Tracking down Balearic Shearwaters

19 Apr , 2018  

Working on your bird lists can be quite a quest, but also an enjoyable and healthy thing to do, no matter if it is a world list, or just your local patch.

Having visited Iceland, the UK, Spain and Morocco, Butch – a keen American birder visiting from California – contacted me for he was coming to Sagres to try and find a Balearic Shearwater and his pelagic trip got cancelled due to bad wheatear.

Balearic Shearwaters breed only in the Balearic islands in the Spanish Mediterranean. Their global population is estimated in about 25.000 birds (Arcos et al. 2012), with a 90% decline in the last 3 generations. This is a species which I have worked a lot with and that could become extinct within my lifetime. Their main threats are fisheries bycatch (mainly purse-seiners), restricted breeding areas & reduced breeding success for a number of reasons – from climate change to overfishing.

Balearics go to their breeding colonies from September and young birds only come out in June. During the Summer, the coast of mainland Portugal holds their main non-breeding grounds, where they moult and feed on pelagic fish like sardines.

So, now in early April only a few non-breeding birds stay around. It was an unpredictable trip, but we sat down on Cape Saint Vincent in the fresh North wind and waited. Gannets were still moving North and some Mediterranean Gulls. And finally after more than 2 hours…”Two Balearics flying North!” Yes, we got a brief but good look at them. Our job was done.

We still had time to make a detour by a field nearby to take a few pictures of a sleepy Little Owl and see a Yellow Wagtail – a newly arrived Transharian migrant.

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