Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Monday, 31 July 2017

29th-30th July

What was initially a night in Bristol seeing mates ended up being a trip to deepest Cornwall, and an unforgettable pelagic trip out of Penzance. With my bogey bird, Great Shearwater, being seen in unusually high numbers off the south-west the last few weeks, we initiated a plan when I saw that spaces on the Saturday evening trip were still available. A quick Airbnb booking, pelagic ticket confirmation from Mermaid Pleasure Trips, and we were sorted.
Great Shearwater, Penzance pelagic, 29/7/2017

As demonstrated by the lingering Portland Great Sherwater, and possible movement of the same individuals along the Cornwall and Devon headlands, it seems this species is not just passing, but actually lingering. Hand in hand with this is an influx of Wilson's Storm-petrels, a bird that's very hard to see in the UK, almost exclusively on pelagics off Scilly. The reasons for the increased numbers of both these birds this year is unknown at present (to me at least), but it's thought the sea temperature is down, which is favourable for southern hemisphere species.

Anyway, at 17:30 on Saturday, in heavy rain and a changeable wind, we set off for the open sea, 11 miles south-west of Penzance. Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and European Storm-petrels were present from the off, along with both Black-backed Gulls and Herrings. It wasn't until we were well into our chum, and stationary with a big group of Gulls feeding, when the special birds began to appear.

First up was a Great Shearwater, which performed some breathtaking circuits of the boat, allowing me a truly magical way to see this species for the first time. Seconds later a Sooty Shearwater passed through, and another Great not long after. During the hour or so spent largely in the same area, at least 5 Great Shearwaters graced us with their presence. Sadly, the rain and cloud meant my pictures weren't what they could have been, but it took nothing away from the experience of not only enjoying crippling views, but also hearing one bird call, and watching them boldly take on the Great Black-backs for food.
Wilson's Storm Petrel, Penzance pelagic, 29/7/2017.
Upperwing panel and trailing feet can be seen here.

A few Fulmars and Kittiwakes joined, and Storm-petrel numbers steadily increased, reaching a maximum of about 80 birds. It was among them that an even more special ocean wanderer was first picked out, a Wilson's Storm-petrel. This was a complete bonus, and by the end of the trip we'd counted at least 4 individuals. The pale upperwing band was actually fairly difficult to pick out in the light, but once I'd got my eye in just the size alone made them identifiable. The next key feature was the dangling legs, and then the flight style, which at times was Shearwater-esque.

Not bad at all, and I'm sure some wondrous photos will eventually emerge, given the size of the lenses on board. A Great Skua was a latecomer to the party, a distant Cory's Shearwater passed, and at least 1 juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was also around.

Despite getting soaked through, and getting back to the harbour pretty cold, it was an experience I won't forget for a while, and it's been a long time since I got two Western Palearctic ticks in the UK in such quick succession. The Sunday was largely non-birding, though a quick sticking in of the head at Hayle revealed 4 Greenshanks and 1 Whimbrel, as well as a couple of Black Swans.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Cornwall, 30/7/2017
I spent a bit of time with a Gull flock too, and was really struggling with the identification of the pictured juvenile bird. I was initially confident of Yellow-legged, and in particular the tertials convinced me it was this species. However, something wasn't quite right, with the head and bill shape bugging me, and also the scapulars, tail length and lack of 'whiteness' to the head/breast.

The bird wasn't as big as young Yellow-legged's are at this time of year, and furthermore, I didn't see a window in the inner primaries in flight. I ultimately settled on it being a young Lesser Black-backed, and many thanks go to Jamie P for his help with this bird too!