I’ve never really been a big fan of seawatching, given some bad experiences in the early 80s, primarily down to poor optics, sand, spray, poor preparation and the bad attitude of some other local birders; it almost put me off for life! But, I’d been nagging WWT colleagues Paul Marshall (Marshy) and Martin McGill to give me a shout if they were planning a Cornish seawatch. On Thursday things started to come together given the predicted strong westerlies. I spoke to Martin and he said a decision would be made by Friday dinner. A text from Martin on Friday afternoon, “let’s do it”, was probably influenced by Mark Thomas (a former RSPB colleague of mine) finding a Fea’s Petrel at Pendeen! So I set off Friday evening and stayed with Martin in Whitminster (Glos). We headed off in Martin’s Previa at 4a.m. picking up Paul, Richard, Colin, Jean and Ruth in Whitminster.The weather on the way was pretty grim and we arrived at Marazion marsh at 7.15a.m to look for a Spotted Crake that some of the car were keen to see. Despite the torrential rain excellent and prolonged views were enjoyed (see below).
We arrived at Pendeen lighthouse at 8 a.m. and Mark was there (had he slept there?...), along with Marshy and twenty or so hardy souls, who had already seen an impressive array of seabirds. We immediately saw Ravens and a Peregrine, and the seabird action got going straight away; a couple of Balearic Shearwaters picked out amongst numerous travelling Manx Shearwaters (these were a feature all day, drifting through in regular pulses). Gannets were also a feature and an often useful guide to pinpointing other seabirds that were being called out. A few Great Skuas and Arctic Skuas passed through, giving decent views and eventually a couple of large shearwaters were seen and identified as Greats, I didn’t see them despite my best efforts. Eventually torrential rain forced Martin, some of our group and I to seek shelter against the side wall of the lighthouse.
The wall proved to be an effective barrier to the worst of the weather and the birds kept on coming, with a couple of Cory’s Shearwaters, a Great Shearwater, and four Sooty Shearwaters eventually seen cruising past; I’d missed others of all of these scarce species earlier in the day, so I was very happy with my haul! A juvenile Long-tailed Skua that suddenly appeared and was unidentified disappeared beneath the cliff top and reappeared 100 metres to the left to cries of “it’s a Long-tailed “(barred under-tail, little white in the wings and blunt central tail feather tips) , a nice bonus bird. The birds were fantastic but it was also great to experience some of the Atlantic’s other biodiversity with several Ocean Sunfish and two Harbour Porpoises on show ,and up to six (including three feeding together) Basking Sharks cruising around the channel between Pendeen watch and the Wra all day. The Basking Sharks really were spectacular, worth the journeey and effort just to see those, nevermind the superb seawatching. My totals for the day (8a.m. – 3p.m.) were;Common Scoter 9, Great Shearwater 1, Cory’s Shearwater 2, Sooty Shearwater 4, Balearic Shearwater 8, Manx Shearwater c.800, Fulmar c.150, Shag c.35, Whimbrel 8, Dunlin 7, Ringed Plover 4, Oystercatcher 5, Kittiwake 4, Sandwich Tern 6, Gannet c.950, Great Skua 6, Arctic Skua 14, Long-tailed Skua 1 (juv), Harbour Porposie 2, Ocean Sunfish 4, Basking Shark 6.
A really enjoyable, if very long, and often very wet day ( we got back to Whitminster at about 7.45p.m.). All credit to Martin for driving and to all the other seawatchers (especially Marshy) for calling out passing birds.
Intrepid or barking mad?
The Wra (or Three Stone Oar). Most seabirds pass behind here - a really useful reference point.
One of the six Basking Sharks on show (photo MJM)
Your's truly erasing 30 years of seawatching pain (photo MJM)
Spotted Crake showing well in the rain at Marazion marsh (photo MJM)