off Southern Ireland, and over 30 so far this year from mainland Cornwall (20+ in July with only 2 previous accepted records for that month ever), all being completely unprecedented.

It seems that Wilson’s Petrels are in considerably lower than normal numbers off the US East Coast this year, according to some sources – could the same be happening as with the Great Shearwaters, and this be the cause of our unprecedented numbers? Or have they come up from the southern oceans and reached our shores due to other reasons?

Other factors do seem to be at play perhaps – with a reported unseasonal drop in sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Biscay and slightly higher than average sea temperatures in the Western Approaches. If both are true, could birds such as the good numbers of Cory’s Shearwater and some of the mega rare seabirds reported (possibles and probables in most cases, such as Bulwer’s and Bermuda Petrel, White-bellied Storm Petrel along with Barolo Shearwater and Fea’s Petrel (seen well, with same or another off Berry Head, Devon earlier in the season) have moved up further north than usual, ready to be seen off the Cornwall coastline as soon as a brief blow from the west arrives?

In the first big seawatches of the season The Lizard performed well along with Berry Head in Devon having its 3rd and 4th highest counts of Cory’s and Great Shearwater ever. The large shears off Cornwall have not been seen in record numbers so far this year – it has been a very good early start but the big numbers are usually from now on into September when record-breaking counts into the thousands have been recorded passing by; Cory’s with 3000 on the 5th September 1998 and Great Shearwater with 1950 on the 17th August 1999.

That the situation is confused can be seen by the recent 5th August Common Scoter record of 548 beating the previous best of 521, recorded on the 29th June 1991 – again should these birds have been further south at this time, or is there some other reason for passing through then?

A good number of weather fronts have passed through this summer (to the chagrin of some holidaymakers and beach lovers of course) which has led to some excellent seawatching – the birds don’t just have to be out there in the general area – they have to be brought closer ashore too.

Finally, the Scilly pelagics continue to bring excitement to those going slightly further afield – with the apparent highlight of 20+ years of pelagics being not the 20+ Wilson’s mentioned but a 5 Shearwater species feeding frenzy acompanying Blue-fin Tuna, akin to something only normally encountered in the Southern Oceans – The Ultimate Scilly Pelagic

The interesting part is that we are still only in the early part of the season. Will it continue, and what else is just around the corner?

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