Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher
Petrel Pterodroma feae breeds in the Cape Verde Islands and the
Madeiran archipelago. These two distinct forms are considered by some
authorities to be separate species, respectively Fea’s Petrel Pterodrom
feae and Desertas Petrel Pterodroma deserta. Both are threatened. The
Fea’s Petrel is heavier, more bulky, with a more robust bill. The
breeding population size of Fea’s may be 500-1,000 pairs, whilst
Desertas Petrel is reduced to perhaps 150-200 pairs. Given the
population sizes speculation suggests that the birds seen off Scilly
most probably are Fea’s Petrel from Cape Verde. However, the birds we
have seen well appear big headed, bull necked, large chested, and have
enormous bills so typical of Desertas Petrel. We believe it is possible
that Pterodromas seen off Scilly are Desertas Petrel on incubation
foraging flights with egg laying known to take place in July-August.
Pterodromas are known to cover large distances when off duty during
incubation. All Pterodroma sightings off Scilly fall in the period July
8 to September 8.
Petrel breeds in Madeira and is critically endangered. It is a slighter
and more lightweight version of the Fea’s Petrel with a slimmer bill.
The breeding population is thought to be in the region of 85 pairs
given the recent discovery of a new breeding location. Conventional
wisdom suggests that Zino’s Petrel is so rare that probability dictates
Pterodromas seen off Britain almost certainly are Fea’s Petrel and/or
Desertas Petrel. We do not agree with this assumption. It is possible
for Zino’s Petrel to visit British waters, for example, on incubation
foraging trips when they might cover long distances. Egg laying is
known to take place in late May and early June. Thus incubation
foraging sightings might be expected in June and July.
date there have been seven sightings of Pterodromas from Scilly
short-range pelagic trips. Two performed so well that it was possible
to document them with photographs and video that show enough detail for
BBRC to accept them to species as Fea’s Petrel. At the moment BBRC and
BOURC do not recognise the split into Fea’s Petrel and Desertas Petrel.
Details of these amazing sightings follow.
2001 Jul 8 1, short-range pelagic, 12 km south, first for Britain.
2004 Sep 6 1, short-range pelagic, 16 kms west, third for Britain.
On July 8 at about 19.00, approximately 12 kms south of St. Mary’s
during an evening short-range pelagic trip a Fea’s Petrel was seen at
point blank range and remained with the boat for some 12 minutes,
thrilling the blessed seven birders on board. The extended stay made it
possible to capture video footage of the event and from that extract
video grabs showing enough structural detail to make a safe
identification as Fea’s Petrel, rather than Zino’s Petrel. The record
was accepted in 2006 by BBRC and BOURC (who review all firsts for
Britain) and thus became the first for Britain (Ashley Fisher, Bob
Flood, and Nigel Wheatley). To see the full account with images Click here
On the evening of Sep 6 a group of seven birders were on an evening
pelagic trip drifting and chumming approximately 16 kms west of St
Mary’s Quay. At approximately 18.45 a Fea’s Petrel appeared over a wave
just 25 metres off port side and was heralded by a multiple cry,
‘Fea’s!’ It remained within 150 metres of the vessel for at least ten
minutes. The Fea’s Petrel associated with and followed Northern Fulmars
and this connection brought it very close to the vessel on numerous
occasions and, as you will appreciate, each time all onboard whooped
with joy. On several occasions the ‘Fea’s’ swooped past the vessel at
about 15 metres and at its nearest it was just six metres off the bow.
Eventually the ‘Fea’s’ moved off in a south-westerly direction. A
number of photographs were taken that facilitated safe identification
as Fea’s Petrel, rather than Zino’s Petrel, in particular because they
show key identification features, especially bill size and structure,
and head and body bulk. This ‘Fea’s’ was accepted by BBRC and became
only the third record for Britain (Ashley Fisher, Bob Flood and Ben
above two records along with one at sea about 96km southwest of Scilly
(outside the recording area) during a pelagic trip aboard RMV
Scillonian III on 12 August 2001 to date are the only ones accepted by
BBRC to species. The remaining Pterodroma sightings in Scillonian
waters that were not supported by photographs have been ascribed to the
species pair Fea’s/Zino’s Petrel.
1996 Aug 18 1, short-range pelagic, 3.2 km southwest Bishop Rock.
1999 Aug 24 1, short-range pelagic, 1.5 km south Bishop Rock.
1999 Aug 31 1, short-range pelagic, 5 km south St Agnes.
2002 Sep 8 1, short-range pelagic, 10km south St Mary's.
2004 Aug 28 1, short-range-pelagic, 16 kms west St Mary’s.
A presumed Fea’s Petrel was seen by Will Wagstaff about three kms
south-west of Bishop Rock on the evening of Aug 18. Here is his
account: “On a slightly choppy evening with sick fishermen on board
adding to the chum, I kept out of the way in the bridge chatting with
the skipper. Then I noticed a seabird very different from anything else
I had seen, which passed the boat at c20m. Even with the naked eye I
could see a distinctive 'M' pattern across its wings. That and the
swinging flight combined with the dark mask behind the eye quickly led
me to realise I was watching a ‘Soft-plumaged Petrel’ now known as
Fea's Petrel. It was very quick over the sea and did not stay around
the boat for long, but was in view for some time as it flew away with
its distinctive high swinging flight.”
The second presumed Fea’s Petrel for Scilly was seen by Bob Flood
more-or-less at the same location as the 1996 bird, three years plus
six days later, on the evening of Aug 24. Just one week later on the
evening of Aug 31 the same or another presumed Fea’s Petrel was seen,
again at more or less the same spot, initially spotted by Pete Greaves
and witnessed by three other birders including Bob Flood.
A presumed Fea’s Petrel was watched for about five minutes by four
birders on Sep 8 during the outward journey of an evening pelagic trip.
The location was approximately 10 kms south of St Mary’s. Initially it
was picked up by Bob Flood some 50 metres ahead of the boat, off the
port side. At one point the presumed Fea’s circled around and inspected
a Manx Shearwater that was sitting on the sea. Unfortunately, however,
it was otherwise moving in a south-westerly direction and despite ‘full
steam ahead’ it was not possible to make up ground.
On the afternoon of Aug 28 four birders were drifting and chumming
approximately 16 kms northeast of St Mary’s Quay. At 14.40 Ashley
Fisher spotted a presumed Fea’s Petrel about 30 metres off the port
bow. It remained in the region of 30 metres off the vessel for
one-and-a-half minutes affording fantastic views to the four birders on
board, including Bob Flood. The presumed ‘Fea’s’ headed off in a