Seabirds, Storks and Divers
Updated: Feb 19
Little Auk Alle alle
Scarce migrant and winter visitor, most commonly after strong winds. All records listed (singles unless otherwise stated):
1946: 1st Feb (in a garden in Helston, released Porthleven).
1948: 23rd Oct (Helford).
1949: 30th Oct-5th Nov (Helford).
1950: 13th Feb (Mawgan, found with a broken wing). Also 40 dead between Loe Bar and Poldhu in Feb.
1952: 26th Jan (Porthleven Harbour).
1953: 3rd Jan-14th Feb, 3rd Dec 1953 (Porthleven Harbour).
1959: 25th Dec-6th Jan 1960 (Porthleven Harbour).
1969: 18th Jan 1969 (in a garden Mullion, released Poldhu).
1978: 3 on 14th Dec (Loe Bar).
1979: 2 on 11th Nov (Helford).
1984: 30th Jan (Bass Point).
1989: 19th Oct and 2nd Nov (Lizard Point).
1991: 27th Jan (dead, Kynance)
2014: 12th Jan (Lizard Point), 2 on 18th Jan (Bass Point) and 1 25th Apr (Church Cove).
2015: 17th Nov (Lizard Point).
2017: 2nd and 24th Nov (Lizard Point).
2019: 20th Oct, 3rd and 20th Nov (Lizard Point) and 22nd Oct (Coverack),
2020: 2nd Jan (Lizard Point)
2022: 4th Oct (Coverack), 2nd & 6th Nov (Lizard Point).
(Brünnich's Guillemot Uria lomvia)
Bullmore (1866) mentions a bird shot by George Copeland from Rosemullion Head in 1858. However, few details are supplied at the record is not generally regarded as acceptable.
Common Guillemot Uria aalge [BoCC5: Amber]
Very common, especially passing headlands in winter. As a migrant and winter visitor it is hard to assess the long-term status of this species as observer coverage has increased substantially. As a breeder it has undoubtedly declined. The Seabird Colony Register 1985-1988 revealed breeding the Vro, Mullion and on Mullion Island in the mid-1980s with at least 22 pairs in 1985. The Seabird 2000 surveys revealed just 8 pairs on ledges between Mullion and Predannack, though whether breeding was successful is unknown. Birds also occasionally occupy ledges on Lion’s Rock, though breeding has not been proven. Likely currently extinct as a breeding species,
Guillemot, 22nd Jun 2006. Tony Blunden
Historic (1982) confirmed breeding distribution of Guillemot on the Lizard.
Razorbill Alca torda [BoCC5: Amber]
Very common, especially in winter. As with the preceding species it is hard to assess the long-term status of this species as a migrant and winter visitor owing to changes in observer coverage. It is amber -listed primarily owing to its localised breeding habitats as opposed to it having declined substantially. Birds still occasionally frequent the cliffs around Mullion, but its breeding status is not known with certainty. The Seabird 2000 surveys revealed just two pairs on the Lizard - on ledges between Mullion and Predannack. It is not known whether these bred.
Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Razorbill on the Lizard. Medium-sized squares indicate probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.
(Great Auk Pinguinus impennis) [IUCN: EX][BoCC5: Extinct]
The Lizard Peninsula lies within the historic range of this species, which is known extended right down the eastern Atlantic seaboard from Greenland to the Mediterranean. It bred on rocky, isolated islands with sloping shorelines that provided access to the sea and one can easily envisage such a colony on the rocks on Asparagus Island at Kynance. However it was largely eliminated from its European colonies by the mid-16th century, and although a few survived in Scotland into the 1800s, there are no documented records from Cornwall.
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle [BoCC5: Amber]
Rare with just 14 records (all singles):
1948: 13th Jan (Polurrian Cove)
1982: 7th Nov (past Bass Point)
1994: 7th-31st Dec (Helford)
2000: 11th Oct (past Lizard Point)
2001: 21st Mar-3rd May (Helford)
2008: 9th Apr 2008 (past Lizard Point)
2009: 8th Feb, 4th May and 3rd Dec (Lizard Point)
2019: 8th Feb (Lizard Point), 21st Nov (Kennack Sands), 3rd Dec (Lizard Point)
2021: 6th Mar (St Anthony's Head), 28th May-6th Jun (Bumble Rocks)
2022: 2nd Jan (Coverack).
Puffin Fratercula arctica [BoCC5: Red]
Historically this species was quite common and was well known to fishermen in the last century. In Porthleven, for example, it earned the nickname of 'Londoner', so called for its smart appearance and visitor-like habitat of standing on cliffs in crowds and looking vacantly out to sea, implying local breeding. It is also documented in L'eStrange's (1865) Yachting Round the Wwst of England as a fairly common breeder in rabbit burrows on the Lizard Peninsula. who also referred to '60 dozen were taken off one rock at Mullion' (almost certainly Gull Rock). Currently an occasional winter visitor, common spring migrant and moderately scarce summer visitor. The highest count is of 663 past Lizard Point on 16th Mar 2019.
Puffin, 22nd June 2016. Tony Blunden
Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus
One of the major Lizard rarities. An adult was seen from a boat off the Manacles on 21st Apr 2002.
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata
Historically, in the 18th century, the most common of the divers, but currently the least common of the more regular three diver species, Regularly seen flying past Lizard Point in winter and spring with occasional birds lingering. Also regular offshore between Porthleven and Gunwalloe. An extraordinary 90 were counted off Gunwalloe on 21st Feb 2021.
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica [BoCC5: Amber]
Historically rare, but now a common migrant and winter visitor, with numbers peaking in late winter and early spring.
Pacific Diver Gavia pacifica
Rare, with just 2 records. Single past Lizard Point on 20th Nov 2016 (T Blunden) and off Men-aver Beach and St Anthony's Head 19th Jan 2020 (I Maclean, T Blunden).
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer [BoCC5: Amber]
In the 18th and 19th centuries rare, but currently a regular winter visitor and spring migrant, with numbers peaking during migration in May, when it is most often seen on sea-watches or lingering offshore, though it is not unusual to get overhead migrants taking a short-cut over the southern portion of the Lizard. Sometimes seen as late as June and occasionally into summer.
Great Northern Diver, Porthleven Harbour. Ilya Maclean
White-billed Diver Gavia adamsii [IUCN: NT]
Rare with just two accepted record: a single past Bass Point on 26th Oct 2013 and one past Lizard Point on 4th Jun 2019 (T Blunden). Also a bird reported from Coverack on 12th Mar 2020.
Wilson's Petrel Oceanites oceanicus
Not definitely recorded until 2017, when at least 9 were seen past Lizard Point in late Jul and early Aug (T BLunden, S Votier, I Maclean et al), specifically: singles on the 16th, 21st and 26th of July and 3 on the 28th. Two on the 2nd and 1 on the 4th of Aug. Other records (singles unless stated):
2018: 3rd Jun (Black Head, J Foster), 2 on 29th Jul and 1 11th Aug (Lizard Point, T Blunden).
2019: 14th Aug and 6th Sep (Lizard Point, I Maclean, T Blunden).
2020: 24th Aug (Lizard Point, I Maclean)
2022 was an extraordinary year for this species, with records as follows:
Aug 20th: 3 Falmouth Bay not far form Lizard coastline (L Langley et al)
Aug 20th: 1 past Bumble Rock (T Blunden)
Aug 21st: 5+, possibly as many as 10 past Lizard Point and Bumble (T Blunden et al)
Sep 3rd: 2 past Lizard Point (T Blunden)
Sep 6th: 1 past Lizard Point (T Blunden)
Band-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro
Extraordinarily, having never been seen previously, three were recorded in 2022. The first past Lizard Point on 5th Sep (I Maclean - see finders account here), the second past Bass Point on the 22nd Oct (D Collins) and the third past Lizard Point on 2nd Nov on the same days as a 'dark-rumped' Leach's Petrel (possibly Swinhoe's) (R Wilkins).
While Maderian (Band-rumped) is by far the most likely to occur, technically, Monteiro's Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monteiroi or Cape Verde Storm Petrel O. jabejab cannot be ruled out.
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris
Singles past Bass Point 2nd Nov 2013 (J Foster) and Lizard Point 9th & 10th Feb 2019 (T Phelps, I Maclean et al). Also an unconfirmed report of one past Predannack on 25th Sep 2022.
(Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos) [IUCN: EN]
One identified as this species in British territorial waters 80 km south of Lizard Point at 49° 33'N 05°17'W on 29th Apr 1985. Though Lizard Point is nearest land it was later rejected by BBRC.
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus [BoCC5: Amber]
Regular summer visitor past Lizard and Bass Point and fairly frequent past Chynhalls Point most often after strong winds. Owing to substantial increase in observer coverage and improvements in optics, the long-term change in status of this species is unknown. In Cornwall generally, however, it was well-documented to occur in the 1800s and there is no reason to believe this wasn't the case on the Lizard. It has bred in North Cornwall, but breeding has never been confirmed on the Lizard, despite the occasional nocturnal visitors to land. The earliest record is 11th May (2007) and the latest 25th Nov (2009), though many were observed flying past Lizard Point and Coverack on 24th Nov 2022. Highest count: 200+ past Bass Point on 16th Oct 1982.
Storm Petrel, 29th July 2017. Tony Blunden
Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa [IUCN: VU][BoCC5: Red]
Other than the exceptional year of 2022, there is little to suggest the historic status of this species has changed significantly - it remains a rare bird, with the majority coinciding with significant storms, when it is quite likely that the birds seen are of transatlantic origin. Many of the insights, particularly in early years of moribund or dead birds, sometimes blown significantly inland. The first live record is of a bird seen well through a telescope at Gunwalloe in 1949.
All records given (singles unless stated):
1948: 14th Dec (dead, Mullion).
1949: 22nd Oct (Gunwalloe).
1952: 28th Oct (Mullion, 2 Porthleven), 29th Oct (Constantine), 30th Oct (Mullion), 8th Nov (3 Loe Bar).
1982: 27th Sep (Loe Bar).
1987: 19th Oct (5 Bass Point).
1989: 10th Nov (Lizard Point), 17th Dec (Lizard Point), 21st Dec (Culdrose), 25th Dec (Loe Pool).
1995: 6th Oct (Bass Point).
1996: 15th Jan (8 Loe Bar), 27th Oct (Bass Point).
1998: 25th Oct (moribund in a garden at Grade Ruan).
2004: 29th Oct (Bass Point).
2005: 3rd & 31st Oct (Bass Point), 29th Oct (Chynhall's Point).
2009: 25th Nov (2 Bass Point).
2017: 12th, 17th, 21st, 23rd and 30th Sep (Lizard Point).
2018: 20th Sep, 12 & 13th Oct (Lizard Point), 12th Dec (2 Bass Point).
2019: 23rd & 29th Sep, 4th Oct (Lizard Point)
2022 was an exceptional year for this species, with at least 15 birds seen, as follows:
5th Sep: 1 past Chynhall's Point
25th Oct: 1 past Porthoustock
26th Oct: 1 past Lizard Point
29th Oct: 1 past Coverack
2nd Nov: 3+ 4 additional distant Petrels past Cadgwith, 1 dark-rumped type (possibly Swinhoe's) past Lizard Point
7th Nov: 1 past Lizard Point
8th Nov: 3 past Lizard Point
24th: 3 past Porthoustock
Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of Leach's Petrel on the Lizard Peninsula (including some additional records form Rosemullion Head). Most likely to occur in Autumn, but there are also a significant number of winter record after severe gales.
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis [BoCC5: Amber]
A colonizer to Atlantic to from Antarctica in the 17th century, first recorded as breeding in Cornwall in 1939, and on the Lizard in 1956. Now a common coastal breeder and migrant, with records in all months. Numbers peak in March. Blue-phase birds are also occasionally recorded, mainly in February - e.g. on 20th Feb 2022 (I Maclean).
Fulmar, 7th March 2016. Tony Blunden
Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Fulmar on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.
Fea’s-type Petrel Pterodroma spp. [IUCN: NT]
One past Lizard Point on 2nd Sep 2017 was seen well-enough to rule out Zino’s (I Maclean). Also one past there on 12th Sep 2017 (J Foster) and a possible past on 19th Aug 2020 (J Foster).
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis
Owing to a substantial change in observer coverage, it is hard to assess the long-term change in status of this species, but it has probably increased fairly substantially, as it wasn't recorded prior to 1980.
It is currently a fairly regular summer and autumn migrant, though numbers fluctuate annually. Extreme dates are 3rd Jun (2019) and 1st Oct (2022). The highest count is of 710 past Lizard Point in 6 hours 30th Jul 2008.
Great Shearwater Ardenna gravis
As with the preceding species, substantial change in observer coverage makes it difficult to assess the long-term change in status of this species. However it was first recorded as late as 1989 and as therefore almost certainly increased, and in 2022 simply astonishing numbers were recorded, with a high count of 10,350 Bass Point on 22nd Oct, almost certainly a UK record (J Foster).
It is usually a fairly regular summer and autumn migrant, with numbers peaking a little later than Cory's Shearwater. Fluctuates in number annually. Extreme dates are 21st Jun (2017) and 3rd Dec (2022), though the 2022 year was highly unusual in the lateness of records, and the latest prior to that being on 24th Sep in 2016. The highest count prior to 2022 was of 658 past Lizard Point on 20th Sep 2018, a number that was barely worth mentioning in 2022!
Seasonal trend of documented sightings of Cory's (left) and Great Shearwater (right) excluding post 2021 records. The peak in numbers is later for Great Shearwater, though both can occasionally be seen into October.
Seasonal trend of documented sightings of Great Shearwater, including post 2021 records, where the unprecedented influx of birds in late October 2021 dwarfed previous sightings. In 2022 birds were seen into December.
Sooty Shearwater Ardenna grisea [IUCN: NT]
As with the preceding species, substantial change in observer coverage makes it difficult to assess the long-term change in status of this species. It was first recorded in 1971, around the time that significant seawatching first occurred, so there is little to suggest a significant change in status.
It is currently a fairly common autumn migrant, with a few lingering into winter. Recorded in all months expect May, mostly from Lizard and Bass Points. Winter records include singles on 3rd Dec 2015, 2nd Feb 2017 and 21st Jan 2019. The highest counts are of 40 on 21st Sep 2007 and of 39 on 16th Sep 2018.
Seasonal trend of documented sightings of Sooty Shearwater. Peak numbers occur in autumn, but the species has been recorded in every month of the year.
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus [BoCC5: Amber]
Unlike the preceding species, this species has been well-known in Cornish waters since antiquity and formally bred on the north coast of Cornwall. On the Lizard it is a common summer visitor, though recorded in all months. Numbers peak in Apr and May, when counts of several thousand are not unusual. The Lizard is one of the most regular winter sites for this species in the northern hemisphere.
Manx Shearwater, 27th July 2014. Tony Blunden
(Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan) [IUCN: VU]
Several records of Yelkouan-type Shearwaters have been recorded, including past Bass Point on 16th Jul 2010 and past Lizard Point on 7th Aug 2010 and 21st Sep 2017. Confusion surrounds the identification of this species owing to hybrid birds breeding on Menorca.
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus [IUCN: CR]
Formally rare, but currently a moderately regular autumn migrant with small numbers overwintering. It is difficult to tetange observor coverage form a true change in status, but it has almost certainly increased and has been recorded in all months. A peak count 190 in an hour on 3rd Oct 2019 points to the significance of seas around the Lizard as a feeding ground for this globally critically endangered bird species, albeit that most are probably passing rather than actively feeding.
Barolo Shearwater Puffinus baroli
One past Bass Point on 22nd Oct 2022 (J Foster) with another probable past Porthoustock on 25th Oct 2022 (P Gay). There was also a possible past Lizard Point on 9th Aug 2019 (I Maclean).
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Rare with just 4 records. Singles over St Keverne on 24th Aug 1993, Church Cove on 28th Aug 1998 and 27th Aug 2006 (later also seen at Loe Pool) and Goonhilly 29th May 2003.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Rare. Counts of multiple birds are of 2 at Penhale & Kynance on 9th-10th Sep 1990 and 3 at Kynance on 28th Apr 1993. Additionally, singles recorded at Goonhilly 20th May 1977, Predannack Airfield 27th-28th Aug 1977, Lowertown (Helston) 26th Jun 1984, Goonhilly 31st May-2nd Jun 1986, Garras 5th-6th May 2002 and Croft Pascoe Pool 10th May 2014.
In 2019 and 2020 re-introduces birds from the Knepp Estate and surrounds have put in an appearance in late Aug or early Sep with 24 seen in 2019 and 22 seen in 2020.
White Storks on St Wynwallow's Church, Landewednack, 1st September 2020. Tony Blunden
Frigatebird species Fregata spp. [IUCN: VU]
A Frigatebird species was seen at Porthoustock on 13th Jun 1995. Based on the time of year, is marginally more likely to have been Ascension than Magnificent, but a species-level identification was not possible.
Gannet Morus bassanus [BoCC5: Amber]
In the 1400s bred at a colony at Gulland Rock, but the the nearest breeding colony of Gannets to the Lizard currently is Grassholm, where numbers have increased from ~6000 pairs in the early 1940s to ~40,000 pairs currently. Numbers have increased nationally and its amber listing is primarily the result of breeding being confined to a small number of sites. The species remains common offshore around the Lizard in all months.
Gannet off Loe Bar, Apr 2021. I Maclean
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster
Rare, just one record: a first-summer found at Kynance on 2nd Sep 2019 (D Collins) was the third for Britain, with two earlier sightings that year (see finders account). It stayed until 7th Sep and earned Mr Collins the coveted "Booby Prize", a prize now awarded annually to Lizard birders for the best find of the year.
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Fairly common, especially on Loe Pool. Breeds in a few places including the Vro and Gull Rock, Mullion and the outer Helford. Little is known about the historic status of this species, though Harvey (1923) estimated that 50 pairs bred at Gull Rock, similar to the numbers that nest currently (47 occupied nests in 2019), though in the late 1970s, only c. 20 nested. The Seabird (2000) survey - the last comprehensive survey of this species, documented 21 pairs between Cadgwith and the Helford River and 69 pairs between Mullion and Predannack.
There are only two documented records of the continental race sinensis, though doubtless birds are overlooked:
2004: 2nd Oct (Loe Pool)
2019: 21st Nov (Helston)
Cormorant, Lizard Point. Ilya Maclean
Historic (1982) confirmed breeding distribution of Cormorant on the Lizard.
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis [BoCC5: Red]
Fairly common breeder and scarce migrant. The highest count is of 120+ in Coverack Bay on 18th Jan 2014. It is difficult to discern any long-term historic trend in numbers as most records of breeding pairs are fairly sporadic. However, the Seabird (2000) survey - the last comprehensive survey of this species, documented 9 pairs between Baulk Head and Mullion, 101 pairs between Mullion and Predannack,14 pairs on the west Lizard and 12 pairs between Cadgwith and the Helford River.
Shag, 23rd May 2005. Tony Blunden.
Shags can be ready distinguished from Cormorants by their diving action. Ilya Maclean
Historic (1982) confirmed breeding distribution of Shag on the Lizard.