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2 October 2010 - A Shearwater Shouldn't Oughta Turn Up in Fairwater PDF Print E-mail

My friends Mike and Cath of City Wildlife Care got in touch the other day after answering a call from a chap in Fairwater, Cwmbran who had found a rather unusual bird, namely a manx shearwater, hiding behind his dustbin.

Manx shearwater are a small member of the albatross family, and spend nearly all their lives at sea. They are one of those birds that you probably wouldn't know exist, unless you have visited Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast, where the world's largest breeding colony of 120 thousand pairs rear their young between March and September.

I think that they are absolutely fascinating; They are among the longest living birds (a 55 year old has been recorded!) and lay a single egg each spring in a nesting burrow. This egg incubates for a whopping 51 Days (a herring gull's egg only takes 28 days!) and the emerging chick takes another 70 days to fledge (the gull takes 40). The parent shearwaters leave the chick in it's burrow during the day and venture out to sea in search of food, taking it in turns to return to feed the young at night. They do so to avoid being attacked by gulls and other predators, and their noisy en masse arrival each summer evening is a wonderful experience to witness. It is also pretty eerie, as the shearwaters make some very peculiar noises – Legend has it that vikings sailing past the Scottish Isle of Mull gave the island a wide berth as they thought the sounds made by shearwaters were caused by trolls!

Adult shearwaters leave to spend the winter in the South Atlantic a week or so before their young, which means that the juvenile's maiden flight is a daunting 6000 mile journey. They set off at night and immediately head for the Argentinian coast, and inevitably a few lose their bearings or get swept in the wrong direction by strong winds.

It's probable that the bird found in Cwmbran was one of these youngsters that had lost it's way – Thankfully it was none the worse for it's wayward inland trek and Mike and Cath successfully released it at the coast the following evening.

Walks and Talks

Don't forget that there is an illustrated talk tonight (Saturday 2nd October) by Tom Dalrymple from Newport Wetlands Reserve. It is ten years since the reserve opened, and in that time it has become an extremely important environmental site, Tom's talk promises to be unmissable for anyone who wants to find out about (arguably) South Wales' premier birdwatching location.

The talk is being held at Goytre Village Hall (just off the A4042 Newport to Abergavenny road) and starts at 7.30pm. Entry, including tea and biscuits is £2. No need to book, just turn up.

Readers are also welcome to join local birdwatchers when they visit Brean Down on Sunday 10th October for a day's migrant watch. This site, near Weston is a popular stop off spot for West Country birds on their journey back to Africa.... an avian equivalent of a motorway services. If you would like to tag along, the meeting point is, funnily enough, Magor Services (junction 23a) at 7.00am. Bring suitable clothes, refreshments and binoculars if you have them.

New faces are always welcome at GOS events, for more information visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk or give me a call on the number below. Likewise, if you want me to send you a copy of Gwent Ornithological Society's programme of walks and talks, just let me know.

Keep in Touch

Thank you to all readers that have taken the time to get in touch.

I always enjoy hearing from you and can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on 01633 866470.

Mark Stevens