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Nature in Wales

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Vol. 11, no. 1 March 1968

Visible autumn migration at St. David's Head

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Gannet (Sula bassana). Details of the monthly passage are shown in Table 1.
The south-westerly movement was greatest in the early morning. The
heaviest passage recorded was 679 flying south-west between 7.00 and 8.00 hours
on 23rd August. They were comparatively seldom seen feeding, except on
23rd September when many were diving and 93 were flying north-east. This
suggests a feeding movement.
The percentage ofimmatures is almost certainly under-estimated in Table 1.
Adults are probably easier to see during sea-watches and hence more likely to be
recorded. Also some birds, recorded as adults, may in fact have had traces of
immature plumage that could not be seen in the distance. It is noteworthy that
on 16th August, when the visibility varied between only 1 and 5 miles, Gannets
passed closer inshore than usual and of 544 that flew south-west 41 were
recorded as immatures. The fairly large proportion of immatures suggests that
the south-westerly movement is, in part at least, a migratory movement and
not only birds returning to their breeding colony on Grassholm.
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). About 50 flew south in a long line at a
height of about 50 feet on 12th September passing close to Carreg Rhoson.
Parties of 6 on 17th September and 4 on 24th October were flying south-west
about 100 feet above the sea while on 23rd September one coasted south from
Porth Melgan at a height of about 80 feet directly above the cliff-top. I saw
only one flying low over the sea and none was seen flying to the right.
Ducks. Single drake Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) flew south-west on 11th
and on 23rd October. A party of 8 Teal (Anas crecca) accompanied by an auk
flew south-west in a southerly gale on 24th November. A Long-tailed Duck
(Clangula hyemalis) with 2 Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) flew south-west just
after mid-day on 25th October.
There was a remarkably consistent south-westerly passage of Common
Scoter with only 4 dates when none was seen. None was seen flying to the right.
The monthly totals were-21 in August, 57 in September, 179 in October, 22 in
November and I in December. Of those that passed close inshore, 72 were male
and only 12 female or immature. Most flew low over the sea but sometimes they
flew 50 feet up in light winds. Many flew in amongst flocks of auks. Only 6
were seen after mid-day. Common Scoter was the only species, other than gulls,
regularly to turn south after passing the Head, and enter Ramsey Sound, though
some passed between Ramsey Island and Carreg Rhoson. The highest count
was 26 between 9.00 and 9.30 hours on 24th October.
Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) Two flew south-west in amongst a flock of
auks on the morning of 12th October. Both species were low over the sea and
flying at the same speed.
Waders. Several parties of small waders flying south-west were too far
out to sea for identification. Curlew (Numenius arquata) were frequently seen
flying south-west. A Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) came in from the north at
8.45 hours on 10th September and called as it flew over the Head.
Skuas. Single Great Skua (Catharacta skua) passed south-west on the
mornings of 16th August and 17th September. A dark phase Arctic Skua
(Stercorarius parasiticus) flew close inshore heading north-east on 30th September
and a total of 13 unidentified skuas (probably mainly Arctic) passed south-
west in September and October. They were often associated with Kittiwakes,
with 9 on 17th September flying among the heaviest Kittiwake passage. One
skua was seen chasing a Kittiwake.
Gulls. Fifty-three Common Gulls (Larus canus) passed to the left and only
3 to the right. This movement was almost confined to October with a maximum
of 19 on the 25th.
Ninety-three Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) passed to the left and
only 1 to the right. Small numbers only were seen in August and September.
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