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.