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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

WILSON'S STORM PETREL seen and photographed from shark fishing boat out of Newquay, Cornwall

WILSON'S STORM PETREL, 'At Sea' NW of Padstow, Cornwall, 26 July 2009 (James Hanlon)
Since 2005 Richard Pierce of the Shark Trust and the Shark Conservation Society has been running cage-diving trips off North Cornwall to allow close-up views and interaction with Blue Sharks. These trips have been successful and very popular with shark enthusiasts.

I went on my first trip with them on 27th July 2008 when we steamed some 11 miles NW of Padstow for chumming. Though no Blue Sharks appeared I did locate 2 WILSON'S PETRELS among the 100+ European Storm Petrels coming to chum and excellent views were obtained down to around 25 m. Another trip later in the week turned up similar numbers of 'stormies' but no Wilson's.

This year our chumming area was nearby, some 5 miles SW of the area I had seen the Wilson's last year and roughly 7 miles WNW of Trevose Head. Conditions were very choppy but eventually a single WILSON'S PETREL materialised amongst the Stormies though it remained relatively distant and could never be seen well. Though almost impossible to observe through binoculars I did manage to obtain some images and close cropping has revealed the full suite of characters which could not be picked up in the field (most observation was with the naked eye) (see images above). The bird came into view several times throughout a 25 minute period.

I have yet to encounter another birder on any of these trips, though apparently there have been 1 or 2, their highlights including Grey Phalarope, Sabine's Gull and one other Wilson's petrel.

Anyone wishing to participate should contact Shark Cornwall via the Shark Conservation Society website. Trips run during the summer months from Padstow and/or Bude and cost around £95 for a full day but you should book early as they are very popular. The price includes hire of wetsuits etc should you wish to jump in with the sharks. With three Wilson's seen over three trips it appears they could be as regular off mainland Cornwall as they are off of Scilly. You just have to go and find them (James Hanlon)