Tropical seabirds warm to British waters

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The Independent Online

Unusual seabirds from the furthest corners of the world are converging on British waters this summer as the effects of global warming disrupt migratory patterns.

The increased presence of whales, dolphins and other sea creatures also points to increased feeding potential linked to climate change.

Bob Swann, secretary of the Seabird Group, a conservation organisation, said: "Climate change can influence oceanic currents and the availability of food ­ a prime reason for the presence of these birds." Mr Swann said the birds could even have benefited from fishing fleets catching too much cod in British waters. "Fewer cod means more of the smaller fish they eat being available for seabirds and other predators."

This summer's biggest seabird sensation was a red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), which flew around a yacht about 20 miles south of the Isles of Scilly. It had not previously been recorded in northern European waters. The nearest colonies are on the Cape Verde Islands and islets off West Africa. Cape Verde and other islands off Africa are the source of the series of summer sightings of rare Fea's petrels (Pterodroma feae) off Scilly and Devon and Cumbria.

Wilson's petrels (Oceanites oceanicus), tiny skylark-sized birds that nest on the Falkland Islands, Antarctica and offshore islands, were virtually unknown in British waters until the late 20th century. Now they are seen within 10 miles of Scilly so often that bird watchers venture out almost daily.

More elusive visitors from the far South Atlantic are black-browed albatrosses (Diomedea melanophris), another Falklands breeding species but at the opposite end of the size range, with a 7ft wingspan. Balearic shearwaters, which nest on the Spanish islands, have been recorded in unusual numbers off the South Coast.

There have also been many reports of whales and dolphins. During one ferry's round-trip between Portsmouth and Bilbao last week, enthusiasts logged 71 fin whales, four Cuvier's beaked whales, 37 pilot whales, 25 common dolphins, 352 striped dolphins, 120 unidentified dolphins and seven unidentified large whales.

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