Sunday 30 October 2016

Maybe the Best British Birding Day Of My Life

Sunday 30th October Light SW Low cloud, mild 10C

After yesterday's number of passing pomarine skuas and sooty shearwaters, I am up early to go seawatching off the northern end of the island.
Porridge and banana chips for breakfast, Sam Perfect suddenly pokes his head around the kitchen door and we are off. Five whooper swans are flying south west, leaving the island.

Immediately seen as we cycle down the dirt track, the male Northern Harrier is in front of us flying around Gretchen. Bird number 311 BOU (British Ornithological Union) but only 308 on the AERC. Northern harrier is not a separate species to the Europeans. One day it will be I am sure.
Eight bean geese are in a field to the right by the World War memorial. Pink feets are to the left and then a large flock of greylags by the Ancum willows. Here we stop to look over Ancum Loch and see 54 whooper swans, and singles of goldeneye and greater scaup.
To the seawatching hide,we start to properly seawatch at 8:30AM.
Almost immediately the first sooty shearwaters fly past mid-range to distant; all are heading north west coming from the east. Sam gets on a great northern diver and I have a little auk quite close. Bird number 312 BOU.
More sooties, usually singly but occasionally in threes and fours pass and then a flurry of pomarine skuas. Bird number 313, three year ticks already today and after only thirty minutes or so of sewatching.


Me : Manx going left, close.

Me : no it isn't!

Me : Sam you need to get on this!!!!!

The bird is joined by a sooty shearwater, both going left, that is to the north west.

Sam : it's a ****ing FEA'S PETREL!!!!

The bird takes maybe three minutes or so before it is gone, heading north west. Screaming, laughing and general disbelief, a legendary Fea's petrel has just passed us, more than an ambition bird, a pure dream of a bird.
More screaming, more expletives, hugs and high fives and a complete lack of any further serious sea bird counting due to shaking, laughing, cheering, all accompanied by a few tears.

Phone calls made, texts sent and chaotic celebrations interspersed with bouts of goosebumps, nervous laughing and a slow realisation over what had just happened.

Sam is drawing sketches of what we have seen. Plumage and jizz details are discussed and notes made.

We settle down at last to carry on birding. Vegan Dutch fruit cake is shared and clinked together as one would with champagne. Cheers Sam!

At Noon we total up.

sooty shearwaters 114
manx shearwaters 2
pomarine skuas 10
bonxies (great skua) 9
little auk 3
great northern diver 7
red-throated diver 3
Long-tailed duck 12
wigeon 6
lapwing 4

We have also seen a few cetaceans; 2 or 3 minke whales and single Risso's dolphin and harbour porpoise.

One o'clock we start to make our happy way back towards the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. A ring-tail hen harrier passes. It's happy banter all the way.
A text comes from Paul Higson.

Interestingly, a fea's petrel petrel flew north past the north east of Shetland – Lamba Ness, Unst at about Noon.

So it seems that it took over two hours for our bird to get there. How fast can a petrel fly? Google doesn't seem to have the answer.
In 2014 a Fea's went along the East coast. It was reported from headland to observatory, birding spot to pier, promenade to cliff top. I wonder if anyone has worked out that bird's speed? I remember seeing a chart in the superb seawatching hide at Whitburn last year that showed times. It would be interesting to see the times and work out speed accordingly.

A quick look over Ancum, a few more whooper swans are on there
compared to this morning. Birds are moving.
A look around Holland and down towards the Observatory. Sam receives a phone call from Larissa. We turn around and cycle fast towards Hooking. Larissa has found a glossy ibis.
Half an hour later we all have the bird in view. It flies from Hooking Loch to the beach and back again before disappearing to the north.

Our evening is spent celebrating birds and friendship.

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