The missing Manx - revisited!


Manx Shearwater - spring to autumn visitor off Devon, but just possible to see in winter if you're lucky!

When you attempt all-year Devon seawatching, like I try to (mostly on your own in winter!), it becomes a challenge to see a particular species in as many months of the year as possible (yet as I'm getting older its not so easy to do long stints without getting cold!). For our summer visitors this becomes extremely hard, verging on impossible for some. Never the less, an out of season sighting I class as a rarity. On 18/01/19 at Berry Head to my surprise a Manx Shearwater sailed past. I've seen them in Cornwall in January, but to get one for Devon was pretty special. That missing month was at last filled and the year full-set completed. Manx is not easy to see off Devon December–February.
This prompted me to pump out some data and see which months I'm missing for other tubenoses and skuas.

  Not surprising Fulmar can be seen in every month, the hardest month can be October, when sightings become scarce due to birds going out to sea to moult.

Of the two large shearwaters, perhaps its a surprise I've seen Cory's in three more months than Great (June, October & November), given generally we get more Greats in Devon than Cory's. In 2018 I missed an October Great at Berry Head by five minutes, dam, it was like missing a major rarity!! I have seen October Greats in Cornwall though, so I'm sure it will happen in Devon for me. 2020 I finally saw a June Cory's just (on the 30th).  But I've never seen April–May birds (often claimed in Devon in the past) and don't expect to either. [Hopefully I'll be made to eat my words!]

There is just one month missing for Sooty Shearwater for me and that's March, I think it will happen with the right weather system - just keep trying!

Balearic Shearwater is possible to see year-round; during December–April they can be pretty scarce, especially April. In 2008 I managed a Balearic in every month from Berry Head, but I doubt that will ever happen again. In recent winters there seem less sightings off Devon than a few years ago.

European Storm-petrel, is a classic British summer breeder, so I'm missing February–March and December. The January records were surprising (see here on the background of this unusual event), but filling those other missing months is a tall order. While Leach's Storm-petrel typically is late autumn-winter bird for us; as I see very few off Devon, filling the missing months January–August is highly unlikely.

On to the skuas. I've seen both Great and Pomarine Skua every month of the year off Devon. Arctic Skua I'm just missing a February bird. Possible, but looking less likely these days, given the downturn in numbers. Arctic is extremely rare in the winter and the January bird(s), occurred in the same event as the European SPs above. While Long-tailed Skua is generally an autumn bird for us. In theory of the months I'm missing, May–June at least are possible, but it's not happened for me yet. Mid-May of course being when the peak passage of breeding adults is heading north far out to sea to our west. I've been lucky to witness this off North Uist a few times, but just one in Devon in May would be nice! The April record was a bizarre one - the well-watched winter plumaged adult that took up residence in a ploughed field at Wembury.

 So to sum up, realistically I might fill the calendar for  Sooty Shearwater and Acrtic Skua, if I'm lucky - shame its not the same month to concentrate on.

Knee tremblers part 2 - the lunchbox that got away!

Back in 2016 this neglected blog featured a piece on "knee tremblers", those special seabirds that leave you trembling when they appear on a seawatch - see the original post here. For these are the Pterodromas, to me the ultimate seabird - mystical beasts that appear sweeping through and (usually) are gone all too quickly. My lack of seeing one for a while resulted in another trip to Madeira in 2018, where some great encounters were had (see photos of their two species below), in at times, very rough seas, see the write-up  here.  The same year I even saw another Fea's type Petrel at Pendeen, found by Steve Votier, apparently the site's first accepted one - which I find very strange given its position and history of amazing seabirds! So up to 2020 I've seen eight in UK and Ireland of which I found three, co-found two and latched onto three others found by others (including one found by my dear other half and seawatching companion Del); they included accepted firsts for Devon, UK and County Mayo, Ireland. Since 2015, in Devon there have been another two Fea's/Desertas I missed, both at Berry Head and both times I've been down-stream at Start Point when the phone call has come through "heading your way and you'll definitely get this". Yes, and both times I didn't!!

 I still tuned into the great vibe coming from Berry Head of their last one (25/08/20) as the assembled group enthused on their bird, with seawatching mate Dave Dawe deservedly welcomed to the 'I've found a knee trembler" club and the sheer elation of those assembled seeing it; including a delighted Mark Bailey who just got on it before it sailed off around the corner. Not surprisingly Perry Saunders and myself at Start were rather deflated, despite clocking 11 Great Shearwaters, way exceeding Berry Head's total!

Above the larger more robust Desertas Petrel on the left, the more delicate (Manx-sized) Zino's Petrel on the right - Madeira 2018. When compared, this Zino's has more white in the underwing coverts (more pro-feature for Zino's); also its more compact and shorter-necked, and has a slimmer bill (a similar bird should be a future addition to the UK list as a great candidate was seen on a Scilly pelagic in 2020!). Desertas and Fea's are inseparable in the field, but as the above 'Desertas' photo was taken off the Desertas Islands, Madeira, its a pretty solid bet it was one.

But was 2020 over for strange seabirds? No what a year! So to recap there's been a White-chinned Petrel in Orkney, Short-tailed Shearwaters Ireland and France, Flesh-footed Shearwater Azores, Zino's Petrel Isles off the Scillies, a handful of Fea's/Desertas Ireland/UK/Spain, yet another 'Band-rumped' Petrel Cornwall etc. Then take a deep breath, recently at the famous  Estaca de Bares a Great-winged Petrel!!! With supporting cast of two South Polar Skuas,  two Fea's type etc etc, in a watch that must go down as one of the best ever!

Anyway, I again had the "knee trembler" moment in more ways than one! On 27/08/20 a rather uninspiring forecast had me arrive at Berry Head for a seawatch at 12:00, winds had been due south all morning and forecast to strengthen and go more south-easterly with some rain. OK for some skuas, may be I thought? On arriving at the watch point, there was already a good passage of Manx taking place and a close Sooty in with them, then a European Storm-petrel. Dam I thought to myself, should have come down here earlier this is quite good! Manx passage increased another Sooty sailed past and a few more stormies, the wind was getting up and starting to rain. I moved a few metres to the south of the watch point for more protection as the wind was now approaching gale south-easterly and the sea very rough. Manx were pouring through sheering up and as I scanned with binoculars, sheltering under my well-seasoned brolly, what was that?!! I picked up something very different rise up amongst the Manxies. I started to shake as it was clearly something very good and not seen by me before. Wings were a bit more bow shaped, with a striking black & white underwing pattern not matching Manx, more thicker dark to towards the leading edge, was that a black ulnar wing bar?! I then convinced myself I'd got a Black-capped Petrel and rather stupidly started looking for features of Black-capped, by now just managing to get it in the scope as it was heading away from me - I was really shaking by now. But no, no big white rump, no isolated black cap and this bird was barely bigger than a Manx - too small. Although dark above, I got the impression of the white on the face and up to the forehead giving it a white highlight on the front end, and Manx like saddle-bags that joined, both very unlike Manx! The bird had gone and I'd eliminated my first thought of Black-capped Petrel. Must have been a weird Manx I told myself, but I was not happy with that scenario, I've seen 100000's of Manx and never anything like that before. I rang Mike Langman who was thinking of coming down to say seawatching was good and I'd had a weird 'Manx' I'd tried to turn into something else.

Anyway before I could give it much more thought and had written the briefest notes, the second knee trembler moment happened. The wind just suddenly shifted through 180 degrees to north-northwest, at that moment my brolly blew inside out and four+ (carbon fibre) stays snapped and I was blown off my low three-legged seat. The wind strength was nothing like I'd experienced before, this was dangerous and I feared going over the edge. A north-westertly hits our normally protected quarry/cliff from the wrong direction and amplifies it. I was laid on the ground grabbing what I could, scope and tripod chucked on the ground and held on to my rucksack. Sandwich box and box containing items for making tea or coffee (essential long-haul seawatch gear) were both blown out to sea before I could grab them. Steel flask also blown out of sight towards the edge and disappeared. I then proceeded to crawl dragging my rucksack and crouched in the corner, while being hit by a deluge of water. This was not pleasant! All thoughts of 'the bird' had gone, I just wanted to salvage what I could and survive! I sat it out for around 30 minutes and the wind started to drop. Wow I was lucky (I recovered my flask at least that had wedged under a rock, just stopping it going over)! Had this been a Berry Head full-house with folk sat on big chairs, much of it would have gone out over, hopefully with occupants baling out first.

When I got home I looked at the data from the weather station on top of the headland, which showed a dramatic change in wind direction, southeast 40mph suddenly around 70mph north, as it went around in-front of torrential rain wind speed felt even higher! Data in knots (x1.15 for mph). Yes, 70mph is violent storm, felt like a tornado, with no protection in that direction at Berry Head! Later on in the evening after the storm, ML walking on top of the headland said, most of the cafe's tables and chairs had been blown all over the place.

Wrecked 'state of the art', indestructible brolly!

Well, I finally got around to looking at my numerous seabird books and you know what? Why didn't I think of Bermuda Petrel. It would explain the underwing pattern I saw and why I was thinking of Black-capped, BP can show a thin white rump (aka joining saddlebags) and the forehead and face gives it a white front to head look. Also Manx sized, if not a touch larger. Now on one pelagic off Madeira I remember a Zino's turning up and then a Manx and some participants thinking two Zino's as both shot around together and they were close-ish. Given the conditions at Berry Head that day, picking out features and different jizz was not easy, it was certainly very different to a Manx,  yet I've not enough on it to submit; and from experience very rare seabirds need very good notes and photos to get accepted - now if only ML had been there to help! Of course for me its another one assigned to the should have done better bin, like the brolly - no I rebuilt that with spares from another wreck, so it can fight another storm and so can I!


The 1998 Devon Bird Report - now 20 years old!

How time flies, here we are in 2020, at the time of writing I await the Devon Bird Report 2018 to arrive hopefully in the next month or so. For a few reasons recently I was prompted to pull out the 1998 Devon Bird Report to look something up (more below) and its very interesting looking back!

Like DBR 2018, 20 years ago the cycle of the Devon Bird Report (DBR) had drifted, so DBR 1998 actually came out in 2000 - realistically a year behind. For many that have never been involved in these reports, they may not realise the amount of shear graft that goes in, from the writing team, particularly the editors.

DBR1998 is much smaller than the present reports which up-sized physically in 2007, personally I prefer this smaller size, it fits my bookcase more easily. The then editors were a Dave Glaves (DJG) and Mark Darlaston! (MD), who at the time both worked full-time as scientists for the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency - so this was all done in their spare time, evenings and weekends! DBR 1998 was the last of their trilogy having taken over as editors for the 1996 report, effectively picking up the pieces of a crisis; when the DBR 1996 was literally pulled from the jaws of the printers as it was not up to standard. A bad time for DBR, as when the 1996 proof from the printers was seen by the section writers, it was considered not fit for publication or going out to the membership, so needed a re-edit / rewrite and DJG and MD drew the short straw and sorted it.

Opening the front cover of DBR1998 we see some familiar names, the recorder was Mike Langman and many of  the records committee and section writers are still about today. Sections appear more succinct and consistent in style between writers than in recent DBRs, down to a combination of factors. Despite being small in size the report has a gazetteer, edited to match the site names contained within the sections, very useful. Recent DBRs are 50+ pages bigger and lack a gazetteer!

One thing that is very apparent is the quality of photographs - as pre-digital, photos submitted were on slides or scanned from prints and this shows! Certainly one aspect that has changed dramatically with recent DBRs for the better, however, there was far more artwork in the older report that nicely supported the text than recent times.

Notable birds, the 1997 Semipalmated Plover reappeared at Dawlish Warren, there was a a drake Bufflehead at Roadford and a white morph Gyr Falcon at Wembury. The latter site also hosted a remarkable record of a Long-tailed Skua 4–10 April, described as a moulting sub-adult, however, looking at the photo now is it not a moulting winter adult?!

For a seawatcher 1998 appeared a fantastic year. In September there were a whooping 1771 sightings of Arctic Skuas, including a day record count of c600 on 06/09/98 at Berry Head - surely never to be exceeded. Also due to deep low pressure systems extending way down to the south in early 1998, we saw a genuine January Arctic Skua and European Storm-petrels. Tor Bay also hosted impressive assortments of wintering ducks, divers and grebes; seemingly more diverse than in recent times.

What about Balearic Shearwaters? At the time called 'Mediterranean' Shearwater and DBR1998 states the county record falling with 78 passing Berry Head on 07/09/98, in 2018 Start Point broke the record with 610 on 18/09/18 (8x the number!). Balearic numbers have changed dramatically off Devon!

1998 was a notable seawatching year and for me for many other reasons, how time flies!

Record Devon seabird passage counts I've witnessed!

As an interesting exercise I had a look at the highest passage counts I've witnessed for a number of seabird species off Devon. Some are perhaps unlikely to be exceeded, either due to changes in the particular species' fortunes or access to certain watch points, although two records, Balearic Sheawater and Puffin were broken in 2018. Not included are species such as Gannet, Kittiwakes and commoner auks, as on very good seawatches the counting these are often dropped in favour of recording tubenoses, skuas and less common seabirds.

Species Highest Date Site 2nd  Date Site 3rd Date Site
European Storm-petrel c1000 22/05/06 BHd c500 12/07/98 PPt 450 09/10/97 BHd
Leach's Storm-petrel 155 08/12/06 HPt - - - - - -
Cory's Shearwater 301 08/09/95 HPt 181 21/07/17 BHd 102 30/07/08 BHd
Great Shearwater 320 23/09/99 BHd 140 08/09/95 BHd 82 21/07/17 BHd
Sooty Shearwater 582 02/09/09 BHd 326 02/10/12 SPt 89 07/09/02 HPt
Manx Shearwater c25000 13/08/05 HPt c15000 19/07/05 HPt c15000 19/08/15 HPt
Balearic Shearwater 1068 04/07/20 SPt 610 18/09/18 SPt 528 26/08/15 SPt
Little Gull 153 11/11/13 BHd 57 27/10/04 HN 21 20/11/12 BHd
Mediterranean Gull 66 27/07/18 SPt 60 29/07/18 SPt 50 28/07/18 SPt
Common Tern 1018 05/08/08 BHd c600 19/08/16 BHd - - -
Black Tern 80 24/08/99 HN 24 25/08/15 BHd - - -
Great Skua 91 06/09/98 BHd 86 06/10/09 BHd - - -
Pomarine Skua 79 23/10/11 BHd 64 24/10/11 BHd 63 08/11/14 BHd
Arctic Skua c600 06/09/98 BHd 389 07/09/98 BHd 167 10/09/04 BHd
Long-tailed Skua 10 27/08/12 BHd 7 28/09/91 HN 5 07/09/98 BHd
Puffin 98 11/05/18 BHd 66 09/04/09 BHd 62 19/05/09 BHd
Little Auk 16 02/11/03 BHd 4 29/12/06 BHd - - -

Codes for sites: BHd = Berry Head, HPt = Hartland Point, HN = Hope's Nose, PPt = Prawle Point, SPt = Start Point.

So what's in the table above? Those highlighted in bold blue represent Devon record counts I've seen; followed by my 2nd and 3rd highest counts, which for many species also represent the counties' 2nd and 3rd highest. Over the years I've put in considerable time seawatching at all the above sites, but in more recent times just concentrate on Berry Head and Start Point. The former site is where more Devon record passage counts have taken place than anywhere else. In this blog piece I go through the species and sites and pass comment on whether I think the county record is likely to be raised in the future.

The highest European Storm-petrel count was not witnessed by me and occurred after the famous 1987 storm when c5000 were seen off Hope's Nose on 18/10/87. My highest count in the table is probably Devon's 2nd highest, and unusually took place in May after a storm when an estimated 1000 were lingering and passing Berry Head on 22/05/06.

I feel the highest count for Leach's Storm-petrel is unlikely to be exceeded in a long while. For one, there is no longer access to Hartland Point, once owned by Trinity House it has been sold to a private owner - where before access was possible its now a definite no no. The circumstances that led to the Leach's record, were days of persistent west to south-westerly gales, driving many birds up into the Bristol Channel. On 08/12/06 I saw the wind was predicted to ease and go north-westerly, Hartland seemed the perfect place if birds were going to move south-west out of the Bristol Channel and it certainly was, witnessing one of best winter seawatches of all time (more on this watch here). Could these numbers occur on the South Devon coast, perhaps? But unlikely! There would need to be a lot of birds driven into the south-western approaches; there would need to be a concentrating effect of prolonged south-westerlies pushing them up into Lyme Bay, with the winds ideally switching southeast, then may be Dawish Warren or Hope's Nose (if anyone is watching there!) would come up trumps. But with the loss of Hartland Point access, its going to be difficult to repeat on the North Devon Coast - may be Morte Point if the same circumstances as 2006 ever occur again?

Cory's Shearwater, another record achieved at Hartland Point, when 301 passed on 08/09/95, however, I feel this one will go sooner or later on the South Coast. In fact I thought it was going to go on 21/07/17 at Berry Head. Of course potentially the highest count was on 20/07/05 at Prawle Point when 280 moved west, however, there was incomplete coverage of day  - almost certainly in excess of 300 would have been counted if someone had been stationed at Prawle or Start all day, but they weren't. Interestingly that day I'd wrongly opted to go to Hartland Point as the wind was west-northwest (more a wind for the North Devon coast), we only saw 28 there and 71 the previous day. But for now Hartland hangs onto the record!

Great Shearwater, for now the honors go to Berry Head with 320 on 23/09/99. Like Cory's I'm sure this record will go sooner or later from a south coast watch-point: Berry Head, Start or Prawle. Unlikely to be the north Devon coast with Hartland out of the equation, but that site still retains Devon's 2nd highest count for now of 140 (also the only other three figure count), which also occurred on the record Cory's day - as a whole will that day ever be bettered?

Sooty Shearwater, the 582 birds we saw at Berry Head on 02/09/09 is a phenomenal record. I remember pushing the old record to a mere 89 at Hartland Point on the 07/09/02 and thought that was good at the time. The 2009 record took this to a whole new level, which was exceptional so far up the English Channel and really will take some beating - as more akin to a good count we'd witness off west Ireland! The 02/10/12 Start Point record of 328 was pretty good though and it could happen again?

Manx Shearwater, back to good old Hartland Point. In 2005 there were exceptional numbers off there no doubt from the Welsh breeding colonies, peaking with a passage count of c25,000 on 13/08/05. Not surprisingly similarly big numbers are also being seen off Lundy now folk are looking harder at the sea there.

Balearic Shearwater, this species has become of particular interest to me. Though in recent times the species is meant to be declining the passage record gets pushed higher and higher. Start Point has a lot to answer for this, and I've found its the best site, on the right winds, if, big numbers are on the French side of the English Channel. Start has pushed the record through the 400s and then 500s in 2015 with 406 and 528 respectively, and then in 2018 pushed up again to 610 on 19/09/18. Is that as high as its going to get, perhaps? Well no, unprecedented 1068 past on 04/07/20, think this a new national record too!

Little Gull, always hard to predict. We saw a record 153 go past Berry Head on 11/11/13, this would have been far higher had we not diverted to see a Dusky Warbler on top of the headland, so only started seawatching at 11:30. Around 1,000 had gone past Portland that day, so what would the total have been at Berry Head with all day coverage? Certainly a record that must go if the right circumstances come together again.  

Mediterranean Gull, without doubt the record passage counts of this year will continue to increase along with this species. While we saw movements of around 60 off Start Point in July on Slapton Sands there were far more (three figure counts) resting.

Common Tern, there have been far higher counts at Dawlish Warren, but away from there Berry Head is good for passage when the conditions are right, so I'm sure the count of 1018 on 05/08/08 will be bettered sooner or later. I've not included Arctic Tern as though we have passage counts this species is far rarer on the South Coast and difficult to separate at range making assessment of what's a true passage record difficult.

Black Tern, a record count still residing with Hope's Nose, once the favored South Devon seawatch venue. On 24/08/99 we saw 80 fly past. Hope's Nose probably is still the prime spot for terns and skuas in a south-easterly, this record might last a while though!

Great Skua, unless I'm missing something it appears the 91 we saw off Berry Head on 06/09/98 is a county record. I have to say I'm surprised 100 hasn't been passed in a day, I've certainly seen in excess of 100 a few times in N Cornwall. Perhaps with Great Skua there is a chance the record will be broken in suitable conditions - as a whole the species is adapting to changes in food supply so breeding populations aren't as affected as Arctic Skua (see below).

Pomarine Skua, the highest counts from Berry Head are relativity recent. We do best in late autumn after a good breeding year when juveniles pass back down the English Channel, as happened 23-24/10/11. If its a good Lemming year and the birds breed well, and favorable weather systems occur during mid-late October there is no reason why this record shouldn't be exceeded at Berry Head or Hope's Nose.

Arctic Skua, sadly I can never see the record counts from 1998 ever being broken. This species has undergone huge declines in its British range related to food shortages affecting breeding success. A day count of over 100 is unlikely these days, so the heady heights of c600 on 06/09/98 is unlikely to happen again.

Long-tailed Skua, the rarest of our four skuas, with one record count just getting into double figures on 27/08/12. Like Pomarine a good breeding season is needed, though passage is earlier. If everything comes together, breeding season and weather, a good tally of juveniles is possible and the record could go, again Berry Head or Hope's Nose the most likely sites.

Puffin, away from Lundy where breeding, Berry Head appears to be the best site for spring passage April–June. On 11/05/18 we nearly broke into three figures, being just shy at 98. Again a long watch in the right conditions and this record could go, but its taken me along time to get close to the ton!

Little Auk, not Berry Head again! Yes, as long as there's a good movement of birds down the North Sea in October–November and we then get some southwesterly winds, Little Auk is on the cards. This was the scenario on 02/11/03 when we saw 16 pass, not huge by North Sea standards, but still Devon's record passage to date. Will it get broken, why not, given the right conditions and you like a cooler long seawatch!
Updated 02/09/20

Pterodroma fix and tubenose quest - Madeira and SW England 2018

After a rather good run of seeing feae type Pterodromas in Devon (and Ireland) my recent form was poor, missing the last two Devon records, despite being in situ on headlands downstream of their respective flight paths. There was only one answer to rectify my need for a Pterodroma fix, another trip to Madeira. But while I was about it, why not see how many tubenoses it was possible to see in the north-east Atlantic, from the three WindBirds pelagic trips and my usual local seawatching in Devon (with the odd trip to Cornwall thrown in), in a year. In 2015 the same quest produced 14 species with one notable omission, would 2018 be better?

So 2018 started and the tubenose quest began - seawatching off Berry Head produced Fulmars from 02/01/2018, my first two Manx Shearwaters of the year on 16/03/2018 (Start Point) and early Balearic Shearwaters on 15/04/2018 and 11/05/2018 (Berry Head). So three tubenoses off Devon up to April wasn't bad, not great. Some years I've seen a European Storm-petrel or a Sooty Shearwater by then, but surely they will follow!

May arrived and we headed for Madeira for three WindBirds run pelagic trips in their tubenose-rich seas. Our 1st pelagic was booked for 23/05/2018, but beforehand seawatching from a headland near Machico on 22/05/2018 produced a fair few Cory's Shearwaters and two Bulwer's Petrels. It was quite windy (great for land-based seawatching), but in the back of my mind I was really hoping it would die down just a bit, as Del might find the next days' pelagic hard as she's not the greatest sailor! She hadn't done the 2015 pelagics with me for this reason, but after I'd completed those I thought she would have been fine - but conditions vary so much year to year.

The afternoon of the 23/05/2018 arrived and we were greeted by Catarina and Hugo (who run WindBirds) at Machico harbour. The boat which is a large rib (see picture lower down) looked new compared to my last trips in 2015, but it wasn't, just a new tube (the rubber bit) and some brand new and very expensive shock-absorbing seats imported from New Zealand. We boarded and headed to sea with a mix of nationalities aboard. Now before you embark on these pelagics you are forewarned, it might be rough and wind is good for tubenoses - I don't think some of the participants had read the pre-flight information!! Looking above sheltered Machico the clouds were rushing over at rather a fast rate!!

As we headed east I could see through the gap off the end of Madeira and the small adjoining island, our first indication of what the sea was looking like, answer big! A 2.5m+ swell and a 20+ knot north-westerly to be precise - this was going to be interesting! After passing though the gap out into the main Atlantic, the boat, Oceandroma, started to cut her way through towering waves and there was a lot of hard slamming off the tops; thank god for those new seats! We were very quickly wet, very wet, as every now and again a wave would break over us. Luckily my camera gear was all in a dry bag, but was still bouncing around in the bottom of the boat. While an action camera was tucked in my pocket, which filled with seawater and had to be emptied periodically after each drenching - luckily the action cam is waterproof! I managed a few quick shots with the action cam to capture the atmosphere, but holding on and using it at the same time was difficult. Both Del's and my thinusulate beanie-hats were so soggy, they kept drooping over our eyes and had to be regularly wrung out so we could see! This was far, far rougher than my previous trips and quick look back down the boat revealed some of the participants weren't coping well - told by the grey faces and clenched knuckles hanging on for grim death. For Del this was a baptism of fire and not an easy starter! Were we really paying good money for this, we must be mad!
We take yet another wave right over us, fine if you like saltwater!
We stopped for a respite from slamming down over waves to look at some foraging Cory's Shearwaters. Nice to get some shots of them feeding in a bit of wind.
Cory's feeding in a big sea - nice!
Catching fish just below the surface.
The conditions still weren't improving and three participants in particular weren't coping well, however, spirits were briefly lifted by a quick flyby 'Fino's' Petrel hurtling through on the wind. 'Fino's' is the term we use for the birds that can't be assigned to Fea's or Zino's - of course this has become more complicated since Fea's was split into two species: Desertas and Fea's Petrel. As Desertas and Zino's Petrels are the most likely in the area, given they are breeding on nearby Bugio (Desertas Islands) and Pico do Arieiro (Madeira), perhaps these non-assigned Pterodromas would be better called 'Dino's'?
A 'Dino's' Petrel hurtles by on the wind.
We plodded on out to a 'chumming' position, known to be good for Zino's Petrels and where we'd been lucky in 2015. A chum block went in, but conditions were very difficult. Then just to add insult to injury it also started to pour with rain. This was the final straw for some participants, who now just wanted to go home! Catarina and Hugo decided to abandon the trip and we headed back to port, surfing down the huge swell with the wind on our backs - very exiting. As compensation we were promised longer at sea and extra chum blocks for the remaining two pelagics! One good thing though, Del coped admirably - far better than some of the others, three of which were so put off they didn't turn up for the next two pelagics they had paid for, a great shame as conditions proved far more bearable for the remaining two trips and I'm sure they'd have been OK. With WindBirds you pay for all three trips to give the best chance of catching up with as many tubesnoses as possible. So after day one my year tubenose total was still stuck on five - 'Dino's' Petrel not included of course!
Oceanodroma with Machico, Madeira in the background - sheltered from dominant north biased winds - Del and me upfront. New rubber tube and seats compared to my 2015 trip. Pelagic 2 sees a few empty seats as some participants are put off by pelagic 1, what's left are the 'seabirders'. Surely this one will be better!
For pelagic 2 (24/05/18) Catarina and Hugo decided that the wind was still too strong in the north so we'd head south and try for Desertas Petrel etc, hence gaining a bit of shelter from Madeira as we headed out. While heading down towards the Desertas we had nice close passes by two brutish Pterodromas. We slowed to fire off some shots. Heavy-billed, robust birds ticking all the boxes for Desertas, so more than happy they were.
About as good a Desertas Petrel as you can get, especially when you're a few miles off their breeding island Bugio. Look at the bill on that and the overall build.
When we arrived at our chumming position west of Bugio, we used three chum blocks one after another for the afternoon/evening session, really getting our money's worth, as we came home in the dark, so used every minute of daylight at sea. The resulting chum built up to 30+ 'Band-rumped' Petrels feeding on the slick. Given no wing moult, they appeared to be mostly the 'hot' season breeders, (likely to be using the Desertas Islands etc) and almost certainly most were Madeiran Storm-petrels. I'd seen a few before on my 2015 trips, but to see so many was fantastic. We also added two more species of Storm-petrel with European and a very brief Wilson's seen.

'Band-rumped' Storm-petrels almost certainly Madeiran.
Now it was interesting that two Leach's Petrels were also claimed. I have to say I saw nothing to suggest Leach's, one of the birds in question was photographed by another birder. I asked to be sent the pictures when I got home, which to me showed a 'Band-rumped' Petrel with some moult in the white of the rump. So though Leach's appeared on the day's tally for others it didn't for us!

Cory's Shearwaters and Bulwer's Petrels are almost taken for granted, but the latter are amazing birds to watch in flight especially as our chances of seeing one back home are incredibly slim.
Bulwer's Petrel, what a distinctive flight and shape - one day Start Point (dream on)!
A Bulwer's Petrel dwarfs a Madeiran Storm-petrel which aren't small compared to our European [British] Storm-petrels.

Another Shearwater you don't necessarily associate with Madeira are Manx. Yet a small population breeds in the interior mountains. They regularly come to chum on WindBirds pelagics, something I didn't find when I used to work on a fishing boat off South Devon and regularly chummed for seabirds. I can only ponder, either Catarina and Hugo have some 'secret' ingredient or our British Manx are more fussy? 
Manx Shearwater - regular on pelagics off Madeira, often coming in on chum - something I didn't find back at home when I used to do a lot of  'chumming' off South Devon
 Now one bird you hope to see off Madeira is Barolo Shearwater (they breed on nearby islands), but they are not easy, due to being relatively rare with a declining population and don't come to chum (boat shy). In 2015 I had a fleeting glimpse of one at dusk when heading back in after one pelagic. This time we were lucky again, Del and I spotted two birds initially coming head on, in 'characteristic' fast beating flight, I quickly took a camera shot. They quickly crossed the chum slick and whizzed off into the distance. Sadly none of the other seabirders got on them a part from C&H, the quick shot I took remarkably was in-focus (see below).
Barolo Shearwater coming head on - white-face and isolated eye (not always a feature), but seen nicely on this bird. Note sea is still roughish for pelagic 2 but far better than 1.
So we ended pelagic two with a very nice selection of eight tubenoses and my years' tally hit double figures - a nice round 10.
Roseate Tern - quite a bit of red on the base of the bill on his bird as some do.
Its not all tubenoses of course and it was nice to see Common and Roseate Terns and a Bonxie, the only gulls we saw were Yellow-legged ('Azorean') and Black-headed (at Machico); as a group we definitely get a better selection back home - so don't come to Madeira if you're a larophile. 
Yellow-legged Gull - often the first species to arrive when the chum goes in.

Cory's Shearwater - one of the most numerous tubenoses seen off Madeira, but a fantastic bird and very nice when we occasionally see them off Devon (would it happen in 2018?).
Our final pelagic was on 25/05/18. Again we would head north hoping for Zino's Petrel, one of the worlds rarest tubenoses. I also hoped we would see White-faced Storm-petrel on one the trips, particularly for Del, as they are charismatic almost comical birds to watch when feeding, but felt from previous trips we had probably blown our chances on that one as I'd only seen them on pelagics south of Madeira before - but never say never.

The final pelagic was slow, despite again having three chum blocks to play with and a nice bit of wind to carry the scent, but tubenoses seemed reluctant to respond. Of course Cory's Shearwaters and Bulwer's Petrels were ever present, but where were those special birds? Several Loggerhead Turtles were seen and quite amusing as they nibbled away at the chum block, something I didn't see in 2015.
Loggerhead Turtles like a good chew on the chum block.
Birds continued to be slow, but nice views of Common Tern, Manx Shearwaters and a Bonxie.
Common Tern
The day moved on quickly with the light starting to fade. I could tell Catarina and Hugo were looking anxious, where were the star birds? We all continued to scan the chum slick, when at 20:50 British birder Dave W, said to me "Mark what's this way down the slick?" A small Pterodroma was working its way up the long chum slick and I shouted out "Zino's". Everyone was soon on the bird as it made a series of flypasts. It was so light-weight and compact compared to the Desertas of the previous day, showing a good amount of white in the underwing coverts and slimmer bill. This one ticked all the Zino's boxes and gave amazing views in the failing light as it made several swift passes.
Lots of white in the underwing coverts on this Zino's, giving it a score firmly in the Zino's camp!
Also this Zino's Petrel is a dainty Pterodroma.
Slim bill, almost no neck, very compact body.
The Zino's behaved like a little rocket zooming around in the wind, to me they appear far more energetic than Desertas/Fea's in a strong wind. At one point a Manx joined it, causing someone to shout two Zino's, but this was really just down to the similar wingspan. I'd seen Zino's before in 2015 but could never tire of seeing such a magic bird - if you're only going to get one it might as well be a good-un - this was probably better and more entertaining than those we'd seen in 2015. Catarina and Hugo looked relieved, the seabirders were elated - oh how a day can change so quickly!
Zino's - a small compact Pterodroma
One of the best seabirds I'll ever see. Fading light ISO2000!
But it didn't stop there. Del then casually scanned the slick at 21:00 and said "What's that petrel?". Hugo was straight on it, a White-faced Storm-petrel was heading up the slick at speed (they fly quite quickly in traveling flight), then started to 'pogo' feed its way along the slick. Soon to be joined by a Madeiran Storm-petrel.
Icing on the cake a White-faced Storm-petrel arrives, 'pogoing' its way along the slick. Fading light ISO2500 for the camera buffs!

Madeiran Storm-petrel and White-faced Storm-petrel.
It was then time to head back. As we slowly moved down checking the chum slick Hugo picked up a Wilson's Storm-petrel - what a fantastic last hour. Time to head into Machico for a drink!

I've always wondered if a really good Zino's Petrel like the one we saw came past one of our south-west headlands, would we be able to tell it from a Desertas/Fea's Petrel?  Some say not, but I reckon so! But a photo would definitely be needed to convince any records committee.
Desertas Petrel vs Zino's Petrel
So Madeira had delivered 10 species of tubenose (same as my 2015 visit). Only possible with the help of Catarina and Hugo of Madeira WindBirds - I can't recommend them enough, they'll sort your accommodation and any other birding all at a very reasonable price.

So my tubenose tally was now up to 12 - would I be able to increase this back home seawatching? 2018 proved to be a very hot summer, generally dominated by high pressure with little wind. Though seawatching is usually better in Cornwall, I doggedly stuck to my favoured Devon sites of Start Point and Berry Head. Both needing winds with a southerly bias. A small blow on 14/06/2018 produced my first two Devon European Storm-petrels of the year off Start Point, while a further four seawatches in June and early July predictably failed to add any new tubenoses.

Then the end of July arrived and the dominant high-pressure started to breakdown with some Atlantic fronts arriving. On the 27/07/2018 an afternoon seawatch at Start Point to coincide with an approaching front got the ball rolling, with two Great Shearwaters and 28 Balearic Shearwaters. The former adding another tubenose and the latter, the first pick up of this declining species (though not as a visitor! - but that's another blog post to come). The next day was even better with 10 Great Shearwaters and 19 Cory's Shearwaters in the afternoon. The 29/07/2018 saw the arrival of a better system, the resulting tubenoses were impressive (for Devon at least): 14 Cory's, 12 Great, 4 large shear sp., 14 Sooty, 60 Balearic and c1100 Manx Shearwaters. Throw in a European Storm-petrel and some Fulmars making a very nice tubenose tally of seven. This just emphasises how much better the summer/autumn months are for us, but seven in July is pretty handy and I'd seen everything I'd already seen in Devon since the beginning of the year in just one day!  One thing that also struck me, it seems gone are the days' when I see a Cory's Shearwater before Great in Devon, are Greats getting earlier?

So by the end of July my overall tubenose tally had reached 14, Sooty being the last addition - and 14 was exactly where it had remained in 2015. I wasn't really expecting to add anything new in Devon unless I got lucky with a Leach's further into the autumn, so I'd be keeping an eye on the forecast and hopefully visit one of my favourite seawatching venues, Pendeen, should the opportunity arise.

But before we leave July I must mention one notable non-tubenose sighting off Berry Head. On the 30th a c2m Leatherback Turtle surfaced about 100m off the headland, I'd only seen dead ones in the UK and small ones off Madeira before, so quite and event. Possibly the first record for Berry Head?

I only managed five seawatches in August when suitable conditions arrived, again the weather was mostly dominated by high pressure. But Balearic Shearwaters seemed to be around in good numbers, as soon as we got the right winds for birds to cross the channel from the French side. Notable counts off Start were 191 on 10th, 214 on 11th and 306 on the 12th all moving southwest. I didn't see my next influx until September, where numbers were mediocre early in the month (often the peak), but had picked up by 17th with 207. Then on the 18th I witnessed my best Balearic passage to date, when 610 came through in a 9.5hour seawatch (many in flocks up to 80), mostly in the afternoon - the Devon record had gone again!

On 20/09/2018 a big Atlantic depression arrived, storm 'Bronagh' - a watch at Berry Head delivered 122 Balearic Shearwaters supported by three Great and a Sooty Shearwater. Yet 'Bronagh' was classic fast moving Atlantic depression, so with winds forecast to switch north-west overnight, my first trip of the year to Pendeen was on the cards. Once upon a time I would have been loyal to Devon and Hartland Point on a north-westerly, but I've had to give this up as no access anymore. So I got up early on the 21st and was seawatching down the bottom of the slope at Pendeen by 06:55. Lots of seabirds were moving and relatively quickly I picked up a Leach's Storm-petrel over the 1st rock, ending the day seeing seven. The day proved to be a great seawatch with eight tubenoses identified to species: 7 Leach's & 4 European Storm-petrels; 1000's Manx, Cory's, 42 Great, 35 Sooty, c120 Balearic Shearwaters and Fulmars. And a another tubenose to group  - a distant feae type picked out by Steve Votier who managed to get me onto the bird.  My first for Cornwall! But then that's not surprising I don't watch the famous 'Fea's' magnet, Porthgwarra as I stick to Devon in southerly based winds.

So my 2018 tubenose tally had got to 15, I doubt I'll ever see more in a year in the north-east Atlantic!