Another image of the Pendeen tropicbird, showing the distinctive red bill and eye 'mask' (Tom Whiley).
Plan B was to approach the nearest competent birder, ask if John was around, wave over Mark Payne and show them one of the shots, and then go without further delay and try and relocate the bird further along the west coast.
Having alerted other nearby seawatchers, I phoned John from the road, agreed to pick him up from his house and find the best scanning location on the west coast of Penwith. We scanned a large area of sea from Carn Gloose without success. Birders had been at Cape Cornwall all morning and had not reported the bird. We then retired to his house to examine the shots on a larger display, check the ID guides and have a much-needed brunch.
My first shots were of the bird zooming away from the coast before it turned west and soared up briefly. It had probably sneaked into view from the east close inshore. On the down beat of the wings the black primary panel showed well, but otherwise the bird was a brilliant white against the sea. Phaethon – its generic name – translates as the 'shining or radiant one'. In some shots black markings on the axillaries and tertials can be seen. At a distance and going away, the bill and face-mask merge into a dark, well-defined patch.
Later on back home, I found myself staring at a seabird plate by John Gale from Birds of the Middle East hanging on my study wall. In the top left corner is Phaethon aethereus, Red-billed Tropicbird. "When will the next one be", I wondered.