Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Seawatching Unsuccessfully

16th May 2009 is a date that has always stuck with me - it remains the most gripped I have ever been by missing a patch bird. Ian Mc was watching a decent passage of Manxies from Beer when out of nowhere a Cory's Shearwater came gliding through with them!  We soon learnt this bird was first seen in Chesil Cove (by Brett) and later Exmouth - so was just one random bird that had got mixed up with the usual Manxies. So gripping, and a first for the patch.

Well I have been gripped again - big time!  

From early last week it was pretty clear Birdfair weekend was going to be a good one for birding, finally a decent Atlantic blow was coming in and I was going to completely miss it.  Despite seeing plenty abroad, I am yet to see Cory's in the UK - the last couple of years I've been desperate to get down to PG but the weather and the timing of the fronts just haven't been kind to me. On Saturday I was expecting to be miss a decent passage of these brutes at PG, but had no idea I was going to miss several seen from Seaton! Large Shearwaters are just SO rare this far into Lyme Bay and this far up the English Channel, so to hear of groups of four and a count of up to 12 is just so mind boggling! And devastating.

Even local photographer Tim White who is a complete newbie to sea watching rocked up and saw two, one of which passed by just a couple of hundred meters offshore! This is probably closer than any Shearwater I've ever seen in 12 years of sea watching here!!!

It wasn't just me that missed out mind. Bun was even further away, in Mexico! James Mc spent a lot of time sea watching on Saturday from Lyme and Seaton, but missed the lot. Dan J who is a very keen sea watching in Sidmouth didn't get a whiff of a large Shearwater despite several watches during the day. And poor Tim Wright, he was sea watching from the thatched shelter when both of Tim White's birds went through, but came away with nothing. It was a bad day for quite a few of us! 

What was odd is how they were behaving, not passing by here and then being seen off other sites to the west of us, they were just here!   It was clearly a small group of displaced feeding birds that probably spent most of their time just over the horizon, but now and then circled into and then out of Seaton Bay. Although 12 were counted, I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number of birds was lower, possibly 6-8 maybe? A big well done though to Brendan Sheils who saw the first two on Friday evening, and then the Chard boys who picked up the numbers on Saturday morning, if it wasn't for them this phenomenal event would have probably gone by completely undetected! 

I did try, despite a 17 hour day on Saturday (including eight hours of driving!), I got myself up at 05:30 on Sunday and sea watched 05:50 - 08:30, and again 17:00-19:00. I didn't see any large Shears, but did see;

1 Common Scoter
7 Balearic Shearwater 
95+ Manx Shearwater
11 Kittiwake (mostly juvs)
1 Sandwich Tern
1 Ringed Plover
1 Dunlin

Not a bad Seaton haul really, but very unsatisfactory given the circumstances.

Looking at the forecast, looks like my UK Cory's chance is blown for another year, and probably another 15 years for the patch!!!  Thursday is looking interesting though with a chance of a passerine fall and maybe some more waders?  On the sunny days this week, Osprey has got to be a good bet, most juveniles have now left their nests now with the adults well on their way south already.


  1. Brendan's views and one of Dave's was close too apparently and closer still off Charmouth.
    Tim Wright was unfortunate - one of the birds I saw was shortly after he left the afternoon session and the other was a fair bit later (he'd gone home on the bus so he wasn't there at the same time). He came back again shortly after 6pm. Birds were seen by more than one birder too :)

  2. Oh right - well he still lucked out the poor sod!

    So so jammy of you though! I mean, have you ever seen any other species of Shearwaters other than Manx? You ever seen a Skua of any sorts? Storm Petrel? Any of other scarce seabirds like Sabine's, Leach's P, Little Auk, etc? Most birders seen tons of these before even getting a chance of Cory's! Shows you live in an excellent spot!

  3. Very jammy indeed! Seen Manx and unconvincing views of Balearic so need that too. Missed the Seaton Hole Storm Petrel a few years back and haven't had any (patch) skuas. Your Sabine's was one I particularly regret not being into sea watching for - really smart bird!

  4. Blimey! Well not a surprise really, photographers generally don't like seabirds (unless on a res!). Seaton isn't a good place to 'get to grips' with seabirds because we don't get many and they are usually far away. Portland and Berry Head, then Dawlish for terns is where I would suggest you go to get your eye in. But really study them, sea birds vary how they look with distance/weather/light/age many factors! Have had two Sabine's here now, both right up the top of the list of my best patch birds - but I do like gulls and seabirds so it's no surprise!

  5. Yeah Tim Wright suggested trying Cornwall and also abroad to get really decent views of a variety of species. I fancy doing a Scilly Pelagic sometime to get to grips with them. Another weird order of sightings is that I saw Solitary before Wood or Curlew Sand; didn't know it was here so it was a complete fluke that I happened to visit that day. That was before I started birding on the Axe though; only really checked around the Coly area back then.

  6. Taken me 30 years to see one in britain never thought it would be off Seaton . Always seems to be good seawatching when the birdfair is on .Deepest sympathy missing a gold patchtick, all us patchworkers know the feeling,

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  8. No idea why my comment appeared twice so I deleted it. Extra odd as I was out the house ha!

  9. Very jammy indeed! Seen Manx and unconvincing views of Balearic so need that too. Missed the Seaton Hole Storm Petrel a few years back and haven't had any (patch) skuas. Your Sabine's was one I particularly regret not being into sea watching for - really smart bird!