Sunday, 30 August 2020

South Atlantic Voyagers

I spent the day at Flamborough Head, firstly guiding a Yorkshire Coast Nature group and then another five hours seawatching. In the morning, a couple of hours seawatching with the group yielded a flock of five Long-tailed Skuas, c20 Arctic Skuas, 10 Bonxies, a couple each of Sooty and Manx Shearwaters and a flock of smart pale-bellied Brent Geese. The sea really was mountainous and I was relieved we hadn't gone out in the boat!

Sooty Shearwater. Superb birds that breed in the South Atlantic, on islands such as the Falklands. They undertake a massive clockwise loop of the South and North Atlantic, during which we get a chance to see them. Corking!

After the clients had departed, I continued to seawatch. Lots of Arctic Skuas were still moving, many of which were juveniles, indicative of a productive breeding season. A few Bonxies, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters passed north too, plus a steady stream of Fulmars and Gannets. Surely, something more special was out there! A few Sandwich Terns headed south, a couple of Whimbrel too and a trickle of Racing Pigeons northbound (?!).

Out of nowhere, JohnnyMac announced 'Great Shearwater heading north, close-in' - the statement cut through the chatter of the hide and the several birders present frantically scanned. Craig Thomas sitting next to me got on it and reassured me that I would see this easily - I had been explaining to him earlier that I was desperate to see a Great Shearwater here in Yorkshire- but I could not get on it...panic rose; I could hear the excited chatter around me. How could I not see it? I couldn't take this any longer, so I asked Craig for a look through his scope - boom! There it was, far closer in than I was looking - what a stunningly handsome bird. Switching back to my own scope I got on it quickly and followed it's slow progression north. Unlike Great Shears I have seen before that moved fast downwind, this bird was moving slowly, occasionally pattering the surface as if feeding. I managed a bit of shaky phonescoped video. After a couple of minutes of amazing views, it disappeared round the corner. Our voyager from the South Atlantic had gone, leaving us beaming and exhilarated. The andrenaline rush was incredible and I was left shaking. I owed Double Deckers to Johnny and Craig and apparently a few quid to the Flamborough Bird Obs swearbox!

Great Shearwater: an iconic seabird that travels north from breeding colonies on Tristan de Cunha and Gough Island in the South Atlantic. Notice the Harbour Porpoises that pop up in the second clip.

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