Late afternoon I received news through the Bucks birds yahoo group that a Petrel had been found at Wilstone Reservoir in Hertfordshire, it soon became clear that it was in fact a Leach's Storm Petrel and a species that I had never seen before. I gathered my bins, scope and camera and headed out of the door hastily, already nearing 5:30pm I left home and headed off to Wilstone Reservoir.
Arriving at the reservoir I soon headed up the car park steps and off towards the jetty on the Northern side, in the distance a few birders could be seen viewing the water and over the lake a huge flock of Gulls were departing northward. I hoped that the Petrel wasn't amongst the Gulls and being chased off from the reservoir.
When I reached the North bank the Petrel was sat quietly on the water near the jetty, preening and stretching it's wings every so often. I was surprised to see it sat on the water and expected it to be flying over the reservoir in the distance so to see it so close was fantastic. It slowly drifted away from the North bank and out towards the centre of the reservoir taking flight a couple of times only to land a few metres from where it took off. Whilst watching the Petrel it didn't come under any harassment and although it seemed a bit lonely it looked comfortable. All the Gulls had gone by now and it remained on the water amongst the huge rafts of Coot where it slowly made it's way across the lake. As I left at 19:10 it was back over near the jetty on the North Bank.
Petrels spend most of their time at sea and are rarely seen inland, only returning to rocky coasts to breed and then only at night to avoid predation from larger Gull species and Skuas, if any of you have been to Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire in summer you will have no doubt seen Manx Shearwater carcases strewn around the island which have succumbed to attacks from Gulls, it's no different for Petrels! During strong Autumn winds a few storm-driven Petrels are blown inland where they are sometimes found on large bodies of water, reservoirs and large lakes. They are rarely seen at the same site for more than a day and often leave during the night, sadly some die through exhaustion or predation.