Thursday, 15 June 2017

Common Whitethroat feeding young

I had a chance to photo a family of six Whitethroats last week, with both parents feeding four young. It was great to see them out in the open.  In West Penwith, the Whitethroat is the most common breeding warbler.  The species breeds throughout Europe and across much of temperate western Asia. This small passerine is strongly migratory and winters in tropical Africa and Pakistan.



Monday, 12 June 2017

Second calendar year Turnstones in June in Cornwall

There was a maximum count of 18 Turnstones in Mounts Bay on Sunday.  Given the date and the condition of the plumage, these birds are not quite full adult birds, ie second calendar year birds which have not migrated north to the Arctic to breed.  Presumably they will stay in the area until next Spring.  Of interest I also saw two Sanderlings in similar plumage but all the Purple Sandpipers have now moved on.





Birder's Diary - early June 2017

June is traditionally a quieter time for birding.  Spring migration is a distant memory and the breeding season is well under way. The month can be very good for rarities and non breeding sub-adult birds can often be found.  One such spectacle in west Cornwall is the now annual Red Kite movement. This year followed the trend of the last ten years. During a ten day period from 25th May, reports came in thick and fast with high counts at Polgigga (57), Sancreed (50), Connor Downs (42), Camborne (25) and Hayle (23). Over 363 birds were reported from 47 locations. There were of course duplicate observations of the same birds, but still high numbers and of course,  always a pleasure to see. The following day sightings were received from 57 locations and appeared to be more evenly spread across the county with over 375 individuals reported. (per Cornwall-Birding). The general consensus is that these birds are 2nd and 3rd year birds not mature enough to breed, thus wandering from their natal breeding areas. Eventually funnelling down to west Cornwall, they congregate and feed in the ploughed fields of the far west.  The vast majority are thought to be UK based birds. A colour wing tagged bird was identified last year and was raised in Gosforth.  To date, no Red Kites (yet) breed in Cornwall.

Staying with the raptor theme, Red-footed Falcons have been noted more-or-less daily from Nanjizal, The Lizard and the Hayle Kymbro area.  Great White Egrets have been seen at Loe Pool and Stithians.  This once rare species seems to be following its smaller relation and increasingly frequent. The species barely raises an eye brow compared to just five years ago.

Looking forward, the sea watching season is fast approaching.  Keen birders will be watching the weather closely and anticipating strong south westerly or westerly gales.  Porthgwarra, Pendeen and St Ives will be the hotspots.  The first Wilson's Petrel of the year has already been sighted off Scilly. Download your wind apps such as Magic Seaweed for more weather details.

Red Kite, Raftra Farm, St Leven
(note: this article has been prepared for inclusion in the Sunday Independent.)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Diary - end of May 2017

The last ten days has been a bit busy. I took a week off work and did a UK road trip, seeing some relations in Dorset, friends in Yorkshire, fell walking in the Lake District and finally watching my daughter complete the Edinburgh Marathon on Sunday.  Needless to say, I managed to get some decent birding in on the way.

The highlight for me was my second visit this Spring to Ham Wall in Somerset.  Anyone who hasn't been is really missing something special.  Its basically a heron-fest with some decent raptors thrown in for good measure.  The undoubted highlight is the territorial male Little Bittern. I heard it "singing", or rather barking its single note pretty much continuously.  I got two flight views, long enough to get a few record shots.   In addition, there are several Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Garganey, Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck.  There is also a Red-footed Falcon at the time of writing!

We also visited Slimbridge and Upton Warren in the Midlands.  I was surprised to see so many Avocet now breeding here.  They also breed in the Cardiff area I'm told, so perhaps its no surprise that we are seeing more in Cornwall recently.  The Black-tailed Godwits were in full breeding plumage and looked really impressive.  Next stop for them is Iceland.


I managed to see the stunning adult Temminck's Stint at Ryan's Field on Tuesday after work.  Whilst this is a regular passage migrant on  the English east coast, it is decidedly rarer in the West Country.  I have only seen two prior to this bird. The previous bird was also an adult at Ryan's Field.




Adult Temminck's Stint, Ryan's Field, Hayle, May 30th 2017.


Monday, 22 May 2017

Birder's Diary prepared for the Sunday Independent

The weather has again been unsettled and changeable with heavy rain over the weekend (19th/20th)followed by soaring temperatures. A change of weather brings a change of birds and on Sunday a stunning Bee-eater was found at Connor Downs.  It stayed long enough for several local birders to see it. New discoveries included an Iberian Chiffchaff at Prussia Cove.  This once rare warbler is now annual in Cornwall and can be found with experience by listening for its distinctive song. A stunning Bee-eater pleased many local birders on Sunday evening at Connor Downs.  The adult Purple Heron remained faithful to its favourite ponds on the Tresillian River at Probus.

Away from Cornwall, I paid a visit to the famous RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset on Sunday.  This stunning site never fails to impress and each visit seems to improve on the last.  Great views were had of Marsh Harriers passing food kills, 20+ Hobby's hawking dragonflies, Great Crested Grebes feeding young, Cattle Egrets and Great White Egrets feeding in the ponds, pairs of Gadwalls and Pochards chasing each other around the marshes, Bitterns flying around and booming and Cetti's Warblers feeding young.  It's all very reminiscent of a marsh in the Mediterranean.

Looking forward, the end of May and June can always bring the unexpected.  Whilst the local birds are settled in to their nesting and raising young, non breeding wanderers and extreme rarities can turn up.  Another recent phenomenon is the annual Red Kite movement in west Cornwall and the Lizard area.  All eyes will be in the sky looking out for this impressive raptor in the next couple weeks.

Male Marsh Harrier at Ham Wall Somerset

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Birder's Update early May

The last two weeks has seen unsettled weather with temperatures ranging from 17 degrees to as low as 7 degrees.  Wind direction has varied from south easterly to north westerly and has been gale force at times.  Birders always keep a close eye on the weather as it influences what can potentially be found. 

Spring migration peaks in mid May and thereafter falls away quickly. The period has produced  a good number of rarities though many have been seen by single observers only. New discoveries all have a distinct Mediterranean flavour and have included an adult Purple Heron near Probus, White Stork at Tregoss, Kentish Plover at Sennen Beach, flyover Bee Eaters at St Levan, Red-rumped Swallow at Marazion Marsh,  Alpine Swift and Red-throated Pipit at Pendeen, several Serins, five Woodchat Shrikes and perhaps up to ten Hoopoes this Spring.  In terms of national status, Montagu's Harrier, the rarest of all UK breeding raptors, a juvenile (ringtail) was seen at Coombe on 14th May.

Wader passage has been light compared to past years but fair numbers of Sanderlings, Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Turnstones have been seen at typical coastal sites. Purple Sandpipers have peaked at 42 birds at Battery Rocks, Penzance. Most of them are now in full summer breeding plumage. By June they will all be on territory in the high Arctic.

Away from Cornwall, an Eastern Subalpine Warbler and potential first record for Devon was found on Sunday at Dawlish Warren.  


Adult Purple Sandpiper, Penzance.
note: This is an article specially prepared for the Sunday Independent newspaper.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Greater White-fronted Goose at Par beach pool

A Greater White-fronted Goose was found at Par on Friday 17th March, in the fields to the east of the bay.  I saw it with Royston Wilkins on Sunday 19th feeding on the grass at the edge of Par beach pool.  It gave stunning views. 
This individual has been identified as the more unusual European albifrons form, rather than the flavirostris race which comes from Greenland. Back in the 60's when a flock of white fronts over wintered at Walmsley Sanctuary, these were assigned to the albifrons race. Sadly this flock has now disappeared and we only now get occasional sightings in the county. Albifrons can be identified by the orange legs and pink bill, and less black belly markings than flavirostris. 
 




Thursday, 16 March 2017

Iceland Gulls at Hayle and St Gothians today

Today was a gull day starting with the first winter Bonaparte's Gull at Helston.  I wanted to get a decent flight shot but failed. And when a Hawk jet took off from Culdrose, that ended my hopes. I went to Hayle and was shown a juv Iceland Gull by John Thomas. I then found another one close by only to be flushed by three Buzzards. 
Luck seemed to be changing though.  I ventured over to St Gothians and found a second year Iceland.  I better not say 2nd winter now as the gull police will shoot me down. This bird was sporting a pale iris, grey mantle and losing quite a lot of the coffee brown colours of a juv. I moved on from the island area and found a Little Ringed Plover at the western end of the reserve.  It soon flushed and spent a lot of the time flying around calling.  There was also a decent fall of a dozen Pied Wags.

Iceland Gull at St Gothians
Record shot of Bonaparte's Gull at Helston


Purple Sandpiper at Penzance

Monday, 13 March 2017

Bonaparte's Gull at Helston boating lake

Some images of the very confiding Bonaparte's Gull at the popular boating lake. As at Sunday 12th March it has been present for 8 days. Found by Tony Blunden, this is approximately the 42nd record for Cornwall.  A third of all Cornish records occur in March and April, so this bird fits the pattern nicely.  There are also a couple others in other parts of the UK and Ireland.




Monday, 27 February 2017

Costa Rica sightings update

We were delighted to find a pair of Elegant Trogons near the hotel.  I glimpsed what I thought was a female at the start of the trip so had an idea they were here. After some perseverance, we got lucky when a male flew across the road. It joined a female. This species seems very shy and too keen to hide away.  I managed one half decent record shot though.

Ad male Elegant Trogon