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Surprises Through My Zeisses / 17 Shearwaters! (1 Viewer)

Troubador

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You are welcome to join me on this seventeenth of a series of articles taking a look back over my shoulder at some sightings that have not only delighted us but startled and surprised us.

The sea, whether it is the North Sea off the UK’s east coast, or surrounding the islands off the west coast of Scotland, has always had a powerful attraction to Troubadoris and I. We always have a strong sense of anticipation when we are next to it, a feeling that anything might happen, and it often does.

The seabirds contribute hugely to this atmosphere, whether it is the continuous cries of Herring Gulls on the east coast or the sight of magnificent Gannets off the Western Isles of Scotland, cruising high above the ocean with the bills pointing straight down, and then transforming into a feathered missile as they plunge down with wings folded right back.

But one group of seabirds in particular seems to embody the spirit of the oceans more than any other and that is the shearwaters.

In the west of Scotland there are several breeding sites of Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus and we see them regularly from both the coasts of the islands we visit and also from the decks of the ferries that take us there.

This little shearwater, dark above and white below, flies with stiff wing beats followed by a glide, often quite low over the sea, and banks over, first to one side, then back to the other, its wing-tips seeming to caress the surface of the water as it traces the very shape of the ocean with the course of its flight, first rising over a wave crest and then dipping down into the trough behind. Often there will be other individuals behind and in front of it and others nearby, all of them dancing to the music of the shape of the ocean below.

Our sightings have most often been of these ‘streams’ of them, but occasionally we have seen clouds of them over a feeding ground, a tangled and busy cloud of circling, swooping and swerving individuals alternately showing their dark upper-parts and flashing their brilliant white undersides. A wonderfully exciting whirligig of these lovely birds.

Just occasionally, the shearwaters we spotted were not Manxies. On just one occasion we saw a small group of shearwaters that caught us out so that as we automatically exclaimed ‘Manxies’, they tilted over and took our breath away, because they were dark underneath, not white! They were bigger than Manx too. Sooty Shearwaters, Puffinus griseus! And on another occasion seen from a ferry, a clearly much larger shearwater accompanied a stream of Manxies, flying quite differently with slower wing-beats and not nearly so agile-looking as it banked from time to time. This one was identified for us by a fellow birder as Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris borealis.

Of course it was terrifically exciting to see these different, and to us, exotic, shearwaters but when I call up pictures of shearwaters from my memories it is always the Manx that I remember with such huge affection.

Lee
 

Lisa W

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Thanks for sharing this. I have yet to see a Shearwater, but could see them quite clearly in my mind with your descriptive prose.
 
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Ratal

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I have to wholeheartedly agree with the lure / pull of the ocean and the sense of anticipation & excitement. I totally understand this attraction, and for me? It is the possibility of a glimpse of a Great Skua or Great Northern Diver that quickens my pulse. With all that said, I am very envious of the Cory Shearwater sighting! Very envious indeed.
 

wllmspd

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I followed a gannet into the distance once with my big binocs, great to see. I intend to get to some bird cliffs this year!

Peter
 

Troubador

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Thanks for sharing this. I have yet to see a Shearwater, but could see them quite clearly in my mind with your descriptive prose.
Thank you Lisa. I love all seabirds but when I thought about it carefully, although they all evoke memories and emotions in their own different ways, I came to the conclusion that shearwaters exemplify the shape and motion of the ocean.

Lee
 

Troubador

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I have to wholeheartedly agree with the lure / pull of the ocean and the sense of anticipation & excitement. I totally understand this attraction, and for me? It is the possibility of a glimpse of a Great Skua or Great Northern Diver that quickens my pulse. With all that said, I am very envious of the Cory Shearwater sighting! Very envious indeed.
Don't get me started about Great Northerns. One of our most favourite birds of all, so beautiful, such majesty and with a voice that pulls at your heart-strings.
And as for Great Skuas or Bonxies as they are called on Shetland, they are the muscled-up tough guys of seabirds. Do you think Gannets are powerful and impressive birds? They are. But wait until you have seen a Bonxie rob a Gannet of its fish.

Lee
 
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