Sunday, 14 December 2014

Falmouth + Lizard (6th-14th December)

Been spending the last couple days birding Falmouth and Lizard with Dan as term is now finished!

Congrats to Dan who has recently taken on the role of warden of Stithian's Reservoir (hopefully that elevates me to the position of assistant warden :) ).  Now that we're making more regular visits to the site, it was good to get an intro of the behind the scenes work by Greg with whom we had a wander around the res on the 6th December.  I was fortunate enough to find a Slavonian Grebe on the main body of water shortly after we arrived.  Other highlights include 7+ Snipe, a couple Goldeneye, 5 Mediterranean Gulls, Water Rail, a couple Curlew and a Fox.

The usual monthly WeBS count on the Lizard was undertaken on the 9th December.  A morning seawatch produced 1 Bonxie, 1 Balearic Shearwater, 1 diver sp., 4 drake Common Scoter and 3+ Harbour Porpoise.  Hayle Kimbro and Croft Pascoe were both totally deserted.  Loe Pool was more productive and hosted 3 Goosander (2 females, 1 male), 43 Pochard and 4 Shoveler.  Helston Boating Lake and the neighbouring ponds had the usual adult Whooper Swan, a couple Shoveler and Teal.  To round the day off, a quick excursion past Stithian's  Res produced good numbers of Wigeon and Teal whilst Gorrangorras had a rather confiding Common Sandpiper and a few Greenshank.

Patching by myself on the 11th December.  I started at Pendennis Point where a wader sp. shot past me.  I couldn't make out all the necessary features on it due to very strong headwind but it was probably the first returning patch Purple Sandpiper of the winter.  4 Great Northern Divers were distributed between the Carrick Roads and Maenporth whilst Swanpool still hosted the Long-tailed Duck, 2 1st win. drake Scaup, 3+ Water Rail, Chiffchaffs and a Kingfisher.  There was a red colour ringed Herring Gull below the Hooked Cafe at Swanpool too.  Notable birds at Maenporth include Firecrest, Chiffchaff, Redshank and another Kingfisher on the coast.

1st winter drake Scaup

Birding the entire day with Dan (12th December) so just stolen our shared highlights from his post on the Falmouth Birding thread on Bird Forum.

Pendennis for a seawatch. 8:40 -11:20 all west

2 Balearic Shearwater (distant)
10 Black-throated Diver
2 Great Northern Diver
2 Red-throated Diver
1+ Fulmar
100+ Kittiwake
100+ auk sp
5+ Guillemot
1 Razorbill
27+ Med Gull
5+ Common Gull

Additionally -

7 GN Diver on the sea in Falmouth Bay
2 Whimbrel
5 Oystercatcher
1 Stonechat
1 Red-breasted Merganser
(male) flew into the Carrick Roads

Cracking views of the BT and RT divers, interestingly one of the BT's didn't have an obvious flank patch.  Here's my comment on Bird Forum's Falmouth Birding thread that I've just copied and pasted in:

Around 9:30am, a group of 4 divers entered the bay flying E to W, all but one being obvious BTDs. However, one seemed to be lacking an obvious white thigh patch, unlike those that it was accompanied by. This did begin to raise some concern and with limited time, I tried to compare it to it's neighbours which consistently confirmed it to have a much reduced or lacking white rear flank patch. I tried to desperately compare structural features but this didn't have any promising returns. Now, only left with an angled view from behind I tried to get a view of the vent. This rang alarm bells as it seemed the demarcation between the vent and belly was separated by a dark band! Whilst I dare not say the word, I wouldn't like to hold back the possibility of this bird being something more interesting. However, personally I'd sway towards the more likely option of it being an unusual BTD with a worn flank. The vent strap might also be explained by a divide between the two feather tracts of the vent and belly. Nonetheless, it was an interesting bird to watch albeit with unsatisfactory brief views.

In hindsight, I realise I should have taken a closer look at the ear coverts and tried harder to compare overall size.

Headed off to Swanpool briefly next,

1 Scaup asleep (couldn't see the second individual in our brief visit but it was probably just hiding in the reeds)
1 Long-tailed Duck

We also made an afternoon visit to Stithian's Res.  Slavonian Grebe still present in a small channel on the West side of the reservoir.  3 Peregrines were a treat to see, including a 1st year bird feeding on a freshly killed Coot in front of the Stuart Hutchings Hide and a pair sat on the opposite bank investing a half hearted attempt at hunting the wildfowl.  2 Pintail were also new additions and included a male and female bird.

Peregrine with Coot kill

Slavonian Grebe

Not much birding on the 13th December as Dan and I were working on his fields near Treverva.  However, earlier this morning I was typing up this new blog post with background music nearly at full volume when a female-type Black Redstart flew into view and perched 2 feet outside my bedroom window sill!  A much anticipated garden tick!

This afternoon, a Mistle Thrush flew North over Treverva, I'm not sure I remember seeing any in and around the Falmouth patch before so it could well be a patch tick! Also 1 Small Tortoiseshell was making the most of some December sunshine.

Yet another Pendennis Point seawatch today produced the regular Great Northern Divers and at least 1 Black-throated Diver, 1 Peregrine and a Whimbrel.  4 Red-breasted Mergansers (1 male, 3 females) were also flying around the Carrick Roads.  The Black Redstart returned outside my window this afternoon too.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Patching Falmouth (2nd November-4th December)

Just another batch of sightings to try and catch up with, so here they are...

After returning from Scillies I've mostly been tottering around patch, logging the occasional decent stuff. As always I've only kept a fraction of my records but I'll try and include as much as I can remember.  Hopefully I'll be able to kick start my interest in Birdtrack again, that'll be far more important.

The usual selection of waders are still to be found at Gorrangorras.  Maximum counts from the last month include c.100 Curlew, 50+ Redshank, 9 Turnstone, 5+ Greenshank, the occasional Whimbrel, 1 Common Sandpiper and Water Rail.  Firecrests have been appearing quite often including 1-2 on campus, 2 on Pendennis, 2 on farmland near Treverva and a couple others strewn about the place. Earlier in November there was a substantial passage with 1,000's of Redwing over Falmouth in the early hours of the morning with 2 Fieldfare (my first of the autumn) tagging along with the them.

Firecrest sonogram

The Penryn Campus still hosts a Black Redstart or two whilst late autumn seawatches have been becoming progressively interesting with locally good numbers of Poms.  Almost daily morning seatwatches with Dan produced on occasion up to a dozen Pomarine Skuas!  Here's some samples that I've just scavenged from my tweets:

8th November: 3 Pomarine Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas, 3 skua sp. 5+ Great Northern Divers and 17 Balearic Shearwaters all west.

10th November: 8:10-10:35: 12 Pomarine Skua, 1 Arctic Skua, 1 Bonxie, 7 Balearic Shearwaters, 6 Great Northern Divers and 1 Black-throated Diver.

11th November: Lizard Point: 7 Pomarine Skuas, 1 Arctic Skua, 1 Bonxie, 11 Balearic Shearwaters, 1 Great Northern Diver, 2 Fulmar and a few Guillemots in sum plum already!

13th November: Pendennis Point midday: 1 juv Pomarine Skua, 10 Great Northern Divers and a Black-throated Diver.

Up to 29+ Great Northern Divers have also been in Falmouth Bay and Carrick Roads on the 14th November along with a prob. Red-throated Diver seen flying out of the Roads in the gloom.  Other significant patch sightings include a juv Long-tailed Duck which appeared on Swanpool on the 4th November and is still present now!  I also found 2 1st win. drake Scaup on Swanpool on the 29th November which are also still present now!  The local Barn Owl has also been showing nicely in daylight hours adding to the excitement.

2 1st win. drake Scaup on Swanpool

juv Long-tailed Duck also on Swanpool

Whilst conducting WeBS counts on the Lizard on the 11th November, Dan and I came across 7 Firecrests at Loe Pool and the recent Whooper Swan arrival at Croft Pascoe.  We also stumbled on a Lesser Whitethroat at Stithians, some scrutiny of it the following day along with some online research, further reading and correspondents with other well qualified birders has led us to reached the consensus that it is indeed of eastern origin, most probably a blythi!  I managed to get a muffled recording of its call but it's one that's not sufficient to narrow the ID down any further.  Good photos are on CBWPS!

Lesser Whitethroat (prob. blythi) near Stuart Hutchings Hide

calls a couple times at the beginning of the video but background noise is too overwhelming so you have to turn the sound up a lot

Other birds at Stithians include Ruff, a few Ringed Plovers, 100+ Golden Plovers and good numbers of Lapwing and Wigeon.  I also picked out a rather grey-headed female Wigeon which would have been worth further scrutiny but without seeing the axillaries the job of confirming American Wigeon wasn't all that easy.  Maybe I should have invested a little more effort as two American Wigeon appeared on the NE Cornish coast shortly afterwards.

Even keeping an eye out of my bedroom window has been rewarding.  I'm fortunate enough to have a semi-decent yet distant view over the Carrick Roads and a fraction of Falmouth Bay which have helped me add Great Northern Diver, Little Egret, Mediterranean Gull and Wigeon to the house list (not that I even bother to keep lists any more).  A couple Common Gulls have also been lingering around the Falmouth area and half a dozen Mediterranean Gulls appeared on College Reservoir (I've only ever seen singles there before!).  Butterflies are also still on the wing occasionally, invariably Red Admirals (one in Penryn only yesterday (4th December)) but also a pair of Speckled Woods mating at Pendennis on the 22nd November!  Water Rails are also becoming more and more evident as the season progresses, sometimes swimming across Swanpool and being rather approachable.

mating pair of Speckled Woods

I've also been for a twitching excursion round West Penwith with Dan a week or so ago.  We were lucky enough to get decent views of the PACIFIC DIVER but less fortunate in our attempts to track down the nearby Richard's Pipit and Dusky Warbler (only a Firecrest made up for our troubles).  However, with a free day at hand, I took the train to Penzance on the 2nd December to try and mop up on a couple rarities.  The bike ride to Porthgwarra wasn't all that easy in strong headwind and even worse along the west coast to Kelynack.  The first stop produced the much anticipated female DESERT WHEATEAR which performed very nicely near the coastguard station down to a couple feet!  A rather confiding colour-ringed Chough also added to the enjoyment and a quick walk round the corner to the coppice near the Doctor's Garden produced a cracking Yellow-browed Warbler.  There were quite a few Fulmar patrolling the cliff line but little else other than Razorbills and Gannets and gulls offshore.

Gwennap Head

Desert Wheatear, Porthgwarra

On to Kelynack...  Yet again I struck luck as soon as I arrived as the DUSKY WARBLER flew across the road and started calling in the line of willows even before I'd managed to set my bike down!  It showed fairly well (for a Dusky Warbler) even allowing me to get one brief pic with my digital compact camera after some considerable persistence.  I had yet more success when I arrived back in Penzance to enjoy some further views of the Pacific Diver out in the bay along with 5+ Great Northern Divers.  A nice round off to three rarities in a day, most surprising for me was the fact I'd managed to pull it off with the use of public transport and biking alone!

Dusky Warbler, Kelynack

Dusky Warbler sonogram

Monday, 3 November 2014

Scillies! (25th October-1st November)

It was good to be back!

This time, my brother Ephraim and I were staying in Hugh Town with Paul, Adam, Brad, Mark and Ash.  Although there weren't a great deal of rarities about we still had our work cut out bashing the bushes, island hopping, seawatching etc.  I can't remember the exact proceedings thanks to my lack of note taking but I'll have a go at recollecting the last week.

Hugh Town

Porth Cressa

The drama started only shortly after leaving, thanks to SW trains brilliant service (sarcasm) I missed one of the connecting trains to Penzance and very nearly missed the boat!  Once again I have my legs to thanks for the sprint to the Scillonian where my brother and I boarding the boat just in time.  Once I'd recovered my breath back, the birding began.  For starters, a nice male Eider and Common Scoter in the Mounts Bay.  The crossing was rather uneventful with just the one Bonxie, Kittiwakes and a dolphin sp. briefly appearing in the wake of the boat.

drake Eider

Once on St Mary's, my brother and I opted for a short walk around the island to soak up the environment and hopefully some birds.  This proved to be rather unsuccessful as we didn't encounter any of the local YBWs, RBFlys, Barred Warbler or Rosy Starling.  Anyway, the week really kicked off from the second day onwards.  Once in the mindset of Scillies, we caught up with 3 Short-toed Larks on the airfield the following day, Snow Bunting and a couple Balearic Shearwaters past Church Point.  My brother and I invested quite a bit of time at the point doing daily seawatches.  These rewarded us with the occasion Bonxie, Arctic Skuas, 3 Manx Shearwaters, Common Scoter several Harbour Porpoises and an interesting shearwater which I'll do my best to describe.  The shear, seen from Church Point gave the general appearance of a Mnax with respects to dark upperside with no obvious brown-tinge like that of Balearic and pure white underside also similar to Manx.  The confusion arose with regards to its flight pattern which was the first action that twigged wrong with the normal shearing action of both the commoner species present during the week.  It remained low over the water giving an occasional tilt rather than the classic shearing or banking activity of Manx.  This was interspersed with a rapid quivering of the wings similar to the flap flap glide habits of Sparrowhawk.  It continued past the point repeating the same flight action throughout the time I had it in view.  Although I'm aware shearwaters will readily change their flight habits according to wind strength etc. it wasn't a flight action I am familiar with despite having seen Manx and Balearics on a regular basis.
Short-toed Lark

All three Short-toed Larks in one view

Snow Bunting

280+ birds one one house!

stick insect sp. in Old Town Churchyard

Following our initial failure on land, we soon encountered numerous Yellow-browed Warblers, about two per day.  We also saw three different Red-breasted Flycatchers, one on the Garrison, one at Lower Moors and a third in The Parsonage.  The former individual was particularly confiding and we enjoyed watching it for about 3-4 hours just soaking up the views!  We also paid regular visits to the airfield in the hope of reconnecting with yet more good birds.  Just the one Short-toed Lark remained but we did get regular good views of it as it fed on the runway alongside Skylarks.  A couple of Wheatear were also lingering around and during the course of the week Black Redstart numbers rocketed from zero to dozens inhabiting most beaches, coves and house roofs.  Swallows also lingered with seven on one occasion but singles still over Hugh Town by the time I left on the 1st November.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Peninnis Head in the fog

Following our initial failure at connecting with the Barred Warbler, Ephraim and I jammed in on it the following day, thankfully all the waiting had paid off!  A couple of Firecrests also showed themselves but it seemed there were a greater number of Yellow-browed Warblers to be seen on the island than crests.

A visit to Tresco came on the cards first.  The 2 American Wigeon (1st win. male and female) and drake Green-winged Teal on Great Pool were both welcome birds, as were 4 Whooper Swans on Abbey Pool.  We also located a couple Black Redstarts on the surrounding farmland, a Rose-coloured Starling in the fields just north of New Grimsby and 2 Black-necked Grebes in the Tresco channel.

1st win. drake American Wigeon

female American Wigeon

female Eurasian Wigeon (right), female American Wigeon (left

Green-winged Teal

Whooper Swans

Rose-coloured Starling

Back on St Mary's, Ephraim and I enjoyed good views of the Red-backed Shrike at Porth Hellick and the occasional Merlin roaming the southern side of the island.

Red-backed Shrike

A trip to Aggie was certainly overdue as almost everyone but us two hadn't gone to see the rather confiding Ortolan.  On arrival, we walked straight to Troy Town Farm where, as expected, we had good views of the Ortolan Bunting feeding amongst the House Sparrows and Linnets, a stunning bird which gave us the opportunity to truly appreciate it close-up.  I headed for a seawatch whilst my brother stayed to photograph the bird.  Not much out to sea other than an Arctic Skua and a Harbour Porpoise so I returned to the farm to watch the bunting with my brother again.  It was then that I picked up on a flyover pipit calling.  It was instantly recognisable as something out of the ordinary thanks to the give-away flight call, a drawn out "tseeee".  It seemed a little like Tree Pipit but more relaxed and nervous in tone.  Turning to my brother, I had little else to say other than, I think that's a Red-throated Pipit flying over!  To our dismay it continued flying westwards choosing not to land but instead head over the end of the island and straight out to sea towards Annet.  Gone were my hopes of clinching it on better views.

Not too long after, a passing birder told us someone had just located a Red-throated Pipit on the campsite just down the hill from where we were stood!  Viv, the finder, told me he'd had it come in off the sea from exactly the same direction I'd seen it leave!  Was so close to getting that as a self-found, damn!!

Technicalities aside, we enjoyed brilliant views of the adult (probably male) RED-THROATED PIPIT feeding amongst a couple Meadow Pipits, a brilliant way to round off the day!  A quick nip past the Parsonage yielded 2 Yellow-browed Warblers, a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a good influx of Chiffchaffs.

Ortolan Bunting

Long Point, Aggie

adult Red-throated Pipit!

The following day, I was fortunate enough to clap eyes on a second Red-throated Pipit, this time the 1st winter bird on the St Mary's airfield along with a couple nearby Golden Plover.  Our efforts in birding Lower Moors also paid off with regular appearances of 2 Jack Snipe around dusk and three consecutive visits to Shooter's Pool to see the Spotted Crake that put on decent views both late afternoons and early one morning.

Golden Plover

Spotted Crake

Leaving day came all too soon but thanks to Adam, I managed to mop up on 2 Spoonbill and 2 Great Northern Divers flying over Tresco.  The Scillonian provided a rather rocky return journey swaying alarmingly from side to side but the novelty made for an enjoyable crossing.  Bits and pieces seen from the boat included 1 Grey Phalarope, 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Puffin and a couple Harbour Porpoises.

Scillonian crossing

Once again Scillies provided us all with a brilliant time, same time next year?

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Catch-up (12th September-24th October)

Lots of stuff to catch-up on once again.  Starting in Herts on my local patch in Kings Langley, I'd just returned from the US and was out on patch again on a regular basis.  I can only remember a small fraction since I rarely take field notes so it's very likely I'll accidentally miss out a hell of a lot of stuff.

A single Stonechat (joining a single Whinchat) at Balls Pond Farm was certainly an excellent bird, representing my first ever on patch!  Equally thrilling were 2 Spotted Flycatchers in two days!  Following a long gap of about three years without any patch records it was brilliant to see some again.  Flyover Yellow Wagtails were also fairly regular and it was only a matter of time before I located the cowfield in which they were feeding, where I found a total of at least 20+ Yellow Wagtails.  Hobbys appeared on several days over the canal and neighbouring farmland down Barnes Lane with Kestrels, Buzzards and Red Kites in good supporting numbers.  Also counted a record breaking patch flock of 60+ Meadow Pipits.

Back in Cornwall for uni, patching was turning over a regular passage of Balearic Shearwaters, almost on a daily basis in late September and early October, with an encouraging total easily reaching into the hundreds!  Arctic Skuas and a few Bonxies also cropped up on the seawatch as did a small passage of auks.  Dan and I made a visit to Lizard on the 22nd September for a WeBS count where we were fortunate enough to jam in on a co-found SPOTTED CRAKE at Loe Pool!!  Seawatching from Lizard point on the 22nd September and 19 October produced couple of Bonxies, Arctic Skua and Balearic Shearwaters.  Stithians Res also hosted a 1st win male Garganey whilst Clouded Yellows were still out in force with singles on patch appearing every now and then along with good numbers on the Lizard.  I also found a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on Pendennis on the 1st October and added Mediterranean Gull and Peregrine to the garden list (not that I even keep one).


abberation caeruleopunctata Small Copper (with blue spots on the hindwing)

Co-found Spotted Crake with Dan!


I've done a fair amount of mothing too but invariably in my small concrete back garden, hopefully I'll get around to adding the moth totals to my mothing blog soon.  The early morning starts certainly raised my awareness for the influx of Grey Wagtail numbers which I seem to be encountering quite a lot of in the SW at the moment.  Kingfishers have also been present in higher numbers with birds appearing on the railings of Pendennis Point, two at Swanpool and a couple at the res's.  Argal Reservoir, despite offering some brilliant habitat thanks to the low water level hasn't had barely any peace from the dog walkers and walkers who've been traipsing all over the banks including the nature reserve section!  This has obviously accounted for the desolate banks, on one visit the only bird I could find on a whole walk around the reservoir was a single Grey Heron.  A single Barn Owl was nice to see on some farmland near Argal as were the occasional Snipe.  Patching also produced the usual Whimbrel past Pendennis, increasing number of Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone and a couple of waders at Gorrangorras and Devoran.  The former produced 50+ Redshank, Curlew in variable numbers, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and a couple of Dunlin.  Devoran offered a single dark-bellied Brent Goose, Knot and larger totals of the commoner waders.

25th September marked the first returning patch Firecrests with a single at Swanpool Point, followed by several other individuals paving the way and reaching 4+ Firecrests on the 24th October just outside the Penryn campus in a small section of woodland making a massive racket.

3 Greenshank on Argal Res on the morning of the 11th October was quite a surprise site first for me!  Single Swallows were also appearing over town and about four over Swanpool was a sign that they haven't quite left us yet.  I also located a probable Yellow-browed Warbler in Kimberely Park on the 4th October along with 2 Firecrests but despite investing some effort I couldn't relocate it.

I got my first Redwing of the autumn on the 18th October with birds now regularly flying over in the dark giving their gripping "tseep" calls in the dark but Fieldfare have yet to appear.

An EcoSoc bird trip to St Ives was a brilliant half-day break on the 21st October.  Highlights included a single Long-tailed Skua, several Pomarine Skuas, douzens of Arctic Skuas and Bonxies, a couple of Leach's Petrels and flocks of Kittiwakes, Common Scoter and a steady passage of Balearic Shearwaters.  A couple of Grey Phalaropes also flew past but the most thrilling experience were undoubtedly the excellent point blank views given by many of the skuas including one particularly confiding Pom landing a couple meters offshore before taking off and flying directly over our heads!

The 23rd October brought with it a mega within fairly easy reaching distance so thanks to a lift from Dan, we ended up rushing for Porthgwarra.  Some searching later and I locked onto the YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO briefly perched up on the stunted willows.  It clearly wasn't preferring the western side of the bushes so I opted for the eastern side where I got cracking views of it working it's way across the base of the willows, just goes to show the value of breaking away from the crowd and investing some effort searching rather than relying on others to relocate it.

phone pic of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo

looking from the eastern side of the willows across the valley at Porthgwarra

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

California to Falifornia (30th August-11th September)

30th August

Now that I’m back on the Fal patch it seems a good idea to reflect on the last month or so and provide a recap of the highlights from my first US visit.

This came in the form of a thirteen day geography field trip to California!  Despite having our work cut out scaling mountains, traipsing over moraines and burying our minds in geology there was occasionally an opportunity for me to divert my eyes to the skies to see the odd bird or two.  As could be expected, there were a great deal of lifers to be had and on touching down in San Francisco, I must admit I was a little frustrated that the first species I saw were some rather familiar, Eurasian Starlings!  I must admit I was hoping for something a little more exotic to kick start the trip.  None the less, the coach journey out of the airport to our accommodation in the depths of Yosemite Park produced a decent selection, namely hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants, Western Gull, Brown Pelican and White Pelican all seen whilst crossing the long San Mateo bridge out of San Francisco. Turkey Vultures were also in no short supply.  American Crow, Great Egret, Mourning Dove, Canada Geese and Raven soon followed along with a Swainson’s Hawk perched at the roadside.

Double-crested Cormorant

White Pelican

Mourning Dove

"real" Canada Geese

Swainson's Hawk

What struck me most was the parched, dry and drought stricken landscape, seriously depleted in water, hence the initial difficulty in finding many birds from the coach window as we sped through the countryside.

Admittedly, birding wasn't half as easy as I had anticipated.  Indeed, the “exceptional drought” that the state is currently experiencing can’t be doing good things to the bird population.

31st August

Anyway, on to the next day of birding.  There was no chance for a good long night’s sleep as I soon rolled out of bed early the next morning, still rather tired from yesterday’s flight.  The woodland camp (Yosemite Bug, just SW from the centre of Yosemite National Park) dawned with Spotted Towhee, Western Scrub Jay and groups of Acorn Woodpeckers (chasing my first genuine native Grey Squirrel!).  Californian Towhee were also hopping around the paths, Oak Titmice fed in the treetops and Ravens cronked overhead.  Nashville Warbler also made a brief appearance near the dried up riverbed along with my first ever hummer, Anna’s Hummingbird!  A couple more Mourning Doves were perched on the wires and some goldfinch sp’s showed distantly in the opposite bank of vegetation, a little too distant for a bins only job.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpeckers harrying a Grey Squirrel

Western Scrub Jay

White-breasted Nuthatch

Nashville Warbler

California Towhee

Anna's Hummingbird

chipmunk sp.

White-headed Woodpecker

Brown Creeper

Mule Deer

Hairy Woodpecker

Maripossa National Park, forgot my wide angle lens

White-throated Swift

Stellar's Jay

Brown-headed Cowbird

American Robin

Black Bears

Great Blue Heron

We were on the road yet again by mid-morning for our first day of fieldwork at Mariposa Grove National Park.  Yet more Turkey Vultures and Acorn Woodpeckers graced the way as did a praying mantis sp., perched on the flagpole of the border control into the grove.  Yosemite National Forest produced yet more lifers including Mountain Chickadee, White-headed Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Hairy Woodpecker and Wilson’s Warbler whilst we walked around studying the impressive giant Sequoia trees.  Confusing chipmunk sp's, Douglas Squirrel and California Ground Squirrel were all commonplace as were Mule Deer.

Next up was some spectacular scenery, Half Dome, overlooking the huge valley and the Merced River.  My personal highlight, other than the awe of overlooking the gigantic surface of a solidified magma chamber, were the relatively insignificant yet equally stunning White-throated Swifts catching insects at the edge of the precipice.  I must admit I was a little distracted by the Stellar’s Jay and Western Tanager that appeared out of the bushes whilst the lecturers tried their best to explain the local geology in the sweltering midday heat whilst trying to keep down that morning’s breakfast thanks to the low pressures of a high altitude.

Sitting in a traffic jam within a boiling bus wasn't all that fun on our return journey but the Brown-headed Cowbird walking alongside the road did make up for this.  A short pit stop produced quite a few American Robins, Stellar’s Jays, and American Crows.  The mammal highlight for the day would have to go to the much anticipated Black Bear and her two cubs which we saw on our return journey from the coach window, full credit to Ilya for first picking them out.  A couple Great Blue Herons were dotted down the stream as were the occasional fleeting glimpses of what might have been Black Phoebes.

1st September

The next morning dawned just as I got outside to walk down to the dry stream bed.  Willow Flycatcher was my first lifer of the day, followed by Hutton’s Vireo and Spotted Towhee.  The usual California Towhee and Anna’s Hummingbirds were about the camp and before setting of for our second day in the field I clocked Song Sparrow and possible House Finch.

Acorn Woodpecker, proof it's worth getting up before sunrise

Spotted Towhee

Willow Flycatcher

Song Sparrow

Hutton's Vireo

Oak Titmouse

Anna's Hummingbird

preying mantis sp.


Dark-eyed Junco

skipper sp.

American Herring Gull

White-crowned Sparrow

Red-tailed Hawk

Brewer's Blackbird

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Northern Flicker

The road trip to Mammoth Lakes produced American Crow, Great Blue Heron and finally decent IDable views of a couple Black Phoebes whilst a brief pit-stop at the side of the stream added Mallard to the trip list.  Song Sparrow, California Ground Squirrel and Great Blue Heron were also welcome sights.  Reaching 10,000 feet in altitude and in climbing temperatures I must admit energy levels were getting low and since I was busy with other things besides birds only Steller’s Jays, Dark-eyed Junco, Brewer’s Blackbird a hawk sp. and a skipper sp. were of note.  A final stop, before reaching our accommodation for the rest of our stay, was Mammoth and whilst most went wandering off to go food shopping, I took a side track out of town which rewarded me with a stunning White-crowned Sparrow in with a feeding flock of Chipping Sparrows!  Red-tailed Hawk also circled over and there were plenty of Brewer’s Blackbirds walking about the car park.  A quick nip past the airport to pick up the minibus gave me the opportunity to see a brief movement of some brown swallow sp’s fly through (not long enough views to ID unfortunately) and add House Sparrow to the trip list (not that I'm even bothering to keep one).

Once we finally arrived at our accommodation at Convict Lake, I squeezed in a brief wander around the log cabins.  American Robin, Black-billed Magpie and yet more Mule Deer were easy to come by, as were Wilson's Warbler and my first dendroica, Yellow-rumped Warbler! This was followed shortly by an absolutely stunning Yellow Warbler!!  Although I didn't bring my scope with me, it wasn't a regrettable decision as it gave me the opportunity to try and photograph most of the species I encountered although it did mean I couldn't ID some distant prob Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a gull sp. at the lake.  The day finally drew to a close with California Towhee and another big target species under the belt, Northern Flicker.

2nd September

A walk up to Convict Lake the following morning produced Yellow Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, and another lifer, Red-breasted Sapsucker followed by yet another lifer, Cooper's Hawk.  I was equally thrilled to set eyes on yet another major target species, Clark's Nutcracker!  The wooded areas had Mountain Chickadee, Hermit Thrush and a calling nuthatch sp.  The usual Ravens, Black-billed Magpie, American Robins and Mule Deer became ever more familiar whilst additional pieces of interested include Hairy Woodpecker and distantly high up prob. Cliff Swallow.

Green-tailed Towhee

Yellow Warbler

Prickly Pear

Hermit Thrush

Clark's Nutcracker

Cooper's Hawk

Black-billed Magpie


Orange-crowned Warbler

Brewer's Sparrow

Dark-violet Swallow

dead bat sp.

no idea!

juv. Yellow-rumped Warbler

scorpion sp.

Back to the fieldwork later that morning but still kept a brief eye on the skies whilst we climbed the moraine west of our cabins.  Highlights included Turkey Vultures, Osprey, Clark's Nutcracker, Ravens and American Kestrel.  The other half of the day was dedicated to exploring the east moraine which (in terms of birds) produced Violet-green Swallow, Orange-crowned Warbler, pos. Brewer's Sparrow and a scorpion sp. whilst Brewer's Blackbird and Black-billed Magpie where back at the cabins.

3rd September

The day started with yet another early moring pre-sunrise walk to Convict Lake.  American Dipper started the day followed by a waxwing sp. (most likely Cedar) flying over whilst trilling and Yellow-rumped Warblers adorned most of the shrubby margins.  Mountain Chickadee, American Herring Gull, Green-tailed Towhee, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Wilson's Warbler and American Robin also added to the mornings encounters.

This mornings focus was on Mammoth Mountain doing progressing plant surveys down the 11,053ft mountain.  The base of the mountain had Red Crossbill, Brown-headed Cowbird, Red-tailed Hawk, Dark-eyed Junco and prob. Downy Woodpecker.  Our descent along the south side yeilded Yellow-rumped Warbler, Turkey Vulture, Clark's Nutcracker, Dark-eyed Junco, calling Red-breasted Nuthatch and the highlight a rather surprising ringtail Northern Harrier.  A fritillary sp. also perched near the footpath affording a brief opportunity to photograph it.

American Dipper

Mule Deer

Chipping Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Red Crossbill

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Turkey Vulture

Wood Duck (only got a brief glimpse of it as we sped past in the bus)

fritillary sp.

white sp.

The drive back produced yet more Clark's Nutcrackers, a Wood Duck, Brewer's Blackbird and a white butterfly sp.  A brief walk up to Convict Lake on return to the cabins rewarded me with my first ever Monarch!  Other bits and pieces included Orange-crowned Warbler, American Robin, an Osprey mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mountain Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, Brewer's Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, a wren sp. and a hummingbird sp.

4th September

Another early morning walk around the accommodation area.  Wilson's Warbler, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Mountain Chickadee and Green-tailed Towhee were all easy enough to get.  A skulking warbler in the scrub turned out to be a new species, MacGillivray's Warbler and a little further afield were a feeding group of House Wrens.

Our destination for the day were the bristlecone pines, a very educational trip regarding the use of dendrochronology (ageing trees by the use of tree rings and tracking environmental conditions by comparing rates of growth).  From the minibus I saw Brewer's Blackbird, Turkey Vulture, Raven, Starling, a California Quail and Monarch.  Not a lot but the surrounindgs were rather barren.

At the pines themselves was a little more action and hosted American Kestrel, Pygmy Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing and yet another Monarch.  The short walk around the pines was also certainly worth the effort for the stunning Mountain Bluebird, not to mention the Clark's Nutcracker, White-breasted Nuthatch and a selection of other more regular species including Mountain Chickadee, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Dark-eyed Junco and Green-tailed Towhee.

Once we arrived back in Bishop, everyone went of to get dinner.  I took the brief window of opportunity, ditched dinner and went in search of my traget species, Loggerhead Shrike.  This involved a brief walk through the local park which hosted Northern Flicker and a showy Black Phoebe.  I finally made it to the run-down area of town, found some pastoral farmland and there... a Loggerhead Shrike sitting patiently on a prominent perch in the dusk.  No sooner had I set eyes on it, a Lesser Nighthawk glided into view were it performed brilliantly at close range!  To round the evening off, I also encountered a Skunk scurrying along a fence line and hide under the porch of someone's back garden.  I had to jog back quickly to the minibus and although my stomach felt like an empty hole compared to the rest  of my course-mates, I can certainly say skipping dinner was the right decision!

MacGillivray's Warbler

House Wren

Brewer's Sparrow

California Ground Squirrel

lizard sp.

Monarch, not easy at all getting flight shots

Cedar Waxwing, weird seeing them in scorching hot conditions at several thousand feet altitude

chipmunk sp.

Mountain Bluebird

Black Phoebe

Lesser Nighthawk, note the heavily bared inner primaries

Loggerhead Shrike

5th September

The daily early morning walk near our accommodation at Convict Lake was rewarded with Western Tanager, MacGillivray's Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, American Robin, Northern Flicker, Clark's Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Brewer's Blackbird and Black-billed Magpie.

Our first group destination for the day was Inyo Crater, here I saw yet more Mountain Chickadees, Clark's Nutcrackers as well as White-breasted Nuthatch, Stellar's Jay, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-tailed Hawk, Dark-eyed Junco, Chipping Sparrow, American Robin and another one of my top target species, Red-breasted Nuthatch!

Moving on from Inyo Crater, we spent the remainder of the day at Mono Lake.  Avian highlights included Osprey, Say's Phoebe, Least Sandpiper, Brewer's Blackbird, Sage Thrasher, Barn Swallow, Loggerhead Shrike, Lark Sparrow, California Gull, thousands of Black-necked Grebes and a probable flyover American Pipit.

Brewer's Blackbirds

Western Tanager

Pine White

butterfly sp.

California Gull

Loggerhead Shrike

Sage Thrasher

Say's Phoebe

Lark Sparrow

Least Sandpipers

Northern Flicker

6th September

Early am walk to Convict Lake:  Osprey, Spotted Towhee, Wilson's Warbler, Brewer's Blackbird, Green-tailed Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, House Wren, Clark's Nutcracker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, MacGillivray's Warbler, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler and lifers in the form of Sharp-shinned Hawk, Townsend's Warbler and Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Seeing Douglas Squirrel again was also a pleasant encounter.

Yet another walk up to the lake later in the day for data collection:  Bald Eagle, Cassin's Vireo, Raven, Black-billed Magpie, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker with Anna's Hummingbird and Yellow-rumped Warbler feeding on the sap coming from the holes in the bark made by a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

A third visit to the lake that same day:  2 Bald Eagles, Dark-violet Swallow, Black-billed Magpie, Northern Flicker, American Robin and House Wren.

some sort of nest

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Townsend's Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Bald Eagle fishing

Anna's Hummingbird exploiting the sap made accessible by the Red-breasted Sapsucker's work

Yellow-rumped Warbler

wasps and the like also indulging in the sugary substance

Black-billed Magpie

Cassin's Vireo

Mountain Chickadee

7th September

Same plan as usual, involving an early walk around the accommodation area and up towards the lake.  Highlights include:  Cassin's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Townsend's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, a grossbeak sp. (most likely Black-headed Grossbeak) and commoner stuff in the form of Brown Creeper, Brewer's Blackbird, Raven, House Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-billed Magpie, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Green-tailed Towhee, Wilson's Warbler, Spotted Towhee and American Robin.

Between survey work, I also saw the regular Bald Eagles and a Willow Flycatcher.

Song Sparrow

Nashville Warbler

Mountain Chickadee

Willow Flycatcher

8th September

Species list for the day much the same as the previous ones:  Anna's Hummingbird, Wilson's Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Flicker, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow Warbler, Great Blue Heron, Song Sparrow, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Raven, Green-tailed Towhee, Brown Creeper and less common stuff including Nashville Warbler and a calling calling goldfiinch sp. which I never managed to track down.

Bald Eagle

Mule Deer

White-breasted Nuthatch

Warbling Vireo

flycatcher sp.

American Kestrel


Hermit Thrush

Mourning Cloak

Brewer's Blackbird

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Western Wood-pewee

Hot Springs

9th September

Starting to get used to the local species and it was becoming harder to come across any new lifers, none the less I still bagged Hermit Warbler!  Other species included Cassin's Vireo, Western Tanager, Townsend's Warbler, Warbling Vireo, MacGillivray's Warbler, Song Sparrow, American Dipper, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mountain Chickadee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-billed Magpie, Spotted Towhee, Red-breasted Sapsucker, House Wren, American Robin, Yellow Warbler and Northern Flicker.  The remainder of the day produced Bald Eagle, Black Phoebe and Hairy Woodpecker.

American Dipper

White-breasted Nuthatch

Douglas Squirrel

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Hermit Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Northern Flicker

10th Spetember

Our penultimate day in the US and with little else to do in terms of data collection or important sites to visit some of us went for a day out to the Devil's Postpile.  A quick wander around the cabins before leaving produced White-crowned Sparrow, Brushtit, Western Wood-powhee, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Cassin's Vireo, MacGillivray's Warbler and the usual Green-tailed Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Mountain Chickadee, Brewer's Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Raven, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker and an American Dipper.  At the Devil's Postpile species included:  Turkey Vulture, Clark's Nutcracker, Brewer's Blackbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Mourning Cloak butterfly, Stellar's Jay, Acorn Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco and the highlight, a Williamson's Sapsucker!

From here we headed straight for the airport at Bishop before flying to Los Angeles to meet a connecting flight the following day back to London.  A brief wander around the outside of the airport revealed House Finch and Vesper Sparrow.

Our flight took us into the late afternoon so that when we arrived at our accommodation the sun had long set.  None the less, I still had a walk down to the beach but all the gulls that flew over and the waders on the beach were simply impossible to ID due to the gloom.  I just had to be patient and wait until the following day.

Cedar Waxwing

White-crowned Sparrow


Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Stellar's Jay

House Finch

Vesper Sparrow

11th September

Our final day in America and as usual an early start was essential to make the most of being by the sea.  Before the sun had even had a chance to rise, I was very happy to have added yet more Brown Pelicans to the trip list as they flew southbound along the shoreline, sometimes in squadrons of over a douzen birds.  Willets were another highlight and were feeding along the extensive strand line at regular intervals.  Some of the beach was even designated to Snowy Plovers which were also a treat to see, particularly their acceptance into an incredibly tourist driven landscape with very very little natural undisturbed habitat.  Despite being right in the middle of all the action, it was great seeing Western Gulls, Heermann's Gulls, California Gulls and a few Hudsonian Whimbrels along the beach.  A small stream outlet into the beach produced a few Marbled Godwits and a short walk inland down the residential streets rewarded me with Allen's Hummingbird, Western Scrub Jay, Orange-crowned Warbler and Mourning Dove.

To round off the stay, I decided to visit the pier where I was rather surprised to see a wild California Sea Lion swimming casually around at the end collecting up scraps of fish thrown to it by the tourists, annoying fishermen in the process as it often encouraged it to go for their bait as well!  A few Pelagic Cormorants also followed it around with the same intention of exploiting the easy pickings.  It was a very heartening scene to see an animal I had seen throughout my childhood in captivity finally in the wild where it truly belongs.


American Crow

Hudsonian Whimbrel

Elegant Tern

California Gull

Heermann's Gull

Western Gull

Allen's Hummingbird

Marbled Godwit

Snowy Plover

Pelagic Cormorant

California Sea Lion

Brown Pelican

Thank you America for the incredible experience!!!