Lifers at the sea

Three hours after I arrived home from the Birdfair ‘Birds and Beers’ afterparty I picked up my older daughter, Szandra for a day trip to Portland Bill. We haven’t been out together for years so it was just about time. I targeted to find a Balearic Shearwater which I missed to see in the previous years. Despite the three hours long drive mainly in pouring rain we had a very pleasant weather at our arrival. Sun came out and the visibility was decent although we had a very strong wind. A couple of birders with scope found at a wind-protected area next to the lighthouse.

A view from the lighthouse to the Race. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Early starters at the lighthouse. © Gyorgy Szimuly

There was a large flock of Northern Gannet and some European Herring Gull over the Portland Race. The Race looked spectacular as the top of the waves were sprayed away by the strong guts. Shortly a couple of Manx Shearwater appeared and flew towards the west. One of the birders scanned the race and spotted a most probably European Storm Petrel through his scope. I stood next to him but with my binoculars it was impossible to spott a swallow-sized seabird over themassive waves. He lost the bird almost immediately as disappeared behind the waves. It would have been a life bird for me.

Some very lovely birdwatchers arrived at the spot and some of them seemed to be real experts on seabirds. They soon spotted the first Balearic Shearwaters among Manx Shearwaters. They were not to far and I could see the plumage differences between the Manx and Balearic Shearwater. I had a nice chat with the leading birder of the group and he showed me a few more Balearic Shearwater through his Swarovski spotting scope. I was so happy about the view it provided. He also spotted a storm petrel but I missed it again.


Balearic Shearwater by Juhani Vilpo

Later this birder and another lovely lady found a larger shearwater with much longer wings than the Manx’s have. I could spot it and even through binoculars it looked to be larger with dark upperparts and contrasting white underwing. The underwing was too strikingly white for Sooty Shearwater. It was a Cory’s Shearwater. Just minutes later a Cory’s Shearwater was reported, heading towards the Race, by the Portland Bill Observatory staff.

Cory's Shearwater

Cory’s Shearwater by Xavier Martínez

eBird checklist from Portland Bill (07:50 – 10:52):

Northern Fulmar 7
Cory’s Shearwater 1
Manx Shearwater 27
Balearic Shearwater 5
Northern Gannet 130
Great Cormorant 3
European Shag 6
Common Murre 1
Black-legged Kittiwake 3
Mediterranean Gull 2
European Herring Gull 68
Great Black-backed Gull 19
Eurasian Jackdaw 2
Carrion Crow 3
Rock Pipit 8
Eurasian Linnet 2

Great Black-backed Gulls were flying against the wind over the Bill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Me watching the passing shearwaters in a little rock shelter. © Szandra Szimuly

This boat must have a had a very rough ride next to the Race. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile European Herring Gull in the quarry of the Bill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Enjoying coffee at the Bill with Szandra. © Szandra Szimuly

Spectacular view to the Chesil Beach and the Portland Harbour with the village. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular view to the Chesil Beach and the Portland Harbour with the village. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another photo of the Portland Harbour.

Another photo of the Portland Harbour.

From the Bill we drove to the Ferrybridge where waders were waiting for low tide. A small flock of roosting Mediterranean Gull and a few Dunlin with two Common Ringed Plover were close to the bridge. As salt water started to recede small flock of waders arrived for feeding. While we had lunch in the cafe two Ruddy Turnstone and an Eurasian Oystercatcher joined the feeding wader flock. Unfortunately, tourists and visitors don’t respect the small area and disturbance was quite frequent.


Roosting Mediterranean Gulls at the Fleet. © Gyorgy Szimuly


A view to the Fleet from the Ferrybridge. © Gyorgy Szimuly


Feeding flock of Dunlin and Common Ringed Plover. © Gyorgy Szimuly

(Ferrybridge eBird checklist (11:39 – 13:30):

Eurasian Oystercatcher 1
Common Ringed Plover 46
Ruddy Turnstone 2
Sanderling 1
Dunlin 136
Black-headed Gull 5
Mediterranean Gull 73
European Herring Gull 6
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Sandwich Tern 2
Eurasian Linnet 2


Standing on the Chesil Beach of Portland. © Szandra Szimuly

I have been in the darkest emotional depths with hopelessness in the last couple of months but this should be over now. This weekend was and excellent breakthrough and hopefully many will come.