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.