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

ARKive photo - Yelkouan shearwater flying over surface of water

Image credit: © Frédéric Pawlowski / Biosphoto

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?

Written by Dan
Dan is an eastern Pennsylvania native who grew up surrounded by birdwatching and nature documentaries. He caught the itch, so to speak, when he arrived at Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca, New York, and he refined his birding skills with the Lab of Ornithology's Spring Field Ornithology course. While there he studied Molecular Biology, then met a Cypriot, got married, and ended up moving with her to Cyprus. Dan is an active member of BirdLife Cyprus and goes birding whenever his career and family allow. Birds and their conservation locally, he thinks, are things that people need to talk more about in Cyprus, so much that he now blogs and tweets almost exclusively about these topics at Migrations.