Thursday, 24 September 2015

Watching Balearic Shearwaters, Strumble Head

Balearic Shearwater 2
Sooty Shearwater 1
Manx Shearwater 50
Gannet 100
Kittiwakes 100s
Sandwich Tern 20

Harbour Porpoise 5

I'm starting to feel like a local here now, this was my third visit this month. I had a load of bat stuff to do late afternoon and into the evening in the area, so I had an early start this morning in order to get in some seawatching first.

I was particularly hoping for another look at some Balearic shearwaters. You know what it's like, you see a new species then read up a lot on it and learn quite a bit about it and then you know what you really need to be looking for in order to identify it. Then you want a second look in order to see all of the relavent id features that you missed first time! I wasn't disappointed today, I was the only birder present for large parts of the day, and I managed to find two Balearics which showed very well at quite close range showing all of the features that I had hoped to see. The first had chocolate brown upper parts and generally pale brown under parts, except for the dark brown armpits and undertail coverts. It's belly was clearly pale brown. I'd call it a classic Balearic shearwater, in otherwords exactly as I expected one to look. This bird was associating with a small flock of kittiwakes and for a while it landed on the sea. Thanks to the bright autumn sunlight and the sheltered location of the seawatching bunker, it was an excellent view at 60x through the telescope. It had poor demarkation on its head and neck, the darker brown on it's head and nape simply blending into the paler brown on its face and throat, unlike a typical Manxie which shows more contrast and is  starkly black on top and white below. A great individual!

The second bird was more Manxie like in its appearance, darker on top and white below. The dark armpit was not as extensive but was still there and it had the pot bellied appearance of Balearic. It also flew in a different way to Manxie but I'd be hard pressed to describe that! Perhaps more flappy and front heavy. Read the literature if you want the full description! Anyhow, nice to add the species to my self found list and within reason I'd now be quite confident in calling Balearic shearwater on a seawatch, which is what I wanted to achieve from the day.

Interesting to note that in the bright sunlight, some of the Manxies (possibly young birds?) looked quite chocolate brown above, with darker wing tips so that's a bit of a trap to watch out for in future.

The sooty shearwater was a bonus, also at quite close range, longer winged and much darker, including a dark belly. It was a  disappointingly poor day for cetaceans with no Risso's dolphins today, and it took about 4 hours to see the first harbour porpoise, but when they did appear in the tide race they were a decent view, providing good entertainment, at times almost leaping out of the water.

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