Pelagic birding

European Storm-petrel

From May to the start of July I spent about a month on long-line fishing vessels in Faroese waters. I were gathering data for the “Faroe Marine Research Institute” about by-catch. This work provided me with a unique opportunity to do pelagic birding.

The beginning of May was rather cold and windy, but the birding was awesome. Every day provided thousands of Fulmars, hundreds of Gannets and Great Skuas and occasional Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas.

Great Skua and Fulmar

It was interesting to see how the different species fought over discarded scraps. The Gannets were able to dive down and catch fast-sinking items. They also used a trick were they came from below and gapped the food from the bills of the Fulmars.


Gannet and Fulmars

The advantage of the Fulmars is the lack of fear. They get really close to the boat. Literally touching the site of it and just wait for the scraps to be flushed overboard. So they are pretty much always the first ones to catch the food. But they fight viciously over the scraps and if the food item is big enough other birds are often able to steal it.

Pale Fulmar

The Great Skuas are some of the strongest birds out there. They use their strength to plunge into the mist of the Fulmars grapping the bites and then flying off. But they fear the Fulmars as they try to vomit on the Great Skuas. Seeing the Fulmars in defense mode was truly amazing.

Fulmar in defense position

Great Skua

A few oddities also turned up as both a Purple Sandpiper and a Barnacle Goose visited the ship.

Barnacle Goose and Great Skua

My personal highlight was the passing of Pomarine Skuas. A few birds passed the boat every day. Nice adults in prime plumage with long tail-extension. On a single day I had 21 birds passing the boat giving supreme photo opportunities.

Pomarine Skua
Pomarine Skua
Pomarine Skua

Pomarine Skuas are rarely recorded on the Faroes and I think this is the first time the species is actually photographed in Faroese waters. But the observations proved that the species migrates north in some numbers west of the Faroes (the same would likely be true east of the Faroes).

A single dark Lesser Black-backed Gull was likely a ssp. intermedius, which to my knowledge has never been confirmed on the Faroes.

Dark Lesser Black-backed Gull

A second trip started in June and ended early July. Fulmars, Great Skuas, Gannets were now joined by European Storm-petrels (ESP). In May I didn´t see a single Storm-petrel, but now I had totals up to 250 per hour passing the boat. In windy conditions they even came very close providing some great photo opportunities.

European Storm-petrel

A single Leach´s Storm-petrel also passed the boat, but it was distant. I did get a crappy photo though.

A few Pomarine Skuas still passed the boat, but all were 3cy. Finally a few Long-tailed Skuas also passed the boat though they only hung around for seconds or minutes. All of them turned out to be 3cy-birds. Probably non-breeding birds roaming the seas.

Long-tailed Skua
Long-tailed Skua

The trip offered two genuine surprises. The first was a Greater Scaup passing the boat. Not an expected species off-shore.

The biggest surprise proved to be a Black Guillemot that passed the boat 40 nautical miles east of Fugloy, which is the easternmost island of the Faroes. It showed a very white underwing and the white patch on the inner part of the upper wing had white extending out of the outer wing making this a Black Guillemot of the subspecies mandtii from the arctic. Black stripes in the white wing-patch made me age it as a 1. summer. If accepted it will be the third Mandt´s Black Guillemot for the Faroes – and my second self-found.

Mandt´s Black Guillemot

Currently I am waiting for the phone to ring in order to head out again on another pelagic trip. Hopefully some nice rarities are out there waiting to be seen!



4 comments on “Pelagic birding

  1. Torben Sebro says:

    Fedt – og voldsomt misundelsesværdigt, fantastiske billeder!

    Mvh. Torben

  2. Judith Schenck says:

    Beautiful photos. How amazing that must have been!

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