Seabird Spring

Much is changing in the seabird department at this time of year, in terms of departures, arrivals and alterations of appearance.

It’s a very prolonged process as I have recently observed whilst paddling along various sections of coast. Many Cormorant nests already contain chicks whose wobbly heads wave above the edge of their nests as they demand food in a weird gurgling way, whereas the overwintering Great Northern Divers (Loons) are not only still around in force, many are still in winter plumage and several thousand miles away from their breeding grounds.

Like many seabirds their winter outfit is unremarkable and essentially dark above and white below, and gives no hint of the amazing transformation into stunning breeding plumage.

I observed Loons in all states of transformation in South Cornwall recently.

A quartet still in winter plumage (or starting to moult):

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Great Northern Divers

A bird in full breeding plumage with two winter birds:

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Great Northern Divers

And just to top it off a very rare Black-throated Diver in Summer plumage, in the company of a Great Northern.

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Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver

These divers nest in the arctic so are in no hurry to depart as it is probably still quite snowy up there, and a few could be around until June.

Other winter visitors will soon be heading north. This juvenile Glaucous Gull I came across in Newlyn Harbour will be off,

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Glaucous Gull

as will this rare Red-necked Grebe,

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Red-necked Grebe

and these Avocets that brighten up the dreary muddy scenes of some of the southwest’s estuaries.

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Avocets

More Common seabirds also undergo a very rapid change of outfit. Guillemots overwinter like this:

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Winter Guillemot

Then go through a quick moult when they look a bit flea-bitten,

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Moulting Guillemots

before emerging in their smart summer look:

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Summer Guillemots

Manx Shearwaters clear off to warmer places in the winter and have only just returned.

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Manx Shearwater

Everbody’s favourite bird of the Summer is the Swallow, and I have seen just a handful of these coming in off the open sea over the last week. Almost a match for these¬† in terms of floatiness and liveliness are the ‘Swallows of the Sea’……Terns.

Although no Terns nest in Devon or Cornwall (I’m pretty sure), a lot migrate past during Spring and Autumn and I was thrilled to see fifteen or so Sandwich Terns fishing in the Camel estuary at Rock a few days ago. A fantastic sight in the bright sunshine with the air full of their excited chatter. They love sitting on mooring buoys so were quite easy to photograph.

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Sandwich Terns
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Sandwich Tern
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Sandwich Tern

Even birds as common and as overlooked as Shags, sporting snappy-looking quiffs and brilliant green eyes , can impress at this time of year.

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Shag

Curiously there are a handful of Eider ducks, which really ought to move north during the summer for breeding, that seemingly can’t be bothered and spend the entire year in the same place. I suppose it’s a lot easier not to go, but looks like you might get a bit of a belly.

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Drake Eider Duck