Friday, 31 March 2023

Birding highlights in West Cornwall March 2023

 March weather started with high pressure, generally dry and mild.  From the 10th a westerly airflow took hold resulting in heavy rain and stormy conditions more akin to Autumn.

Gull watching took centre place with an adult and second winter Ring-billed Gull at Hayle, a handful of Caspian Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls, and a probable second winter American Herring Gull on the 1st. Also notable and a recent phenomenon was a very high count of at least 800 Common Gulls at Hayle.  Around half of them were juvenile birds indicating successful breeding somewhere further north of Cornwall.  Up to three different Glaucous Gulls and a couple Iceland were present around the Newlyn/Drift/St Buryan areas. Some lucky observers also connected with an adult Kumlien's Gull at Drift or St Buryan or St Clements Isle.

The re introduced White-tailed Eagle G386 from the Isle of Wight appeared over Falmouth on the 3rd and travelled as far as Goon Wumpus, Pendeen. It showed well on Sunday 5th over Hayle Estuary causing maximum disturbance. My personal view on this introduction scheme is what is the point?  Surely funds could be better directed towards other more needy species.

Wintering duck were poorly represented in West Cornwall (and across the county) with the wintering female Ring-necked Duck remaining at Coronation Park, Helston and a juv male Greater Scaup at Marazion beach and Long Rock Pool the only long-stayers. A stunning drake Goldeneye appeared at Long Rock Pool on the 5th.  It was quickly flushed by the resident, unhappy Mute Swans and forced to feed on the sea by Hogus Rocks. It didn't stay long.  All Penwith birders will know this species has become decidedly rare recently. Stithians Res is my normal reliable site for annual single records but the last for me in Penwith was Drift in 1986!  A drake Gadwall appeared at Marazion on the 8th. There were just three Tufted Duck at Drift and a token few Tufted's at St Gothians.  All very poor but it could be the mild conditions further north and in Scandinavia. Why migrate hundreds of miles when you can find food locally?

Sea watching started properly on the 10th at Pendeen with a strong NW wind.  A respectable ten Black-throated Diver, two Red-throats and a Great Northern flew past, close enough to see their adult plumage.  On the 12th the wind shifted to SW. 183 Puffin were counted along with 307 Manx Shearwaters.  Mid March is a good time to see Puffin migrating past The Lizard and Porthgwarra.  Four figure counts are easily possible in the correct conditions.   I have previously detailed the Puffin movement HERE under the Lizard seawatching hotspot.

Away from West Penwith, the wintering Isabelline Wheatear was still present on the 19th March. This record is the third for Cornwall and the first to successfully over-winter in the UK.

The first notable seawatch of the year was seen off Pendeen on the 14th.  Manx Shearwaters had truly arrived in numbers with at least 500 past in four hours.  The highlight was an adult Black Guillemot in breeding plumage fly past the rocks, close enough to see its red legs.  Three unseasonal Sooty Shearwaters were also a surprise though singles had been spotted off Devon, St Agnes and St Loy earlier in the week. A decent movement of divers was also noted with Red-throated and Black-throated giving reasonably close fly-by views.

In line with a national influx, two Alpine Swifts appeared on the 15th. One was video'd flying around the Tate Gallery at St. Ives and another was seen at Pennance Point and again the following day over Falmouth docks (last seen 24th).  A Red-rumped Swallow was also found at Walmsley Sanctuary along with a small arrival of House Martins and Sand Martins.  A slow trickle of Northern Wheatears appeared mid month.

Alpine Swift, library image (S. Rogers)

Away from West Penwith, a female Lesser Scaup was found at Porth Reservoir, near Newquay and remained until at least the 20th March.

The first Hoopoe of the year was found at Godolphin Cross on the 20th with another on the coast path near Lamorna on the 25th.  A Woodlark was found at Skewjack and a Ring Ouzel at Botallack on the 20th. Hirundines were generally reported in low numbers though 100+ at Long Rock pool and another 100 at College on 21st was notable.

The 24th saw a wrong SW to W gale pass Cornwall.  The highlights from two seawatches at Porthgwarra and Pendeen included a notable movement of 93 and 161 Puffin respectively, four Sooty Shearwaters, a minimum of 4000 Manx Shearwater and 10,000 Guillemot.

The third (?) Alpine Swift of the year was seen early morning on the 27th at The Knavocks, Godrevy.  Sadly it moved on quickly.  Nationally there has been an unprecedented influx never before seen on this scale.  According to Birdguides, reports came from 129 different UK sites involving 561 reports, with perhaps as many as 120 birds. There were reports from eight Scottish sites and even a flock five together in Ireland.   From the best photo's, it seems the majority are second calendar year birds.

The first singing Willow Warblers were noted at Porthgwarra and Nanjizal on the 27th.

Probably the same Alpine Swift earlier at seen at Godrevy appeared over Penzance harbour on the 30th. It was found just after 7:15am, then Newlyn ten minutes later.  It reappeared again over Sandy Cove just after 2pm for 15mins before relocating to St Ives in the afternoon. It preferred the Tate Gallery, Porthmeor area, ironically where the first sighting came from.

Bird of the Month: Alpine Swift sightings at St Ives, Falmouth, Newlyn and Godrevy.

Runners up:  Notable numbers of migrant Puffin, Black Guillemot in breeding plumage off Pendeen, wintering Isabelline Wheatear.

Friday, 24 February 2023

Birding Highlights in West Cornwall February 2023

 February 2023 weather was dominated by high pressure with an easterly airflow for most of the month. Temperature was generally warm for the time of year.

Over wintering long-stayers included the two Little Buntings at Boscregan accompanied by a healthy 200+ Skylarks and a Lapland Bunting, female Ring-necked Duck at Helston boating lake, two Serins at Sennen, Velvet Scoter off Marazion beach, four Whooper Swans at Skewjack and a juv. Rose-coloured Starling at Sennen, 

Various white winged gulls were dotted around the normal sites including at least three different Glaucous Gulls, three Iceland Gulls, adult Ring-billed Gull at Hayle Estuary, several adult and juv Caspian Gulls (5 on the 11th).  The original American Herring Gull from Newlyn was re found at Hayle Estaury on the 15th. An adult Kumlien's Gull was found at Mousehole on the 6th and later seen following a plough at St Buryan.

Off patch and away from West Cornwall, the wintering Isabelline Wheatear remained from January and was present on most days at Kelsey Head, Holywell until at least 28th Feb.  According to eBird data, this is the first February wintering record in Europe.  Also of note, the Devon bird in January and the Cornish bird are different and both represent the first January records for Europe as well. Wintering Isabelline Wheatears would normally be in NW India and east Africa.

A Bittern was found at Marazion along with two Jack Snipe on the 8th.  Both species were difficult to pin down though. Bittern has become curiously difficult to find recently, despite big breeding increases in Somerset.  Perhaps the weather is not cold enough.

A juv male Greater Scaup was found off Marazion beach on the 9th, occasionally joining the local Common Scoters and seen later on Long Rock Pool and on Marazion Marsh.  Scaup is another species which seems to be rarer these days.  There are no reports of Pochard in West Cornwall currently. (The only stronghold now is Helston Loe Pool). My own eBird data showed a max count of 70 at Drift Res. in December 1976!

Male Greater Scaup, Marazion Marsh, picture courtesy Alex Mckechnie.

A female Ring Ouzel was found at Plain-an-Gwarry on the 13th and reported again a couple days later.  This is the only (presumbed) wintering bird in the county. Surely this is too early for a returning Spring migrant?

Gull watching at Hayle and Newlyn towards the month end provided light entertainment in an otherwise quiet month. The juv American Herring Gull attracted some interest from national birders and year listers. The adult Ring-billed was joined by a second winter bird mid month.

Finally, a White-tailed Eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction scheme was seen over Falmouth on the 25th and again over Hayle Estuary and Stithians on the 26th.

White-tailed Eagle, Feb  2033. Picture by M Ahmad.

Bird of the month: American Herring Gull.

Sunday, 29 January 2023

Isabelline Wheatear at Kelsey Head, Holywell, Cornwall January 2023

 Graham May was walking the coast path on the Kelseys on Sunday 22nd January when he found a wheatear species. In poor weather, a few record shots were taken and then posted to the Society. To be fair, the dull and damp weather played its part and typically rendered the images very dark.  This affect made the bird look very much like a Northern. Two days later, national bird information services were posting Isabelline Wheatear, presumably using artificial ID techniques. Graham Lawlor visited the area on Tuesday 24th and managed to confirm the identity. It was still present on 11th March.

This is Cornwall's third record. The previous two occurrences were one-day sightings.

The first record was on the 29th October 1996 at Church Cove, Lizard (at the same time as the Little Bustard) and found by John Martin. Despite searching, it could not be refound.

The second record was found by Paul Freestone on Godrevy Head. Many locals connected in the early evening sunshine but it moved on overnight.

Nationally there are 52 records but Autumn 2022 saw several Isabelline Wheatears appear including the second for Ireland. Another was found in Wales.  Another Isabelline Wheatear appeared in East Devon (2nd Devon record) in December and remained until 8th January. It looked weak during its last days and most likely succumbed. Photo analysis shows the Devon and Cornwall birds are different. The Cornwall bird shows one retained juvenile tertial feather, enough evidence to differentiate the two. (See image below).  These two January records are the first for Europe (eBird analysis mentioned on Birdforum). The Cornish bird remained on site until at least 21st March.

The species breeds in the Eastern Mediterranean, eastwards towards southern Russia and Asia and Northern Pakistan.  The species winters in East Africa  and North West India. (see the eBird distribution map below).

Isabelline Wheatear, Kelsey Head, Cornwall, Jan 2023, picture courtesy M J McKee.

Photo analysis of the Cornwall and Devon birds, by Mashuq Ahmad.

Isabelline Wheatear range map, pic courtesy eBird.

Birding highlights in West Cornwall January 2023

 New Year's Day weather was dull and grey with heavy rain by mid afternoon. Mid month was stormy with heavy rain and localised flooding. Month end continued overcast with a light north easterly airflow.

Seawatching started well with three Sooty Shearwater and 28 Manx past Porthgwarra. An unseasonal Euro Storm Petrel was also seen. Not to be outdone, a Great Shearwater was seen from Pendeen. This bird presumably being the single seen in St Ives Bay just before Christmas.  The normal scarce gulls were recorded including the adult Ring-billed, three Caspians and Yellow-legged Gulls at Hayle plus Iceland and Glaucous at Newlyn. A juv American Herring Gull was found at Drift and later relocated at Tolcarne on the 5th and 6th.  A third year Azorean Gull was found by Richard Augarde and Brian Mellow in Newlyn Harbour on 15th Jan. Whilst "only" a subspecies of Yellow-legged Gull, Azorean is a great rarity and created quite a bit of interest.

A significant number of divers were off Wherrytown on the 1st including 16 Great Northern and single Red-throated and black-throated Divers. The month end saw a high count of 62 Great Northern Diver, nine Red-throated and five Black-throated Diver in the Perranuthnoe area.

The wintering Little Bunting near Cot Valley was also recorded on the 1st. And just for company, it was joined by a second bird on the 6th and both remained together with 15 Reed Buntings until the month end.  As mentioned in previous posts, West Penwith is clearly a regular wintering area for this species. Two together have been recorded previously in Cornwall, but a third would be unprecedented.

Slightly outside of the West Penwith area, a female Ring-necked Duck was found at Helston boating lake on the 3rd Jan.  It went missing mid month but returned on the 18th.  This unassuming municipal site has an uncanny knack of producing quality rarities. Nearby at Stithians Res., a drake Green-winged Teal was found on the 5th.  Perhaps both arrived from the States together?

Fem Ring-necked Duck, Helston, courtesy Alex McKechnie.

The first major rarity of the year appeared in St Ives Bay on the 5th. An immature Black-browed Albatross was seen close in from the island (100m) but it headed NW, only to be spotted later from Clodgy Point. What a find.  The species clearly enjoys Cornish waters in winter. The last was seen on 8th Feb 2019 from the Lizard.  The St. Ives bird was also seen a week previously at Quiberon, France. With an adult seen regularly at Bempton and another adult in the Northern Isles last year, this sub adult bird effectively means there's at least three Black-browed Albatross' roaming the NE Atlantic.

Same 4th Yr  Black-browed Albatross, left Quiberron, France, and right, St Ives. Images from Twitter and Dave Oats.
Sooty Shearwater, west past Pendeen Jan 13th, S Rogers.

A mini arrival of Grey Phalaropes occurred in the second week of January.  A single was seen off Pendeen followed by two together at St. Gothians and another single at Stithians. I can't recall one ever being recorded at this inland site.

A strong westerly wind on the 13th produced a Black Guillemot and Sooty Shearwater off Pendeen. The Grey Phalarope continued to entertain birders at St Gothians.  The continuing strong westerly on the 15th pushed a single Leach's Petrel in to St Ives Bay. A Little Auk and a Puffin passed Pendeen.

An Azorean Yellow-legged Gull was found in Newlyn Harbour on the 15th. News of a juv Sabine's Gull at Carnsew Pool was received a day late on the 18th. Apparently there was confusion on the id, despite a good photo being taken. True winter records of this species in Cornwall are exceptional.

A mini pelagic trip around Mousehole on the 22nd produced a very close Little Auk and great views of Glaucous Gull.  An adult Kumlien's Gull was found on St Clements Isle on the 24th and again on the 29th at Drift.

Little Auk, Roskilly, Jan 2023, pic courtesy M Spicer.

An Isabelline Wheatear was found at Holywell on the 21st though not identified until 23rd.  This is the third record of Isabelline Wheatear in Cornwall.  The last record was in Oct 2016 when one was present for one day on Godrevy Head.  The first record was another one day appearance at Church Cove on 29th October 1996.

Isabelline Wheatear, Kelsey Head, pic by Mike McKee.

Bird of the month: Isabelline Wheatear at Kelsey

Runner up: Black-browed Albatross at St Ives.