Tuesday 20 November 2018

Cornwall's fourth Pallid Swift at Land's End

It was only a matter of time before a Pallid Swift would turn up in Cornwall this Autumn. With so many others dotted around the east and south coasts, one would surely end up in Cornwall.  On Sunday 18th an early shout went out of a swift seen flying over Rose Valley near Pendeen.  Several birders searched the various nearby valleys and likely spots but without luck. 

At around midday, another report was sent in to Cornwall Birding of a swift around the Land's End complex.  Luckily John Chapple had just arrived on site and connected pretty soon.  With close views overhead, he was sure it was a Pallid Swift and put the news out. I called John, got some details and arrived ten minutes later. I also connected quickly as the bird hawked low over the moor to the north of the complex. In perfect light with the sun behind us, we could see the paleness of the bird and why its called a Pallid Swift.  The dark inner axillaries/secondaries compared to an otherwise pale underwing was immediately noticeable, even at distance through my bins.  Within an hour, some 20 more birders had seen it.

After a close look at the accepted records, this bird is the fourth record for the county and my first for Cornwall.  The first record was at St Levan in November 2004.  First noted as a swift sp, it was later accepted as a Pallid Swift in 2005 (CBWPS Report 2005).  The second was at Wadebridge in June 2007.  The third was found by Kester Wilson at Nanjizal in May 2009.  There was another interesting swift in Nov 2016 found at Kenidjack and then Botallack/Pendeen, but it was eventually considered to be a Common Swift, possibly of the subspecies pekinensis, though the latter has yet to be accepted in the UK.

The images below were taken by myself.  John Ryan has also taken a close interest in this bird and given me for comparison, three images of the 2016 Common Swift at Kenidjack.  I have linked the photo's together for exact comparion.  The differences are subtle:

Pallid is overall paler and browner with obvious dark inner secondaries
Pallid has a less defined throat patch
Pallid has no white supercilium/patch in front of the eye
Pallid has a slightly larger head with the impression of a large eye
Pallid has less clear white trailing edge to the secondaries.
Pallid has less white showing in the leading edge of the wing

Pallid Swift, Land's End, Nov 2018, Steve Rogers.

Pallid Swift, Land's End, Nov 2018, Steve Rogers.

Upper image shows 2016 Kenidjack Common Swift by John Ryan, compared to the 2018 Pallid Swift at Land's End.

Upper image shows 2016 Kenidjack Common Swift by John Ryan, compared to the 2018 Pallid Swift at Land's End.

Upper image shows 2016 Kenidjack Common Swift by John Ryan, compared to the 2018 Pallid Swift at Land's End.

Thursday 15 November 2018

First year female Pied Wheatear at Trevose Head

(Text edited, video added, 5pm 15th Nov).

A Pied Wheatear was found on Trevose golf course on Thursday 8th November.  It was sadly suppressed (by instruction from the golf club manager) for three days as it was on the course whilst machinery was in use.  News eventually leaked out on the Sunday but it was too late to connect with it. Pete Roseveare got a tip off from Clive Thomas that it had been relocated on Dinas Head, about a half mile from its original location.  Thanks to Clive's nod, Pete and Bob saw this super rarity on Wed 14th early morning and duly let the news out for all to share and enjoy.  I managed to see it today (15th Nov) and got stunning close views with a dozen or so others. 

What a cracking bird it was and I am so pleased that the news came out.  For me its a first for Cornwall as I missed the 1991 male at Dodman Head.  And of course the Botallack male in October 2015 was identified retrospectively from photographs, so no one had any chance with that.  So the Trevose bird is the third for Cornwall and the first female. In birding slang, its an unblocker for me.

In context, two others turned up in the UK at the same time; a well watched male in the Wirral and another in the Northern Isles.

The species breeds as close as eastern Europe (Romania/Bulgaria) but the range extends well east towards Iran, Iraq, Caspian Sea, Afghanistan and onwards towards China.  It winters in India and north east Africa.

Video by John Chapple.

First year female Pied Wheatear, Trevose, Nov 2018. Nikon D850, 500mm F4 plus 1.4x Converter. Tripod.

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.