Thursday 27 October 2022

Pallid Swift at Land's End - November 2018 - a reminder

Reports of Pallid Swift have been in the news this week.  The following write-up and original submission to BBRC serves as a timely reminder for anyone searching for Pallid Swifts over Cornwall, hopefully proving useful.

This record below was accepted by BBRC.

 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 from Vicky Barnes 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.

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.

Sunday 16 October 2022

Blackburnian Warbler on Bryher, Scilly, October 2022.

 Sensational news broke on Thursday 13th October when a first year male Blackburnian Warbler was found on Bryher, Scilly. Blackburnian Warbler is a dream Nearctic warbler and high on every British birder's want-list. The Bryher bird is the first for England and just the fourth UK record but the first truly twitchable bird. 

1w male Blackburnian Warbler, Bryher, picture by Steve Rogers.

Previous records have all occurred on islands and been short stayers.

The first for Britain was on Skomer Island, Dyfed on 5th October 1961 and fully documented in British Birds 85: 337-343.

The second record was a first winter male on Fair Isle, Shetland on 7th October 1988. (British Birds 83:489).

The third record was a probable first winter male on St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides. 12-14th September 2009. (British Birds: 102:427).

The species is widespread in north-east North America and south-east Canada. It migrates south through the Eastern seaboard, reaching its wintering quarters in Central America, Columbia, Peru and Ecuador.  A friend who visited Ecuador this winter said he saw hundreds in the highlands.  The species status is of Least Concern.

The species name derives from an English naturalist named Anna Blackburne (1726-1793) who lived in Warrington. She had a brother in the States who sent insect and Bird specimens to be identified. Descriptions were then sent to Linne for the Systema Naturae.

My own adventure to see the Bryher bird involved a small charter boat from Penzance called the Vanessa Jane. Ten of us departed Penzance at 7am and three hours later were picked up at Scilly, mid channel by the Meridian. We were hoping to land at Bryher but local by-laws and customs denied us this benefit. We saw the bird by 10:45 and were home again at 19:30. Total cost £93. We also had close views of five Great Shearwaters and a dozen adult Puffins on the way.

Intrepid travellers included Martin Elliott, Linton Procter, Graham Lawlor, Mike Spicer, Pete Clement, Pete Aley, Tony Mills, John Overfield +1, and myself.  I don't travel a great deal these days, but this one was an exciting twitch.😊

Pictures by Steve Rogers

Video by John Chapple.

Birding highlights in Cornwall October 2022

October weather started with a westerly airflow, mainly influenced by hurricane Fiona hitting the Northern Isles. The month ended mild and wet with south to south-west wind dominating.

The month kicked off with the Lizard Point Red-necked Phalarope, remaining from September 30th to October 1st. This local "mega" rarity delighted many of the newer resident birders.  To put this species in perspective, the last "twitchable" record was 1993 when a juvenile settled on Perranporth boating lake.

Red-necked Phalarope, Lizard, pic courtesy Steve Rowe.

A reasonably strong westerly wind pushed some seabirds towards Pendeen on the 1st. Two Cory's, 30 Great, 270 Balearic and 43 Sooty Shearwaters, a Leach's Petrel and two Grey Phalaropes were the highlights.

Cornwall's 31st Long-billed Dowitcher was found at Hayle Estuary on the 2nd. 2011 was the last year when two were present in the county (at Stithians and Davidstow). Hayle estuary is the top site for Long-billed Dowitcher, hosting eight individuals. The last bird at Hayle was in July 2007 when a stunning adult was present for four days.

Long-billed Dowitcher, juv, Hayle Est. Pic courtesy Pete Walsh.

Picture courtesy PeteWalsh

Long-billed Dowitcher, juv, Hayle, pic courtesy Michael Spicer.

A Blackpoll Warbler was seen at Nanjizal on the 2nd and possibly heard on the 30th. Given that eight other Nearctic passerines were in Ireland and the Northern Isles, it was only time before one appeared in Cornwall. Regrettably it was found on a private site.

Yellow-browed Warblers were seen at several sites, including Truro, Levant, Church Cove, Kelynack, Penryn Uni campus and Kenidjack.  All the pointers are suggesting a very good season for this delightful little Sibe. Another Pectoral Sandpiper was seen at the Camel Estuary on the 3rd.

The second Woodchat of the season was found at Pendeen, in the valley opposite the coastguard houses. This is the first record for Pendeen and joins a celebrity shrike line-up here.  Pendeen easily matches Porthgwarra for rare shrikes. With the increased observer coverage, this trend looks promising.

Woodchat, juv Pendeen, picture courtesy John St.Ledger

Seawatchers were rewarded on the 5th with the highlights being a Sabine's Gull and three Leach's Petrels at Pendeen and two Long-tailed Skuas at the Lizard. The latter site has a growing reputation for Long-tailed Skua and is one of the more reliable sites in the county for this species.

Two juv Lesser Yellowlegs were found at Copperhouse Creek on the 7th. These are approximately the 51st and 52nd records for Cornwall and the first "flock". The species is almost an annual vagrant in Cornwall. 2020 was a blank year and the 2018 wintering Bird at Devoran remained until 25th April 2019.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Copperhouse, picture courtesy Alex McKechnie

Two Lesser Yellowlegs roosting with Teal, Redshank and Dunlin, pic courtesy Dave Flumm.

A Black Kite was seen in the Polgigga area on the 8th. A closer inspection of photographs showed a transmitter aerial on its back and leg rings indicating an escaped bird from Wild Zoological Park in Halfpenny Green. A flyover Serin was at nearby Porthgwarra. Yellow-browed Warblers continued to be found with one at Sennen quarry and three at Nanjizal.

The Woodchat Shrike at Pendeen moved from its original spot by the coastguard houses. From the 8th, it could be found a few hundred yards east towards Portherras beach. This additional feeding area is some way from the coastguard houses but a check of available photos shows the bird to be the same individual.

Woodchat video by John Chapple.

Egrets were on the move on the 11th. A record six Great White Egret were flying east over the Lizard and another was at Ryan's Field. The following day a flock of 42 Cattle Egrets flew east at Pendeen and another Great White Egret was found at St. Winnow.

The 13th was a busy day with no less than eight Yellow-browed Warblers across the county and a calling Pallass' Warbler at Long Rock pool. An American Golden Plover was found at Crowdy and a Richard's Pipit at Park Head. A juv. Rosy Starling was found at Mullion.

The first twitchable Nearctic passerine of the year appeared on the 15th. Cornwall's 34th Red-eyed Vireo was found at Tregeseal in the wooded area by the bridge. Not quite Blackburnian status but still a notable find.
Red-eyed Vireo, Tregeseal, picture courtesy Bob Bosisto.

Never say the seawatching season is over in October.  A Fea's / Desertas Petrel was photographed from the Scillonian on the "Cornish side" on the 17th. At least 12 Puffins were also seen on the crossing on the 14th.  All of them were adults showing some red in the bill.

Migrant thrushes were clearly on the move from Scandinavia on the 20th. High numbers of Fieldfare and significant counts of Ring Ouzel could be found cross the county.  Highest counts of Ring Ouzel included 11 at Treeve Moor, 5 at Pendeen, 6 at Logan Rock, 14 at Lloyd's Lane, 8 at St. Levan, 8 at Kenidjack and 24 at Kynance. Highest counts of Fieldfare included a massive count of 3759 over Penryn Uni, 350 at Pendeen, 200 at St Agnes, 1000 at Sharp Tor and 300 at Kenidjack. A probable flyover Black-throated Thrush was reported from Kynance but sadly couldn't be relocated.

The 22nd October set a new record for Great Shearwater numbers. A massive 10,235 were counted moving past The Lizard in the afternoon, 868 past Porthgwarra and a further 2500+ off Pennance Point, Falmouth. In addition, rare seabirds with a southerly origin including Cornwall's fourth Band-rumped Petrel of the season off Porthgwarra (15:50), and remarkably another bird off the Lizard (17:00), a Barolo Shearwater from Bass Point, Lizard and a juv Long-tailed Skua from Porthgwarra capped a stunning day. With the Fea's /Desertas already mentioned on the 17th, clearly with changes in sea temperature, we can only expect more rare seabirds. image showing warm sea extending to SW Approaches.

The wind shifted from South to WSW on Monday 23rd. Pendeen recorded a juv Sabine's Gull, seven Grey Phalarope, juv Long-tailed Skua and 117 Great Shearwater, (the highest count of Great Shearwater here this year).

The first Hawfinch of the season was found at Polwheveral, Constantine and a Siberian Stonechat at Bochym, Lizard on the 23rd.  One Lesser Yellowlegs continued to entertain the paperazzi-birders at Copperhouse.

Cornwall's 18th Siberian Stonechat was found at Bochym, Lizard on the 24th. A sample was collected and will be sent off for DNA analysis, hopefully designating either Maura or Stejneger's.

Siberian Stonechat, Bochum, Lizard, pics courtesy Michael Spicer.

The final throes of the seawatching season came on the 28th and 29th.  A second calendar year "blonde" Long-tailed Skua was video'd off Pendeen.  A stunning pale looking individual caused some initial  headaches, mainly surrounding the pale underwing.  However, the video showed several key features which point to Long-tailed Skua, including small size, narrow wings, long caudal area, grey-brown tones, pale rump, and a distinctive meandering flight path.

Meanwhile at Porhgwarra, the astonishing Great Shearwater influx continued with a 90 minute passage of 597 birds. In addition, a close adult male Pomarine Skua showed off its spectacular tail extensions.  Leach's Petrel's were seen off Sandy Cove and next day at Porthgwarra.

Bird of the Month: Band-rumped Petrel off Porthgwarra.

Runner's up: Several candidates including Red-eyed Vireo at Tregeseal, a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs at Copperhouse, Long-billed Dowitcher at Hayle, Siberian Stonechat at Bochym and finally, around 14,000 Great Shearwaters off the Cornish south coast.

Monday 10 October 2022

Greenish Warbler records in Cornwall

 Greenish Warbler is a rare vagrant in Cornwall with just nine accepted records up to June 2019. The two  records in 2019 are the first in Spring in Cornwall.  The species breeds in north and eastern Europe and Russia and has expanded its breeding range westwards during the last century. Migrates south east to winter in S. Asia.

1984: Nanquidno, 30th Sep to 1st Oct. Found by Dave Flumm. Paul Semmens, Lawrie Williams, Stuart Hutchings and Graham Hearl were also named as co-finders. It was present for two days and preferred the high canopy of the sycamore tree by the farmhouse with blue windows. It was also seen in the copse by the ford. This individual was by no means an easy ID and several observers of the day considered this to be a Two-barred Greenish.

2000: Kenidjack, 24th Sep. Found by John Swann and T. Whiley. This bird again spent much of the time in the high canopy in the copse part way down the valley.

2008: Pendeen, 16th to 17th Sep. Found by John Foster. This individual was found in the copse around Calartha Farm on the road down to Pendeen Watch. It was highly active and elusive at times. It was occasionally seen in the gardens adjacent to the copse.

2009: Church Cove, Lizard. 28th Oct to 1st Nov. Found by visiting birder Duncan Poyser from Cambs. Initially found at the bottom of the valley near Mariner's Cottage. The bird was highly mobile and could be found in the sycamores and elms in the churchyard as well as the copse at the bottom of the valley. This individual will be long-remembered for its see-saw identification between Green and Greenish. Eventually confirmed by sonogram on the call by Magnus Robb, Ilya Maclean and Hugh Harrop.

2010: Treeve Common, Land's End. 25th-29th Sep. Found by John Chapple.

2016: Porthgwarra, 24th August, M Elliott, J F Ryan.

2017: Millbrook, St Andrew's Street. 23rd-25th Aug.

2019: Lizard Village. 4th June. One seen briefly by Tony Blunden.

2019: Porth Joke, Crantock. 9th June. Singing male in willows below Treago campsite, found by Steve Rowe.

2020: Porthgwarra, 23rd Sep, in elms south of the 60ft cover, Mark Wallace (awaiting ratification).

2021:St. Levan, 5th Sep, a male in sub song between the church and Roskestal Farm, Mark Wallace (awaiting ratification).

2022: Nanjizal, 3rd Sep, one seen only and evaded the nets (not trapped), Kester Wilson (awaiting ratification).

2022: St Levan, 14th Sep, in sallows between Roskestal and St Levan, Mark Wallace (awaiting ratification).

Male Greenish Warbler, Porth Joke 9th June 2019. (pic by S Rogers).