Ah 1998!! In early January that year we had a series of SW to W winter gales (winds 80-100mph at times) that went on for a few days pushing birds up into the English Channel and Lyme Bay, blowing from way out in the Atlantic. On the 3rd Hope's Nose watchers had an amazing 77 Great Skuas, while I only managed to get to Berry Head for 2 hours that afternoon, I still saw 30. The next day we had 64 past Berry Head. There was probably c150 during early January 1998 through west Lyme Bay - pretty good for winter. Great Skua is a nice bird to see in winter but quite regular, although the January 1998 numbers were exceptional. When I worked on a boat fishing in the English Channel (2010–2013), in the winter Great Skua was a frequent attendant, showing the channel to be a regular wintering area. The most we had around the boat at any one time was 15 on 10/12/2011, which included a colour ringed adult (breeding bird from St.Kilda), a nice 'at sea' recovery.
|St.Kilda ringed Great Skua off Devon from angling boat 10/12/2011|
|European Storm-petrel and Great Skua: monthly trip average of birds attending angling boat 2010–2013. Two very contrasting yearly distributions. European Storm-petrel is usually absent in winter, while Great Skua's lowest numbers are June-July in the English Channel and regular through the winter.|
Shearwaters in winter off South Devon are a fairly scarce sight and can be the highlight of a winter seawatch. Balearic Shearwater being the most likely. Over the years I've had 15 winter Balearic sightings, but only two were of multiple birds, both in February 2008 (a two and a four). 2008 was perhaps the best year for Balearics wintering off Devon in small numbers and is still the only year when I saw a Balearic Shearwater in every month! Manx Shearwater is much rarer in winter off Devon and I've only seen two winter Manx to date in 2005 and 2007. Sooty Shearwater again is pretty rare in winter and to date I've had six winter sightings. Probably the most bizarre was one flying past Brixham breakwater heading out of Torbay on 01/01/2011 - a great and unexpected start to that seawatching year!
|A 'pale' Balearic Shearwater, Berry Head, 30/01/2009. A pale bird like this might be mistaken for something else! But a Balearic it is on structure.|
|'Double dark' Fulmar, Berry Head, 29/01/2009.|
This winter has been fairly quiet, although a strong force 6 southerly blow on 02/02/2017 was worth the effort of walking out to Berry Head. A Pomarine Skua, two Great Skuas and 'blue' Fulmar were the best of it, with supporting cast two each Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Merganser, c250 Fulmar (normal phase), c500 Gannets, c200 Kittiwakes and many auks.
Hopefully before February is over there will be another good winter seawatch, but really looking forward to spring!