Wednesday 29 July 2009

Pendeen Lighthouse sea watch prediction - Thursday 30th July

Seawatch conditions are looking reasonable for tomorrow morning, Thursday 30th. A quick view in the bar chart alongside this post shows a steady westerly wind of reasonable strength with strong gusts thrown in as well. This follows a week of blustery and unsettled weather from the west associated with the low depression in the Atlantic. You can also double click on the Windfinder chart opposite to gain more detailed weather forecasts for the area.

Sightings for this morning included:

1 Sooty Shearwater (very close)
5 Balearic Shearwater
700+ Manx Shearwater
4 Storm Petrel
1 Bonxie
1 Common Tern
3 Turnstone
2 Dunlin

Sunday 26 July 2009

Black-browed Albatross at Porthgwarra

As predicted, the seawatch today at Porthgwarra was truly superb. A strong south-westerly wind in front of an advancing Atlantic low depression is a locally known signal that some good seawatching could be on the agenda. Perhaps surprisingly then, only 14 birders showed up. Sadly no one had any cameras with them....I'm hopping mad with myself but considering the rain and normal distance of birds at Pg, no one thought a camera would be needed ! Until 8.30 am that is.

Fourteen of us saw the first or second year Black-browed Albatross today just before 8.30am. Brian Mellow first found the bird, with myself, Royston Wilkins, Linton Proctor, Mark Warren, Mark Wallace, Daniel Eva, Chris Craig and remaining visitor birders from up the line.

It appeared from the extreme left of the coastline as it lazily progressed round the coast, hugging the cliffs no more than a couple hundred yards off-shore. The views were exceptional and it even circled a couple times directly in front of us. The complete fly past lasted about three or four minutes. The slow, meandering flight was similar to a Cory's Shearwater and it seemed to be on view for ages.

The bird was aged as immature, first or at most second calendar year. The underwing was generally dark with a narrow pale underwing bar, barely noticeable unless you looked for it. The bill was a horn grey colour with a darker tip. I saw no hint of pink or yellow which would be associated with an older bird. The head was white, contrasting against a grey nape and collar extending down the side of the neck. The upper tail showed a dark lateral band. Undertail white. The upperwing was blackish brown, slightly browner on the mantle and back.

Previous records:

There are surprisingly just two accepted records of Black-browed Albatross from mainland Cornwall:

1982: St Ives Island. 5th Oct.
1988: Porthgwarra. 30th Aug.

1999: At sea. Outside of the two mile maritime boundary, 10 miles offshore. This record is not included in the totals as it is outside of the Cornish mainland area two mile limit.

Nationally, there are 23 accepted records.

Albatross Sp.

1964: nr Marazion 23rd Aug
1981: Trevose Head 4th Dec
1985: 80 km south of Lizard 29th Apr (outside Cornish mainland area)

Of interest:

1985: The record of the bird seen 80km south of The Lizard on 29 Apr was considered to be an albatross, but the species identification was not established beyond doubt - and it was outside the 'mainland' area anyway!

Thanks to Derek Julian (CBWPS) for the data info.

Additional sightings during the morning included:

1 Great Shearwater
16 Balearic Shearwater
4 Sooty Shearwater
2 Puffin
4 Great Skua
2 Pomarine Skua
3 Arctic Skua
4 Storm Petrel
1 Whimbrel
2 "Comic" Tern

Monday 20 July 2009

Porthgwarra sea watch Sunday 19th July

Sadly no photos today as Porthgwarra is simply too distant for photography. A WSW breeze was promising and we were not disappointed. From 7.30am to 11.30am we logged:

4 Cory's Shearwater
14 Balearic Shearwater
1 Yelkouan Shearwater showing the full suite of characteristics.
17 Sooty Shearwater
1 Storm Petrel
100's Manx Shearwater
6 Puffin
1 Whimbrel
8 Common Scoter

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the weekend was no skua sightings and just one Storm Petrel.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Manx and Balearic Shearwaters

Below are some more images from yesterday's sea watch. The camera settings required the highest shutter speed possible though the changeable light meant some shots were taken at 1/125s . Exposure was set at +0.3 EV and the aperture set to F/7.1 or F/8. White Balance set at Cloudy position.

Friday 17 July 2009

St. Ives Island sea watch 17th July

The first north westerly blow of the "autumn" perhaps didn't quite live up to expectations but nevertheless, was an interesting morning. Hundreds of Manx Shearwaters steadily passed the island from 7am and didn't really stop when we departed at noon. Eight Balearic Shearwaters also passed the island with some Gannets, Storm Petrel, Scoters and Guillemots. Sadly no skuas or large shearwaters were seen today.
Above and below are some images of Manx Shearwater, most of which passed within a couple hundred yards of the island. 95% of the worlds' population of Manx breed around the UK and can be seen easily from most Cornish headlands between spring and autumn.

The Manx image below is an odd one and still cannot quite work out what's happened here? Presumably the shutter speed was not quite fast enough?

The image below is a Balearic Shearwater in heavy moult. Balearics are a regular sight in Cornwall in the summer months though their sightings mask their true rarity as a world breeder. No more than 11,000 pairs breed in the Med and these numbers are in decline.

The Balearic below is a particularly dark individual - their variation in colour and extent of shading is quite noticeable.

An unusual shot of both Manx and Balearic together clearly highlighting the differences in colour.

Sub-adult Northern Gannet


Thursday 16 July 2009

St. Ives Island sea watch prediction - Fri 17th

A close look at the wind forecast for tomorrow in the bar chart opposite, for Friday 17th shows a strong north westerly wind, which follows a fairly blustery week of south or south westerlies. Anyone with an interest in Cornish seawatching will probably find a morning at St Ives Island worthwhile. See you there!

ps Please don't hold me responsible if it is a wash out! But, if you don't go, you don't see.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Various Chats

The lull in birding in the county has prompted me to browse my "library" of images. I found these photos of previously unpublished chats. I took them in Spring and thus they are all in pristine adult plumage. The adult Whinchat is a male whilst the Woodchat and Siberian Stonechat are females.

The Woodchat below can be sexed as a female by the extensive white feathering on the lores and behind the eye.

Siberian Stonechats are scarce passage migrants through Cyprus. They also winter here but perhaps surprisingly, this is the first record for me on the island. They are fairly straight forward to identify looking like a cross between Stonechat and Whinchat with an obvious pale rump.

Monday 6 July 2009

Alpine butterflies part 2.

This is the second installment of some of the butterflies seen in the Italian Alps last week. In the higher altitude areas there is little agriculture and thus no pesticides. The meadows are completely unspoilt with an abundance of insects one can only dream of in the UK. At times you don't know which way to look. On this day I advanced no more than 300 yards in four hours and still probably missed some species.
The two images above are Scarce Copper and the brightest copper I've seen to date. The bright fiery orange set against the green background is quite a sight.

Marbled Whites were common and they preferred the scabious.

The brown butterfly below is a Large Wall Brown.

All the shots were taken on a tripod. The aperture was set quite high at F/8 and the ISO was set to ISO100, allowing the best non-grainy images. The low ISO also allows further cropping without to much degradation of the image.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Alpine butterflies

This is the first instalment of some butterfly images taken in the Italian Alps last week. All were taken with the 300mm lens and 1.7x teleconverter.
Although some of these species can be found at lower altitudes, these shots were all taken at approx 3,500 to 4,500 ft above sea level, mainly in the Mottarone area.

The three images above are Swallowtail, with regrettably one tail missing.

Several fritillary species were seen but this one above and below was the only obliging one! The images above and below are that of a Queen of Spain Fritillary (Thanks Dave Parker). This species was quite common with about 20 seen in the local area.

The images below are Clouded Yellow. They were fairly common at this altitude and the shortage of oxygen did not seem to make any difference to their strength of flight. This individual was quite obliging though and allowed close approach to about six feet.

All three images are the same individual in slightly different angles.

Brimstone -quite common and all were particularly tame.

All the images were taken in strong light, at ISO 100, aperture F/8, WB Cloudy, exposure stopped down to minus 0.7 or even -1.0EV. All but the Swallowtail shots were tripod mounted. On the first day I left my tripod behind thinking that the cable car was too cramped for all the gear. I realised by the end of the day that a tripod is essential for best focus!