Friday 25 August 2023

Birding highlights in Cornwall August 2023

 Seawatching takes centre stage in this post.  Naturally, Cornwall is strategically positioned to take full advantage of the wealth of seabirds passing both coasts. Other than an adult Pectoral Sandpiper at Walmsley, non-seabirds have been painfully thin on the ground.

The stand-out highlight on the 1st of the month was the Fea's Petrel off Porthgwarra (for its third day). Porthgwarra is THE top UK site for this species with around 25 records. Many of these birds spend a few days here while they circuit feed the Land's End area. If you catch the correct conditions, its quite feas-ible to actually twitch a Fea's Petrel. On the same day, a lingering flock of around 4000 Cory's Shearwaters were in the same area.  This species has broken all past records for high numbers.  Among the Cory's have been several claims of Scopoli's Shearwater, previously the Eastern form of Cory's but now given its own species status by some authorities.  I've managed to see at least two birds and there are a few more other claims as well.  Once you recognise the key features, finding one is not so difficult as previously thought.  Indeed, Bob Flood from Scilly Pelagics has now confirmed this, actually calling one from a pelagic prior to photo evidence.

Great Shearwaters have been seen alongside the vast flocks of Cory's, but not in such large numbers.  Just 42 were seen on the 1st, along with two Pomarine Skuas and eight Sooty's.  A Wilson's Petrel was seen off Pendeen.

A strong westerly wind arrived on the 2nd. Although Porthgwarra scored with the resighting of the Fea's Petrel, 131 Great Shearwaters and 68 Sooty's, it was Pendeen that stole the limelight. Two Scopoli's were seen at 07:18 and 09:58, the latter seen independently from the lower car park and the main platform. Seven Wilson's Petrels, 150 Storm Petrel and 1004 Cory's were also logged in the 14 hour session.  Three more Wilson's Petrels were seen at Pendeen on the 3rd with another single off St. Loy.  Yet another Wilson's was seen further east off St Agnes Head on the 4th and two more together in Mounts Bay.  This species continues to break previous County records.

Saturday 5th August saw the first major summer storm hit the county. A severe gale (Force 9) westerly / north westerly brought nearly 50 birders to Pendeen to witness some special seawatching. No one left disappointed.  A record breaking 11 Wilson's Petrel, 270+ Storm Petrel,  280 Cory's, 39 Sooty, 86,000 Manx, adult Sabine's Gull and a Black Tern plus some spectacular high seas will remain in the memory bank.

Although not part of this geographical reporting area, it has to be mentioned about the incredible record of an immature Red-footed Booby, seen well just 20 miles away, off Scilly, the day after the storm (6th). No doubt this bird was caught up in this storm.  One can only imagine the scenes on the Sapphire! Even more remarkable is that this 2nd for Britain was refound roosting on the Bishop Rock lighthouse and remained there until at least 24th.  It is thought that it feeds at night on squid, which rise to the surface.  It spends virtually all day-time with the black-backs.

The 7th was a notable day for Wilson's Petrel with a total of seven reported: four from Porthgwarra, two from Lizard and one in Mounts bay, photographed by Rupert Kirkwood from his kyack.  The 8th saw another 12 reported, this time further east at Trevose head and from Pendennis Point, Falmouth. ID confidence and superior modern optics certainly aid finding this Southern Ocean petrel, but weather changes surely play a part in the increase in numbers.

Another species which is set to break records, (at least the 10 year rolling average) is Sabines Gull. One was found at the unusual location of Penlee Point (8th), a reward for hours of watching here by Pete Aley and Paul Kemp et al.

A Corncrake was found at Porth Joke on the 11th and was a county tick for the finders. Its certainly not an easy species to catch up with.  Indeed, most reports come from accidental flushing from a path or bracken.  A second Corncrake was found at Crugmeer on the 15th.

 A strong southerly wind on Saturday 12th was a sure sign to visit Porthgwarra.  The highlight was a Barolo Shearwater late in the afternoon.  The supporting cast included c. 1600 Cory's, 300 Greats and 70 Sooty Shearwaters. And of course one Wilson's Petrel.

Important news on the successful breeding of Marsh Harrier was announced by the CBWPS.  Three newly fledged young were seen at Cornwall's flagship reserve at Walmsley on the 13th.  Although the species is increasing in the UK, nothing should detract from the excellent management work here, under Adrian Langdon's dedicated work.

Male Marsh Harrier, Walmsley, picture courtesy Adrian Langdon.

A Long-tailed Skua and Wilson's Petrel were seen off the Lizard on the 14th.  Two more Sabine's Gulls were recorded at Pendeen.  Yet another Sabine's was seen next day at Porthgwarra.  

The first Melodious Warbler of the season was trapped at Nanjizal on the 17th, followed by a Nightingale on the 23rd and a Wryneck on the 24th. Another Melodious Warbler was found at Loe Pool on the 20th.

Sabine's Gulls once again grabbed the headlines on the 20th.  14 passed Pendeen, all of them adults.  Another eight were seen next day here (21st) along with a Roseate Tern and a Fea's Petrel. The largest single flock of 11 Sabine's passed Pendeen with a total of 18 on the 22nd.  The annual rolling 

To complete a stunning few days at Pendeen, an adult Sooty Tern flew past at mid distance (22nd).  Frustratingly, the finder's "wingman" couldn't find it.  In line with high numbers of Black Tern further north, a sizable flock of 30 was seen and photo'd off Porthgwarra (21st).

A Bee-eater was heard several times calling over Drift Reservoir on the 21st but sadly wasn't re located further west.

Wader passage came to life on the 20th with three Wood Sandpipers at Nanquidno and three Curlew Sandpipers at Hayle.  Stithians also hosted a Little Ringed Plover and a Wood Sandpiper. A sizable flock of 138 Ringed Plovers was counted on Marazion beach.

Passerines were on the move on the 24th; the standout rarity being a Citrine Wagtail at Nanjizal. A Wryneck was found in a private garden at St Erth Praze and good numbers of Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail were found at Porthgwarra.

The wind veered to the west on the 25th with just enough strength to produce a fly-by Fea's Petrel and a flock of six stunning adult Pomarine Skuas. A sizable group of 400 plus Great Shearwaters could be an indication of a repeat show from 2022.  Numbers of Cory's seem to be waining after the heady heights of July but 200 plus were also logged off Pendeen (25th).

Fea's Petrel video by Mike McKee

The presumed same Fea's Petrel passed Pendeen again on Sunday 27th, along with an impressive 500+ Cory's and three fairly close Pomarine Skuas.  A decent haul of 143 Arctic Terns was the largest count in recent times. Two Black Terns and two Common Terns added some variety.

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