Having already recently day twitched a seawatch at Pendeen (saw 5 Great Shearwaters, 4 Leach's Petrels and a Red-necked Phalarope) then it was a 'no brainer' on September 14th when post Katia, which swept through bringing high seas and force 9 South Westerlies, followed a decreasing but more productive force 6 West/North Westerly. The day before had already produced quality seabirds but could it be bettered. At 10pm I met up with Adrain Kettle and we blasted SW through the night, arriving just after 4am in an abandoned Pendeen lighthouse car park, to say the wind was battering the coast would be an understatement! The drama was about to unfold.
By dawn we were in place, the first on site and eager. The first quality AK bird was a Sabine's Gull, distant but a taste of what was coming ! The day total ended on 20 individual Sabs, comprising 8 juvs and 12 adults and including three juvs together inside the rocks. Many of the adults were in full summer plumage with one showing well enough to enable us to see the 'dipped in paint' yellow bill tip. Although not the rarest birds of the day, to see so many was just brilliant and allowed their unique character to the seen, learnt, tested and taken on board for the future. All the birds were flying very low and parallel to the sea, in almost straight lines and were very tern like in flight action with the action being at the front end of the bird on angled wings bent at the carpal. The distance they were approaching from was also key and enabled AK and I to pick out 11 of the 20 during the day, very satisfying. Kittiwake like - never !
The next refresher was that of Grey Phalarope, with a total of 30 during the day. Many zipped by at moderate range when their gleaming paleness, dumpy shape with angled stripy wings and rather erratic flight made them rather easy. Several were present sat on the sea around the rocks during the day, so the exact total may have been higher. Just after 7am we had our first of four Great Shearwaters, perhaps THE seabird, I am addicted to this species! they can easily be overlooked in the melee of a good seawatch, they don't rocket past in a Sooty Shearwater like way or flash like a Manxie, they meander through low to the water in a purposeful super controlled manner, and strangely often appear to be going away when their long angled arms with darker primaries, almost stripey underwing and white belly give a distinct seawatch jizz - a pedigree seawatch species ! Mid afternoon brought a once in a lifetime Great, inside the rocks and in fact closer to the shore than the rocks. I even managed to get the featured shots !
We had been seeing quite a few Storm Petrels, fast flying, in a way almost like a vehicle going in and out of cones on a road, direct but not quite straight lines. At distance they appear small and with proportionate wings held swiftly bent at the carpal, jet black with paler rumps which can take some seeing. Several closer birds clearly had striking white underwing flashes but without your eye in, it is possible that you could fail to see Stormies despite good numbers going past. We hit jackpot just after 0730hrs when Adrian quietly got on to a larger petrel at the same range as the Stormies, it had an upper carpal wing bar, didn't have the extended wing or hand of a Leach's Petrel. We both got on to it for a few seconds, but then lost it, very frustrating as we both knew it was a Wilson's Petrel. About 20 minutes later I picked it or another identical bird up in the same area of sea but slightly further out. Despite calling it out only a couple of other people managed to get on to it and after a short period of time it was lost. These were both views that at the time just didn't give enough for group celebration but what was about to happen was way beyond our expectations. Shortly after 8am Adrian picked up another or the same Petrel, this time much closer, level with the left hand rock but further to the west and therefore closer to our viewing position. Adrian immediatly called Wilson's Petrel, I picked the bird up quickly and bellowed the words 'Oh my god, Wilson's Petrel close' - in reality it wasn't 'close' but through a 50x HD Swarovski scope it was mega. Other birders got on to it, each giving their own superlative ! For the next 10-12 minutes the bird remained continually on view in the same area of sea and was in no hurry to leave, it repeatedly fed in pattering motion over a patch of floating brown sea weed. When it reached the left hand end of the sea weed patch it changed behaviour totally by racing back to the right hand end of the patch before again sharply breaking, stalling in flight and once more hanging and bouncing over the sea! The few observers who could not get on to the bird simply queued up and looked through my scope - so predictable was it behaviour! The bird had a startlingly straight rear edge to the wing, lacking any hand which combined with a broad arched fore-wing gave a very distinct jizz to the bird. The upper carpal bar was clearly visible and the bird had an obvious broad and clear white rump with a square cut tail tip. It was impossible to see the legs on the bird but from its behaviour and body position they were quite probably dangling. I don't know but I doubt that a Wilson's has ever been seen as well as this an English headland. Jubilation ! especially for Adrian, who being a bad sailor had been waiting for this moment for a long time. About 20 minutes after the Wilson's was last seen, a Leach's Petrel was picked up at almost double range but provided a brilliant straight after comparison, the first thing I said was 'just look at the size of it', the Leach's being noticeably bigger and completely different in structure, having a long arm and long angled back hand. The flight action was also quite different with the Leach's looking as though it was trying hard with angled back wings but was only making slow progress, almost as if attached to an invisible elastic band.
The rest of the seawatch was a joyous anticlimax! We finished at 7.30pm, a total of 13 hours peering at the 'riders of a storm'- hard to beat that !
The totals for the day were
Wilson's Petrel - 3 sightings, Leach's Petrel 4, Storm Petrel 17, Great Shearwater 4, Sooty Shearwater 21, Balearic Shearwater 26, Arctic Skua 34, Great Skua 20, Pomarine Skua 1, Grey Phalarope 30, Sabine's Gull 20.