Thursday, 19 September 2013

Leach's Storm-petrel, Leasowe, Merseyside - 16th September 2013

I've been told plenty times that to see Leach's Strom-petrels off the west coast, you need the winds to be just right. You need a good 24 hours worth of strong westerlies in the middle of September to push the birds towards the west coast. Also, the wind must keep up during the passage, and visibility out at sea must be bad. Plus, you must close your vantage point wisely: northwesterlies and New Brighton is the place; southwesterlies mean go to Hoylake; anything in-between and Leasowe should do. Oh, and make sure you are there at high tide.

All these variables, combined with work and family and other commitments, have meant getting there at the right time has failed me in the past. But not this year. This year I managed to make the dash across country after work to be at Leasowe in filthy weather, sustained high winds, and on a rising tide. And the Leach's Storm-petrels came flying past south just like buses…

 Leach's Strom-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), Leasowe, Mersetside - 16th September 2013

I had five of them in the two hours I was there. The first had perfect plumage features - really handy when looking through a hand-held scope in 70mph gusts. The pale bars on the wings were so clear, and the white rump was clearly bisected by a dark line. I couldn't clearly see the forked tail, but the larger size (than European Storm-petrel), the longer, pointier wings, the shearing flight action added up to a positive ID.

Te second was even better - the forked tail clear to see. I was joined by Secret Twitcher and third bird came along the shoreline. This one seemed smaller and more rounded in wings and tail, with less defined wing markings. I wondered about it being a European, although it did look very brown and the rump wasn't extensive enough. What do I know? The fourth and fifth birds were closer in, as the tide was week up by then.

Fantastic little creatures, appearing strong and hardy, yet so slight and vulnerable. The way they dance over the surface of the roiling sea, dangling their stick-like legs in the foam, was a joy to watch. Like that bracing, sea-tossed journey to Inner Farne (also post-work) to see another ocean wanderer the Bridled Tern in July, this was a great, atmospheric, memorable trip.

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