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.