One of the things I miss most about island life is the seawatching. I’d wake up early every morning, often rising before the sun, and try to stare out to sea for at least an hour before work. It was the element of mystery that had me hooked. It felt like anything could fly by, and there was no shortage of surprises – I’d seen everything from Storm Petrels to Snow Buntings flitting above the waves.
There’s not much scope for seawatching in Nottinghamshire, so when we decided to take a holiday to Cornwall, I was determined to make the most of it. In fact, gazing out to sea was the main reason we chose the sunny southwest. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas.
Our first day it seemed the entire county was wrapped in a sea fret. Dense fog shrouded the cliffs, trailing out across the ocean and making our mission all but impossible – it’s hard to seawatch when you can’t even see the sea! Still, we tried. An hour of mist-watching produced nothing more exciting than a few Manx Shearwater. Fortunately, conditions were better for migrant passerines, with a Firecrest and three Tree Pipit amongst the various chats, finches and warblers at Porthgwarra.
It took a couple of days for the fret to thin, and even longer to lift entirely. But perseverance paid off, hundreds of Manxies streaming past in the clear spells. Scattered amongst them were dozens of Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, the former sleek and graceful, the latter brown and pot-bellied. Add in the occasional skua and things were looking pretty good!
But we never got our real target birds – Cory’s or Great Shearwater. We were a couple of weeks too late for the main rush of large shearwaters; only a few were spotted during our time down there, and we always seemed to be in the wrong place! We did, however, see our first ever Ocean Sunfish, waving its enormous fin at us from the softly rolling sea.
Most importantly, I got to indulge one of my favourite hobbies for the first time since leaving the Farnes. I can’t think of a more peaceful experience than sitting on a clifftop, eye to a ‘scope, watching the sleek silhouettes of shearwaters carving graceful arcs above the rolling waves as the sun sinks slowly towards the horizon.