Guardamar – Malcolm Palmer

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I tried to resist – oh, how I tried! I avoided driving the (for me) quite long haul, to Guardamar, then finding my way past the barrier, with its terrible toll (one euro) -well, I’m a Yorkshireman, around the marina, then the long walk, lugging my weighty Swarovski telescope, down to the pier. I had to do it, though, when Barry Chambers told me about the Storm Petrels.

Let me enlarge somewhat. A solitary Surf Scoter, an American species, rare anywhere in Europe, has been loitering around the Guardamar lighthouse for practically the whole winter. This is an area which is clearly rich in small fish, providing sustenance for not only this rare vagrant, but a good many Gannets and many gulls of various species. The above-mentioned Barry, who lives fairly close by, has paid many visits, and has also seen Balearic Shearwaters – one of the rarest seabirds in Europe – there on at least one occasion.

But it was, as I said, the mention of Storm Petrels that provoked my visit. Having negotiated the marina, and watched briefly a Slender-billed Gull feeding there, I walked down the pier, and set up my tripod. It was barely necessary, as Storm Petrels, those little black, fluttering birds hardly bigger than House Martins, with which species they share a white rump, fed, skittering over the calm sea, no more than fifty metres away – and there were at least four of them, though it was difficult to count, with their comings and goings. Those of you – if there are any! – who remember an article of mine from many years ago will know I entitled it with a dreadful pun: ‘A Whiff of Petrel’ – and it recounted how in the company of the late and sadly missed John Walmsley, I swam to a rocky islet off Tabarca, and we ‘sniffed out’ a nesting Storm Petrel. Until my walk at Guardamar, my sole experience of the species.

A little further out to sea, the reliable Surf Scoter swam, diving occasionally for his lunch. Again this was only my second experience of the species – and this time, a first for Spain, as my only prior sighting was way back in the mid-sixties, when, on a Christmas trip to southern Scotland, I saw one swimming out on the near-freezing waters of the Solway Firth.