16 Aug 2013

It's a f@#king Fea's!

Jase Atkinson and I had travelled down to Cornwall Tuesday night to spend three days ringing at Marazion Marsh as part of the on going study into the migration patterns of the endangered Aquatic Warbler. As a kid my grandparents lived at Hayle and I remember seeing Aquatic Warbler here several times during my teenage and University years. Sadly they are probably now less than annual.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty grim and we woke up Wednesday morning to heavy rain and an overcast sky. No ringing today then!

We faffed around the campsite for awhile before heading to Marazion to confirm what we already knew - the weather was shit.

However, the wind was S Westerly albeit only about force 3-4 so with an improvement in the clag forecast we set off to Gwennap head with the intention of  a bit of seawatching before meeting Mark Grantham back on site at 13.00.

Once we'd dodged the inevitable tourist traffic, mainly Germans who are used to nice straight autobahns and not lanes built by mischievous and drunk Cornish Piskies, we were pleasantly surprised to arrive at Porthgwarra as the sun started shining. Almost immediately we saw a close Basking Shark that cuased great excitement to another German tourist who yelled across ' you have seen a basking shark yah, ver is it please.....'

Arriving at Gwennap head we found several other birders hunkered down and it soon became obvious that there was a steady trickle of birds moving. There were lots of Manx Shearwaters but the occasional Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters and a single Cory's Shearwater. Jase picked out a distant Storm Petrel before losing it in the slight swell and we were entertained by at least 5 basking Sharks in the bay below us.

                                                       The famous Runnelstone.

Leaving site at 12.15 we headed slowly back to Marazion to meet Mark and discuss strategies for the next couple of days and then decided to head back to Gwennap as experience off Hilbre and other seawatching sites has proven there is often an early evening movement of Shearwaters - it's not a coincidence that Joe Pender's evening aboard the Sapphire from Hugh Town often score with a biggie and we were mindful that a Fea's Petrel had been seen on the Monday evening. One thing you expect from seawatching is expect the unexpected...................

Surprisingly the place was deserted. There were no other birders present so we had the place to ourselves. Hunkering down in a prime spot we settled in to the routine of seawatching - scan, scan and scan again.....

Once again a trickle of birds moved through from east to west with the bulk being Manx Shearwaters but also the occasional Balearic and Sooty Shearwater. Around 16.40 I started feeling the chill and made a mental note to suggest we pack it in around 17.00.

Then it happened! Around 16.50 I picked up a distinctive looking bird flying in from the east on a line with the Runnelstone. It had gleaming white underparts but all dark underwings. I had my suspicions what it was but yelled to Jason to 'get on this bird quick, it's got all dark underwings'.
It was so distinctive he got on it straight away. Neither of us said anything for a few seconds until I voiced my thoughts 'it's a f###ing Fea's isn't it'. Punching the air with both fists raised and yelling 'YES' at the top of my voice meant I lost the bird momentarily but Jase continued to watch it and give a running commentary of its plumage and actions. I got on it again after a few seconds and we continued watching it for a couple of minutes as it turned south west and headed into the breeze shearing as it went along and turning into the sun to allow us to pick out the distinctive 'M'.

What a fantastic experience. We were still buzzing when we reached the campsite and celebrated with a barbeque and an early night ready for the next mornings ringing..................Not before I'd written my notes up though.

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