Monday, 26 August 2013

Petrel heads

Wilson's Petrel is one of the most sought after birds on the Scilly pelagics, four of which I had the pleasure of slurping about on earlier this month. Soon after we boarded the Sapphire for the first time though, our leader Bob Flood was doing his best to manage expectations about seeing one, there having been only three records in Britain so far this year, and one of those being in spring.
European Storm Petrel - the latin name Hydrobates pelagicus underlines its ocean going existence
So we concentrated on getting our eye in on European Storm Petrel, of which there were plenty, and hoped for the best. I think we had been seduced by stunning photos from the likes of Bryan Thomas from previous pelagics into thinking that Stormies would be permanently dancing in the chum slick just feet off the stern.
In European Storm Petrel the broad white bar on the underwing is diagnostic
It wasn't quite like that, and it took until our third trip on the Monday evening to attract a group to the chum slick which made repeated passes off the back of the boat, allowing the photographers on board to get in position. If rolling with the swell while trying to keep lunch down can be described as a 'position'. In the circumstances, I was pleased to get any kind of shots.
Storm Petrels patters on the surface while picking up morsels of food
By the end of our first day we had seen plenty of European but no Wilson's Storm Petrel. No matter, a full day trip lay ahead, and although the weather was set fair, a stiffer breeze was forecast, normally better for seabirds. After another seven hours at sea we were about to head back to St Mary's empty handed when a big shout went up and an 11th hour Wilson's Petrel made a distant pass off the port side. It was too quick to attempt to photograph but fortunately it came back for another pass, still a good way out but with the sun behind us the views were pretty good.
This shot of a European Storm Petrel conveys just a little of the harsh environment in which these tiny birds spend much of their lives
I couldn't get a clear shot over the heads of others so adopted a stance which, with hindsight, the local government officer in me feels might have benefited from a more thorough risk assessment, involving as it did a leggy straddle between two of the boat's slippery central bench seats. Only later did I realise I was hovering over the shark fishing rods and hooks which could have done me quite a mischief in the event of a slip.
Wilson's Petrel - Oceanites oceanicus in case you hadn't got the idea with the whole oceanic thing
Happily, no bones were broken and of about 20 frames rattled off, one of the bird banking, showing the pale covert band on the upperwing and legs protruding beyond the tail, came out reasonably sharp. A good photo tick for me and one of my main targets for the trip.
We saw a second Wilson's Petrel, a moulting bird, in gloomier conditions on an evening pelagic a few days later
I've now seen and photographed the Petrel, the Phalarope and the Snipe named after the great Scottish pioneer of American ornithology, Alexander Wilson. Perhaps, if they have the internet wherever he is, and he's reading this, he'd be good enough to give up his Warbler this autumn?

No comments:

Post a Comment