Monday 14 August 2017

Petrel stations

It must be tempting to look at the cripplingly good photographs of Storm Petrels taken over the years by the likes of Brian Thomas and Joe Pender and conclude it must be easy when the birds clearly come so close to the boat. Take it from me, it is anything but. First you have to find them, which generally involves chugging out of High Town for an hour or two, then drifting and chumming for another hour or two before the petrels pick up the scent and arrive to check out the oily slick created by the fish guts and mealworms laid on for their delectation.

Then you have to photograph them - and shooting these rapidly moving, tiny birds from a small vessel, bobbing (if you are lucky) on the open sea whilst holding down lunch is probably one of the greatest photographic challenges I have undertaken. The failure rate is therefore extremely high but after much fiddling with camera settings, and a bit of hit and hope, some reasonably sharp images were possible. The European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus is easy enough to see on these trips but the Wilson's Petrel Oceanites oceanicus is much rarer in British waters and a particular target of late summer pelagics out of the Isles of Scilly. It has been a good year for them and one or two of this species were seen from the Sapphire on each of three trips I made over the long weekend recently.
Wilson's Storm Petrel
Wilson's Petrel shows a plain underwing...
 ...a straight trailing edge to the wing...
...toes protruding beyond the tail...
...yellow webbing between the toes...
...and a pale band along the upper-wing coverts
Wilson's Petrel patters on the surface as do other members of the family
A tiny bird compared to the gulls around the boat but...
...still visibly larger than European Storm Petrel (left)
European Storm Petrel has a plain upper-wing compared to Wilson's...
...and a diagnostic white bar on the under-wing
Note also the legs do not protrude beyond the tail
This Storm Petrel was so close to our stern it was practically being hand-fed mealworms
Another view of the distinctive under-wing pattern
European Storm Petrel - incredible how these tiny birds survive in their hostile ocean habitat

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