Sunday, 23 July 2017

Big Shear Fest

The blog has been in hibernation for a little while. Not given up on it, just nothing to write about for a while. Once the spring migration is finished that is generally it for me, a close season until it kicks off again in the autumn ( ie birders autumn ). Back in May whenever I had a bit of time to get out the weather was naff etc etc so no birding for a while.
Things changed on Friday though. I had a day off work and the weather was going to be bad. Thought I would amble out to Start when I woke up and have a seawatch until the predicted heavy rain arrived. Things were so organized it took me 20 minutes to find my waterproofs and I reached the tip of Start Point, bottom of the lighthouse compound at about 08:15. I put the scope up, looked through it and there were 3 Manx Shearwaters heading my way with a huge towering Cory's Shearwater behind looking like a World War 2 bomber with accompanying fighter planes. What a start !. I gave Mike Langman a shout just as I picked another up. He was not too impressed, he had been with others at Berry Head for much longer and had seen 50 plus and a good number of Great Shearwaters. That leaked on my fireworks !
The next 5 and a bit hours were tremendous. I soon picked up my first Great Shearwater and it seemed like everytime I scanned the sea I would pick up a large Shearwater or two. Unfortunatly few were close, definatly scope jobs instead of bins and a few had to go down as either or. They were mostly on a line much farther out than the majority of the considerable number of passing Manxies. By 13:00 the rain was threatening and shelter was nowhere to be had. I retreated back up to the lighthouse road but the skies eventually poured with rain and at 13:30 I left, soaked but happy.
My final totals were 82 Cory's and 21 Great Shearwaters. Back on the lighthouse road I bumped into Douglas Stannard, we must have been watching yards apart unaware of each others presence. He had noted similar numbers of Greats and Cory's to me but in addition saw Great Skua, Sooty Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater. I had seen an Arctic Skua. Shows how birds can get missed ( especially by me ).
Elsewhere on the 10k patch a friend of mine, Paul Roberts on holiday in Torcross had 27 Cory's and 3 Greats from there, a superb record though they must have drifted a fair way back out to sea by the time they reached the Point as none were close in. I got a text to Pat Mayer who managed to get to Prawle Point late morning and up until 15:00 saw 50+ Cory's but only 3 Greats.
These numbers are way behind Berry Head but I think that is explained with hours of observation and numbers of observers. It is interesting however that the ratio there was roughly 2 Cory's to each Great and Start was more 4:1. With few Greats seen at Torcross and Prawle do a big percentage move like skuas and head farther out channel once they round Berry Head ? Food for thought.
Big shearwater passages have been recorded at Prawle Point in the past, the largest for Cory's being 199 on 30/7/08 and 280 on 20/7/2005. For Greats 39 passed Prawle on 17/8/1999 and 35 seen at Start Point on 5/8/1999. There was a massive movement of 320 Great Shearwaters through Berry Head on 23/9/1999 but no record locally for that day so presumably no one was watching else there would have been a big count.
All in all a great morning. When the birding stars align and these big local birding events happen it always seems to be on week day when I am busy working so I felt lucky and priveliged to have been able to witness it. Happy days !

I think every blog post needs a photo, promise I will improve


  1. Great Post Perry, I hope you were a exaggerating my response to your call, and I didn't sound unimpressed when you phoned - any big Shearwater sighting in Devon is brilliant. look forward to more regular postings as the autumn progresses.

  2. Hello Mike, thanks for the kind comments. Reading it back it could come across sounding a bit harsh for anyone who does not know you, one of the most generous birders around so a bit of fake news from me and definatly not as intended ! A great day last Friday, amazing the number seen from Torcross as well. Guess Pat stole the show with the Madeiran Petrel sp. at Prawle. Here's to some more great days to come this autumn.

  3. Hi Perry, I think wind has lot to do with it, being a strong southerly that day. In such conditions we are so much better protected at Berry Head (why I went there that day), as it enables you to focus more on watching than turning your brolly from in side out and cleaning optics! If someone had got to the Prawle hut for the morning they would have done really well, so much better shelter than Start in a southerly. We got Devon's 1st Fea's on a southerly at Prawle after all! Brilliant seawatching so far this summer personally seen 186 Cory's and 123 Greats and hopefully that will be added to!!!