Saturday, 18 September 2010

Leach's Petrels on Migration

Following on from a weeks very hard work in Wrexham we decided to head off after work to New Brighton for a spot of sea watching.  Over the preceding four days very strong north-westerly winds had brought a large number of usually pelagic species very close to the shore and birdwatchers had been lucky enough to get very good views.  It was an opportunity to observe a migratory phenomenon whilst having a catch up with a former colleague (Tom) who is lucky enough to have New Brighton as his local patch!

We drove straight to the car park at the Perch Rock lighthouse and were informed by Tom that he had just observed seven Leach's coming out of the mouth of the Mersey and were battling against the wind to get back out to sea.  Within a couple of minutes we all had very good views of (what was for me my first ever) Leach's Petrel.  A single Black Tern was also recorded fighting against a very strong head wind.  We decided to move location and headed for the Old Fort on the North Wirral Foreshore to see what we could see and were all rewarded fantastic views of Leach's Petrel.  No Sabine's Gull today but the petrels made up for this with an amazing display and some got very close.  In the space of 30 minutes we are sure we were being passed by up to two birds a minute and at times it felt like more.  Very distant views of an unidentified Skua sp. and Shearwater sp. added to the excitement - it was just a shame that they were so far away and identification couldn't be confirmed.

Here are a couple of pictures and the state of the sea should give an indication of how windy it was.

These birds were just dancing over the waves and were occasionally seen 'running' on the surface of the water where they pick up small food particles.

It is amazing how such a small bird can fly so strongly in to such head winds

Such an amazing late-afternoon at one of the best spots in the UK to observe this species.  Leach's Petrel breed in the United Kingdom with much larger numbers in Greenland.  With very strong north westerly winds they are 'funelled' through the Irish Sea and can be seen in large numbers on the west coast of England and Wales (as was the case this week).

It was nice to see a free-flying (over the waves!) petrel, I have seen a few European Storm Petrels in the past by only in the hand - in fact my first ever 'Stormy' was a Portuguese ringed bird re-trapped on Hoy, Orkney.

More interesting stuff to follow including trip report from Turnstone Ecology's first Bulgaria trip (August 2010) and our soon to be second trip to the same project; I am jetting off on Tuesday 21st September for a very quick audit of a field team who are completing vantage point surveys for a proposed wind farm.

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