Wednesday 10 May 2023

Birding Highlights in Cornwall May 2023

 The Squacco Heron and star bird of April carried over in to May and performed well for the many visitors.  Philip Hambly, the owner of Lethytep reserve collected £400 for Cancer Research and was delighted with the response.  Other rarities continuing their stay from April included the Bonaparte's Gull at Hayle, female Montagu's Harrier at the Lizard, Great White Egret at Hayle and the Pink-footed Goose at Marazion.

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

Squacco Heron, 1st summer, Lethytep, picture courtesy John St. Ledger

I was just lucky to be in the right place on the 2nd when a Golden Oriole flew up the A30 and landed in the pines behind Marazion Marsh. Clearly on the move, it remained on the top of the pines for 25 minutes before departing towards Tremenheere.  I put the news out immediately and amazingly, at least six other birders connected.  This is just the 4th record here following two in 1984 and one in 1989. Another Golden Oriole and the third of the Spring was found at Drift Res. on the 12th. The fourth record of the Spring was a female type at Windmill Farm on the 29th. All-in-all, a relatively good movement.

A male Montagu's Harrier was seen in the fields near the Gurnards Head pub on the 2nd.  This species is now extinct in Britain as a breeding bird.  The last couple years though has seen a steady trickle of  spring migrants passing through Cornwall. Staying with harriers, a female Marsh Harrier has been seen several times over the last few weeks at Marazion Marsh, though never regularly.  Presumably it feeds here then moves back inland.  A first summer Pallid Harrier with strong gingery orange underparts was seen on Goonhilly on the 6th and was re found on the 10th. Pallid Harrier has a different moult pattern to the similar Montagu's. Pallid moults in its First summer and as such retains its strong orangey underparts in to Spring.  Montagu's moults in its winter quarters and loses the strong warm underpart colouration.

Five Bee-eaters were flying over Kenidjack valley on the 3rd and picked up later just up the road at Botallack.  Possibly a different group of four were seen over Polgigga on the 6th and were on the move with around 350 Swallows.  Another two (splinter group?) were seen over Chapel Carn Brae on the 7th.

The first Pomarine Skuas were seen on the 4th and 5th May with just one and two respectively. Small numbers compared to yesteryear, but to see an adult in full breeding plumage is quite a sight.

A male Red-footed Falcon was reported from Goonhilly Downs on the 6th but couldn't be pinned down. Male red-foots are arguably one of the finest raptors. A female Montagu's was also claimed on the same day and could be the same bird seen earlier at Kynance/Lizard village.

A Purple Heron was found in front of the marsh at Marazion on the 7th, only to fly off east up the valley. It returned in the evening and roosted in the heronry by the road.  This is the first here for a couple years.  It was seen intermittently up to the 13th, where it showed well on top of the heronry.  Another Purple Heron was found at Bowithick, Launceston on the 16th.

Most likely a different Night Heron was also found here on the evening of the 12th, calling as it departed the marsh and headed west.  Duplication is difficult to rule out, especially with night feeders like Night Heron.  Given the two week gap, most likely this is a "new" bird in.  Another or roving individual was found in the evening of 17th at Nanjizal ponds. How many birds involved in this influx will be difficult to assess.

I was surprised to find a pair of Lesser Redpolls at Land's End on the 7th.  A quick check through my eBird shows no previous migrant records, only birds seen at the normal Bodmin moor sites.  This or the same bird was found a few days later at nearby Treeve moor.  Another 

Lesser Redpoll, male, Land's End, pic Steve Rogers.
The annual kite fest started properly on the 13th. As always, the vast majority of numbers were concentrated in the Land's End area, with the Polgigga/Skewjack Valley being the gathering point. This area attracts raptors presumably because of its geography and warm air thermals. Its also the end of the line and kites don't normally want to cross the water, hence the high numbers here.  Red Kite is normally a rarity on Scilly, but given the extreme high numbers in Cornwall, it was inevitable some would appear on Scilly. Well, 132 made it on Sunday 21st May!

Back in Cornwall, a count of 75 birds in one kettle was made on the 13th in the afternoon, with many more distant and higher birds present. A count of 160 birds was made from St Just by Nigel Wheatley. A conservative estimate could be as many as 200 birds in the wider Penwith area.  Next day they had nearly all departed.  The next significant movement occurred on 20th and 21st May with over a 100 in Tregeseal valley (20th) and the same group again around Land's End on the 21st.  Some can give stunning close views but others can be several thousand feet high, way above the cloud belt.  These birds can clearly cover huge distance with little effort.

Black Kite has been well represented across the county as well with at least six sightings. A summary is below but all could quite easily relate to the same wandering individual:
Perran-ar-worthal 18th, Lizard 18th, Goonhavern 18th, Stithians 21st, Lizard 21st, Pendeen also on the 21st, Rosewall Hill on the 27th.

A Black Kite with 12 Red's was found at Stithians Res on the 21st.

Red Kite, 2nd Cal in moult, Polgigga, May 2023

A "kettle" of Red Kites at Polgigga, May 2023, pic S. Rogers

Remaining with kites, a Yellow-billed Kite of unknown origin was found at Polgigga on the 15th. An analysis of available photos shows this bird to be the same as one seen earlier in Belgium and the Isle of Wight. Yellow-billed Kite is the African counterpart of Black Kite and is kept in captivity.  

The 18th was clearly a day for finding rare raptors. A Black Kite was found in the Carnon valley and a dark form Honey Buzzard flew over Polgigga.  The latter is arguably rarer while Black Kite becomes an annual passage visitor, no doubt caught up with the surge in Red Kite numbers. Ten Red Kite lingered around Windmill Farm.

Upland breeding birds attracted some attention and this stunning video below shows singing Tree Pipit and Common Redstart at Minions, Bodmin Moor.

Tree Pipit and Redstart video by John Chapple

An Osprey was moving east over Penzance on the 20th and as normal, found its way to Marazion. I happened to be there when it drifted over, giving close overhead views.  This is my first for the year.

but Just the second Little Tern of the year was found early on the 24th at Marazion beach, along with three Sandwich Terns for company. Tern movement has generally been poor in Cornwall this Spring.

The Hooded Crow continued to show well in the fields west of Higher Bosisto Lane to the month end.  This recently split species from Carrion Crow preferred to share the same fields as the 60+ Rooks.

Honey Buzzards have trickled through the county in May. A single bird was seen over Wheal Alfred on the 26th, the same site which recorded a Black Kite earlier this Spring.  Another Honey Buzzard flew over Falmouth on the 27th and one more for good measure over Coverack on the 28th.

A White Stork was  seen flying over Treluswell, Penryn on the 30th.

Bird of the month: No stand out species. The annual Red Kite influx continues to grow and provide great excitement across the county. Half a dozen or so sightings of Black Kite mean the Reds just can't be ignored.

Runners up: Plenty here, including several Golden Orioles, several Honey Buzzards, Night Heron, Red-footed Falcon, Montagu's Harriers, Bee-eaters and Purple Heron.

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