Monday, 10 June 2019

Greenish Warbler at Porth Joke and status in Cornwall

Greenish Warbler is a rare vagrant in Cornwall with just eight records up to June 2019. The two  records in 2019 are the first in Spring in Cornwall.  The species breeds in north and eastern Europe and Russia and has expanded its breeding range westwards during the last century. Migrates south east to winter in S. Asia.

1984: Nanquidno, 30th Sep to 1st Oct. Found by Dave Flumm. Paul Semmens, Lawrie Williams, Stuart Hutchings and Graham Hearl were also named as co-finders. It was present for two days and preferred the high canopy of the sycamore tree by the farmhouse with blue windows. It was also seen in the copse by the ford. This individual was by no means an easy ID and several observers of the day considered this to be a Two-barred Greenish.

2000: Kenidjack, 24th Sep. Found by John Swann and T. Whiley. This bird again spent much of the time in the high canopy in the copse part way down the valley.

2008: Pendeen, 16th to 17th Sep. Found by John Foster. This individual was found in the copse around Calartha Farm on the road down to Pendeen Watch. It was highly active and elusive at times. It was occasionally seen in the gardens adjacent to the copse.

2009: Church Cove, Lizard. 28th Oct to 1st Nov. Found by visiting birder Duncan Poyser from Cambs. Initially found at the bottom of the valley near Mariner's Cottage. The bird was highly mobile and could be found in the sycamores and elms in the churchyard as well as the copse at the bottom of the valley. This individual will be long-remembered for its see-saw identification between Green and Greenish. Eventually confirmed by sonogram on the call by Magnus Robb, Ilya Maclean and Hugh Harrop.

2010: Treeve Common, Land's End. 25th-29th Sep. Found by John Chapple.

2017: Millbrook, St Andrew's Street. 23rd-25th Aug.

2019: Lizard Village. 4th June. One seen briefly by Tony Blunden.

2019: Porth Joke, Crantock. 9th June. Singing male in willows below Treago campsite, found by Steve Rowe.
Male Greenish Warbler, Porth Joke 9th June 2019.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Black-headed Wagtail at the Lizard

An adult male Black-headed Wagtail was found at the Waterings, Housel Bay, Lizard on Sunday 19th May by Tony Blunden.  It spent all day in the cattle field catching insects.  The record followed a strong easterly air flow directly from Scandinavia.  It was present for just one day.

I have seen a lot of this sub species of Yellow Wagtail abroad in Cyprus, and this bird is one of the purest I have seen.  There was no white in the chin or hint of any supercilium.

A look at past Cornwall records makes this bird the third record.  Several previous records have been rejected on review or just not submitted, see below data kindly supplied by Derek Julian.

Ad male Black-headed Wagtail, Lizard, May 2019

Yearly sightings:

1964 – One at Marazion Marsh 29th June. (After review in 1993 was found as unacceptable by BBRC). [8] [12]

1978 – One at Pentire Farm, Polzeath 5th June. (After review in 1993 was found as unacceptable by BBRC) [9]

1999 – One, male, at Walmsley Sanctuary 11th-12th May. (Evans says present 3 days on about 10th/11th May) [1][2][3][10]

2000 – One at Maer Lake 25th-28th May. (Not submitted to BBRC?) [11]

2010 – One first summer male at Land’s End 29th April to 1st May. [4][5][6]

(2011 – One male at Drift Reservoir 16th September. [14] )

2016 – One female from Land’s End Cycle path 18th May. (Not submitted to BBRC?) [7]

(2019 – One adult male at Housel Bay, Lizard 19th May. [7] )

Site Records:

Camel Estuary

1999 – One male at Walmsley Sanctuary 11th-12th May. [1][2][3][10]

Drift Reservoir

(2011 – One male at Drift Reservoir 16th September. [14] )

Land’s End

2010 – One first summer male 29th April to 1st May. [4][5][6]

(2016 – One female from Land’s End Cycle path 18th May. (Not submitted to BBRC?) [7]


2019 – One adult male at Housel Bay, 19th May. [7] )

(Maer Lake

2000 – One at Maer Lake 25th-28th May. (Not submitted to BBRC?) [11])

(Marazion Marsh

1964 – One at Marazion Marsh 29th June. (After review in 1993 was found as unacceptable by BBRC). [8] [12])

(Pentire Head

1978 – One at Pentire Farm, Polzeath 5th June. (After review in 1993 was found as unacceptable by BBRC) [9])

1 – Slack R, Rare Birds Where and When Vol 1, page 129.
2 – Evans LGR, Black-headed Wagtails on Powys, Cornwall and Essex in Rare Birds Vol 5 No 3, page 204
3 – Rogers, MJ and the Rarities Committee, British Birds Vol 93, page 548
4 – Hudson, NAJ and the Rarities Committee, British Birds Vol 104, page 617;
5 – British Birds 109: plate 220
6 – Birding World 23, page 188
7 – CBWPS Website
8 – CBWPS Thirty-fourth Annual Report 1964, page 45.
9 – CBWPS Birds in Cornwall 1978, page 59.
10 – Birds in Cornwall 1999, page 91.
11 – Birds in Cornwall 2000, page 101.
12 – Rogers, MJ and the Rarities Committee, British Birds Vol 87, page 543.
13 – Rogers, MJ and the Rarities Committee, British Birds Vol 93, page 548.
14 – Julian DI, Personal Records.
Reference(s): Birding World 23 (5): 188, photo; N. A. J. Hudson and the Rarities Committee, British Birds 104: 617; British Birds 109: plate 220

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Juv Bohemian Waxwing in Truro

Dan Cole found a juvenile Waxwing in Truro late on Saturday 5th January.  Luckily it was present the following day.  Being the first for the year and generally very scarce in the west country this winter, it was duly ticked by a steady stream of locals. 

Its main source of food were the berries on the small pink sorbus tree next to Malpas House.  It flew across the river occasionally towards Tesco's car park but always found its way back to the pink sorbus.  How Waxwings sniff out such a small haven in a large city defies logic, but they somehow do it.  This bird is a juvenile and shows just one small red spot of "wax" on its secondaries and of course no yellow in the primaries.  That aside, this is still a stunning bird and always attracts attention.

Waxwing, Truro City Centre, January 2019.

Waxwing, Truro City Centre, January 2019. Nikon D850,

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A collection of wheatears

I've been waiting an awful long time to see Pied Wheatear in the UK, let alone Cornwall.  I narrowly missed one in Shetland back in 1995 and I couldn't get to the male at the Dodman because I was working away. 
So its taken 34 years from seeing my first rare wheatear at Portgwarra to the recent Pied Wheatear at Trevose.  The male Desert Wheatear in November 1984 sticks in my mind most.  I think it was just the seventh UK record at the time and many top name listers made the overnight journey to Porthgwarra to tick it.  It was found by Laurie Williams and Rod Hirst on the moor just past the stone wall.  I can remember now as it stood out like a beacon in the heather.  What a find.
The adult male Black-eared Wheatear was found by Martin Elliott in the fields at the top end of Nanquidno valley in March 2002.  Despite its striking black and white plumage, this bird is of the Western form.  Its the only Black-eared I have seen in Cornwall.
The Isabelline Wheatear was found by Paul Freestone in October 2016 whilst birding on Godrevy Head.  It stayed just one day and was admired by scores of local birders.  It was the second record following a short stayer bird seen at Church Cove Lizard and by John Martin, a visitor birder.
So there you have it. A 34 year span to notch up the four rare wheatears.  Will there be more? Yes.  Wheatears are responding well to the increasingly hot summers.  A White-crowned Black Wheatear would be nice...

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Cornwall's fourth Pallid Swift at Land's End

It was only a matter of time before a Pallid Swift would turn up in Cornwall this Autumn. With so many others dotted around the east and south coasts, one would surely end up in Cornwall.  On Sunday 18th an early shout went out of a swift seen flying over Rose Valley near Pendeen.  Several birders searched the various nearby valleys and likely spots but without luck. 

At around midday, another report was sent in to Cornwall Birding of a swift around the Land's End complex.  Luckily John Chapple had just arrived on site and connected pretty soon.  With close views overhead, he was sure it was a Pallid Swift and put the news out. I called John, got some details and arrived ten minutes later. I also connected quickly as the bird hawked low over the moor to the north of the complex. In perfect light with the sun behind us, we could see the paleness of the bird and why its called a Pallid Swift.  The dark inner axillaries/secondaries compared to an otherwise pale underwing was immediately noticeable, even at distance through my bins.  Within an hour, some 20 more birders had seen it.

After a close look at the accepted records, this bird is the fourth record for the county and my first for Cornwall.  The first record was at St Levan in November 2004.  First noted as a swift sp, it was later accepted as a Pallid Swift in 2005 (CBWPS Report 2005).  The second was at Wadebridge in June 2007.  The third was found by Kester Wilson at Nanjizal in May 2009.  There was another interesting swift in Nov 2016 found at Kenidjack and then Botallack/Pendeen, but it was eventually considered to be a Common Swift, possibly of the subspecies pekinensis, though the latter has yet to be accepted in the UK.

The images below were taken by myself.  John Ryan has also taken a close interest in this bird and given me for comparison, three images of the 2016 Common Swift at Kenidjack.  I have linked the photo's together for exact comparion.  The differences are subtle:

Pallid is overall paler and browner with obvious dark inner secondaries
Pallid has a less defined throat patch
Pallid has no white supercilium/patch in front of the eye
Pallid has a slightly larger head with the impression of a large eye
Pallid has less clear white trailing edge to the secondaries.
Pallid has less white showing in the leading edge of the wing

Pallid Swift, Land's End, Nov 2018, Steve Rogers.

Pallid Swift, Land's End, Nov 2018, Steve Rogers.

Upper image shows 2016 Kenidjack Common Swift by John Ryan, compared to the 2018 Pallid Swift at Land's End.

Upper image shows 2016 Kenidjack Common Swift by John Ryan, compared to the 2018 Pallid Swift at Land's End.

Upper image shows 2016 Kenidjack Common Swift by John Ryan, compared to the 2018 Pallid Swift at Land's End.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

First year female Pied Wheatear at Trevose Head

(Text edited, video added, 5pm 15th Nov).

A Pied Wheatear was found on Trevose golf course on Thursday 8th November.  It was sadly suppressed (by instruction from the golf club manager) for three days as it was on the course whilst machinery was in use.  News eventually leaked out on the Sunday but it was too late to connect with it. Pete Roseveare got a tip off from Clive Thomas that it had been relocated on Dinas Head, about a half mile from its original location.  Thanks to Clive's nod, Pete and Bob saw this super rarity on Wed 14th early morning and duly let the news out for all to share and enjoy.  I managed to see it today (15th Nov) and got stunning close views with a dozen or so others. 

What a cracking bird it was and I am so pleased that the news came out.  For me its a first for Cornwall as I missed the 1991 male at Dodman Head.  And of course the Botallack male in October 2015 was identified retrospectively from photographs, so no one had any chance with that.  So the Trevose bird is the third for Cornwall and the first female. In birding slang, its an unblocker for me.

In context, two others turned up in the UK at the same time; a well watched male in the Wirral and another in the Northern Isles.

The species breeds as close as eastern Europe (Romania/Bulgaria) but the range extends well east towards Iran, Iraq, Caspian Sea, Afghanistan and onwards towards China.  It winters in India and north east Africa.

Video by John Chapple.

First year female Pied Wheatear, Trevose, Nov 2018. Nikon D850, 500mm F4 plus 1.4x Converter. Tripod.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Curlew Sandpiper at Wherrytown, Penzance, early November

A Curlew Sandpiper in winter plumage has been seen for the last few days on the shingle and rocks just in front of the Lidl superstore at Wherrytown.  As with most small waders, it is confiding and allows reasonably close views.   Its also unusual to see a winter plumage bird as most sightings are juvs in their impressive apricot coloured plumage.

November records are decidedly rare.  For instance none were recorded in 2015 and just three in 2016.  The vast majority of the population will now be in south west Africa.  Hundreds of thousands winter in Namibia.

Curlew Sandpiper, Wherrytown, Cornwall Nov 2018. Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm F/4.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Grey Catbird at Treeve Moor, Land's End

A Grey Catbird was found at Treeve Moor, Land's End on Monday 15th October by visiting birder Graham Mitchell.  Graham was 100% sure he knew what he had found.  News soon spread and the first images appeared early evening.  By the following morning I estimate around 500 birders had already seen it.  It took a long two hour wait that morning before it appeared in poor light.  The release of tension was palpable as it eventually showed well in the willow clump 25 m in front of the assembled crowd.  As most locals did, I went back for a second visit in better light and got some crippling views.

This is the first record for Cornwall and just the second for Britain. The first was in 2001 on Anglesey though this bird proved incredibly illusive.  This is a pointer and indicates that many birders would have dipped the Wales bird, and hence why so many have visited Cornwall.

The Cornwall bird was obviously caught up in the Hurricane Michael which hit Cornwall on the Friday and Saturday (12th and 13th Oct). To put the arrival in perspective, a massive and unprecedented fall of vagrants landed at Flores and Corvo islands in the Azores at the same time.  Highlights there included Wood Thrush, Wilson's Warbler, Black-throated GReen Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Bobolink, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and nine Red-eyed Vireos!  One can only speculate what other unfound vagrants hit Cornwall!

Video by Pete Walsh

Grey Catbird is native to most of  North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The species migrate to the southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean in winter; except for the occasional vagrant they always stay east of the American Cordillera. They are extremely rare vagrants to western Europe. Normally present on the breeding grounds by May, most leave for winter quarters in September/October; as it seems, this species is increasingly extending its stay in the summer range, with some nowadays remaining until mid-winter as far north as Ohio.  The gray catbird is a migratory species. Spring migration ranges from March to May, and in the fall ranges from late August to November. (from Wikipedia).

On a personal note, everyone is obviously grateful to Graham for finding it (and releasing the news) but also thanks to Liz of Treeve Farm House for opening the field to allow the hundreds of cars to park safely.

Grey Catbird on Sunday 21st October 2018, by Steve Rogers.

(It was present for 15 days, last being seen on Monday 29th October).

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Lesser Yellowlegs at Tringaville

On Tuesday 18th September, a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) was found by Steve Votier at the high tide roost at Tallacks Creek, Devoran.  This record is approx. the 48th for Cornwall.  A Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)  and a Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) were also in the area.  The Yellowlegs was last seen on Thursday 20th.

This site is fast becoming a well known roosting site for waders at high tide.  It is particularly favourable to tringa family of waders.  Throughout July high numbers of over one hundred Redshanks used the site for a stop over.  On Thursday 26th July, a long awaited Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis, first for Cornwall) appeared at exactly the same spot as the Yellowlegs.

So, I'm not sure if the good people of Devoran will want their village renamed, but Tringaville seems quite apt.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Melodious Warbler at the Lizard

An obliging Melodious Warbler was found on Friday 7th Sept by Mark Pass in the area of the waterboard pumping station near Caerthillian.  It was regularly calling a soft churring sound and was quite showy at times. Several other decent drift migrants were in the immediate area including Red-backed Shrike and Nightingale.

Just under 170 sightings have been recorded in Cornwall, the majority in September.  Porthgwarra is the top site with 58 records alone.

The image below was taken on Sunday 9th by myself.  The video is by John Chapple.