Wednesday, 27 November 2013

More Patch Birding + a dip (17-27th November)

I've been out patching a couple times.  The highlights being on a trip over to the Roseland on the 23rd for an attempt at the Pacific Diver.  Despite having been seen every day for the past week, the day I went to visit there was no sign.  Typical!  The next day it was back...

I did see a couple other bits and pieces, including 1 Red-necked Grebe, at least 1 Slavonian Grebe, 5 Black-necked Grebes and half a dozen Great Northern Divers and similar numbers of Black-throated Divers.  In fact, I almost got fed up with searching through the divers for the umpteenth time, despite them being one of my favourite bird families.  A couple Common Scoter, and yet another Great Northern Diver in the Carrick Roads did break the day up.

Red-necked Grebe in Gerrans Bay

A quick nip down to Swanpool on the 19th still yielded the Kingfisher, 4 Ringed Plover, 6 Turnstone, 2 Stonechat and 3 Rock Pipits (all possibly littoralis).

"my" beautiful Fal patch

I also managed to catch up with the campus Black Redstart on the 25th and 27th November around the ESI building and jammed in on a single nearby Dipper twice in the past month.

phone-bin shot of the campus Black Redstart

Volunteering on board Free Spirit was another treat as we set of towards Gerrans Bay.  Although we didn't see the Pacific Diver we did have flight views of 2 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Purple Sandpipers at St Anthony's Head and a silhouetted view of what appeared to be a Wheatear sp. perched at the edge of the cliff also at St Anthony's Head just south of the lighthouse!  Commoner species included 2 Ravens, Kittiwakes, Mediterranean Gulls and a couple Grey Seals that the crew and I are studying and monitoring closely.

Gull Rock in the sun!

I'll leave you with this Buzzard and a rather unusual Shag which I photographed on the 21st at Pennance Point whilst walking the coastal footpath with my friend Matt.  It struck me immediately as a very pale bird and having heard of the Mediterranean race I decided to check it out a little more closely.  Quite a few useful comments on Bird Forum suggesting this may well be a leucistic bird instead

leucistic Shag?  Opinions gratefully appreciated

Buzzard at Pennance Point

Monday, 18 November 2013

Winter birding begins in Falmouth (9th-17th November)

I've been out patching a couple times recently and it's quite evident that numbers of winter visitors are flooding into the county.  It was a slow start on the 9th with only a couple of noteworthy species including Mediterranean Gulls, 1 Whimbrel and 5 Great Northern Divers on the seawatch.  2 auk sp. also flew westwards.

I didn't feel like repeating last weeks dip of the WRSands at Hayle so went patching again (surprise surprise).  It was still relatively rewarding and I encountered my first 2 Purple Sandpipers on patch for the winter down at Pendennis Point.  4 Great Northern Divers were also distributed around the bay and 2 Red Admirals were still on the wing!

1 of 2 Purple Sandpipers at Pendennis Point

The 12th experienced an increase in auk movement with 26+ flying west past Pendennis.  2 Common Gulls (ironically, an uncommon bird for the area) also flew up the Carrick Roads and there were good numbers of Gannets offshore.

A quick check of the patch again with Matt.  We were lucky enough to encounter 3 littroalis Rock Pipits on Swanpool Beach (despite considerable disturbance).  One of which still had remnants of a pinkish chest although this isn't noticeable in the picture.  A Kingfisher at Swanpool was also an exceptional sighting as it's the first one I've seen since patching the area.  After the original adults on site died out over a year ago, they haven't been replaced until now so fingers crossed this one sticks around and finds a mate. 

littoralis Rock Pipit on Swanpool Beach.  This one did have the remains of a pinkish chest but unfortunately this isn't visible in the pic.  The obvious supercilium is though

The 16th was somewhat more exciting as I was out volunteering on board the AK Wildlife cruises.  We headed for Gerrans Bay, where we encountered an impressive 14+ Great Northern Divers, 1 Black-throated Diver (no Pacific unfortunately).  I also picked up on a male Black Redtstart perched on one of the tug boats in the docks just as we casted off.  2 Purple Sandpipers at St Anthony's Head along with a Peregrine added to the days total.  We also encountered 8+ Grey Seals and even a Common Seal, in the Carrick Roads (a very unusual record for this part of Cornwall).  Lots of Mediterranean Gulls also between Pendennis and Gerrans along with good numbers of Kittiwakes, 2 Balearic Shearwaters west through the bay and a Guillemot on the sea.

one of my utmost favourites, Great Northern Divers!

From the entrance of the Carrick Roads, we worked our way northwards, heading up the River Fal towards Truro.  On route, we were very lucky to encounter a large feeding flock numbering no less than 27 Black-necked Grebes!  They were all diving/surfacing almost simultaneously so counting them was fairly straightforward but checking through the flock proved a little more difficult.  However, I still manged to pick out a single Slavonian Grebe.  14 Red-breasted Mergansers also in the Roads was an added bonus and I got a short view of a hunting Peregrine as it grabbed its prey in flight before dropping it and continuing south towards the Roseland.  Other sightings include 1 Common Sandpiper along with plenty of other waders at the northern end of the creek.

2 Great Northern Divers

a fraction of the feeding group of 27 Black-necked Grebes!

In all, a very enjoyable trip that really proved to me that winter was well a truly on its way.

Yesterday started with some moth trapping over at College and Argal.  Admittedly, I was still half asleep and we didn't catch much but the early start bridged me over to my bird trip later that afternoon.  I was secretly glad that no-one turned up (thanks to my halfhearted attempt at publicising the event) so I made my way to Flushing alone.

Patching was certainly a treat as I had great views of a stunning Firecrest (my first on patch for the winter)!  It took me several hours to get to Trefusis Point and scrambling over the rocky shore was nothing short of exhausting but patching is always rewarding whatever the results as I always get a sense of achievement at the end of the day.  1 Great Northern Diver in the Carrick Roads was my reward at making it to the Point along with a single Whimbrel.

Whimbrel at Gorrangorras

I also found my first Fieldfare of the winter skulking in the graveyard along with numerous other winter thrushes.  On my way back, walking through Flushing, I picked up on a classic "tseehwee" Yellow-browed Warbler call coming from a pair of fruit trees surrounded by housing!  I searched the two trees thoroughly and got plenty of odd looks from the locals staring at me from their windows.  I didn't get much of an opportunity to track the bird down as I was soon distracted by a couple old guys asking what I was looking for.  I eventually broke away and searching the tree more again, I noticed a plastic owl sp. had been placed in the tree (with the intention of spooking birds from the area).  This was probably the reason for the incessant YBW-like calling.  None the less I didn't locate or hear the bird again after the interruption from the locals and I could only find a single Coal Tit and Great Tit hopping around the tree.  Was I just fooled by the incredible works Great Tit mimicry?

Today's birding with Matt consisted of a short walk around College Reservoir, incorporating the dam at the northern end of Argal.  Very little of note and the continuous light drizzle wasn't very encouraging.  8 Curlew on the surrounding farmland were the highlight.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Recent Patching (7th and 8th November)

The past two days on patch have been fairly decent and I've made a couple visits down to Swanpool, Swanvale and the neighbouring coastline in the early morning before lectures and late afternoon.  I've only managed to squeeze in a couple daylight hours either side of lectures but Thursday's visit was still relatively eventful as I located 5 Mediterranean Gulls in Swanpool car park, including my personal highlight a 1st winter bird with a green colour ring on it's right tarsus and the standard metal BTO ring on the other.  However, I was rather disappointing that I couldn't read the number as I am keen to see if the influxs that occur here are boosted by numbers from the continent.  Moving on, I finally managed to locate my first 2 Great Northern Diver of the winter close inshore at Pennance Point (a winter and adult sum plum bird).  2 Water Rail at Swanvale and some Chiffchaffs also pushed the day up a notch.

After lectures, I headed back down to the coast, this time with Matt, and whilst scanning the bay, Matt suddenly picked up on a small pod of dolphins moving through the bay!  Sure enough, we were treated to great views totaling 7 Bottlenose Dophins!  The pod of three eventually moved around to Gylly where we encountered a the second pod of four all performing brilliantly with one individual even swimming on it's back and jostling the others in its group.  They truly are a social animal.  2 Great Northern Divers were also in Falmouth Bay.

Today started out rather damp and drizzly as I made my way down to Pennance Point for some sea-watching.  It was uncomfortable to say the least to sit on the slippery wet rocks at the edge of the cliff but viewing conditions were as close to perfect as they would get for finding cetaceans.  Sadly no dolphins this time but 2 Harbour Porpoises made up for this.  I also logged a total of 4 Great Northern Divers in the bay, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a flypast Peregrine

Stringy White-rumps (3rd November)

With up to three White-rumped Sands being reported at Hayle in the past couple days, I finally had the opportunity to go twitch them on the Sunday.  I arrived with no sign of the birds but wasn't too concerned as there was a good possibility they were up the road at Copperhouse Creek.  I didn't see much in my initial scan from The Causeway other than a single Mediterranean Gull and the usual selection of wildfowl and waders.  On my walk towards Copperhouse some bloke shouted to me from his car.  I assumed he said they had been relocated at Copperhouse and sure enough as I finally approached the Creek, the heart warming words of "it's just over there" met my ears.  The assembled bunch of rather grumpy birders didn't do much to help me get on the two birds but I soon located them myself.

Unfortunately, even from my first impressions, the two birds they claimed were juv. WRSands were nothing but two Dunlin.  Having no experience of the former, I would be rather surprised if the reported yanks could truly look as much like Dunlin as these did.  I tentatively suggested this to the group of birders but all were too keen on bagging a stringy tick.  Without flight views I was still unsatisfied to call the birds either way so I stood in the pouring rain with my eye glued to the scope waiting for them to fly.  After an exhausting wait they finally flew but views were still insufficient for me to be certain so I finally dismissed them as Dunlin.

the birds claimed are the two on the right.  I'll leave you to see if you think they might be WRSands

There was a chance the real WRSs had been pushed up towards The Causeway as the tide was coming in fast so I retraced my steps back to Ryan's Field but there was no sign of any there either.  Once again, I trudged back to Copperhouse Creek and as the rain came gushing down I relocated both of them again in the fading light.  They did fly on two or three occasions but still not giving decent hind views.  They did in fact come to roost a couple dozen meters from were I was stood but even so it was neigh on impossible to pick them out thanks to the rain, strong wind and darkness so I gave up and left...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Scillies! (30th October - 1st November)

Only a very brief stay on the legendary Isles of Scilly sadly cut short due to boat cancellations on Saturday.  This meant I only had one full day on the island!  All the same, I managed to squeeze in a few good birds.

Birding started as soon as I opened my door to leave the house as a calling Tawny Owl kick started my early morning start.  The second bird of note was an interesting Herring Gull from the Scillonian which I attempted at photographing as we waited in the harbour.  Its interesting tail pattern seems to resemble a Scandi race but it could simply be a byproduct of dietary deficiency or simply aberrant plumage.  Opinions very welcome.

Herring Gull with unusual tail pattern

Lots of Kittiwakes and 1 Balearic Shearwater were noted on the crossing and despite the rough seas creating a moderate amount of swell, there was little else of note except a Razorbill, 3 auk sp., a Fulmar and 2 Harbour Porpoise passing the boat.

On arriving at St Mary's quay, I rushed up to my accommodation, dumped my bags and headed straight for Longstone for my first lifer.  On route I was stopped at Old Town Bay where a couple of concerned birders pointed me towards what they thought was an oiled diver.  I checked it out and sure enough there was an exhausted oiled bird sitting on the rocks.  Not a diver but a Guillemot.  A rather sad sight and one of the blokes tried to catch it.  His first attempts failed.  I bumped into him a day or two later and he broke the bad news that he said it was eventually caught but later died.

A happier turn out at the warbler site where, after an hours wait, I finally set eyes on a relatively showy SUBALPINE WARBLER!  It wasn't much compared to sum. plum. males but the subtle grey cap, mantle and pale rosy chest were a very welcome sight!  After obtaining decent views, I headed back towards Lower Moors were I hoped to see the long-staying Spotted Crake.  Only a handful of Water Rails to report, a very late juvenile Cuckoo and 3 Black Redstarts at Thomas' Porth along with 2 Wheatear.

Subalpine Warbler

a very late juv. Cuckoo

I started the second day with a walk through Lower Moors before reaching Holy Vale.  I managed to connect with 4 scarcities before breakfast.  First up, I relocated the YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER still lingering in Lower Moors where I obtained adequate views and heard it call regularly.  At Holy Vale, I heard the news of an Isabelline Shrike at the Dump Clump only 5 mins away.  However, I was more keen to stick around and try my luck with finding the RB Fly.  I played the call to myself as a reminder what to listen out for.  I was rather surprised to hear the same call respond and sure enough as I rounded the track I caught the back end of a LBJ dart into the wood.  I followed it in and sure enough there was the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER flitting about in the lower canopy before vanishing.  Pleased with the views, I headed on to the Dump Clump were I joined a disappointing crowd most of whom were already leaving the site exclaiming that it was "only a RB Shrike".  All the same, I still decided on checking it out and sure enough it was a slightly above average rufousy juvenile Red-backed Shrike.  There was also mention of a nearby Rosy Starling so I hung around for a little longer to finally connect with the juvenile Rose-coloured Straling by the incinerator before heading off to buy my ticket to Tresco.  Walking in to town I noticed two hirundines circling over the bank.  They were a Swallow and a House Martin.

On the way over, I bumped into a couple of Spurn and Cornish birders with whom I tagged along with to Borough Farm.  We spent some time wandering around the place trying to pin down the yank robin.  Instead, a middle aged couple with their child did the job for us and summoned us over where we had cracking views of the AMERICAN ROBIN!  An absolute stunner.

American Robin

I tried a long shot and headed on to Great Pool to try my luck at the recent long-staying Sora.  It was no surprise that it didn't show as the water level had significantly risen since its arrival and the reeds had been cut which must have contributed to its disturbance.  None the less, I still located a calling Yellow-browed Warbler in the wood running along the side of the pool and 3 Sandwich Terns in the bay at New Grimsby.  A nice male Merlin also pushed the day up a notch!

male Merlin

Back on St Mary's I went to have a second look at the Red-backed Shrike and continued birding until it was dark and I came walking back in the pouring rain from Porth Hellick with only a single Black Redstart for my efforts.

The third and final day only gave me time to check out Peninnis Head and do a short sea-watch.  A flypast Sooty Shearwater and a second probable individual flew west past the point followed by a dark phase Arctic Skua and 2 Bonxies.  I also saw an interestingly dark Bonxie-like skua with very minimal wing flashes.  A rather confusing bird!

It was time to head back but I was still looking forward to a sea-watch from the Scillonian, particularly as the weather was predicted to worsen.  The first hour went past rather slowly with only a single Bonxie but it did pick up as we approached West Penwith and the waves really rocked the boat.  Singles of Balearic Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Manx Shearwater were all noted along with a flypast Purple Sandpiper as we approached the harbour.  A pod of 4 dolphin sp. also made a brief appearance, following the boat and we were also followed by several Fulmar and Kittiwakes.  I also caught a brief view of a petrel sp. fluttering on the surface of the water but I soon lost it and watched a beautiful male Eider get a hard time from the gulls as it got chased around the bay.

In all, a relatively successful trip to Scillies with a couple lifers and new faces to remember.  It was rather upsetting that I didn't have the chance to hop over to St Agnes for the White's but that'll have to wait until next time...

Something for the Cornish Lads (29th October)

I was still sat in bed by mid-morning scrolling through facebook on my phone when I came across a mention of a Hermit Thrush.  There was no speak on which part of the UK it was in so I imagined some lucky buggers from some remote Scottish island were enjoying the beauty instead.  I decided to flick over to Bird Guides just out of interest as it was obviously stirring up more interest than I had anticipated.  I nearly fell out of my bed when I read the word "Porthgwarra"!!!

I frantically texted a couple local birders and soon got a reply from Greg who offered to drive as soon as his lecture was over.  Good ol' Mr Wills kindly drove there (skipping his next lecture) and we arrived on scene just after mid-day.  It was still relatively quiet as the majority of people assembled were local Cornish birders who were able to make it in time before darkness.

We first began watching from the car park side but I soon decided against this as the viewing area I was left with was not at all good so I opted for the higher ground and moved to the road on the other side.  This was a wise move as I was just walking up the road when I realised the people up ahead were gesticulating towards the leaf litter.  Unfortunately, I didn't get on the bird in time and I had to wait a further 5-10 unnerving minutes before someone picked it up.  A run of Chinese whispers and excited pointed went down the line before I set eyes on the HERMIT THRUSH sat rather startled in a tree.  It soon realised all the unwanted attention and dashed for cover only affording a three second view.  I was still keen for a better encounter and a long period of waiting ensued until finally someone noticed it sat calmly in a tree only a couple meters from the road!  I crawled down on the ground on all fours and spreading myself over the muddy ground and ivy covered leaf litter where I obtained some absolutely stunning views of the bird at eye level, brilliant!  I even had to contort myself upwards from a lying down position as it hopped up into a tree just above my head!  Awesome!!!

Hermit Thrush!

Pennance Point (28th October)

Another brief visit to Pennance Point to check out the still present Snow Bunting and do s short sea-watch since I didn't manage one the day before.  3 Balearic Shearwaters flying west were the highlights and a trickle of Kittiwakes added a bit of interest but other than that only 2 distant shearwater sp. were of interest.  These appeared very pale bellied and Manx seemed a likely possibility despite their relative scarcity on the south coast at this time of year.

A touch of Snow! (27th October)

Another day on patch starting at Swanpool where I was very surprised to come across 2 PINTAIL dabbling only feet from where I was was stood at the northern end of the lagoon!  This is a fairly scarce duck for the area and behaving so unusually really baffled me.  Thankfully a couple other local patchers managed to jam in on them shortly afterwards.

both of the female/immature Pintail

A Sandwich Tern was also flying over Swanpool car park and I later moved on to Pennance Point for a short sea-watch.  On arriving at my favourite sea-watching spot, I was rather disappointing to see it was already occupied by a couple of teenagers so I gave them some space and wondered down the side of the cliff to find another spot.  I'd just sat down when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a small bird flit out on top of a rock.  Raising my bins, I could hardly believe what I was looking at.  A stunning male SNOW BUNTING!  He was an absolute beauty and the thought of sea-watching was suddenly abandoned as I remained watching it for the rest of the day.  Three other lucky patchers managed to connect with it as the day progressed and it afforded reasonable views.  Easily one of the best patch birds to have turned up this year!

1st win. male Snow Bunting!

A couple other bits and bobs from the day included 3 Rock Pipits, 3 Turnstone and an adult Mediterranean Gull.