Frigatebird sp – 1995

One at Skomer on 14th June was probably Magnificent Frigate Bird Fregata magnificens. First Welsh record.


21.35 I drew the short straw and set out for Sherry’s Diner and Frozen Food emporium to a loaf of bread for breakfast leaving Jim slaving over a hot stove

21.45 Reached the research quarters without incident and settled down to a nice cup of tea, or two, with Sherry and Dave

21.50 Interrupted by the calls of xenophobic gulls. I confidently predicted “that’ll be a heron, that will” and stood up at the window to check – it was obvious I was wrong.  A bird dwarfing the pursuing Lesser Black-backs twisted and flapped its way over the Neck.  Expletives regarding the bird’s size resulted in a rapid exodus from the building. Outside a brief glimpse of the bird through my bins confirmed the flashback sensation I’d just experienced looking through the window.  In size, shape and flight the bird looked like The FRIGATEBIRD I’d seen on Aride Island in the Seychelles where I’d spent the previous summer – a large dark bird with long, angular pointed wings and a long forked tail.

21.51 Left Sherry and Dave trying to get a scope onto bird as it flew away and legged it around to Simon and Christine’s.  Forgoing the usual formalities, I burst in on a candle-lit dinner they were having with their friend Chris. Using special phrases reserved for such occasions, I conveyed to the surprised diners that there was an exceptionally large bird over the neck.  Christine spotted it immediately through the kitchen window – one for the list – and saw some white on its belly.  We all ran outside. Sherry had it in the scope and we all got reasonable of as it flew off towards the NE escorted by a small group of belligerent gulls

22 00 We raided the library while memories were still fresh and concluded we’d just been visited by a Frigatebird.  Judging by the range of the various species of frigatebird, it was most likely to be a magnificent Frigatebird.

22.10 Picked up a loaf and strode back to the farm to grip Jim off.

22.20 Gripped Jim off – he took it well – sorry Jim,

22.25 The voluntary wardens returned from a Lesser Black-backed Gull count with tails of a very long-tailed Skua flying into South Haven and disappearing from view over the Neck.  One of the multitude, Dave Hall, sketched the bird he’d seen – undoubtedly a frigatebird.

Later Wednesday evening – Simon phoned around alerting people to the bird’s fleeting presence – no suppression on Skomer!

Thursday – heard that a female Magnificent Frigatebird had been seen off the Lizard in Cornwall on the previous day.

Speculation that the bird, which often pirates food from boobies (same genus as Gannets), might turn up at the gannetry on Grassholm unfortunately proved unfounded.  However, after a long silence a Frigatebird was reported off the east coast of Ireland on 22nd – perhaps the same navigationally-challenged bird?

The usual ranges of the Magnificent Frigatebird are the tropical oceans of the Americas and the Cape Verde Islands where they feed on flying fish. squid, Jellyfish, large plankton and pirated food. Females can reach a length of 114cm with a wingspan of 244cm – a phenomenal bird even when seen in its usual context, but amazing when seen twisting with gulls of Skomer at dusk.

Tim Lewis.  Assistant Warden, Skomer. 

Reproduced in the Pembrokeshire Bird Report 1995, from the “Island Naturalist”. by kind permission of the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer.