Sunday 31 July 2022

Birding highlights in Cornwall July 2022

 July weather started with a westerly airflow but changed to a north easterly airflow in the second week, often with blisteringly hot conditions. The 18th July turned out to be the second hottest ever day in the UK's history of weather records.  From the 24th to 31st, the weather changed to a westerly direction.

THE FIRST notable seabird of the month was a Long-tailed Skua off the Lizard on the 2nd, presumably a non breeding Bird. Out of season ducks included a Greater Scaup at Stithians and Red-breasted Merganser at Carnsew Pool on the 3rd. 

Returning waders started to trickle through from the 5th July. Stithians is always a good place to search as the water level drops quickly here in the summer. Two Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, two Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper were found here on the 5th.  Tresemple Pool hosted 35 Redshank and three Greenshank on the 6th. The non breeding female Marsh Harrier continued its summer at Walmsley.

A Quail was heard singing at Pentire on the 9th and a dark morph female Honey Buzzard was seen flying over Nanjizal. An adult Purple Heron was also seen here on the 11th (5th record this year). Two more returning Little Ringed Plovers were seen in the Foxhole area on the 13th. The species doesn't breed in the county but certainly passes through in respectable numbers.

A small Cory's / putative Scopoli's Shearwater was photographed at distance off the Scillonian, near Wolf Rock on the 13th.  Three photo's suggested a Scopoli's based on the small size, smallish bill and a relatively large amount of white in the primaries. Its unlikely to progress further though as the photo's weren't conclusive.

An adult Honey Buzzard flew over Devoran on the 16th and Purple Heron at Nanjizal the same day were the scant highlights of pretty barren week. 21 Gadwall fledged at Nanjizal pools.  Wader passage continued in small numbers at Drift with Little Ringed Plover, two Green Sandpiper and three Common Sandpiper.

Presumably the same non breeding Purple Heron seen at Nanjizal on the 11th and 16th was seen flying eastwards over Sennen on the 18th at 08:50 and later at Porth Reservoir at 10:50. At least five Purple Herons have been seen this year in the county. The numbers reflect a general increase across the UK. Somerset now has breeding birds on the Levels.

Northern Wheatears appear to have done well locally with fledged young birds reported at The Lizard, Kenidjack, Pendeen and Porthgwarra.

The wind shifted briefly to south west on the 19th and a Cory's Shearwater was promptly seen off Mousehole. Four Balaeric Shearwater and a Sooty Shearwater were seen off Porthgwarra on the 23rd.

The wind strengthened from the south west on the 24th. Porthgwarra was again the place to be. The highest single day count for the last ten years of around 370 Cory's Shearwater was logged. In addition, 26 Sooty Shearwater, 12 Balearic and six Great made for a memorable day. Just one skua though surely reflects the unfolding bird-flu disaster happening at the top of the food chain.

Cory's Shearwater, pic by Steve Rogers.

The wind changed direction again on the 25th. Pendeen scored with 15 each of Cory's, Great and Sooty.  122 Euro Stormy's were also counted here but Pentire, Newquay fared better with a Wilson's Petrel. This is the first Wilson's for the year. Skuas were again low on numbers with just one Arctic and four Great.

The last big year for Cory's was 2011 when a total of 1437 were logged for the year.  This included a massive 800 at Porthgwarra on 6th July 2011. In contrast, less than 50 were recorded in 2010. Thus, this species is prone to irruptions based on food availability and sea temperature.

The month end saw the normal passage of returning Willow Warblers. 64 were counted at Porthgwarra on the 26th and a decent haul of 95 were trapped at Nanjizal.  The following day the nets were put out around the pond and a surprise male Black-headed Wagtail was trapped.

The star bird of the month was found on the 27th. An adult Least Sandpiper was eventually identified at Drift Reservoir.  Initially considered to be a Temminck's Stint, photos soon appeared online and its true identity confirmed. This is a superb find and represents just the 9th Cornwall record.  The last record was in 2006 when a long stayer juv. commuted between Hayle and Copperhouse.

The month ended with a Wilson's Petrel at Pendeen on the 30th, two Cory's Shearwaters and a single Great Shearwater here on the 31st.  At Porthgwarra, 105 Cory's were logged.  The Glossy Ibis remained at Maer Lake.

Least Sandpiper, Drift, July 2022, picture by Joe Jones.

Bird of the Month: Least Sandpiper
Runner up: Cory's Shearwaters in higher than normal numbers.

Thursday 28 July 2022

Least Sandpiper at Drift Reservoir 27th July 2022

 A quiet July eventually sprang in to action when a Temminck's Stint was reported at Drift Reservoir. As is normal these days, photo's soon appeared on the internet and chat groups. Questions were asked when the tail pattern, especially the lack of white outer tail feathers, didn't quite fit with Temminck's, itself a rare wader in Cornwall. Long-toed Stint was also mooted as a potential confusion species. Eventually the ID was confirmed with more photographs as an adult Least Sandpiper based on the white supercilium meeting across the forehead, the call, jizz and the lack of white sides in the tail.

Thanks to Nigel Rogers and Dave Flumm as the original finders.

Least Sandpiper, Drift Res, (picture by Joe Jones).

This record is the 9th Least Sandpiper to occur in Cornwall, the last being 16 years ago at Copperhouse and Hayle from Sep 17th - Oct 15th 2006.

All records:

2022: Drift Res, adult, July 27th - Aug 3rd.

2006: Hayle and Copperhouse, juv, Sep 17th-Oct 15th.

1993: Hayle Est., first winter, Sep 22nd-Oct 4th.

1991: Landulph, adult, Aug 25th.

1986: Portscatho, 1st winter moulting to first summer, Feb 9th-Apr 20th.

1983: College Res, 1st winter, 3rd-9th Sep.

1966: Camel Est, Sep 13th-22nd

1890: Mousehole, caught by a fisherman, September.

1853: Marazion Marsh, 10th Oct, shot. Apparently this record is the first for Britain and Europe.

Least Sandpiper breeds in sub-Arctic and boreal habitats from Canada to Alaska and winters in northern South America, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean and southern North America states. Many migrate in the Autumn direct from south east Canada over the west Atlantic towards South America.

Monday 4 July 2022

Madeira WindBirds seabirding trip report 25th-28th June 2022

The following is a trip report from a visit to Madeira in June 2022. 

A group of six birders from West Cornwall booked three days with the well known Madeira Windbirds tours and an additional day-tripper sailing to Desertas Island. Windbirds always depart Machico harbour at 3pm and the Bonita da Madeira departs Funchal at 9am. 

We spent seven days in Madeira but this amount of time is unnecessary if its just seabirds you're after. Away from the coast, there's limited birdlife and all of it can be mopped up in a single morning. Any future trips would be for five days maximum.

Windbirds is a professional company specialising in watching seabirds and cetaceans. Hugo and Catarina set up the company18 years ago with a ten-seater, 11 metre rib. Two powerful outboard motors get you 25 miles offshore in approx. 90 mins. The team have exact coordinates of the best places to bird.  

You need full waterproof kit including leggings.  Essentially, you are going to get soaking wet, especially on the South side return leg or when you bird the North of the island on the outward leg. There's no formulae on which side to sit. If its windy, you'll get wet.  I wore deck shoes but a pair of crocks or old sandels is fine. (Your feet will also get wet). A wet bag is also essential for your kit.

Windbirds use a tried and tested method of chumming from a floating bucket of diced fish, laced with fish oil. The bucket is re filled several times during the five hour session.  The rib remains alongside the bucket throughout and never leaves the chum slick. The chum slick is created and pretty soon, the petrels and shearwaters arrive.

Bonita da Madeira is a large day tripper boat specialising in trips to Desertas Grande. The captain will pursue cetaceans or seabirds of interest but keep a respectful distance. The ship lands passengers on Desertas Grande island with a useful and knowledgeable guide to the island's wildlife. We were shown Bulwer's and Cory's breeding burrows. We also saw 12 Desertas Petrels and hundreds of Cory's on the voyage over to the island.  For 80 euros, its well worth it. A free cooked meal and wine is also offered. Well recommended.

The following species accounts give some idea of what can be seen:

Desertas Petrel. Over the four days at sea ie. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th June, we saw 12, 4, 4, 6 birds respectively. Some views were distant and others reasonably close to the boat.  The name Pterodroma is Greek for Wind Bird, and as the name suggests, these birds thrive in high winds and power through the chum slick at impressive speeds. Some circle round the chum bucket but generally move on quickly. You have to be quick off the mark with id. and any photography.  The species breeds on Bugio Island, which is one of the three Desertas islands (adjacent to Desertas Grande).

Desertas Petrel, June 2022 (picture courtesy P Clement)

Desertas Petrel, June 2022, picture by Steve Rogers

Zino's Petrel: Over the four days at sea ie. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th June, we saw 0, 2, 3, 2 birds respectively and had some really good close views. This species is the number one target for visiting birders. Up to date information from birders at the breeding site on the Madeiran mountain estimate around 80 breeding pairs and a total of just 300 birds. Thus, this species is super rare and extremely vulnerable, especially to feral cats and rodents on the mountain where it breeds.

We visited the mountain breeding site at midnight to listen to them calling. Whilst the conditions of rain, mist and strong wind weren't ideal, we did hear the mournful sounds coming from the burrows. The visit is organised by Hugo and Catarina. (50 Euros.)

Zino's Petrel, June 2022, picture by S Rogers

Zino's Petrel, June 2022, picture by P Clement

Bulwer's Petrel: Over the four days at sea ie. 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th June, we saw hundreds daily. The species breeds locally on Desertas Island and becomes easier further out in deeper water. Bulwer's visits the chum bucket  and affords close views. That said, its a very tricky bird to photo. Its crazed flight at super speed means only the best modern cameras keep up with it. I took about 500 shots of Bulwer's and just a dozen were acceptable. We were shown a nest site on Desertas in a stone wall with a bird sitting on the nest.

Bulwer's Petrel, the only photo showing a wedge shaped tail, image by M Ahmad.

Bulwer's Petrel, June 2022, pic by Steve Rogers.

Bulwer's Petrel, June 2022, pic by Steve Rogers.

Madeiran Storm Petrel: This species is a prime target and despite local breeding, is surprisingly difficult to connect with. We saw just two birds on the last day. Both visited the chum slick, one staying for 20 minutes giving stunning views. Bob Flood from Scilly Pelagics also saw one the following week. This species was a key target for us as there are a couple Cornwall records. We wanted to familiarise ourselves just in case one flies past Pendeen! 

Windbirds' skill and experience in approaching this species at the chum bucket was perfect, manoeuvring the rib perfectly to obtain the best views.

MADEIRAN Petrel(Image by Marcus Nash).

Madeiran Petrel (image by Steve Rogers).
Madeiran Storm Petrels, lower left by Marcus Nash, rest by Steve Rogers, June 2022.

European Storm Petrel: Just one was seen on day 2.

Wilson's Storm Petrel: One adult in moult was seen on day 3. It visited the chum bucket and regularly worked the chum slick for a 30 minutes affording excellent views, sometimes close.

Wilson's Petrel, June 2022, pictures by Steve Rogers.

Cory's Shearwater: The second commonest seabird behind Bulwer's Petrel. Large rafts of scores and occasionally hundreds of birds seen. There were more on the northern pelagic return leg. Perhaps a couple thousand near the narrow channel linking north and south of the island. This was the largest concentration we saw.  Visits to the chum bucket gave stunning close views.

Cory's Shearwater pictures, June 2022, Madeira, by Steve Rogers.

Manx Shearwater: No more than ten birds seen over the four days. The species is suspected of breeding on Madeira but as yet unproven. Regular summer records suggest otherwise.

Little Shearwater: None seen on our trips but Niall Keogh found one on a ferry trip from Madeira to Porto Santo. One was also seen well from the Windbirds pelagic the following week. Little Shearwater is a prize find and is not guaranteed.

White-faced Storm Petrel: None seen.

Rock Sparrow: One pair seen on the walk to the east end of the island, about 1k from the turning circle car parking area. Berthelot's Pipit and Canary also seen here.

Rock Sparrow, nr Calical, Madeira June 2022, picture by Steve Rogers.

Trocaz Pigeon: We saw a few at Palheiro Gardens north of Funchal and singles dotted around the vast mountain forests.  Madeiran Firecrest was also seen and heard here.

Peregrine Falcon: We saw two on the coast at Machico. Apparently this species is rare here. Hugo and Catarina stopped the rib to photo it. We also saw the occasional Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Kestrels. A moribund House Martin found on the Desertas Grande shoreline was unusual.

In summary, this is a relatively easy place to fly to, fairly cheap living and easily accessible with a hire car. Depending on your culinary and drinking habits, the total trip cost from door to door shouldn't cost more than about £1200. Well worth it.