I’ve spent a week in Northumberland, exploring the coast for winter migrants arriving from Scandinavia. One of the sadder sights, however, has been Guillemots and Razorbills washed up on the beaches, dead or dying. It’s a sight that has been reported down the east coast since late summer, from Orkney to Norfolk, and now auks have been washed up in Norway and the Netherlands. Others have been seen unusually close inshore and even several miles up rivers, but there have been no reports from around the Welsh or Irish coasts, indicating that the problem is in the North Sea.
Many of the auks are emaciated, less than half their typical weight, yet reports from anglers suggest that there is no shortage of small fish. The incidents appear unrelated to stormy weather, which can make it difficult for seabirds to feed and tests by Scotland’s Rural College proved negative for Avian Influenza. One theory is that naturally-occurring algae in the North Sea may be responsible. The bloom was evident on satellite images in September, but it is not yet known whether toxic algae, which can be taken up by fish and shellfish and in turn seabirds, were present. Marine scientists predict that the occurrence of algal blooms will increase in a warming climate, which piles further pressure on species of seabirds that are already in decline.
Back in Wales, the northwest saw the best of autumn migration, with a Red-eyed Vireo at Porth Meudwy, near Aberdaron, just a week after the eighth Welsh record occurred on Bardsey. The island’s Bird Observatory registered a smart Red-breasted Flycatcher, Richard’s Pipit and the only two Yellow-browed Warblers of the autumn. On Anglesey, a Long-tailed Duck and Black-throated Diver are off Benllech and a Cattle Egret at Llanynghenedl, north of Valley. Farther east, a Lapland Bunting is on the Great Orme and a Surf Scoter off Pensarn. The Jay influx continues, with flocks seen on coastal headlands, including an impressive 72 at South Stack on Sunday. If you see four or more Jays together, please do email me with the details.