The 2018 boating season is underway, but the changeable weather has rather limited the days we have had out on the water, so far. Anyone who reads these blogs will know that I am constantly wondering why there are so many fish in the water, and so few birds looking for them. We have, if anything, seen fewer cormorants this year, for instance, but are certainly seeing as many fish ... so the appearance of a totally new seabird gives us a lot of excitement.
It happened rather quickly; we were heading quite briskly along on a nice bouncy sea, when I noticed the white dots of a group of gulls on the water-in itself, not a very common sight. There were some greyish, brownish birds beside them, which I assumed to be young gulls - until they lifted quickly into the air, and set off with a low gliding which we instantly recognised; these had to be shearwaters. They were perhaps twenty in number, definitely more brown than the blue-black and white of the Manx shearwater with which we are both familiar (from Scottish coasts), and I read that they are also slightly larger. (But they were definitely smaller than the three Greater shearwaters we had seen on a previous occasion). As they departed quickly, we had to wait for further elucidation till we were back home and got the books out.
There seems to be no room for doubt; these were, if you like, our "local" shearwaters, the Balearic, which breed in the Western Mediterranean, and particularly on those islands. One account says that they are among the rarest seabirds in the world, and relatively little known.
As it happens, I had just been reading a really wonderful book about seabirds: "The Seabird’s Cry", by Adam Nicolson, and from it I had learnt a great deal of information which was new to me, despite an almost-lifelong interest, particularly in the petrel family of seabirds, which includes the shearwaters and fulmars. That they are long-lived (fulmars may live up to sixty years), and are unlikely to breed until they are eight or nine, I knew. During those early years, all species range over the oceans of the world; they are, it seems, so perfectly "designed", that, given a bit of wind, they use as little energy in flight, as they would when sitting on what they consider to be a nest. Hundreds, even thousands of miles are nothing to these extraordinary birds, so the ones we saw might well head back to the Balearic Isles with food for their young. And, perhaps most fascinating of all, these birds find their way across the trackless oceans, and find food, by smell...
More I will not say; anyone who is really interested in what is now known about these amazing creatures, should definitely buy the book! It is published by William Collins.