Nature Notes

November 18, 2008

Pelagic Birding-Europe

Filed under: — Harold Stiver @ 9:46 am


Birding Madeira

Regular boat transportation running out of the Madeiran islands, this is a new entry to pelagic birding. You might find some interesting petrels in the area including the resident Zino’s Petrel, a bird that is near extinction.

The Northern Ferries

There are a number of ferries, particularly in the northern parts of Europe, which would provide excellent seabird viewing opportunities.

I have taken the ferry to the Orkney Islands many times, and it passes through rich bird area including Auks, Skuas, Storm petrels and Shearwaters.

(The following was contributed by Nigel Symes. Thanks Nigel)

Two “super” ferries cross from England to Northern Spain throughout the year. One from Portsmouth to Bilbao ( – 30 hours, and the other from Plymouth to Santander ( – 24 hours. Biscay and the area of the outer English Channel these ferries pass through are among the richest waters in Europe for wildlife.

Thousands of migrant seabirds pass through, including Great and Cory’s Shearwaters, Sabine’s gull, long-tailed and pomerine skuas (jaegers), and storm petrels. Locally breeding seabirds that are commonly seen include northern Gannet, b-l Kittiwake, manx shearwater, European storm petrel and three alcids. These ships also regularly turn up rare pelagic birds, Macronesian shearwater and Wilson’s storm petrel are annual, meanwhile Maderian storm petrel, masked booby, black-browed albatross and a dark-rumped storm petrel have been seen.

Over 20 species of cetaceans have been recorded at sea in Biscay, and up to 14 can be logged in a single crossing. Fin, sperm and minke whales are regular along with long finned pilot whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales (maybe the most reliable place in the world for them?), bottlenose, common and striped dolphins, and harbour porpoise. Species recorded at least annually include blue and Sei whales, orca, northern bottlenose whale, Atlantic white-sided, and Russo’s dolphin. Other less regular species include humpback whale, Sowerby’s beaked whale, false and pygmy killer whales and white-beaked dolphin.

Each ferry makes a couple of crossings a week throughout the year, and are luxurious. Mid summer to mid fall are best times, but it can be good even in the depths of winter – though you do need a strong stomach then!

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