Saturday, 4 July 2020

Balearic Shearwater Passage

Although it's been a busy week for me, there is no way I could have ignored the sea considering the weather and last weeks bumper Balearic Shearwater passage off south Devon.  

It wasn't until extremely late that I made it down to the seafront yesterday, 20:20 to be precise. All thanks to a text from James Mc who was at Lyme Regis and reported lots of westward shearwater action.  Upon my arrival I was greeted by a huge feeding flock of large gulls just offshore (the whitebait and mackerel are in the bay I'm told) joined by numerous Gannets too.  And within less than a minute shearwaters came by.  In half an hour I noted; 

Manx Shearwater 44
Balearic Shearwater 27
Common Scoter 15

Pretty much all the shearwaters were at a good range, with many of the Balearics in particularly seemingly being pulled close inshore by the feeding flock, before most then turned and headed back out south/south west.  

With the wind still up this morning, I was back at the Spot On Kiosk by 05:25 and gave it just under two hours.  As soon as my eye met the telescope there were Balearic Shearwaters passing through, I'm sure if I had arrived earlier I would have added so many more Balearics to the tally.  It was  a spectacular show for this species, that far out numbered Manxies today. For the first hour and a bit all flew straight through west, but then a close flock of ten, that at first seemed to be doing the same, decided to land and began feeding offshore.  This in turn tempted most of the remaining Balearics that came in the from the east to land with them.  By the end of the watch there were about 15 birds feeding on the sea with the large flock of feeding gulls and Gannets. Fantastic to watch.

A Velvet Scoter was a real surprise, always is here but especially so considering the date, with an immature female-type high west and then back east at 05:41. I was really hoping it would be picked up further east but wasn't to my knowledge.   The Great Skua that flew west about four minutes later was however picked up again, by Mike at Beer.  My first Skua of the year FINALLY!  Wonderful to see, although distant as this dreadful photo suggests...

Was so far out!  Really restricted white in the wing too, if it were late August I would have labelled it a juv

An adult Yellow-legged Gull in with the large numbers of gulls (400+) feeding just off the beach was another great highlight, a proper heavy billed brute too.  Interestingly single adult YLG's were also seen at Abbotsbury and Portland today so maybe something of a mini-arrival?  Worthy also of a mention was my fist juvenile Mediterranean Gull of the year - always a highlight and quite an early one too.  It was one of several Med Gulls that were offshore/flying west. 

My full totals for this watch were (west unless stated); 

Gannet 200+ (uncounted so an estimate)
Balearic Shearwater 67 (last 15 birds landed and fed offshore, flock of ten the biggest group)
Manx Shearwater 7
Great Skua 1
Yellow-legged Gull 1 (close inshore with gull flock)
Med Gull 5 (1 juv, 1 2nd sum, 3 ads)
Kittiwake 4
Auk sp. 5
Velvet Scoter 1 (west then east)
Common Scoter 20 (clearly some duplication as a flock of 12 flew west then came back east about five mins later)

A very enjoyable watch. I tried again tonight, but twenty minutes showed just; 

Balearic Shearwater 2
Shearwater sp. 1
Common Scoter 3
Med Gull 7 (loitering)

To finish the post - spot the odd one out!  It's a common sight at this time of year to see gulls feeding on washed up whitebait on the beach.  But never before have I seen a Little Egret get in on the action! I even watched it have to briefly take flight on a couple of occasions to avoid the incoming crashing waves...

Look carefully and you'll see it! Was distant and in sea spray

Felt so good to enjoy some decent seawatching off Seaton, especially after the spring we've just had.  Hopefully there are more sea-based treats ahead during the remainder of summer 2020, and fingers crossed they are large ones...

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