Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Giant Patch Tick!

What a bizarre evening that was.

I was driving home from work when I had a phone call from Gary Woodburn who said the incomprehensible news that Mark Newsome has just had a Giant Petrel fly north at Whitburn.

A what? Giant Petrel? Are they not the things that kill penguins on Blue Planet? In the North Sea?

It was a dark phased bird with a massive white bill.

Giant Petrel has two species, they are Southern and Northern and are incridibly difficult to identify let alone on a fly past at a kilometre range...

Gary was going to wait for news from seawatchers further south and then head to Newton Point. I had already considered a seawatch, as the high pressure out in the Atlantic looked good for a movement of shearwaters and there are a few terns I still haven't had on the patch year list so this news prompted me even more. Gardening would have to wait...

Straight home, changed, snacks and tea packed and out to Cullernose Point by 6.55pm. I was perched halfway down the cliff on a lovely summer evening. The sea was alive with auks, buzzing back and forth in small flocks, razorbills, guiilemots and many puffins. To a back drop of calling kittiwakes on the cliff, whats not to like.

Snacks eaten, tea drunk, and the first 50 Manx Shearwaters were logged. I was studying a winter plumaged diver on the sea that was very Black throated like but just too ar to confirm, when I was joined by Mark Eaton to look seaward. Seeing anyone here is unusual so company and in particular another set of birding eyes was welcome.

The diver was analysed,and I still think Black throated, complete with 'cobra-like' nape shape but its not inked into the notebook.

We commented on how good the visibilty was, Highish up with a flattish sea we could pick out puffins atalmost 2 kms, and at 1 km an 8 inch bird was easily identified, so a 3 foot long, black albatross should be no trouble to connect with, if only...

News came through that a good candidate was seen very distantly at the horizon from St Mary's Island. Ho hum, it was a nice night.

Then a slow motion, quiet, tenseness came as I scanned south from a distant oil tanker when all of a sudden, a huge, black apparition loomed up from the waves and I called to Mark ' There's your Petrel!' scarcely believeing my own words. A short 10 second panic ensued while I stammered out directions, but luckily the oil tanker came in handy as a marker and seen at three quarter distance Mark was on the bird.

The GIANT PETREL, flapped on elastic wing beats, giving the impression of one of those big Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes rather than a bird. It soared and glided seemed too heavy to shear in the calm conditions. This continued for 10 minutes and once it switchbacked south briefly before getting back on track North. We watched as it passed Gannets, Manxies and flocks of auks looking like nothing I've ever seen. The wing tips seemed a bit rounded or ragged maybe giving an 'eagley' look at times, then on down glides it vanished into wave troughs before towering back above the horizon line. it lookd darker than a Sooty Shear but it was the size and jizz that were unmistakeable.

What a bird. It slowly vanished from view. Word was put out by Mark as I had no signal at all and the enormity of the sighting sank in. I was trembling a little bit...

That was certainly some start to the seawatching season...

Oh and even though it cant be identified to a species, I'm having it on my lists!


 

8 comments:

Steve's Birding & Wildlife Blog said...

Local patching heaven,really chuffed for you Stu,what an amazing encounter!

Steve Gale said...

You sir, have just hit the jackpot. Very pleased for you!

Jonathan Lethbridge said...

That is sensational!

Gibster said...

Incredible, just incredible! Well done buddy :)

DorsetDipper said...

Great record and great write up. Congratulations.

The Wessex Reiver said...

Top work there Stewart - and you got into the BirdGuides email just now too.

matt knott said...

Hi Stewart - love your sketches - superb as always. Such a shame so few birders take notes these days. Brilliant post, amazing bird! Very jealous. All the best. Matt

Stewart said...

Thanks everyone, this is the most comments I've had for ages! Its good to hear from all you still blogging out there.

Cheers Stewart