The Eastern Mediterranean Sea is what oceanographers call ultraoligotrophic, meaning that it has low primary productivity. Basically there just aren’t enough nutrients to sustain a lot of plankton, so the entire food chain is impoverished. And as a result, fun things like pelagic birds are rather scarce. Oh don’t get me wrong, we still get Yelkouan Shearwaters and Scopoli’s Shearwaters, but even those appear scarce. Other pelagic birds are extremely rare to see.
Or are they? Could it be that the passage of other pelagic birds goes unseen just because too few birders take birding cruises, as opposed to just watching from the coasts? This Spring’s birding seems to indicate that fact. For instance, here is a list of the pelagic bird reports that Colin Richardson (the bird recorder for BirdLife Cyprus) has received:
Scopoli’s Shearwater: max. 152 passing Mandria heading NW 10 Apr, largest spring numbers on record
Yelkouan Shearwater: 12 passing Mandria 10 Apr, two Akrotiri Bay 12 Apr
Balearic Shearwater: two flew west past Mandria 9 Apr, potential 1st record
Northern Gannet: singles passing Mandria 1 & 9 Apr, the 11th & 12th records since 2000
Arctic Skua: one Mandria 2 Apr, four 8 Apr and one Apr, three flying NW off Larnaca 15 Apr
These were all only seen from points along the Southern coast of Cyprus. In Birds of Europe, Lars Svensson writes that these birds only come near shore when driven by severe storms, which does in fact explain their apparent rarity. But that leaves the question, “Was this Spring’s weather severe at these points?” I know there were some good storms, but nothing that I thought “severe.”
Anyway, I’ve not been fortunate (or patient) enough to see one from the coast, but I have seen the “Yelkie” Shearwater on a short boat trip, 5km out from shore. My friends and I saw 2 that day, and then a few gulls and a flock of migrating ducks. That’s about it.
What do others think? Care to offer thoughts on birding cruises or coastal birdwatching?
Yelkouans are easy to see in the Bosphorus Strait. On a small boat tour of the coastline of Istanbul, I saw fair-sized flocks of them flying through in early may.
Dan, I have no personal experience with pelagic birding in the Eastern Med but agree with you: as a birder, it is not only important to watch the birds, but also watch the birders. And then do the opposite. Best recipe for dicovery.
I’m trying to make contact with any birders in UAE or Oman. I think I spotted a golden oriole in my garden but I can’t find any reference to sightings in Arabia. Do you know of anyone? I knew Colin Richardson a long time ago (as Carol Smith) and when I googled his name this site came up…