Friday, 20 January 2012

Winter Shears & Chilly Fulmars

Although the 2011 Seatrack survey season finished up on 6th November, there has been a nice run of winter seawatching records here & there since then, most notably during the period between Christmas & mid-January when the west coast was getting lashed by some pretty strong Westerlies.

Sooty Shearwaters are often more frequently recorded than Manx Shearwaters at this time of year and this certainly seems to be the case so far this winter. The record of a Great Shearwater which passed by at close range off Galley Head (Cork) on St. Stephen's Day must have been a truly amazing sight! There have even been two records of Balearic Shearwater over the past month. As the target species for Seatrack, we're extremely interested in receiving reports of this Critically Endangered seabird, especially outside the 'normal' seawatching season (July-November). It appears that a few 'Balearics' spend some part of the winter off the south coast of Ireland & sightings are usually linked with fish spawing events.

Not surprisingly, quite a few 'Blue' Fulmars were also noted during these seawatch sessions as well as some Great Skuas off traditional wintering sites such as Brownstown Head (Waterford) & Hook Head (Wexford), harassing flocks of gulls feeding on spawning Herring. Little Auks have been extremely scarce in recent years, and this winter doesn't appear to be any different with just 3 records so far.

I wonder what vagrants would turn up if we invested more effort seawatching during 'favourable' conditions in winter? (something large with a Southern Hemisphere accent I would think!)

Anyways, here's a round-up of some of this winters seawatch records:

15th January:
1 Balearic Shearwater & 1 Manx Shearwater off Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford (Kieran Grace).
13th January:
2 Little Auks, 7 'Blue' Fulmars, 1 Glaucous Gull & 1 Iceland Gull, 15km off Belmullet Peninsula, Co. Mayo (Dave Suddaby).
11th January:
1 Sooty Shearwater off Dursey Island, Co. Cork (Derek Scott).
8th January:
5-8 Great Skuas (Bonxies) seen 5-6km off the coast of the Waterford/Wexford coastline between Dunmore East & Hook Head during a whale watching trip (Paul Walsh, Mary Duggan & Andrew Malcolm).
1st January:
- 1 Little Auk flew south off Greystones, Co. Wicklow at 12:00 (Andrew McMillan).
- 1 Great Skua (Bonxie) off Ballynacourty Point, Co. Waterford (Paul Walsh).
29th December:
 - 1 'Blue' Fulmar off Killybegs, Co. Donegal (Derek Charles).
 - 125 pale phase Fulmars & 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls flew north past Bray Head, Co. Wicklow from 09:30-10:30 (Andrew McMillan). An excellent mid-winter count of Fulmars for the East Coast.
26th December:
 - 1 Great Shearwater & 3 'Blue' Fulmars off Galley Head, Co. Cork (Colin Barton).
 - 1 'Blue' Fulmar west past Helvick Head, Co. Waterford at 15:20 (Micheal Cowming Jnr).
19th December:
1 Balearic Shearwater off Curracloe, Co. Wexford (Andrew McMillan).
17th December:
1 Pomarine Skua off Burial Island, Co. Down.
9th December:
1 Grey Phalarope off Deelick Point, Brandon, Co. Kerry from 11:30-12:30 (Peter McDermott).
8th December:
1 Little Auk off Ramore Head, Co. Antrim.
27th November:
 - 5 Sooty Shearwaters, 14 Great Skuas (Bonxies), 2 Arctic Skuas, 17 Great Northern Divers & 7 Red-throated Divers off Bloody Foreland, Co. Donegal (Chris Ingram).
 - 9 Great Skuas (Bonxies) off Kilcummin Head, Co. Mayo (Joe Donaldson).
 - 1 Leach's Petrel, a 1st-winter Iceland Gull, a leucistic Great Northern Diver, 275 auks, 180 Kittiwakes & 100 Gannets were off Black Head, Co. Clare from 08:00-10:15 (Paul Troake).
1 Great Shearwater off Clogher Head, Co. Kerry (Aideen McConville).
25th November:
7 Sooty Shearwaters, 10 Manx Shearwaters, 28 Great Skuas (Bonxies), 5 Pomarine Skuas, 4 Grey Phalaropes, 3 Great Northern Divers, 1 Common Scoter, 3,700 Kittiwakes, 3,400 Gannets & 2,200 auks off The Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare (Paul Troake).

Great Skua (Bonxie) off the Waterford/Wexford coast © Andrew Malcolm