Albatross ahoy!

Minsmere

Minsmere
Explore, discover and enjoy nature at Minsmere. There's always something exciting to inspire a return visit to Suffolk's natural treasure.

Minsmere

Albatross ahoy!

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Even at Minsmere, with its superb variety of wildlife, every now and then something turns up that is so unexpected that it takes some believing.

Take, for instance, the amazing record of a humpback whale offshore in November 2013 - repeated again for one lucky group of observers last autumn. 

Even this, though, was surpassed for unexpectedness by yesterday's totally bizarre sighting of an albatross.

Albatrosses are extremely rare in the North Atlantic (and even more so in the North Sea), but just occasionally birds are blown north by strong winds. Once north of the equator, they tend to stay on the wrong side of the globe, but as supreme ocean travellers they are very rarely seen from land. Just occasionally, albatrosses have been known to settle amongst large gannet colonies, as with a  famous bird nick-named Albert that returned for many years to the gannet colony at Hermaness in Shetland. Others have spent a few years in colonies on the remote islands of St Kilda.

Last summer a black-browed albatross was located among gannets on the German island of Helgoland, where it was seen on several occasions by some lucky observers. This spring it returned to the same German colony, where it was last reported five days ago. The next day it was seen off the Danish coast, and British birdwatchers hoped that it might cross the North Sea and reward patient seawatchers with a distant flyby.

Yesterday it did, but not in quite the way that we expected. Rather than a distant, fleeting view offshore, this majestic bird was spotted by one of our wardens, Ian Salkeld, resting among mute swans on the pool behind South Hide! An adult black-browed albatross sitting on a freshwater pool on the East coast of England was bound to cause some incredulity, but luckily Ian was able to alert a photographer, Peter Hobbs, who grabbed a couple of quick photos.

Ian also alerted Adam Rowlands, Minsmere's senior site manager, who was on duty in the visitor centre, but before Adam had time to run the huge seabird took off, flew over the Scrape and out to sea, and was lost to view. Ian, Peter and just a couple of other lucky observers saw this amazing bird, which was seen for only about one minute. Where will it turn up next?

Peter's photographs of the Minsmere albatross can be seen by clicking here, but  for those who don't know what a black-browed albatross looks like, here's one taken in its more natural home in the southern oceans by Ruedi Abbuehl (rspb-images.com).

Incredibly, there are actually two species of albatross in the North Atlantica t present as a yellow-nosed albatross photo-bombed on fin whale off the coast of Iceland recently. so perhaps there's a chance that yesterday's sighting could be repeated.

Albatrosses are among the most threatened group of birds in the world as a result of birds being caught on the hooks of longline fishing boats in the southern oceans. The RSPB has been working work our Birdlife International partners for many years to protect albatrosses and other seabirds by working alongside fishermen to reduce this unnecessary bycatch. You read more about our Save the Albatross campaign here.

Sadly I didn't see the Minsmere albatross, but I have been fortunate enough to see both this species and three other types of albatross in the South Atlantic from a boat out of Cape Town - one of the best birdwatching experiences of my life. I hope one day to have the chance to see more, but I doubt that chance will ever come again at Minsmere. Stranger things have happened though - we never expected to get a second humpback whale.

Of course, there were other species seen at Minsmere over the weekend, but I'll update on those tomorrow.