Pelagic birding in Faroese waters

Fulmars feeding on fish waste

I’ve had the wish for a long time. In fact since I was working on a trawler back in 2003 and saw gazillions of Fulmars along with Sooty and Great Shearwaters and other good stuff between Iceland and the Faroes and east of Ireland. A wish to do more pelagic birding. For well, it is almost uncharted territory. What can be seen? When? Under what circumstances?

Well, the Faroese list of pelagic birds is already interesting. Great Shearwaters have been reported regularly west of the Faroes. Scopoli’s Shearwater has been shot back in the days and another Cory’s type has been seen from land. A single Fea’s/Zino’s has been photographed off the island of Lítla Dímun and South Polar Skua has been shot in 1889. Sooty Shearwater is regular as are the breeding European and Leach’s Storm-petrels and Manx’ Shearwaters. So there is potential for good seabirds and I’ve had a wish to do more about sea watching than I have before.

So on 1st August I called the captain Gullak on a small trawler called Olga Maria just to find about where he was going and for how long. After explaining my desire to watch birds he replied: ”We leave in 3 hours”. For how many days he didn’t know, but not more than 10. So what to do? With the support of my wife I made the arrangements necessary and 3 hours later we left for an area 20 nautic miles west of Mykines – the westernmost island on the Faroes.

European Storm-petrel

On the way out to the fishing field I saw no less than 59 European Storm-petrels, 2 Leach’s Storm-petrels, 200+ Manx’ Shearwaters and a Pomarine Skua. No wonder that expectations where high – and luckily seasickness has never been an issue for me.

European Storm-petrels

The sound of the engine next to the cabin took some time to get used to, so I didn’t sleep long. So the following day I woke up at 4:00 and went up on the deck. And right away the first European Storm-petrels were seen. As the sun rose and we got the first catch (haddock, cod, saith etc) I was amazed. 210 storm-petrels passed the boat pr hour – most of them just giving short glimpses for seconds before disappearing behind the waves. When dragging the net we sailed with a speed of about 7 km pr hour and we virtually never stopped. This meant that unlike pelagic birding boat trips with chum and everything where the boats wait for the birds we just passed the birds. So the first day I just tried to photograph as many storm-petrels as possible, but most pictures were blurred or too distant – and it was actually quite unsatisfying. But the day gave about 1500 European Storm-petrels, only one Manx’ Shearwater, 3 Great Skuas, 6 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Razorbills, 1 Guillemot, 200 Puffins, 100 Gannets and about 4.000 Fulmars.

Sooty Shearwater

 

Sooty Shearwater

 

Sooty Shearwater

The next day still had a good breeze, but as we were heading north numbers of Storm-petrels were ”only” 130 pr hour. But it stead of photographing I just watched and watched. And all of a sudden a Storm-petrel with hanging feet and greyish greater coverts passed the boat. But is was too fast and I lost it while picking up the camera.

Blue Fulmar

The number of Fulmars had increased to about 10.000. They were feeding on the guts of the fish that were caught. 300-400 meters behind the ship European Storm-petrels were feeding of the Fulmars left-overs, but they were nothing more that small spots – and those that I could identify were all European.

Gannet

 

Gannet

But around noon a Wilson’s Storm-petrel passed only 30 meters in front of the boat. I got supreme views including dark underwing, greyish greater coverts and feet projecting the tail. But again I didn’t manage to get proper photos.

Interestingly I didn’t see a single Manx’ Shearwater or Leach’s Storm-petrel following the boat at any time. But Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Great and Arctic Skuas, European Storm-petrels and Sooty Shearwaters were all benefitting from following the boat.

Guillemots

 

Razorbills

 

Puffin

The following day was sunny and there was hardly a breeze. This resulted in much fewer birds and only a few hundred European Storm-petrels were seen during the day. But chicks of Razorbill, Puffin and Guillemot made my day!

Gannet

 

Yesterday was also very calm but there were more birds present again. And finally a Wilson’s Storm-petrel passed the boat again and I managed to get some blurry images. But dark underwing, pale/greyish greater coverts, extensive white rump and long feet were seen before the pictures were obtained.

Wilson’s Storm-petrel

 

Wilson’s Storm-petrel

Far away I saw large Shearwaters flying by on three occasions, and I am confident that at least on of them was a Great Shearwater.

Great Skua

 

Fulmar

All in all I spent 7 days at sea and it was simply amazing. Stormy weather would probably be even better, but I am more than happy with the result. And thanks to the crew onboard Olga Maria. Great food and great company!

Sunset at sea

Silas

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