Avian Bird Flu 2017/18

Avian Flu

Here is the latest advice for reporting possible incidents of avian flu.  Please report any incidents directly to DEFRA.

The virus has not yet been reported in the UK and the risk level for an incursion in wild birds remains as medium for now. However in light of the outbreaks in Europe, birders should remain vigilant for dead birds and report these where required. In England, Scotland or Wales please call the DEFRA helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

Current advice on the DEFRA website states that they require reports of any dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), gulls or birds of prey. For all other species, please only report if five or more are found in the same place.

Helpline staff will advise on whether or not they wish to collect the birds for further testing.

We are advised only to touch sick or dead birds if absolutely necessary and one must wear protective gloves if doing so.

 

If you absolutely have to handle a sick or dead bird then please observe the following:

  • Avoid touching the bird with your bare hands.
  • If disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead bird has been picked up, turn the bag back on itself and tie.
  • Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag. Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag.
  • Hands and forearms should then be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
  • If the bird is not being sent for testing, dispose of the carcass in the normal household waste. Alternatively, the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag.
  • Wash any clothing that has been in contact with the dead bird using ordinary washing detergent at the temperature normally used for washing the clothing. Clean wellington boots with detergent.
  • DO NOT bring dead or sick birds indoors or attempt euthanasia of sick birds

 

Members of the public are advised not to touch sick or dead wild birds.

Lizard Seawatching for Beginners – Saturday 4th Nov 2017

Saturday 4th November 2017 – 8am to 10am.

A stiff off-shore North-Westerly is one of the worst wind directions for the Lizard but during migration wind plays less of a factor and it is still often well worth sea watching whatever the weather. With NW winds passage however does tend to be more distant and dispersed. This did not stop a good turnout of keen attendees.

Off-shore activity was mainly in the form of small numbers of passing auks (Guillemot and Razorbill) Gannets and Kittiwake. Divers are just beginning to appear more regularly for the winter with both Red-throated and Great Northern seen. A small number of Balearic Shearwater where the only shearwaters recorded although Sooty and Manx have both been seen recently.  A few Mediterranean gulls were feeding offshore with Kittiwake flocks and two birds sat on the reef with the usual Herring Lesser and Great Black-backs. A Wigeon was another uncommon offshore observation.

A trickle of visible migration also occurred overhead, flocks of Jackdaw and Woodpigeon, small groups and individuals of Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit. Of note was a single Lapland Bunting, calling as it went over west. Also a flock of Long-tailed Tit….these are uncommon at the point, but there have been quite a few migrating flocks in the past week or so. Sometimes these can be heard well before seeing often way up in the sky, a place you don’t often see or expect them.

10 or so hardy souls braved the elements to make this event.

Tony Blunden, Nov 6th

Review of the Week – Sunday 5th November

Birding highlights and news this week.

Having mentioned last week that the total number of bird species seen last year is heading for an all-time record, it was perhaps inevitable that no new species were recorded in the county this week, the longest period with no new additions since mid August. However, there was plenty of interest in the county, with several good new birds appearing.

The only BBRC rarity this week (but a big one) was the presumed returning Pacific Diver in Mounts Bay for its 11th season (with odd gaps), a welcome winter sign for Paul St Pierre on the 4th. Otherwise an unconfirmed report of an American Cuckoo sp. at Penberth on the 2nd would certainly have been bird of the week if proven to be at the time.

The White-rumped Sandpiper at St Gothian LNR, a good find last week by Mike Spicer, continued to show well for the first half of the week until Thursday at least. Two further Olive-backed Pipits were seen – one at Mousehole on the 31st  the other at Trevose Head in flight on the 3rd November, potentially the 15th and 16th records for the county.

A Hoopoe was seen and heard in woodland at Helford on the 1st. A juvenile Rose-coloured Starling was showing rather well in gardens at Treen, with another report in Penzance. A Common Rosefinch was at Pendeen, Siberian Chiffchaff and a Serin on the Lizard, further Richard Pipits, and a Red-breasted Flycatcher was at Kenidjack.

The week was a good week for egrets, with 4 Great White Egret in flight at Carn Glose on the 1st and 5 Cattle Egret at Gwithian on the 31st, with 12 at Devoran from the 3rd, with singles elsewhere. Other Great White Egrets were scattered throughout the week at other locations, and there was also a notable influx of 19 Little Egret into Marazion midweek. The Glossy Ibis was again seen, and Spoonbill numbers remained good.

An American Golden Plover over Constantine was perhaps unexpected for the observer, with the reported Hooded Crow in the west perhaps being the long-staying Hooded/Carrion Crow hybrid.

Two Surf Scoter were off Penberth on the 5th – seemingly an adult and 1stw female, bringing the total this year to 3 after a fly-by back on October 3rd past Pendeen.

A Sabine’s Gull was noted past St Ives, and 5 Balearic Shearwater on the ‘Introduction to Seawatching’ event on the Lizard (along with a Lapland Bunting in flight). Otherwise the buildup in winter seabirds remains slow. A Caspian Gull was noted at Colliford.

The 2 Snow Goose of unknown origin (ie, not thought to be genuine wild birds from Nearctic regions) were again seen in the east of the county, with a couple of White-fronted Goose (both the Greenland, and the rarer in Cornwall, European subspecies) and a Pink-footed Goose.

There were still a few reports of traditional summer birds – a few reports of Swallow, with singles of House Martin, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtails and Turtle Dove. At least some of which had presumably travelled from the eastern part of their range rather than being lingering British individuals.

The change in the seasons continued, with new arrivals including a noticeable upturn in Blackcap, with other birds such as Woodcock and other winter visitors arriving. Hawfinches continued to be seen at a number of locations, with over 32 reported. 13+ Yellow-browed Warbler reports were received in comparison. Visible migration continued to be good in the first half of the week, with 10,030 Woodpigeon and 134 Stock Dove at Sancreed notable, and good numbers of Fieldfare also seen.

The first Bittern of the season was seen at Marazion Marsh, a Goosander was at Drift Reservoir, and 13 Black-necked Grebe were noted at the traditional wintering site of the Carrick Roads. Hen and Marsh Harriers, Merlins, Water Pipits and the inexorable increase in Black Redstarts continued and mostly complete the picture in the continuing change of the seasons.

The big news announcement this week within the society is the introduction of a Student Membership, for active students and young persons up to the age of 23. This will be with a reduced membership rate, and will include a hard copy of BiC for the relevant year, with a digital subscription to the Palores magazine. Hopefully this will broaden and increase our membership base within the county, and encourage the younger generation to both take up the hobby and actively participate in conserving our county’s birdlife. Please see the membership pages for further information, or email membership@cbwps.org.uk

One small change on the website is a page dedicated to images and sightings of garden birds in the county. This will hopefully serve a number of purposes, including encouraging the monitoring of our garden birds and more people to submit records. Cornwall Birds – Garden Bird Sightings Photo page

Hopefully we will be able to provide some update on the progress of rarity submissions for 2015 and 2016 within the county soon – please note that rarity submission forms for both National and County rarities are available in the right hand menu bar on the main website pages.

Now is also the time to send in any artwork for the County Report (Birds in Cornwall – BiC 2015/16) – images can be in any style/medium which will publish well and fits in with the general styling of the report, of specific individual county or nationally rare/scarce birds seen or of generalised bird species which can be encountered in Cornwall.

Finally, the other big news item this week is that our Publicity Officer, Beth Heasman (who will also be taking on the role of Walks and Events Secretary in the near future) is now no longer Beth Heasman – Congratulations on her marriage to Greg Cross at the weekend!

Dan Chaney, 06/11

 

 

 

Review of the Week – Sunday 30th October

Review of the Week Monday 23rd – Sunday 29th October/ Weekly catch up

White-rumped Sandpiper, M Ahmed

Following on from attempts to write a regular weekly review earlier in the year (ill-fated – it was too time-consuming to produce that depth of information on a weekly basis from scratch) the plan is to write a briefer weekly ‘editorial’, highlighting new or interesting birds in the county (both rarities and changes in the commoner birds), along with any other information or comment which needs to be passed along or that seems interesting enough.

 

New birds this week centred on a rather obliging White-rumped Sandpiper at St Gothian Sands LNR, Gwithian – the first in the county since 3 together on the Hayle in November 2013 (with 2 others earlier in that autumn) and the 23rd White-rumped Sandpiper overall for the county. This cracking little bird has been showing very well, and certainly proving a popular draw for local as well as visiting birders. It’s been a fair autumn for American vagrants, this being the 8th yank shorebird of the year (if the Hudsonian Whimbrel from earlier in the year is included), but not touching on the epic year of 2011 quite yet (the reservoirs having underperformed this year – high water levels presumably playing a part.)

The other main birding event this week seems to be the national influx of Hawfinches really having kicked off in Cornwall as the week has progressed, with overflying birds, small groups and flocks at a number of locations. A notable (description required) county bird, with only c180 previous records, the last major national influx was reported as being in 1978, when 8 reached the county (with good numbers on the Scillies too). Since then there have been notable occurences of Hawfinch in Cornwall in 1988 and 1993 (high single figures) with 18 in 2005 and then 19 in 2008. Almost half of the previous records were recorded in the month of October.

It seems that at least 87 have been seen in the county so far this week although a large proportion do seem to have been flyovers at one site.

Although temperatures haven’t really dropped yet, autumn has really kicked off with the first big influxes of winter thrushes – as with the Hawfinches, most of the big numbers were seen on visible migration (viz mig), with 2252 Redwing recorded from the university at Penryn on the 27th, with a scattering of other species seen, such as the first Fieldfares, Brambling and Siskin, and large Woodpigeon flocks passing through on their way, presumably, to wintering grounds in south western Europe.

The other new birds recorded in Cornwall for the year were Olive-backed Pipit on the Lizard and a Radde’s Warbler at Nanjizal – both good quality eastern vagrants, the former the first since 2014 and the 14th for the county, the latter the 17 or 18th, with birds in 2014 and 2015. There was an unconfirmed report of a Twite from the beach at Chapel Porth – quite the rarity in Cornwall, with only 10 previous records (some of multiple birds), and without further information perhaps seems an unlikely occurence, with the last accepted record being back in 1988.

A Red-throated Pipit was the only BBRC rarity reported this week, with one briefy at Lower Bosisto. Good scarcities and county rarities included Ortolan (1 or 2 overflying Cape Cornwall), Common Rosefinch and 2 blythi Lesser Whitethroats at Nanjizal, up to 3 Richard’s Pipits and the Short-toed Lark near Porthgwarra and a couple of Wryneck in the far west of the county. Moving slightly east there was a juv Rose-coloured Starling at Marazion Marsh (along with a leucistic Starling), and there was an American Golden Plover over Lizard Village. The Red-breasted Flycatcher was still at Rame Head at the beginning of the week, and a Glossy Ibis was at Chapel Amble. The Ring-necked Duck from last week continued to show at Dozmary, with a Long-tailed Duck and a female Scaup discovered in the vicinity on the 25th – both good birds anywhere in Cornwall. Two Quail on the Lizard were an unusual late record.

Finishing off the scarcer birds, a couple of Spoonbill continued to show well and a mobile Great White Egret was seen in the west of the county. The Purple Heron was not reported, and no Cattle Egrets either.

A few Swallows continued to be reported, with Wheatears, a single House Martin and a late Common Redstart the remnants of summer perhaps. The Firecrest invasion seems to have slown down marginally, but still plenty of birds about, with 9 at Maenporth on the 26th, and Yellow-browed Warblers perhaps starting to settle slightly too.

Following on from the first Whooper Swan of the year last week, the corpse of an adult Whooper Swan was found on the tide line at Gwithian, with live birds also seen elsewhere.

 

Those who follow us on twitter (@cbwps1, or viewable from the link to the right, heaven forbid) should have picked up that the number of species recorded in the county has broken through the 290 barrier for the year so far. It looks as if we are set to experience a record-breaking year in the county, with the previous best having been 2011 when 293 species were recorded in the county. If the various birds which have been reported (and are as yet unconfirmed) are included, the number is already fast approaching 300 – see here for the current county yearlist on the website.

With 16 new additions already for October, what will November bring? Are there even any possible new additions left?!

The autumn Palores magazine is now out – all members should have received their copy by now.  Don’t forget that if you subscribe to the digital (paperless) copy this will save the society a considerable sum in publishing and postage costs – some hundreds of our members already do so. Please consider if you haven’t done so already.

Lastly, as per the daily sightings page, you will have noted that there are a number of rare birds (both national and at county level) which were seen in the county for which no description has yet been submitted. Please check through – it would be a real shame if some of these quality birds remain unsubstantiated and fail to make BiC (Birds in Cornwall) or the county record. If you require help or assistance please contact the county recorder recorder@cbwps.org.uk

As usual, if you have any comments or suggestions please email webmaster@cbwps.org.uk  or bird-news@cbwps.org.uk

Dan Chaney, 29/10/17

Incomplete County Rarities 2015

2015 Incomplete Records: requiring further information

Work has begun on Birds in Cornwall 2015-16, beginning with a review of all records where a description is required. There are many records of birds requiring a description either for BBRC or at county level where more information is needed, ideally from the finder. Many are unattributed sightings (sometimes of well-watched birds) where a named observer for the dates given below would be very helpful.

As they stand, these records cannot be included in the report, which would be disappointing. So, rather than wait until the report is published with these records only appearing in the Incomplete Records Appendix, we are hoping that putting them up on the CBWPS website now jogs a few memories and leads to some of them at least being accepted. and joining the county record.

Please have a read through the records below and if you can provide any supporting details for the sightings on the dates specified please send them to the Recorder (recorder@cbwps.org.uk) as soon as possible. Accepted records will then appear in the Systematic List of Birds in Cornwall 2015-16.

BBRC rarities – Description species

AMERICAN HERRING GULL
Drift Reservoir: 2w on 16/3/15 and 6/4/15
Hayle Estuary: 2w present from 2/2/15 – 19/2/15 and 1w on 24/12/15
Newlyn/Mousehole: 3w 14/2/15 and 29/12/15. Also 1w 29/12/15
Penzance: 3w 20/12/15 and 28/12/15
Sancreed: One 20/4/15
Jericho Farm, St Just: 2w from 20/3/15 – 1/5/15 and 3w 4/11/15 – 9/12/15. Also 1w 23/3/15

BLACK STORK
Wadebridge: One over on 17/8/15
Hayle: One on 12/8/15
Polwheveral Creek: One 7/6/15
Liskeard: One 9/6/15
Ventongimps: One 9/6/15
Redruth: One 9/6/15

BLACK-HEADED BUNTING
Nanjizal: 1w on 8/8/15

BLYTH’S PIPIT
Nanjizal: One on 31/10/15

DARK-EYED JUNCO
Treen, Porthcurno: Ad male 13/6/15

HUME’S WARBLER
Hayle Estuary: One on 16/12/15

LITTLE BITTERN
Nanjizal: Male on 21/5/15
St Buryan: Found dead on 12/5/15

MACARONESIAN SHEARWATER
Porthgwarra: One on 25/8/15

MARSH SANDPIPER
Nanjizal: One 9/10/15

PACIFIC DIVER
Pendower Beach: One on 1/2/15 and 21/2/15.
Mount’s Bay: One on 27/2/15, 18/3/15, 21/3/15 and 23/3/15

PALLID SWIFT
Land’s End: One on 11/1/15

SCOPS OWL
Wadebridge: One on 19/9/15 and 20/9/15

SQUACCO HERON
Nanjizal: One on 26/5/15

SUBALPINE WARBLER (EASTERN)
This record is accepted as Subalpine Warbler (Eastern/Western/Moltoni’s). BBRC requires a description in order to assign to race.
Nanjizal: One on 20/4/15

SUBALPINE WARBLER (WESTERN)
All these records are accepted as Subalpine Warbler (Eastern/Western/Moltoni’s). BBRC requires a description in order to assign to race.
Caerthillian/Kynance: Possibly as many as three 13/4/15 – 16/4/15

WESTERN BONELLI’S WARBLER
Porthgwarra: One on 17/8/15

WHITE’S THRUSH
Porthgwarra: One on 19/10/15

YELKOUAN SHEARWATER
Porthgwarra: One on 25/8/15

COUNTY ADescription species

BLACK KITE
Hayle Estuary: One on 8/4/15, 18/4/15, 28/5/15, and 10/7/15
Pendeen: One on 19/4/15
Polgigga: One on 15/5/15
Penberth: One on 27/4/15

CASPIAN GULL
Hayle Estuary: One 19/3/15
Rumps Point: 1w on 9/11/15

CHIFFCHAFF (Siberian – tristis)
Lizard Village/Kynance: One on 7/10/15
Marazion Marsh: 15 on 17/12/15 and one on 24/12/15
Newlyn Sandy Cove: One on 7/1/15 – 10/1/15 and 7/11/15 – 8/11/15
Ponsanooth Sewage Works: Two on 3/3/15 and one 6/3/15
Brew Pool: One 19/4/15 – 20/4/15
Kendijack Sewage Works: One 2/12/15 and 31/12/15

GREAT WHITE EGRET
Tresemple Pool: One on 8/3/15
Hayle Estuary: Two on 7/9/15 and one 8/9/15
Marazion Marsh: One on 28/4/15
Plain-an-Gwarry: One over on 29/6/15
Wacker Quay: One on 5/1/15

HONEY BUZZARD
Drift Reservoir: One on 1/6/15
St Ives: One on 7/8/15
St Just: One on 21/9/15

ICELAND GULL (Kumlien’s)
Helston: One on 28/2/15

LESSER SCAUP
Siblyback Reservoir: One on 6/2/15

LONG-TAILED SKUA
Lizard Point: One on 30/5/15
Pendeen Watch: One on 23/9/15, 7/10/15, and 13/11/15
Porthgwarra: One on 26/8/15

OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT
Land’s End: One 29/10/15
Nanjizal: One 2/10/15 and 9/10/15

PALLAS’S WARBLER
Nancenoy: One on 17/10/15
Newlyn: One on 1/12/15
Pendeen Watch: One on 13/10/15

RADDE’S WARBLER
Kenidjack: One on 17/10/15

SUBALPINE WARBLER
Porth Joke: One on 14/4/15
Kenidjack: One on 25/4/15

TWITE
Caradon HIll: Three on 25/7/15
Towan Head: Nine on 18/11/15

WHITE-BILLED DIVER
Rosemullion Head: 3 miles offshore 17/4/15

YELLOW WAGTAIL (Blue-headed)
Higher Bosistow: Two 19/4/15
Raftra Farm: One 19/4/15
St Just: One 19/4/15

COUNTY B – Description species, or 3 named observers

BARRED WARBLER
Cot Valley: One on 20/10/15

BEE-EATER
Land’s End: One on 27/5/15, and 3/6/15

BEWICK’S SWAN
Dinham Flats: One 29/12/15

BLACK GUILLEMOT
Porth Joke: One on 18/1/15

CIRL BUNTING
St Gennys: Four on 7/8/15

CRANE
Nanjizal: One on 7/5/15

GOLDEN ORIOLE
Wadebridge: One on 12/5/15
Land’s End: One on 17/5/15
Penlee Point: One on 26/4/15
Redruth: One on 10/6/15

HAWFINCH
Newlyn Sandy Cove: One on 12/5/15

LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER
St Breward: One on 25/7/15
Golitha Falls: One on 2/1/15
SX3569 Callington: One on 21/5/15

LITTLE BUNTING
Gulval: One on 24/3/15, 25/3/15, and 27/3/15
Lizard Point: One on 11/10/15

LONG-EARED OWL
Porthgwarra: One on 1/11/15

MELODIOUS WARBLER
Sennen: One on 21/9/15

NIGHTINGALE
Rame Head: One on 5/9/15

ORTOLAN BUNTING
Pendeen: One on 8/9/15

PURPLE HERON
St Levan: One 21/3/15
Nanquidno: One 9/4/15

RED-BACKED SHRIKE
Old Lizard Head: One on 11/9/15

RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER
Rame Head: One on 9/10/15

RED-RUMPED SWALLOW
Porthcurno: One on 27/9/15

RING-BILLED GULL
Padstow: One on 27/8/15
Drift Reservoir: One on 9/2/15
Millbrook Lake: One on 6/3/15

ROSE-COLOURED STARLING
Sennen: One 14/10/15

SABINE’S GULL
At Sea: Penzance to Wolf Rock: One 10/8/15

SERIN
Nanquidno: One on 1/11/15

SMEW
Siblyback Reservoir: One on 24/12/15

TEMMINCK’S STINT
Marazion Marsh: One on 16/3/15

TREE SPARROW
Land’s End: Three 18/6/15
Penzance: One 15/6/15
Boswiddle: Five 19/2/15

WOOD WARBLER
Nanjizal Valley: One on 19/4/15
Caradon Hill: One on 16/7/15

WOODCHAT SHRIKE
Gwennap Head: One on 31/3/15

 

Downloadable Rarity/Scarcity forms can be found on the taskbar on the righthand side of the main Website Sightings page.

We will be publishing extra information on submission of county rarities in due course.

Thankyou, BiC editors and County Bird News team.

Seawatching – Summer 2017

Seawatching summer 2017

This summer has been notable for a number of interesting seabird occurrences.

In his article in The New York Times July 14th 2017 entitled ‘A mystery of seabirds blown off course and starving’, Joe Trezza describes the mass stranding of “hundreds” of Great Shearwaters washed ashore during June, all “emaciated” and in very poor condition. This mass mortality event which occurred along the stretch of coast from New Your City south to Cape May was described as “extraordinary for the region” and those collecting the dead and dying birds concluded they had starved. It was thought that a lack of food in the Caribbean was the main cause rather than the waters adjacent to the beaches around New York. There had been no strong winds associated with their arrival so it seemed logical to assume the problem of food shortage lay further south.

Great Shearwaters breed on islands in the South Atlantic between September – April with the nearest to us in the Tristan da Cunha group, 1700 miles west of Cape Town, South Africa. After breeding, they undertake an annual transequatorial migration which takes them initially to the eastern seaboard of the USA up to Newfoundland and beyond, after which they track east across the North Atlantic to northern UK and Irish waters. Numbers here fluctuate yearly but we normally expect to see them in August/September although a few are recorded in July most years. The ‘Birds in Cornwall’ 2004 annual report tabulates the monthly summaries by year 1958 – 2004 and show only two years (1972 and 1999) with June occurrences. In contrast, this year one was seen from a pelagic off The Mermaid in Mount’s Bay 21st June with it or another off Porthgwarra next day, then one off Lizard Point 23rd June, followed by three off there 24th June…this was the start of a large influx into our waters and by July it was clear there were huge gatherings being seen off the south coast from Lizard to Scilly. Seawatchers on the north coast fared less well and even on strong northerlies, there were few being recorded; this seemed to be a south coast phenomenon.

Although a high count of 550 was recorded on one particular pelagic off Scilly (13th August), it hasn’t been the numbers involved that has been outstanding, but so much as  the regularity with which they have been seen. I can’t remember a time when Great Shearwaters could be almost guaranteed on a seawatch at Porthgwarra for example on a daily basis; it’s almost as if they have set up residence here!

So what are they doing here and why have they stayed? The answer to the first part of this question may lie with those off the eastern seaboard of the States. Could it be they became caught up in weather systems crossing the Atlantic in June and July and too weak to fight against them, simply got carried here? We have been told by the Met Office that the “bad weather” experienced in the UK this summer has been brought about by the jet stream “lying further south than usual”. It is of course the position of the jet stream that steers and develops our weather systems. Maybe this year the birds took a short cut instead of heading north to Newfoundland!

The second part of this question, ‘Why have they stayed?’ may be easier to answer: food availability. For example, on that Scilly pelagic, 13th August, in addition to the 550 Greats were 1200+ Cory’s, dolphins, 5 Minke Whales and 100 Atlantic Bluefin Tuna – all feeding on a fish food bonanza. All summer we have witnessed thousands of Manx Shearwaters and hundreds of Gannets in what birders have described as “feeding frenzies”. I’ve been seawatching for 51 years but I can’t recall a time like this – with so many rafts of Manx feeding in scattered groups, some hundreds strong for as far as the telescope can see and for days on end. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are rare (I saw my first ever only last year off Pendeen) but this year I’ve seen them most weeks – and my first Minke and Fin Whales too, three of the latter in one day! Common Dolphins really have lived up to their name this summer and Harbour Porpoise, Bottle-nosed and Risso’s Dolphins have also been regular.

What are they feeding on? I put this question to Terry George (of the Sennen Cove fishing community and webmaster of the bird news website http://www.sennen-cove.com/birds.htm) who commented as follows: “Certainly all the Pollack and mackerel are full of small sprat. There are massive feed ‘marks’ on the fish-finders offshore. I see they had some mackerel at Penberth right in against the cliff (they have never caught mackerel in so tight) and again the thinking was that they were chasing sprats…I suspect hundreds of thousands of tons of sprat out there!” This agrees with other fishermen I have asked who have seen “huge numbers of sprat” being chased in Penzance harbour and Lamorna Cove by mackerel recently. On seawatches, it is clear from the feeding behaviour of Gannets diving into pods of dolphins that there must be huge shoals of fish out there and the surface-feeding antics of the shearwaters and dolphins themselves suggest they are taking small sprat concentrated in/on the surface waters – perhaps pushed there by the predatory mackerel, dolphin and tuna.

In relation to the presence and distribution of surface food, the following two observations are of interest. Firstly, on 20th August Reuben Veal watched a Black-tailed Godwit feeding over the sea at Mount’s Bay amongst a flock of Manx Shearwaters: “The godwit was picking something off the water and flying back up again on repeat for at least 3 minutes before I left.”! Secondly, the extent of this food bonanza may be more widespread than Cornwall observers appreciate if the following account by Martin Cade on 22nd August at Portland Bill is relevant: “…some very promising-looking gatherings of hundreds of gulls attracted to bait fish shoals.

So a good amount of feed must help explain why all these birds, dolphins, whales and tuna are here and why they are staying so long.

What of other species, for example eg. Wilson’s Petrel? This has been an unprecedented year for Wilson’s Petrel. No fewer than 90 were seen in one week in UK and Irish waters! They have been a constant throughout the same period with birds not only being seen on pelagic trips out of Scilly but also out of Falmouth and Penzance this year – even those of us watching from the mainland at Mevagissey, Lizard Point, Mousehole and Porthgwarra have struck lucky. Okay so With more than 50 million pairs breeding around the Antarctic, they have been described as ‘one of the commonest birds in the world’, and are almost certainly the most numerous breeding seabird.and t They do have a northward migration into the North Atlantic each year, but they are still a very rare bird in our waters.

There may be other factors at play here such as ocean temperature, nutrient and plankton concentrations as these are surface-feeders which rely on a different food supply to the above. This is a harder question to answer but perhaps the postulated change in the North Atlantic Drift, (our branch of the Gulf Stream with some suggesting it has slowed, moved north, cooled and may even switch off altogether) and temperature drop in the northern part of the North Atlantic – in contrast to rising ocean temperatures globally – due to ice melt in the arctic may have something to do with it. Are the record levels of melting polar ice affecting salinity, temperature, nutrient and plankton concentrations and hence food supplies for such species? These are also factors quoted in relation to the presence of Ocean Sunfish which have also been a feature of our summer. It’s complicated!

Whatever is responsible for these changes and abundance of seabirds, whales, dolphins, tuna and the like, there has never been a more exciting time to go seawatching in Cornwall.

Dave Flumm. Sancreed 27th August 2017.

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?