Leach’s Petrel – 2012

Oceanodroma leucorhoaPedryn-Drycin Gynffon FforchogProbably a regular visitor in variable numbers. Not recorded in January, March, April or August.

Breeds around the North Atlantic and North Pacific, migrating south to winter in regions of tropical convergences.

Summer

Leach’s Petrels have been noted visiting Storm Petrel breeding colonies at Skokholm, occasionally singing, as follows: 15th July 1966, 22nd – 23rd June 1976, 1st June 1978, 21st May, 9th and 12th June 1980, 22 June 1989 and two birds were seen and heard regularly between the 1st June and 2nd July 1977.

Autumn

“Not very rare as a visitor in stormy weather” wrote Mathew (1894), this based on his visiting various collections of stuffed birds and noting down information imparted by numerous sporting friends and taxidermists. This method evidently worked but with the demise of collecting specimens Lockley et al (1949) had no such network available to them, noting only one occurrence “in the last fifty years”, picked up at Pembroke Dock on the 12th November 1931.

A large scale “wreck” of Leach’s Petrels took place on the western seaboard of Britain and Ireland between the 21st October and the 8th November 1952. It was thought to have been caused by widespread gales and persistent strong winds over the North Atlantic during October. It is probable that the whole North Atlantic population of Leach’s Petrels was affected, not just the European component. Hence Canadian birds might well have been among the 88 dead and five alive found along a quarter of a mile stretch of Newgale beach on the 27th October, two dead at Dale before the 2nd November, three dead at Marloes before the 2nd November and “several” others there before the 4th November. (Boyd,1954).

Just six birds were recorded over the following 30 years, namely: one picked up in an exhausted condition at Broad Haven (N) on the 1st November 1954, which recovered and flew off; one at the Gann on the 19th October 1959; three seen from the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry on the 15th September 1966; one off Strumble Head on the 22nd September 1974.

There was an upsurge in the number of active observers from the early 1980’s. There was also a growing interest in seawatching and an improvement in the quality of optical equipment, which resulted in a better understanding of the status of the Leach’s Petrel in Pembrokeshire.

The main observer effort was made at Strumble Head, which proved to be well placed for witnessing autumn seabird movements. Leach’s Petrels were recorded in variable numbers in most autumns from 1983 onwards, the majority passing in September and October but also a few in August, one as early as the 3rd, and into November up to the 20th. Peak numbers were recorded when there were strong winds from the north-west or north. None were seen when there were winds with an easterly component. 

Day maxima counts were: 79 on the 13th September 1997, 85 on the 7th September 1990, 109 on the 13th September 1988, 81 on the 15th September 2001 followed by 122 the following day, and 120 on the 16th September 2010. 

Few have been recorded in autumn away from Strumble Head, they were singles at the Smalls on the 24th September 1983 and 20th September 2005, Fishguard Harbour on the 19th November 1990, from the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry on the 30th August 1995, Newport Bay on the 17th October 1998 and 23rd September 2004, Ramsey 11th September 1997 and Grassholm on the 18th September 2005, with three off St David’s Head on the 16th September 2001.

Winter

BWP notes that stragglers remain in the North Atlantic during winter which may explain December sightings of singles at Strumble Head on the 26th 1997, Newgale on the 24th 1989, Wiseman’s Bridge on the 24th and 25th 1989 and six in Angle Bay during December 1989. Additionally, in December 2006 a total of at least 240 were reported from Strumble Head, Newgale, Druidston and Freshwater West, 150 of them at the latter locality, and singles were found stranded in car parks at Cwm yr Eglwys and Haverfordwest.

There have been no January sightings but one was at Fowborough (Daugleddau) on the 6th February 1983, 14 at Goultrop Roads on the 3rd February 2002 and six at Strumble Head on the 6th February 2002, the 2002 records part of a larger incursion when 314 were noted off Aberaeron, in neighbouring Ceredigion on the 6th February. None have been recorded in March but three were seen off St Govan’s Head on the 4th April 1998.

Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)

BOYD. H. 1954. The “wreck” of Leach’s Petrels in the autumn of 1952, British Birds, Vol 47 : 137-163.

CRAMP. S. (Editor), 1977 – 1994. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa : the birds of the Western Palearctic, Oxford University Press, 9 Vols.

LOCKLEY. R. M, INGRAM. C. S. and SALMON. H. M.1949. The birds of Pembrokeshire, West Wales Field Society.

MATHEW. M. 1894. The birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands, R. H. Porter.

More about the Leach’s Petrel in Pembrokeshire