Sunday 19 June 2022

Birding highlights in Cornwall February 2022

  February weather started with a steady west to north airflow, occasional strong wind and heavy rain.  Mid month saw Storm Dudley hit the northern Isles but had little effect on Cornwall.  The 18th and 20th saw two exceptionally strong westerly storms hit Cornwall, Eunice and Frederick. The moth ended mild, wet and relatively warm.

The wintering highlights from January carried over to February. The Great White Egret remained in the Hayle and Marazion area, three Bean Geese at Tamar Lake, two Black Guillemots at Swanpool beach, Iceland Gull at Cape Cornwall, Rosy Starling at Pendeen, nine Glossy Ibis at Chapel Amble, Ring-necked Duck at Walmsley (first for the reserve), 40 Cattle Egret at St Clement, Yellow-browed Warbler at St Austell sewerage works and a few Red-necked Grebes on the south coast.

Rare gulls could be found daily on Hayle Estuary with the returning Ring-billed Gull, double digit numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls and Cornwall's third confirmed ring-read Caspian Gull.  Despite storm force northerly winds in Scotland, very few white-wingers made it to Cornwall. Just two Glaucous Gulls could be seen daily in Newlyn harbour.  A stunning adult or 4th winter Iceland Gull preferred the 3rd Tee at Cape Cornwall golf club.

Ad Iceland Gull, Cape Cornwall, Picture courtesy Joe Jones.

The first rarity of the month was found at Porthgwarra on the 9th Feb.  An American Golden Plover was photo'd on the moor adjacent to the NCI station. Sadly it didn't stay long and was last seen flying strongly towards Sennen.  Originally considered to be a Pacific Golden Plover, a photo of the long primary extension and short tertials confirmed it as an American.  There are just three definite, nailed-on id. features separating American from Pacific: primaries, tertials and summer plumage (flanks). Even the call is not definitive. Nevertheless, American Golden Plover is still a good find in an unusual location. On the same day, an adult Ross' Gull was reported briefly from Trevone but not relocated, despite several local birders searching.

An amazing count of around 800 Brambling were found (and photo'd) with other finches at Turnaware Bar. Brambling are decidedly scarce winter visitors in Cornwall, so this high count is quite incredible. Five wintering Woodlarks were also seen near Falmouth.

The "constant effort" of seawatching off Pendeen in suitable conditions has produced some interesting records.  Diver passage or movement around west Penwith is guaranteed.  The default diver seems to be Black-throated though Red-throat and Great Northern are regular in small numbers.  Secondly, Manx Shearwaters were seen on every seawatch day in the winter. An impressive maximum count of 110 was made on 28th December.  In February, 101 were counted on the 19th, confirming that there must be a decent wintering flock in the western approaches.

A Red-necked Grebe was seen off Swanpool on the 15th, along with the two wintering Black Guillemots. Presumably the same Red-necked Grebe was seen off nearby Maenporth a couple days later.

Storm Eunice and Storm Frederick battered the county on the 18th and 20th. Maximum westerly wind gusts of 80 mph was the strongest wind for several years, but a little disappointing in the resulting storm driven seabirds. The undoubted highlight was a stunning adult Kumlien's Gull in Newlyn habour. It remained faithful to Newlyn until the month-end.  A first year Long-tailed Skua was seen off Pendeen and the first Sooty Shearwater of the year flew past Porthgwarra on the 19th. 

Ad Kumlien's Gull, Newlyn harbour, Feb 2022 (pic by S Rogers).

The first winter male Surf Scoter and Velvet Scoter were seen again on the 20th at Pentewan beach, both clearly finding enough food and enjoying the winter here.  A blue morph Fulmar passed Lizard point. It, or another, was seen off Pendeen on 21st.  Pendeen scored well on the 21st with the first Storm Petrel of the year, another Sooty Shearwater and 31 Manx.

The month ended pretty much how it started with all the long-stayers still present, eg Ring-necked Duck, Bittern, nine Gloosy Ibis' at Walmsley, Great White Egret at Hayle, Surf Scoter at Pentewan, Kumlien's Gull and two Glaucous Gull at Newlyn, Ring-billed Gull at Hayle and Rosy Starling at Pendeen, 

The first Northern Wheatears were recorded on the 26th with two at Stepper Point and another at Perranporth plus two more at St Agnes on the 27th.

Bird of the Month: Kumlien's Gull at Newlyn.

Runners-up: American Golden Plover at Porthgwarra, Long-tailed Skua at Pendeen.

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