Tuesday 11 April 2023

Birding highlights in Cornwall April 2023

 The Alpine Swift influx continued on the 1st of the month with a showy bird around Par docks, Par garden centre, Spit beach and Par beach pool. The St Ives bird showed well in the town on the 5th and was joined by another.  They were thought to go to roost in the church tower.  The following morning just one appeared from the tower.  The second bird failed to appear.  Another Alpine Swift moved east  through the Nanjizal area quickly on the 7th. At least five birds seem to have been involved in the influx. Duplication or under-estimation can't be ruled out though.

A significant count of divers on the south coast included 19 Black-throated at Porthbean on the 1st and 35 next day.  A further 72 more were counted at nearby Porthpean with 30 Great Northern Diver.  Many were in breeding plumage - an impressive sight. Nine Black-throated Diver in breeding plumage were seen in Gerrans Bay on the 10th.

A massive movement of Manx Shearwater occurred over the weekend of 1st and 2nd April at Pendeen. A minimum 75,000 flew west in four hours.  12,000 were counted off Newquay Head and another 40,000 counted off St Ives.  No doubt some overlap but nonetheless, a significant movement. In addition, three Sooty Shearwater were seen.  The latter species should be in the South Atlantic.  Of the dozen or so Sooty's seen recently off Pendeen and Porthgwarra, most showed signs of wing moult.

The first Woodchat Shrike of the year was found at Carn-les-Boel (near Nanjizal) on the 2nd and was still present on the 10th. Two more appeared at Cot and Polgigga on the 10th.  The first Garganey's (2m and 1f) appeared at Par pool on the 2nd.

Woodchat Shrike, Carn les Boel, April 2023 (courtesy M. Broadbent).

The highlight on the 4th April was a Scop's Owl at Nanjizal.  Sadly it could not be relocated after the initial sighting. [Another bird was also found in Ireland on the 4th].  More accessible for the masses were Black-winged Stilts. The 4th was the start date of an incredible influx.  No fewer than 13 birds arrived with a county record flock of six at Walmsley. Three were found at Gunwalloe, Lizard, singles at Ruan Lanihorne, Coverack, Penhale, Maer Lake (and Bude canal).

Continuing in a busy period, the 5th April demanded more attention.  Cornwall's 42nd Bonaparte's Gull was found on Hayle Estuary, remaining until the 30th. A Black Kite was seen at nearby Wheal Alfred.

The start of another Mediterranean species overshoot commenced on the 5th. The first Purple Heron of the year was found at Chapel Porth. Another was found at Rosemullion Head. A very popular and showy Purple Heron at Ruan Lanihorne found the rushy area to its liking and remained until at least the 11th. Two more were found together at Gwenter, Lizard on the 10th.

A Night Heron was found at Tregajorran, near Redruth on the 8th.  Two Common Terns flew down the St Erth valley, over Marazion Marsh and straight out to sea on the 9th. This species is far from Common. I haven't personally recorded a Spring Common Tern in five years! A Hoopoe was found in a private garden at Carnon Downs on the 9th. Considering all the Mediterranean overshoots, this species has been decidedly scarce.

The third Night Heron of the year was found in a garden at Lamorna on the 13th. Another was flushed from Portherras valley (Pendeen) and flew towards Morvah.  The second (or same) breeding plumage adult Black Guillemot of the Spring was seen off Pendeen on the 13th.  A third calendar year female Montagu's Harrier was found at Cross Common, Lizard and remained until at least 20th. Initially considered a second calendar bird, good photos have shown a pale eye and extensive breast streaking, pointing towards an older bird.  A migrant Short-eared Owl was also seen in the same area on the 18th.

Short-eared Owl, Lizard, April 2023

In what has been a very poor season for migrant terns (no terns breed in Cornwall), one consolation on the 13th was a Little Tern at Carnsew.  This species is rare enough in Autumn but Spring records are like gold dust.

Two Hooded Crows were found at Nanquidno and Dodman Point on the 15th and a third bird at Trewellard on the 18th.  The following day saw an arrival of Grasshopper Warblers, Redstarts, Sedge Warblers, Whitethroats and a Cuckoo at Stithians. Two Woodchats remained at Porthgwarra and Raftra. A total of three have been found in West Cornwall so far this Spring. 

An interesting record of Little Bunting near Boscreggan was found on the 17th.  Two birds overwintered near here but hadn't been seen for several weeks, possibly indicating a new migrant.

The annual influx of Red Kites commenced properly on the 18th with small groups of up to three birds pretty much county-wide. The geographical funnel finishes at Polgigga and a maximum 27 were seen here next day (19th).  This species remains a major rarity on Scilly. The Cornish influx is a big spectacle when hundreds (recently) start kettling in the air over Polgigga.  A Dotterel was photographed in a ploughed field near Zennor (18th) and still present on the 21st.

The 19th was clearly a significant day for raptors as another ten Red Kite were seen moving east over Kenidjack. A Marsh Harrier was found at Land's End and an Osprey was tracking the coast over Botallack and Pendeen. A breeding pluamge Great White Egret was found at Stithians, no doubt on its way to Somerset.  Highlight of the day though was a stunning adult male Golden Oriole, stumbled on by Pete Walsh.  It favoured the south west slope of Chapel Carn Brae and delighted a good number of visitors.  This shy species is normally quite tricky to connect with, despite its dayglow colours, as they normally favour heavily wooded areas.  This bird though was content to feed on top of gorse and bracken.

Ad male Golden Oriole, Chapel Carn Brae, pic courtesy John Miller.

Considering all the Mediterranean overshoots this Spring, one obvious species hasn't caught the eye. Hoopoe's have been decidedly scarce. Two were found on the 20th at Golitha and Goonhilly.

A surprise find by Tony McGowan the 21st was the sec cal Bonaparte's Gull at Red River, Marazion. It was originally found at Hayle Estuary on the 5th.  A fortnight's holiday in Cornwall is clearly on its agenda.

Bonaparte's Gull, second calendar, picture courtesy Mike McKee.

Two Night Herons were found in quick succession; one at dusk at Marazion Marsh on the 22nd and another the following morning at Boscathno Res.  Both were found by Paul St. Pierre. The Marazion bird was seen again at dusk the following evening. 

A Wood Sandpiper was found at Rissick Flash, a small area of flood water which has a knack of turning up the unusual.  A Garganey was found here earlier in the month but the site is also "famous" for a Bee-eater and Red-footed Falcon. Back to the Wood Sandpiper.  Its rare in Spring.  I have only seen three previously in Spring, two sightings at Walmsley in May 2010 and 2017 and another at Marazion in May 1980!

Ad. Wood Sandpiper, Rissick, April 2023

Surprise bird of the day on the 22nd April was an adult White-billed Diver past Pendeen. And just for company, four Great Northerns and two Red-throats must have been a fantastic sight. Not quite as rare, but still a top find was a Gull-billed Tern at Dinham on the 23rd. The last Gull-billed Tern in the county was June 2021 at Hayle.

The first Subalpine Warbler of the year was found in a private garden in St. Just on the 24th.  Photos showed it to be the western form.  The Night Heron influx continued with a new bird near St Buryan. The extreme heatwave in Spain and North Africa is clearly affecting herons as they search wider for suitable feeding habitat.  Presumably the Pink-footed Goose from St. Martins appeared at Marazion Marsh and remained here until the month end.  Whatever its provenance, this goose is still an attractive looking bird.

The first Squacco Heron of the year was found in a garden in Dobwalls on the 26th.  Most likely the same individual moved south a short distance to the stunning Lethytep Farm at Lanreath. This private reserve is no stranger to hosting Squacco Herons. One was found here ten years ago.  It was thought to be a first summer bird.  A non breeding Great White Egret was found at Marazion Marsh and spent the next few days commuting between the marsh and Hayle.

Squacco Heron, 1st summer, Lethytep, picture courtesy Philip Hambly

Squacco Heron, Lethytep Farm, April 2023.

Continuing with the heron theme, yet another Night Heron was found at Porth Joke near Crantock. At least five have now been found this Spring.  The month end saw the Squacco Heron perform well in front of a small gathering and the Bonaparte's Gull continued to show well at Hayle.

Bird of the month: Squacco Heron
Runner's Up, Scops Owl, male Golden Oriole, influx of Night Herons, Gull-billed Tern, Bonaparte's Gull.

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