Monday, 4 July 2022

Madeira WindBirds seabirding trip report 25th-28th June 2022

The following is a trip report from a visit to Madeira in June 2022. 

A group of six birders from West Cornwall booked three days with the well known Madeira Windbirds tours and an additional day-tripper sailing to Desertas Island. Windbirds always depart Machico harbour at 3pm and the Bonita da Madeira departs Funchal at 9am. 

We spent seven days in Madeira but this amount of time is unnecessary if its just seabirds you're after. Away from the coast, there's limited birdlife and all of it can be mopped up in a single morning. Any future trips would be for five days maximum.

Windbirds is a professional company specialising in watching seabirds and cetaceans. Hugo and Catarina set up the company18 years ago with a ten-seater, 11 metre rib. Two powerful outboard motors get you 25 miles offshore in approx. 90 mins. The team have exact coordinates of the best places to bird.  

You need full waterproof kit including leggings.  Essentially, you are going to get soaking wet, especially on the South side return leg or when you bird the North of the island on the outward leg. There's no formulae on which side to sit. If its windy, you'll get wet.  I wore deck shoes but a pair of crocks or old sandels is fine. (Your feet will also get wet). A wet bag is also essential for your kit.

Windbirds use a tried and tested method of chumming from a floating bucket of diced fish, laced with fish oil. The bucket is re filled several times during the five hour session.  The rib remains alongside the bucket throughout and never leaves the chum slick. The chum slick is created and pretty soon, the petrels and shearwaters arrive.

Bonita da Madeira is a large day tripper boat specialising in trips to Desertas Grande. The captain will pursue cetaceans or seabirds of interest but keep a respectful distance. The ship lands passengers on Desertas Grande island with a useful and knowledgeable guide to the island's wildlife. We were shown Bulwer's and Cory's breeding burrows. We also saw 12 Desertas Petrels and hundreds of Cory's on the voyage over to the island.  For 80 euros, its well worth it. A free cooked meal and wine is also offered. Well recommended.

The following species accounts give some idea of what can be seen:

Desertas Petrel. Over the four days at sea ie. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th June, we saw 12, 4, 4, 6 birds respectively. Some views were distant and others reasonably close to the boat.  The name Pterodroma is Greek for Wind Bird, and as the name suggests, these birds thrive in high winds and power through the chum slick at impressive speeds. Some circle round the chum bucket but generally move on quickly. You have to be quick off the mark with id. and any photography.  The species breeds on Bugio Island, which is one of the three Desertas islands (adjacent to Desertas Grande).

Desertas Petrel, June 2022 (picture courtesy P Clement)

Desertas Petrel, June 2022, picture by Steve Rogers

Zino's Petrel: Over the four days at sea ie. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th June, we saw 0, 2, 3, 2 birds respectively and had some really good close views. This species is the number one target for visiting birders. Up to date information from birders at the breeding site on the Madeiran mountain estimate around 80 breeding pairs and a total of just 300 birds. Thus, this species is super rare and extremely vulnerable, especially to feral cats and rodents on the mountain where it breeds.

We visited the mountain breeding site at midnight to listen to them calling. Whilst the conditions of rain, mist and strong wind weren't ideal, we did hear the mournful sounds coming from the burrows. The visit is organised by Hugo and Catarina. (50 Euros.)

Zino's Petrel, June 2022, picture by S Rogers

Zino's Petrel, June 2022, picture by P Clement

Bulwer's Petrel: Over the four days at sea ie. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th June, we saw hundreds daily. The species breeds locally on Desertas Island and becomes easier further out in deeper water. Bulwer's visits the chum bucket  and affords close views. That said, its a very tricky bird to photo. Its crazed flight at super speed means only the best modern cameras keep up with it. I took about 500 shots of Bulwer's and just a dozen were acceptable. We were shown a nest site on Desertas in a stone wall with a bird sitting on the nest.

Bulwer's Petrel, the only photo showing a wedge shaped tail, image by M Ahmad.

Bulwer's Petrel, June 2022, pic by Steve Rogers.

Bulwer's Petrel, June 2022, pic by Steve Rogers.

Madeiran Storm Petrel: This species is a prime target and despite local breeding, is surprisingly difficult to connect with. We saw just two birds on the last day. Both visited the chum slick, one staying for 20 minutes giving stunning views. Bob Flood from Scilly Pelagics also saw one the following week. This species was a key target for us as there are a couple Cornwall records. We wanted to familiarise ourselves just in case one flies past Pendeen! 

Windbirds' skill and experience in approaching this species at the chum bucket was perfect, manoeuvring the rib perfectly to obtain the best views.

Madeiran Storm Petrels, lower left by Marcus Nash, rest by Steve Rogers, June 2022.

European Storm Petrel: Just one was seen on day 2.

Wilson's Storm Petrel: One adult in moult was seen on day 3. It visited the chum bucket and regularly worked the chum slick for a 30 minutes affording excellent views, sometimes close.

Wilson's Petrel, June 2022, pictures by Steve Rogers.

Cory's Shearwater: The second commonest seabird behind Bulwer's Petrel. Large rafts of scores and occasionally hundreds of birds seen. There were more on the northern pelagic return leg. Perhaps a couple thousand near the narrow channel linking north and south of the island. This was the largest concentration we saw.  Visits to the chum bucket gave stunning close views.

Cory's Shearwater pictures, June 2022, Madeira, by Steve Rogers.

Manx Shearwater: No more than ten birds seen over the four days. The species is suspected of breeding on Madeira but as yet unproven. Regular summer records suggest otherwise.

Little Shearwater: None seen on our trips but Niall Keogh found one on a ferry trip from Madeira to Porto Santo. One was also seen well from the Windbirds pelagic the following week. Little Shearwater is a prize find and is not guaranteed.

White-faced Storm Petrel: None seen.

Rock Sparrow: One pair seen on the walk to the east end of the island, about 1k from the turning circle car parking area. Berthelot's Pipit and Canary also seen here.

Rock Sparrow, nr Calical, Madeira June 2022, picture by Steve Rogers.

Trocaz Pigeon: We saw a few at Palheiro Gardens north of Funchal and singles dotted around the vast mountain forests.  Madeiran Firecrest was also seen and heard here.

Peregrine Falcon: We saw two on the coast at Machico. Apparently this species is rare here. Hugo and Catarina stopped the rib to photo it. We also saw the occasional Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Kestrels. A moribund House Martin found on the Desertas Grande shoreline was unusual.

In summary, this is a relatively easy place to fly to, fairly cheap living and easily accessible with a hire car. Depending on your culinary and drinking habits, the total trip cost from door to door shouldn't cost more than about £1200. Well worth it.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Birding highlights in Cornwall June 2022

 June weather started warm and settled with an easterly airflow. The 18th saw an abrupt change with an unseasonal northerly airflow, often cold and wet. The 21st saw a return to hot and sunny conditions but changed again on the 24th to a westerly airflow.

THE FIRST rarity of the month was a female Rustic Bunting at Nanjizal on the 3rd. Two Rosy Starlings together at the Lizard and a Common Nightingale at nearby Kynance were also seen on the 3rd. The Red Kite influx disappeared as quickly as the arrival.  Maximum count was just seven over Sancreed.

The European Roller was last reported on the 29th May at Praze-an-Beeble completing a seven day stay.  An unsubstantiated report of another Roller came on the 2nd between Port Navas and Lamanva.

The drake Garganey seems settled at Marazion Marsh in its third week. Its been calling\singing\displaying to female Mallards during its long stay. An unseasonal Pochard appeared at Par Beach pool and a Goosander at Newquay boating lake (6th).

An unsubstantiated, late report of a Red-footed Falcon appeared on the 5th of an apparent 2cy male at Carn-les-Boel.  Hopefully some supporting description and photos appear later on this exciting falcon.

The singing male Nightingale was still performing at Kynance on the 6th. A Turtle Dove was showing at nearby Lizard village and the first Sooty Shearwater of the summer season appeared at Lizard point.

A male Red-footed Falcon was seen over Trevellas, St Agnes on the 8th, perhaps the same bird reported on the 5th?  A European Bee-eater was hunting over fields at Troon, Camborne and at nearby Redruth, a stunning adult Rosy Starling visited a private garden.  An unseasonal Tundra Bean Goose spent the day at Hayle Estuary on the 12th.

Cornwall's seventh Pacific Golden Plover was found at Stithians Reservoir on the 15th. It was present next day and delighted a good number of visitors.  It looked settled late in the evening of the 16th but departed overnight and wasn't seen again. FULL REPORT here A Quail was also heard singing in the fields to the east of the reservoir (15th).

Red Kites continued to be recorded throughout June in single digit numbers.  A non breeding Great White Egret was seen on the 20th and 21st at Lower/Upper Tamar Lake and a Glossy Ibis was reported from Carharrack on the 19th.

An Icterine Warbler was heard singing at the seaward end of Nanjizal on the 22nd. This species has become quite a rarity in recent years. The county will be lucky to record even one annual sighting.

The 25th saw a change in weather. A strong westerly airflow resulted in numbers of Cory's Shearwaters appearing at South facing seawatch sites. Predictably, Porthgwarra scored well with seven Cory's, 1 Pomarine Skua and one Sooty Shearwater.  Two more Cory's were seen at Downderry early morning.

The 26th was easily the best seawatching day so far this year. A probable Fea's Petrel, 46 Cory's Shearwater and an adult Sabines's Gull passed Porthgwarra.  An unseasonal Snow Bunting was also seen and heard calling. A further 36 Cory's were counted in the afternoon along with a Sooty Shearwater and two Arctic Skuas. Further Cory's included three at the Lizard, eight from Tater Du and two from Pendeen.  88 Cory's were logged at Porthgwarra on the 27th.  Just single numbers were recorded the next day.

Bird of the month: Pacific Golden Plover.   

Runner up: Early and unseasonally high numbers of Cory's Shearwater.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Birding highlights in Cornwall May 2022

 May weather started with a light westerly breeze, generally cool. A light south easterly wind on the 8th changed course to south or south-west mid month and was generally quite dull and surprisingly cold. The month end finally saw long periods of sunshine and an easterly airflow.

May opened its account on the 1st with a Red-rumped Swallow at Marazion Marsh.  Its the seventh for the Spring in Cornwall.  The second Common Nightingale was found at Mawgan Porth following an earlier very showy bird on the Lizard in April. A Hoopoe was heard singing at Nanjizal on the 2nd. An analysis of all the Spring Hoopoe sightings suggests at least 20 different birds have been seen. The only other highlight on Bank Holiday Monday was a Richard's Pipit at Windmill Farm, Lizard. 

Returning wader numbers have been very low. One notable absence is Whimbrel. Just three birds were seen on Marazion beach on the 3rd May.  This traditional stop-off site normally hosts hundreds in early May. 24 were seen at Cape Cornwall on the 4th.

The fifth Woodchat Shrike of the season was found at Kynance, Lizard on the 4th. The "wintering" Black Guillemot was still lingering off Swanpool/Maenporth and the 2CY Iceland Gull was still in the Sennen area. A Little Ringed Plover flew in off the sea calling at Land's End whilst two more were seen at Devoran. A drake Garganey was also at Devoran on the 4th. The only bird of note on the 5th was a "new" Hoopoe at Polzeath. 

The first arrival of Swifts began on the 7th though hardly in large numbers. There were no double figure reports. Bird of the day on the 7th was a singing male Lesser Whitethroat at Long Rock pool. The first week of May must go down as one of the quietest birding periods on record.  Every bird family seemed to be woefully short in numbers.

The wind direction changed to easterly on the 8th and favoured a raptor movement.  A fresh sprinkling of 2CY, ie non breeding, Red Kites trickled in to the county along with Marazion's second Marsh Harrier, and a handful of Ospreys.  The undoubted highlight though was a male Montagu's Harrier,  a 3CY bird found at Trewey Common. It most likely relates to a report from Pendeen of a"grey male" on the 2nd. This rare bird of prey is now extinct as a British breeder.  It last bred in Cornwall in the '70s. To put it in context, this is just my third Cornwall record.

Montagu's Harrier 3CY / Adult, Trewey Common, May 2022, picture courtesy Alan James.

The popular Montagu's Harrier at Trewey continued to show well on the 9th and 10th. A Red Kite and Black Kite flew east directly above the harrier on the 10th.  Black Kite is on the increase with annual county sightings the norm.  This could be due to Black Kites associating with the adult red's arriving from the continent in late March and early April. There have been several reports of Black Kite across the county.  I have now seen a Black Kite in each of the last four years and found two of them.

picture courtesy Peter Clement.

The female Marsh Harrier was still present at Marazion Marsh on the 10th, for its third day. Another female Marsh Harrier flew through Woon Gumpus on the 10th and a Night Heron was flushed from the same site, also 10th. The Night Heron is the second record this Spring following one at Nanjizal.

Black Kite, Trewey, May 2022, pic courtesy Sam Williams.

The First Pomarine Skua of the month was seen at Downderry on the 11th.  The numbers of Spring Poms has declined drastically in recent years. One bird by mid May is an all time low though. An Arctic Skua was seen the same day off Porthgwarra.  A Hoopoe was seen from a "new" location at Coverack.

The 14th was a notable raptor day with the popular Montagu's Harrier performing to all its admirers at Trewey. The roaming Black Kite was seen at Bartinney, a female Marsh Harrier at Marazion marsh and another female at Walmsley. A migrant Short-eared Owl was resting up at Land's End.  

Arguably one of the most important finds of the season was a singing male Wood Warbler on territory on Bodmin Moor. The last proven breeding in Cornwall was in 2000.

Sunday 15th saw a small fall of Spotted Flycatchers across the county. Notably four at Nanquidno, three at Kenidjack, Bosisto Lane, Otterham Station and a resident pair at Croft Pascoe. The First Turtle Dove of the season was found at St Buryan and the "resident" Hoopoe was still calling in the Nanjizal area.  The first Garganey of the year at Marazion marsh was found on the 16th and still present on the 31st. It was seen displaying and calling to a female Mallard.  Surprisingly, this is the first record of Garganey for two years here.

A first summer male singing Golden Oriole was found near Lamorna on the 17th and another was found at Carn Eames, Pendeen on the 19th.  A second bird on the 19th was also found at Drift.  I also had the briefest of views of another at Lands End but it flew straight in to Swingates, never to be seen again.(14th).

Golden Oriole (library pic by S. Rogers)

The 18th and 19th delivered a respectable fall of scarce migrants and one mega around the Lizard.  In addition to the Golden Orioles above, a Nightingale was found at Lizard village, the third Purple Heron at nearby Bray's Cott, Serin at the point, Hooded Crow and Rosy Starling at Man of War View and finally two Quails at Penberth and Treen. A Collared Pratincole was reported from an unknown source in the evening at Predannack, Lizard but sadly it flew on northwards. There were no photos or further reports. The last twitchable county record was way back in 1986 at the Camel Estuary so this species remains a highly prized find.

Undoubtedly the best weekend of the Spring came on 20th/21st/22nd. The wind shifted to south east and with extreme heat in Spain, some decent rarities were found.  Another Golden Oriole was singing and sound recorded at Lamorna. A Bee-eater and Red-rumped Swallow (8th this Spring) were in the Land's End and Polgigga area on Saturday 21st, though neither lingered. The following day, the 6th Woodchat was found near Ardensawah. A Quail was photographed well, unusually out in the open at Porthgwarra. A sub adult Egyptian Vulture was seen over Devoran on the 22nd.

On the 23rd, sensational news was announced when an adult male European Roller was found in the unlikely location of Clowance Estate. FULL DETAILS here.

Roller, Clowance Estate, pic by Mike McKee.

The month end saw the now annual influx of Red Kites. This exciting spectacle has been occurring since 2003 when non breeding birds venture away from their natal breeding grounds and funnel down to the south west.  The event is also likely to be driven by warm, high pressure systems. Land's End area on the 29th was the place to be with as many as 300 birds in the air. The same day saw an Osprey, Hobby and Red-footed Falcon, probable Pallid Harrier in the same area and also a Honey Buzzard near Bodmin. The Black Kite popped up again at Marazion. Two more Golden Orioles were seen at Nanjizal bringing the total to approx six.  A male Common Rosefinch was seen briefly and heard singing at Pendeen Carn.

Four Bee-eaters were found in the Sennen area on the 30th in the morning. They were clearly on the move as an hour later, were found on Scilly. A single bird was in the Sennen area on the 31st.

Finally, a belated April Fool's joke on the 31st came from the Lizard when a Long-legged Buzzard was claimed. "No plumage details were noted as it was very flighty".

In summary, May finally ended up an exciting month with several scarce migrants and one stand out rarity. On the negative side, common passage migrants were again woefully short in number.

Bird of the month: European Roller at Clowance.

Runner up: Montagu's Harrier at Bosporthennis, Trewey.

European Roller at Clowance Estate, 23rd May 2022

 On 23rd May, an adult male Roller was found on the disused golf course at Clowance Estate, Praze an Beeble. By chance, a visitor noticed it feeding on the lawn, took a few record shots and put the news out on Facebook. A couple local birders connected in the evening. Luckily it was still present next morning. 

European Roller, courtesy Mike McKee.

Roller, Clowance Estate, May 2022 (pic courtesy Nigel Rogers).
Image courtesy Alan James

Image courtesy Alan James

It remained faithful to a wide area of mixed woodland and open glades. It would go missing for a long periods while it fed in the large weedy field adjacent to the estate.  It would also show for long periods while it presumably digested its food.

The appearance was more than welcome in what has been a strange Spring, characterised by very few common migrants, a handful of scarce migrants and just one other major BB rarity (Egyptian Vulture at Devoran).  

The lead up to the Roller's appearance is relatively straightforward to pinpoint. The preceeding wind was from a North West direction. On Friday there was an easterly airflow through the Mediterranean, presumably pushing migrants westwards. The easterly airflow continued through France on Sunday 23rd but eventually hit the Atlantic north westerlies, effectively grounding any migrants.  There has also been extreme hot temperatures in The Iberian peninsula. Other rarities on Scilly and Cornwall at the same time included Short-toed Lark, Black-headed Bunting, Thunbergi race Wagtail, Red-rumped Swallow, Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike and fresh hirundine numbers.

Roller is rare in Cornwall with the last record in 1994 at Penlee Point.  The 1992 Roller on the Lizard was present for nearly two weeks and famously suppressed. We then have to time travel back to 1976 when one was found feeding on freshly cut hay for two days at Lanlivery.  Thus the Clowance bird is a welcome Cornish tick for nearly everyone and the 5th record in recent times (12th in total).

The species breeds in Iberia, south France and north west Africa and eastwards to South west Siberia. Winters in tropical Africa.

Records for Cornwall are as follows:

1765. Helston Moor: Shot.

1822: nr Falmouth 4th October.

1844: St. Levan 15th October.

1853: St Just in Penwith 15th October.

1861: Land's End June.

1865: Logan Rock mid September.

1887: St Buryan October.


1967: Bodmin Moor, Manor Common 12-13th June.

1976: Lanlivery, 1st to 2nd June.

1992: Lizard Downs, first summer, 27th May to 8th June. (suppressed).

1994: Penlee Point, Rame, 29th May.

2022: Clowance Estate, Praze an Beeble, 23rd to 29th May.

There have also been a few claims rejected eg. Mount Edgcumbe July 2001, Tehidy and Chapel Amble.

A note of thanks also to the Clowance Estate manager who kindly allowed full access to birders to enjoy this special visitor and the finder Ali Wright for putting the news out.

Birding highlights in Cornwall April 2022

 April started cold with an easterly airflow and overnight minus temperatures. A fresh south easterly front from the 10th opened the gates and pushed the common passage migrants in to the county. The wind direction for the entire end of month was easterly based.

Spring migrants trickled in to the county during the first week of April with little to get excited about. The highlight on the 1st was a group of eight Ring Ouzels at Rosewall Hill, St Ives.  Sand Martin was thin on the ground with a maximum count of just 40 at Boscathnoe, along with 15 House Martin and 10 Swallow.

Highlights on 3rd April included a female Goshawk over Skewjack.  This unusual record presumably relates to a continental migrant moving north-eastwards? (note: this bird has now been claimed by a falconer who lost this bird in the immediate area).  A Little Bunting and male Common Redstart were found at Faraway Cottage (Porthgwarra).  The latter species seems to be appearing earlier in the season as two other males were recorded in March at Pendeen and Portland (Dorset, for comparison). A stunning adult Water Pipit was showing well at Marazion Marsh.

The wintering Great White Egret at Hayle disappeared at the end of March.  Perhaps this bird reappeared at Par beach pool early April.  An adult female Marsh Harrier passed through Walmsley on the 4th.  With the increase in breeding UK Marsh Harriers, especially in Somerset, this species can now be found regularly on migration in Cornwall.

Long-stayers and unusual wintering birds lingering in to April included the Rosy Starling at Pendeen, Black-necked Grebe at Drift, (both sporting adult plumage), pair of Ring-necked Duck at Siblyback, White-fronted Goose and Whooper Swan at Walmsley.

Two Little Ringed Plover were found at Devoran on the 5th and the first Whinchat of the year was found at St Gothians. Four White Storks flew over Wheal Alfred, Hayle on the 7th.

A pair of Garganey appeared at Tamar Lake on the 9th and the adult Whooper Swan remained at Walmsley. A mini influx of Sandwich Terns passed the county with 11 at Falmouth and nine off Pendower.  Terns have been woefully short in numbers this Spring.

The 11th Hoopoe of the Spring was found at Botallack on the 11th.  A great find but provided small cheer from what has been a dismal Spring to date. Apart from Black Redstart and a few Ring Ouzels, numbers of every bird family are worryingly low.

Northern Wheatear, numbers have been relatively low this Spring. (library pic.)

Spring migration finally took off on the 11th.  The first Woodchat Shrike of the year was found at Windmill Farm, Lizard. Passage migrants were seen in low numbers across the county with Yellow Wagtail and Little Ringed Plover at Chapel Amble, Common Redstart, Ring Ouzel at Botallack, Osprey, Hoopoe and Little Ringed Plover there next morning.  

The 12th saw two new Hoopoe's at Twelveheads, Chacewater and St Martins as well as the Botallack bird moving widely around the area. The St Martin bird was the 13th county Hoopoe this Spring. A Common Swift was the first for the year at Marshgate. Swift numbers remained low for April. Notably, I failed to year tick Swift in April.

Hoopoe, one of approx 28 sightings during April 2022. (library pic by S. Rogers).

The 13th saw the arrival of Whitethroat, Grasshopper, Reed and Sedge Warblers.  A pair of Little Buntings with the male in song were found at Trevean.  This species has been wintering in west Cornwall in small numbers in recent years but a singing male is of interest. Little Bunting has also been found wintering in Spain recently.  With the northerly movement of Brambling earlier in the month, the two Little Buntings could have been caught up with them. The habo at Trevean is remarkably similar to what I saw in Norway, where Little Bunts breed.  The 2nd cal. year Rosy Starling was still present in the Pendeen area on the 13th.

The now annual Subalpine Warbler was found at the Waterings, Lizard on the 14th and identified as a Western. The Lizard is THE place to find subalps. In previous years, males have been heard singing on territory though none have stayed to breed. Whilst April Subalpine Warbler finds are to be expected, perhaps the strangest report of the day was a Puffin on the Penryn River! 

The 16th saw yet another Hoopoe at Penberth valley. Whether these are new arrivals or reorientating birds, we won't know. The species certainly seems to be on the increase though.

Spring migration gathered pace on the 17th with more Grasshopper Warblers, Whitethroats, Yellow Wagtails, a sprinkling of Cuckoos and another small movement of Ring Ouzel.  Another Great White Egret was found at Marazion Marsh.

The second Woodchat of the year was found again on the Lizard, near Windmill Farm on the 18th.

twitter link for Woodchat pics:

The male Little Bunting was still singing at Trevean.   Easter Monday was generally a disappointment though with little else to report.

The Lizard struck lucky again on the 19th with a singing Common Nightingale, in full view at Windmill Farm.  This CBWPS reserve, wardened by Doug Wright is certainly putting the Lizard on the birding map.

The first reported Purple Heron of the season flew NW over Marazion Marsh on the 20th but sadly didn't stop and couldn't be refound at other suitable sites.  The pet White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight fantasy island was seen over the Camel Estuary.

The first decent set of rarities turned up on easterly winds on the 21st.  Boscregan and St Just were the hotspots.  A Short-toed Lark was found at Boscregan in ploughed fields with a Hoopoe at nearby Hendra.  A Red-rumped Swallow was found at Porthgwarra, and two together were seen next day on the Lizard.  Among the many Red Kites dotted around, a Black Kite was found at Portreath.  Yet another Hoopoe was found at Pendeen.

Short-toed Lark, Boscregan, April 2022, pic courtesy Nigel Rogers.

The 22nd saw the third Woodchat Shrike turn up at Kenidjack.  Unlike the previous two short stayers on the Lizard, this 2CY male remained for several days though it gave one or two locals quite a runaround. Two more Hoopoe sightings came from Skewjack and Nanquidno, though these probably relate to some duplication.

The 23rd continued with notable rares in the county. The First European Bee-Eater of the season was seen over Nanjizal. The wandering Black Kite was seen at nearby Hendra and a stunning male Channel Wagtail was photographed at Roskestal.  Whimbrel started to arrive with a high count of 48 at Marazion. Whilst 48 seems high, in years gone by, several hundreds were the norm at this ancient and favoured stop off site. As with all curlews, the family is in serious decline.

Continuing with a relatively busy period, the Short-toed Lark was refound in the ploughed fields at Boscregan, the Woodchat was still giving birders the runaround at Kenidjack and the First Wryneck of the year was found nearby in the gorse scrub, all on the 24th. Further east, a Golden Oriole was heard at St Blazey.

The 25th was a day noted for some serious plastic. A Great Horned Owl was found roosting in a pine tree in Kenidjack valley.  Whilst no individual or organisation has claimed ownership, the likelihood of it being a genuine vagrant is stretching the imagination. The literature states that the species is generally resident with limited dispersal post breeding in its native Canada and N America. There has been some expansion in its range though.  It was gone next morning.  The White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme was seen over Dobwalls.  Finally, the only other highlight was a Hawfinch at Geevor.

A Serin was found at Porthgwarra on the 26th and yet more Hoopoes were seen at Nanjizal and Polgigga. A stunning adult Glossy Ibis put in a brief appearance at Hayle along with 11 Cattle Egret on the 27th. An adult female Marsh Harrier spent three days hunting baby Mallards and Moorhens at Marazion Marsh. An Osprey and a Red Kite at the same site rounded off a decent raptor day. A Red-rumped Swallow flew east past Woon Gumpus, Pendeen and a Hoopoe spent a few days at Rame Barton.

The 29th saw the fourth Woodchat Shrike appear at Boscregan. This was a different male to the one at Kenidjack, perhaps a full adult male. It was also singing. As with most of the Mediterranean overshoots though, they tend to be non-breeder second calendar year birds. This bird was also seen in the same field as the Short-toed Lark! The second Purple Heron of the season flew north east over Kenidjack. 

The last day of the month was quieter. The only highlight was a stunning male Wood Warbler in song at Land's End. Its my highlight PFL of the month. A handful of birders came to see it but sadly it had moved on. I managed to record the song on my iPhone. Wood Warbler is in serious decline nationally. The last confirmed breeding in Cornwall was 2000. I'm told that the same decline is mirrored in Devon as well.

In summary, there were worryingly low numbers of common migrants, even after the strong easterly winds which traditionally bring migrants to Cornwall. Conversely, there were high numbers of (approx 20) Hoopoe, Ring Ouzel, four Woodchats, five Red-rumped Swallows, an unusual Spring record of Short-toed Lark.

Info Source: Cornwall Bird Tours, CBWPS sightings page, personal finds.

Birding highlights in Cornwall March 2022

  March weather started mild and wet with a light south west airflow. Mid month changed to a constant easterly air flow with long periods of warm sunshine.

Sensational news broke on the 2nd March when an adult Brown Booby was found by a non-birder at the Droskyn car park, Perranporth.  It was actually found during storm Eunice with a suggested date of the 22nd Feb.  News that it died in care at Mousehole bird hospital was released on 2nd March. This bird is just the third record for Cornwall after two were seen in August and September 2019.

March carried on from February pretty much unchanged, with all the long staying winter visitors remaining, eg, two Black Guillemots off Swanpool, six White-fronted Geese, Ring-necked Duck, Bittern, Ruff, nine Glossy Ibis all at Walmsley, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls dotted around in small numbers, Rosy Starling at Pendeen, male Surf Scoter at Pentewan, and Kumlien's Gull at Newlyn.

A female Ring Ouzel at Gwennap Head, Porthgwarra on 5th March could have been an early migrant, but most likely relates to the female seen twice in the area in February. This female was also seen several times during March, mainly in the Porth Loe cove vicinty. Wintering Ring Ouzels are rare in the UK, but the Porthgwarra bird joined at least three others in England this winter.  The normal wintering area is the Atlas mountains in Morocco.  The 29th saw an increase of Ring Ouzels with a maximum of 12 together at Rosewall Hill.  Other singles were found at typical north coast watchpoints.  Ring Ouzel is rare in Spring on the south coast.

The first Black Redstart migrant at Porthgwarra was seen on the 1st March.  The annual Black Redstart movement in March seems to be accelerating.  This March has seen unusually high numbers dotted around the county, but especially at coastal sites. There were several double figure counts at the month end, eg 12 around Porthgwarra on the 29th, nine at Trevose 23rd.

A decent movement of Barnacle Geese was found on the 6th with two at Ryan's Field and 26 at St Gothian's.  Barnacle Goose is classed as a "rare vagrant" in Cornwall so 26 together is a significant record.

Barnacle Geese flock of 26, St Gothians, March 2022 (picture courtesy M. Ahmad).

The first Sand Martins appeared at Walmsley on the 6th. This important site is a regular staging area for passing Sand Martins. The north coast is also by far the best area to see early Spring migrants.  An early singing Willow Warbler was found at Tregoss on the 6th while Northern Wheatears continued to be found in small numbers along the north coast.

A Pomarine Skua was seen in Falmouth Bay on the 7th.  The bay is a regular wintering site for this species in recent years. Pomarine is also the only Stercorarius species wintering north of the equator; any seen off UK shores in winter is likely to be Pomarine. 

A group of Serins were found at the Lizard on the 22nd increasing to four birds on the 27th.  Another male was found at Land's End on the 27th.  Serin is a common passerine in Europe but a rare migrant in Cornwall.  These birds were presumably moving north taking advantage of the strong easterly airflow.

Hoopoe's turned up in numbers on the 22nd; singles were recorded at Polbathic, St Austell, St Buryan,  Nancledra.  Further reports later in the month came from Bartinney, Porthgwarra, Predannack, Pendeen, Woon Gumpas, Penrose and Treleaver.

A female Hawfinch was seen well and photographed at Crackington Haven on the 23rd.

Red Kites were on the move in March with a maximum flock of four at Porthgwarra on 20th.  Reports of numerous single and doubles occurred across the entire county.  All were adult types with full secondary and primary feathers with no signs of moult.  The immature birds associated with the now annual movement in May and June always show signs of heavy wing moult.  The March birds are presumably continental birds moving north?  

A Hooded Crow was found at Marazion Marsh on the 20th and present next morning only. Comparison of photos proved that this bird was seen in south east England just three days previously.

Little Ringed Plovers were found at Mawgan and Chapel Amble on the 25th.  This species doesn't breed in the county but the nearest is as close as Exeter.  Given the right habitat and no disturbance, there's no reason why Little Ringed Plover shouldn't breed in Cornwall.

Garaganey numbers were sadly low compared to other national sites. Par beach pool and Walmsley recorded a handful but Marazion failed to attract any (at time of writing).  2021 was also a zero count here.

An adult Night Heron was found at Nanjizal on the 31st.

Bird of the Month: Moribund Brown Booby.

Runners-up and unusual records: Serin influx, 26 Barnacle Goose at Gwithian, Black Redstart movement, Night Heron at Nanjizal.

Brown Booby at Perranporth, February 2022

 An astonishing report of a Brown Booby hit the headlines on Wednesday 2nd March.  An adult bird was picked up exhausted at the Droskyn cliff top car park, overlooking Perranporth beach. The bird was found around 18th Feb when Storm Eunice hit the county.  Two non birders found it and took it to Mousehole bird hospital.  It was apparently too malnourished and weak to make a recovery and died. 

Maximum wind gust was 82 mph in the county whilst 122mph was recorded in Hampshire. The wind direction was due west and the isobars showed a direct line from the UK to America.  Presumably this bird got caught up in the storm and found its way to Cornwall.

This is the third record of Brown Booby in Cornwall, following one in St Ives bay in August 2019, and another at Kynance, Lizard in September 2019. (A fourth bird was seen off Pendeen in August 2020 but is yet to be submitted).  The sudden increase in records presumably points towards global warming and a change in sea temperature.

Twitter link here for photos.

Storm Eunice showing the 973 Low.

Birding highlights in Cornwall February 2022

  February weather started with a steady west to north airflow, occasional strong wind and heavy rain.  Mid month saw Storm Dudley hit the northern Isles but had little effect on Cornwall.  The 18th and 20th saw two exceptionally strong westerly storms hit Cornwall, Eunice and Frederick. The moth ended mild, wet and relatively warm.

The wintering highlights from January carried over to February. The Great White Egret remained in the Hayle and Marazion area, three Bean Geese at Tamar Lake, two Black Guillemots at Swanpool beach, Iceland Gull at Cape Cornwall, Rosy Starling at Pendeen, nine Glossy Ibis at Chapel Amble, Ring-necked Duck at Walmsley (first for the reserve), 40 Cattle Egret at St Clement, Yellow-browed Warbler at St Austell sewerage works and a few Red-necked Grebes on the south coast.

Rare gulls could be found daily on Hayle Estuary with the returning Ring-billed Gull, double digit numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls and Cornwall's third confirmed ring-read Caspian Gull.  Despite storm force northerly winds in Scotland, very few white-wingers made it to Cornwall. Just two Glaucous Gulls could be seen daily in Newlyn harbour.  A stunning adult or 4th winter Iceland Gull preferred the 3rd Tee at Cape Cornwall golf club.

Ad Iceland Gull, Cape Cornwall, Picture courtesy Joe Jones.

The first rarity of the month was found at Porthgwarra on the 9th Feb.  An American Golden Plover was photo'd on the moor adjacent to the NCI station. Sadly it didn't stay long and was last seen flying strongly towards Sennen.  Originally considered to be a Pacific Golden Plover, a photo of the long primary extension and short tertials confirmed it as an American.  There are just three definite, nailed-on id. features separating American from Pacific: primaries, tertials and summer plumage (flanks). Even the call is not definitive. Nevertheless, American Golden Plover is still a good find in an unusual location. On the same day, an adult Ross' Gull was reported briefly from Trevone but not relocated, despite several local birders searching.

An amazing count of around 800 Brambling were found (and photo'd) with other finches at Turnaware Bar. Brambling are decidedly scarce winter visitors in Cornwall, so this high count is quite incredible. Five wintering Woodlarks were also seen near Falmouth.

The "constant effort" of seawatching off Pendeen in suitable conditions has produced some interesting records.  Diver passage or movement around west Penwith is guaranteed.  The default diver seems to be Black-throated though Red-throat and Great Northern are regular in small numbers.  Secondly, Manx Shearwaters were seen on every seawatch day in the winter. An impressive maximum count of 110 was made on 28th December.  In February, 101 were counted on the 19th, confirming that there must be a decent wintering flock in the western approaches.

A Red-necked Grebe was seen off Swanpool on the 15th, along with the two wintering Black Guillemots. Presumably the same Red-necked Grebe was seen off nearby Maenporth a couple days later.

Storm Eunice and Storm Frederick battered the county on the 18th and 20th. Maximum westerly wind gusts of 80 mph was the strongest wind for several years, but a little disappointing in the resulting storm driven seabirds. The undoubted highlight was a stunning adult Kumlien's Gull in Newlyn habour. It remained faithful to Newlyn until the month-end.  A first year Long-tailed Skua was seen off Pendeen and the first Sooty Shearwater of the year flew past Porthgwarra on the 19th. 

Ad Kumlien's Gull, Newlyn harbour, Feb 2022 (pic by S Rogers).

The first winter male Surf Scoter and Velvet Scoter were seen again on the 20th at Pentewan beach, both clearly finding enough food and enjoying the winter here.  A blue morph Fulmar passed Lizard point. It, or another, was seen off Pendeen on 21st.  Pendeen scored well on the 21st with the first Storm Petrel of the year, another Sooty Shearwater and 31 Manx.

The month ended pretty much how it started with all the long-stayers still present, eg Ring-necked Duck, Bittern, nine Gloosy Ibis' at Walmsley, Great White Egret at Hayle, Surf Scoter at Pentewan, Kumlien's Gull and two Glaucous Gull at Newlyn, Ring-billed Gull at Hayle and Rosy Starling at Pendeen, 

The first Northern Wheatears were recorded on the 26th with two at Stepper Point and another at Perranporth plus two more at St Agnes on the 27th.

Bird of the Month: Kumlien's Gull at Newlyn.

Runners-up: American Golden Plover at Porthgwarra, Long-tailed Skua at Pendeen.