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