Monday 30 December 2013

Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland

Its unusual for me to twitch outside Cornwall, but news of a Brunnich's Guillemot was just too tempting.  I travelled to Portland, Dorset on Sunday and quickly connected with another 100 or so birders.  The bird is uber-rare in England - in fact, there is only one other record in 1977 of one in Northumberland.  All of the other previous 41 records in the UK have been found in the northern Isles.  And well over half of these were found dead. 
The Portland individual has been present since at least the 19th Dec and was found after the huge gales we experienced before Christmas.  Of interest, other rare arctic species including White-billed Diver, Snowy Owl and Ivory Gull also turned up in the UK.
This species is almost circumpolar in the Arctic and near Arctic but in Newfoundland it breeds at a latitude equivalent to that of northern France. This reflects the lower sea temperatures on that side of the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest breeding colonies to Britain are in Iceland, Greenland and northern Norway.
In winter it disperses out to sea in northern latitudes with it's southerly limit in the eastern Atlantic being well to the north of Scotland. The worldwide population is estimated to be in the region of 15 to 20 million individuals and as such it is one of the most abundant marine species in the northern hemisphere. There are nearly two million breeding pairs in Iceland alone which makes it's rarity in Britain very surprising indeed.

UK records:

2011 - Moray - Burghead - 17th November only
2007 - Aberdeenshire - Girdle Ness - 7th November only
2007 - Shetland - Scousburgh, Mainland - 25th March - dead
2006 - Shetland - West Sandwick, Yell - 4th May - dead
2005 - Shetland - Lerwick, Mainland & Bressay - 30th November to 20th December
2001 - Orkney - North Ronaldsay - first winter on 29th January - dead
2000 - Orkney - Scapa Flow - 21st December - dead
1997 - Shetland - Fetlar - 26th to 30th December
1996 - Highland - Kilchoan Bay, Ardnamurchan - 27th March only
1995 - At Sea - north of sea area Fair Isle - 23rd January only
1995 - Shetland - Gulberwick, Mainland - taken into care on 4th January (released 1st February)
1994 - Shetland - Wadbister Voe, Mainland - 12th February - dead
1994 - Lothian - Seafield - 6th February only
1993 - Lothian - Musselburgh - 27th March only
1992 - Western Isles - Hirta, St Kilda - 26th May to 8th June
1991 - Orkney - Sule Skerry - 25th January only
1989 - Shetland - Sumburgh Head, Mainland - 16th June to 12th July
1988 - Highland - Dunnet Bay - male on 9th March - dead
1987 - Shetland - Hamnavoe, West Burra - 3rd to 7th February - dead
1985 - Orkney - Scapa Bay - 9th January - dead
1984 - Orkney - Birsay, Mainland - 20th March - dead
1983 - Shetland - Banna Minn, West Burra - 30th October - dead
1982 - Highland - Golspie, Sutherland - 24th December - dead
1982 - Orkney - Stromness, Mainland - 3rd April - dead
1982 - Highland - Brora, Sutherland - 3rd February - dead
1981 - Orkney - Bay of Ireland, Stenness, Mainland - 29th December - dead
1981 - Aberdeenshire - Johnshaven Beach, Kincardine - 25th January - dead
1980 - At Sea - sea area Viking (Brent Oilfield) - 26th December only
1980 - Shetland - Fair Isle - adult from 16th to 17th October
1980 - Shetland - Burrafirth, Unst - 24th February - dead
1980 - Lothian - Kilspindie Beach - 9th February - dead
1980 - Lothian - Ferry Ness - 9th February - dead
1979 - Aberdeenshire - Rattray Head - 25th February - dead
1978 - Aberdeenshire - St Cyrus - 14th July - dead
1977 - Shetland - Sumburgh, Mainland - 18th December - dead
1977 - Northumberland - Farne Islands - 13th July only
1976 - Highland - Reay Beach, Thurso - 31st January - dead
1969 - Argyll - Loch Caolisport, Knapdale - 11th October - dead
1968 - Shetland - Norwick, Unst - 20th March - dead
1960 - Lancashire - Middleton Sands, near Morecambe - adult on 15th April - dead
1908 - Lothian - Craigielaw Point - female on 10th December - dead

Thanks to Archie for the list of records and some text. Further informative info can be found on Archie's birding blog here.

Sunday 22 December 2013

First year Glossy Ibis at Tregony and summary of recent sightings in Cornwall

This first winter Glossy Ibis has been present in the marshy fields below Tregony since at least the 10th December.  Several other recent records in the county include one at Drift Res on the 14th Dec.  Four flew over West Cornwall golf course on the 7th Dec, reducing to three at Ryan's Field, Hayle the following day.  Presumably the remaining fourth bird flew over the reed beds at Marazion on the 8th.  Single birds were also seen on the 8th at Helston Loe Pool and at St Merryn.

Pair of Stonechats at Pendower Beach

This pair of Stonechats were seen today at Pendower beach.  Stonechat took a bit of a hit in numbers after last years' harsh winter but seem to have made a decent recovery.  This pair were very confiding this morning in the low winter sunshine. 

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Mandarin at St Clement, Truro

This handsome drake Mandarin has been present at Tresemple Pool, St Clement for the last three weeks.  It is free-flying and quite flirty with the local male Mallards!  Whether it is a genuine bird or an escape from a local collection, I guess we will never know.  Anyway, it's worth a look in this stunning plumage.

Sunday 10 November 2013

White-rumped Sandpiper at Hayle

This morning Steve Kolodziejski and me located the three White-rumped Sandpipers on Ryan's Field, Hayle.  These three (1 ad and 2 first winters) have been giving me the runaround for the last two weeks.  Eventually two first winters flew across the road and into very close view with the sun behind us.  The bird below is one of the first winters.

More images here on Flickr.

Sunday 3 November 2013

St Ives seawatch this morning

The wind this morning reached gale force though sadly never quite found the desired north-westerly direction.  Nevertheless, the morning was fruitful and several decent birds were seen, including Pomarine Skua, Grey Phalarope, Little Auk (BKM only), good numbers of Balearic Shearwater and a debatable Surf Scoter.  I say debatable because we later heard that a female flew past Pendeen with two drake Common Scoters.  We saw this group at some distance through bins only, but failed to id the Surf Scoter at St Ives.  The age-old question is can you year-tick it retrospectively?


Balearic Shearwater 67
Manx Shearwater 15
Sooty Shearwater 1
Med Gull 12, all adults
Common Gull 1 1st W.
Grey Phalarope 3,1,
Little Auk 1
Great Northern Diver 9
Purple Sandpiper 4
Pomarine Skua 1
Bonxie 44
Arctic Skua 8
Common Scoter 17
Surf Scoter 1 fem.
Arctic Tern 1
Sandwich Tern 1
Black Redstart 1

Below are some images of the day including several different colour phase Balearics.

Medium phase Balearic Shearwater, one of at least 67 seen this morning.

Pale phase Balearic

Four Balearics in varying plumages

Adult Arctic Skua, one of 8 seen today.

First year Great Skua, one of 44 seen today.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin, one of about ten seen off the island this morning.

Friday 1 November 2013

A look down memory lane

I've been meaning to copy some old slides from my collection.  I managed to find a used Nikon slide copier and link it to my digital SLR.  The slides are from various Cornish photographers including Pete Walsh, Gary Cockill and Brian Mellow.  I used to use these exact slides at evening slide-shows and at the time thought they were stunning quality.  They were the best of the day but how things have moved on with the constant improvements in technology.   All of them are unaltered and appear exactly as the slide appears.  I'm sure the photographers won't mind me reproducing them here again.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Drift, late 1980's by Pete Walsh. Drift is one of the best sites to see this species in the county. A flock of four was seen last year here and Jim Dustow and me found a flock of seven here in the late 70's.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Carminowe Creek, Loe Pool, Gary Cockill.  Lesser Yellowlegs continues to appear regularly in Cornwall with two or three annually.  Spring records have increased as well recently.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Drift, Pete Walsh

Dotterel, Porthgwarra, early 1980's. by Brian Mellow.  In the 70's and 80's the moor at Porthgwarra was a regular staging post for flocks of Dotterel as they make their way towards their wintering grounds in North Africa and Morocco.  Sadly Pg doesn't attract the numbers and just a handful are found throughout the county now.

Curlew Sandpiper, Stithians Res, mid 1990's, Gary Cockill.  Curlew Sandpiper has always been a scarce but regular passage migrant in Cornwall.  Occasionally, numbers can be high depending on the weather but Cornwall is probably too far west of the main migration flyway.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Stithians, late 1980's, Pete Walsh.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Chapel Lane, Stithians Res, Pete Walsh.  Buff-breasts have had a resurgence in numbers recently with some decent flock records eg seven together at Stithians (and exceptionally a flock 33 in Ireland last year!).  The species migrates non stop from the tundra breeding grounds to Argentina and flies out over the Atlantic, hence susceptible in Atlantic storms. In America, the species will create serious interest on migration.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra, Cornwall

Following the St Jude's storm this week, there have been several top North American vagrants in the UK and Ireland including Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Cape Clear, Mourning Dove in Highland, American Robin on Scilly, Yellow-rumped Warblers on Lundy and Galway and finally this morning at around 10.20am, this stunning Hermit Thrush.  This is the first record for mainland Cornwall and the ninth for the UK.  This is also the first for the British mainland.  Around 75 birders were present today.  The bird favoured the elm tree copse next to the toilet block at Porthgwarra.  It was seen feeding on the ground in the leaf litter as well hovering to take berries from the elder flower tree. 

Previous records for UK and Ireland:

Fair Isle - 1975
St Mary's, Scilly - 1984
St Agnes, Scilly - 1987
Tresco, Scilly - 1993
Fair Isle - 1995
Fetlar - 1998
Galley Head - 1998
Cape Clear - 2006
Barra - 2010
South Uist - 2010

Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra, copyright Steve Rogers.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Great Northern Diver at Long Rock Pool, Cornwall

This adult Great Northern Diver is a real poser and showed exceptionally well today at Long Rock Pool.  It seems to like following a circuit round the edge of the pool.  Every ten minutes or so it swam to the extreme south west corner to within 15 yards of me.  Unbelievably, it then called twice.  I have only heard the call on tape so was surprised and pleased to witness this today.  
The bird is just starting to moult out of summer plumage and this seems quite late.  I have only seen first winter birds previously in the Autumn.  I normally only see adults in full summer plumage in Cornwall in late Spring.  So, with the calls and this plumage at this time of year, does seem unusual. 
According to BWP though, post breeding adults start the moult from late July to early October; the moult is complete from October to January.
The species mainly breeds in Iceland and Greenland.  Approx 150 birds regularly winter around the Cornish coast with the highest concentration being from Gribbin Head to the Helford.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Grey Plover at Davidstow

After a fairly quiet day down West on Saturday, I decided to check out Crowdy and Davidstow today.  There were very few waders at either site but six Ruff and a Dunlin were seen at the back of Crowdy Res.  At Davidstow, one Ringed Plover flew high over calling but Brian Craven put me on to this confiding Grey Plover.  Based on the streaking on the lower flanks, the black spangling on the upperparts tinged with yellow, I'm judging this is a first year bird.  This is the first one I've seen here, or come to that, at any inland site. 

Grey Plover is a world-wide species, breeding in the high arctic tundra and wintering as far south as Australia, South America and South Africa. The species breeds from its second year. First year birds remain on the wintering grounds until mature enough to breed.  Numbers in Cornwall have seriously declined over the last ten years.  eg in 2009 just 18 birds were recorded wintering in December compared to 160 in 1999.

Monday 7 October 2013

Daurian Shrike at Pendeen

A few more images from the stunning Pendeen adult male Daurian Shrike below.  This bird must rate as my best (so far) of 2013.

All images are cropped heavily as it always remained fairly distant.  The light conditions were harsh as well, so these are the best I could muster. (All copyright please).

Sunday 6 October 2013

Cape May visit in September

The images below were taken last month on a two week trip to Cape May in New Jersey.  The place is a world class migration hotspot for raptors, passerines and waders.  This is the second time I have visited Cape May.  Whilst this visit was decidedly quieter than last year (because we didn't get a full blast of the famous north west cold front) we still saw a lot birds.  A small selection is shown below.  I will show the rest at a slide show due in January at Chacewater on Friday 17th Jan.
First year Chestnut-sided Warbler - seen daily in small numbers.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with a green tree frog

Common Nighthawk at a day time roost

First year Black Skimmer, one of around a 1000 birds on the Cape May beach.

Adult male Blackburnian Warbler, less than a handful of this most desirable dendroica were seen.

Adult male Prairie Warbler - who says autumn warblers are dull!

First year American Redstart - abundant.

Adult Black and White Warbler - seen daily in decent numbers.

Adult male Yellow Warbler

First year Piping Plover - seven of this endangered species were seen at Stoney Harbour beach.

Adult Caspian Tern at Stoney Harbour - seen daily in small numbers.

Western Sandpiper - just this individual was seen.

A very showy American Bittern  delighted all.

Daurian Shrike at Pendeen, Cornwall

On Friday, an adult Daurian Shrike was found near the coastguard house at Pendeen.  I managed to see it well today along with thirty or so other birders this morning. This is a stunning bird and a great find.  They are surprisingly unusual on mainland Cornwall.  In fact this is my first for the county, with all my previous records being on Scilly.

In addition to the shrike, the area was also good for three Wrynecks, two Whinchats, a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Snow Bunting.

(Wryneck image taken at Botallack a couple years back.)