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.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Glossy Ibis at Croft Pascoe, Lizard

A confiding first summer Glossy Ibis spent a week at Croft Pascoe pool.  First found on Friday 17th August, it remained on and off until the 25th August.  The water level at the pool is at its lowest for many years and clearly attractive to this lone bird.  Glossy Ibis has been increasing in frequency over the last decade, no doubt linked to the increases seen in Spain since 2006.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Guillemots and Razorbills off Pendeen

Below are some images of mixed auks moving west off Pendeen late last year.  They mostly include Guillemot, but there are also a few Razorbills.  Pendeen is an incredible place to bird from but in the big gales, the kit needs to be completely sealed from the excessive spray.  I wouldn't encourage getting too close to the rocks either.  Last night (16th Jan), the storm reached 41 kph with 8.2 m wave height!

Northern Gannet climbs a massive sea wall at Pendeen.

Storm Eleanor brings scarce gulls (article for Sunday Independent 14th January)

Following Storm Eleanor last week, several scarce gulls have been recorded in the region. The prize Arctic finds such as Ross's Gull and even Ivory Gull failed to materialise in the west country but several Glaucous and Iceland Gulls appeared at the normal coastal sites.  One very confiding Iceland Gull has spent a few days at the flood meadow at Marazion Marsh.  These large "white-wingers" fluctuate annually in numbers based on the Arctic temperature and Atlantic gales. 

Glaucous Gull, 2nd Cal Yr at Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall, Jan 2018

Ad Iceland Gull, Newlyn Harbour, Jan 2018.

2nd Cal Yr Iceland Gull, Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall, Jan 2018.

A bonus juvenile Ring-billed Gull was a surprise find on Trenance boating Lake, Newquay last week.  Cornwall averages one or two sightings annually.  They most likely originate from Canada or northern USA.  A rarer record would have been a juvenile Bonaparte's Gull in Mount's Bay  but sadly the views were not good enough to clinch the identification.  The regular wintering adult Bonaparte's Gull has returned to Exmouth, Devon. (6th Jan).  

Ring-billed Gull, 2nd Calendar Year (2CY) at Trenance, Newquay

Keeping with the American theme, the two over-wintering Surf Scoters at Porthpean bay (St Austell) were joined by a third male bird following Storm Eleanor.  The supporting cast of a scarce Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck make a necessary visit to the site. 

Hawfinch's continue to show well across the region.  The unlikely favoured places are graveyards.  Hawfinch feeds on berries and the graveyard yew trees seem attractive.  Five birds have been spotted at Egloshayle cemetery, two at Feock church, Devoran, Saltash and various sites in West Penwith.  Hawfinch irruptions are rare on this scale.  Now is your chance to see one.

Devon birders will be delighted to hear this week that the Elegant Tern seen at Dawlish Warren in May 2002 has now been added to the UK official list, taking the total to 615 species.  Elegant Tern is a Pacific species, breeding in south west USA and Mexico.  Recent research has shown beyond doubt that Elegant Terns are occurring this side of the States and even breeding in the Western Palearctic. 

On the flip side, Cornish birders will be disappointed to see that the Royal Tern, also an American species, has been removed from the archive.  The record, which dates back to September 1971, has been reviewed by the Rarities Committee and is now considered unproven.

The Snowy Owl which appeared in Cornwall last month has been relocated on St Martins, Scilly.  The world status of Snowy Owl has recently been reclassified as "Vulnerable," so cherish the memories as this species will become more difficult to find.  On the other hand, Cattle Egret numbers are increasing with a maximum count of 15 near Manaccan, Lizard. This species looks set to follow its congener, the Little Egret in becoming a regular fixture in the south west. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

A Snowy experience (article for Sunday Independent 17th December

There is some irony in today's column.  With the snow and plummeting temperatures across most of the UK, Cornwall has somehow survived a whitewashing and remains relatively mild.  It seems very apt then that a female Snowy Owl should turn up on Tuesday 12th on a far flung moor in West Cornwall.  Chapel Carn Brae near St Just to be exact.  The moors are typical remote, barren habitat and the general area has hosted three other Snowy Owls in the past decade.  Another Snowy Owl appeared on Scilly in November and whether its the same individual is yet to be proven.  The record is perhaps no surprise though, as hundreds have been moving south out of their arctic Canada breeding grounds into North America.  A shortage of food and extreme cold weather is the usual reason for such movements.  How though, a bird turns up on this side of the "pond" takes some explaining.  Whichever route the Cornish bird took, we will never know but thousands of miles are in the equation.  Snowy Owls are native to arctic regions of Canada, North America and Eurasia.  The species is prone to wandering in search of food.

Female Snowy Owl, courtesy Phil Taylor, St Buryan.
In addition to the Snowy Owl, Cornwall is currently home to some notable rarities and is arguably the top UK county for rare birds at the moment.  On Bodmin Moor, the returning male Lesser Scaup and male Ring-necked Duck have taken up winter residence at Dozmary Pool, while in Porthpean Bay, St Austell, two Surf Scoters can be seen feeding near the mussel farm. A pair of Long-tailed Ducks can also be found near them.  In Gerrans Bay, diver and grebe numbers are building; over twenty Great Nothern Diver, seven Black-throated Diver and Cornwall's second Pacific Diver has also returned to the area.  The returning Pacific Diver in Mount's Bay is now  in its 11th year.  A maximum count of 24 Black-necked Grebes can be found wintering at Carrick Roads, Falmouth.  This wintering flock can build up to 80 birds.  The site is a nationally important wintering area for this species. The best viewing point is from Mylor Harbour.

Hayle estuary is always worth checking.  A rare American Golden Plover can be found with perserverance among the Golden Plover flock.  Present since November, this bird seems to be content to spend the winter there.  Rare gulls can also be found at Hayle estuary.    The last couple weeks has seen an American Ring-billed Gull (probably originating from Canada), Caspian Gull (eastern Europe) and a Glaucous Gull (Iceland / Greenland) all resting up on the estuary.  Quite a crossroads!   An Iceland Gull has spent a couple weeks in Coverack harbour.

Cattle Egret sightings are increasing with four seen on the Helford, two at St Erth and up to three at Kingsmill Lake. The Glossy Ibis was also seen at Kingsmill Lake (Torpoint) from the 27th to 29th November.   With the continued cold weather from the north, we can expect more arctic species.  A Ross's Gull or even an Ivory Gull would be nice.  The latter would be the first record for Cornwall.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Hawfinch is surprise talking point (article prepared for the Sunday Independent column)

If one species grabbed the birding headlines this Autumn, then the shy Hawfinch must be a candidate. The species is not a major rarity but more a scarce breeding resident in the UK.  The fascination though stems from its natural shyness.  The species prefers to feed and rest in tall trees, though can be seen feeding on the ground occasionally.  Most observations are usually from a distance or flyovers.  This Autumn has changed all that. An unusual eruption has occurred. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have moved out of continental Europe.  The assumption is a healthy breeding season followed by a shortage of food, prompting a mass migration towards Britain and France.  UK birders have benefitted from a rare opportunity to see the species well in unfamiliar surroundings.

The Hawfinch invasion has been noted across the UK, most notably on the east and south coasts but also inland.  Cornwall has also done well with upwards of 150 sightings (some overlap). The maximum count was nine together in west Cornwall with many sightings of singles and pairs. The species is totally absent as a breeding bird in Cornwall with the nearest population in mid Devon (scarce).  Their preferred tree is the Hornbeam, which is also absent from Cornwall. This would explain their absence here as a breeding bird. The species breeds across Europe and temperate Asia. It is mainly resident in Europe, but many Asian birds migrate further south in the winter.

The Pacific Diver has returned to Mount's Bay, Cornwall for its 11th year.  This mega rare diver is one of only five species in the genera.  It has faithfully returned to the same wintering site every year since 2007.  There are less than ten UK records.  Birders travel from far distances to tick this species, even a group from Norway "twitched" it.  Sightings cannot be guaranteed though.  It usually stays well out in the bay and a telescope is a must for a decent view.   It breeds primarily in northern Canada and eastern Siberia and winters along the Pacific coast of North America.  Given where it breeds, this bird certainly puts in the miles.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Some birds from South Korea

Our daughter works in Seoul, S Korea so we decided to take an overdue two week trip there last October.  To be honest it was always going to be a family affair so birding was put to the back burner.  But I did manage to get out and see a few nice birds.  

We were mainly based in the capital Seoul but we did catch a bullet train down south for a few days.   What struck me most about this country is the sheer number of people, vast numbers around every corner.  There's no escaping from people.  With a population of 51m crammed in a space half the size of England, its no wonder it feels busy.  Everything is geared to improving human's lot and as far as I could see, with little interest for wildlife.  Every inch of land is intensively farmed, even the corner sections of motorway junctions.  As such, numbers of birds were low, just like they are here in the UK.  Basically, birding was hard work.

All that said, the people are friendly, polite, respectful and the place is uber tidy and manicured. This is a high tech, busy first world country obsessed with technology.

On to the birding, most of our successes were in mixed woodlands and beside watercourses.  Some of the special birds I saw but didn't photo were White's Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, Brown Shrike, Humes Warbler, Black-faced Bunting, Middendorf's Warbler, Oriental Reed Warbler.

Below are some of the images I took on the trip.

First year male Mugimaki Flycatcher, a few seen in different locations, usually near water.

Male Daurian Redstart, seen on steep slope woods and clearings.

Still can't decide on this one, probably White-backed Woodpecker

Ad male Daurian Redstart

Brown-eared Bulbul, common, seen everywhere.

Spot-billed Duck

Vinous-throated Parrotbill, common and seen in large flocks near water.

Bull-headed Shrike, scarce in the south.  Also saw a few Brown Shrikes.

Great White Egret, common.

Spot-billed Duck, locally common on fast flowing rivers down south.

Oriental Turtle Dove, common.

Arctic Warbler, along with Yellow-browed Warbler, the commonest warblers.

Tree Sparrow, common in every habitat.

Brown Flycatcher, fairly regular in dark wooded areas. (this was taken on 21,600 ISO !)

Grey-naped Woodpecker

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

Oriental Turtle Dove, common in every habitat.

Varied Tit, common in dense woodland.