Gannet (Morus bassanus)

The normal status of Gannet is a species seen in flight past Hilbre, and some other north Wirral sites, from the second week of March through to the end of October. From 1986 onwards the county bird reports have tabulated the monthly maximum total at Hilbre. In the twenty years to 2005, there were birds in December in four years, in January in five years and in February in eight years. In the mid-winter months of December and January, only two of the counts exceeded single figures, 12 birds in January 1994 and 140 in December 1994.

During this Atlas there were winter records from three tetrads: Hilbre (South) (SJ18Y), Hilbre (SJ18Z), where three were seen in 2005/ 06 and two in 2006/ 07, and Hoylake Shore (SJ29A), where the 20 birds seen by Jane Turner in winter 2004/ 05 was one of the largest flocks on record.

First-year Gannets winter off the coasts of west Africa, with older birds increasingly farther north (Migration Atlas). Almost all of those seen in winter in British waters are in full adult plumage, thus more than five years old, and are thought to be breeding birds from British colonies (BTO Winter Atlas).

This makes even more extraordinary the county’s first winter record of the 19th century, an immature bird picked up alive at Lymm, 15 January 1865 (Coward & Oldham 1900). An adult bird was ‘obtained’ between Heswall and West Kirby in early February 1899 (Coward 1910) and Bell (1962 and 1967) traced about 45 records since 1910, in every month except March, but mainly in April and July to October. Gannets are clearly somewhat more often recorded nowadays, although much of this must be attributed to increased observer effort, and they remain scarce in winter.

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