Monday, 29 December 2014

Penduline Tit! (28th December)

Now that I think back on the day's events I must admit the possibility I'd chance on a rarity was close to unthinkable.  In fact, I was still asleep at home when the train I was meant to be on left St Albans on its way to Bedford and it was only because there was space for four people in the car that I had to make my own way to Bedford to meet my Grandparents.  Fortunately I managed to board the next train and arrived at Bedford station around 9:15 before making my way to the River Great Ouse for some casual birding.  An adult colour ringed Common Gull started the day with some interest (red AL24, right leg) alongside a Danish ringed Black-headed Gull (...J-06...).  Priory Country Park was brimming with human activity but there were still decent numbers of wildfowl including Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Mallard.  A few Treecreepers were also in song, 2 Kingfishers were about and the Finger Lakes hosted a couple Shoveler and Teal.

Common Gull with red colour ring AL24

I still had two hours spare before I had to head on to my Grandparents house so decided to walk northwards along the river away from the general noise and commotion.  This proved rather fruitful as I came across a rather more tranquil lake opposite the sewage works with relatively little disturbance.  A male Stonechat was the first bird of note, followed by a Green Sandpiper heard calling from within the boundaries of the sewage works and there was an impressive flock of Wigeon feeding on the banks.  I made a short walk to the neighbouring lake, scanned the hedges etc. before heading back the way I'd come.  However, a distant large gull on the waters edge attracted my attention and with hopes of closer views I decided to spend the last of my time going to check it out.  Unfortunately, it was flushed by a careless dog walker before I arrived so left a little disheartened.

It was on my final return that I gave a cursory last glance over the lake to set eyes on 2 Reed Buntings feeding in the reedmace.  Given that both my normal patches (Kings Langley and Falmouth) very rarely provide the opportunity to enjoy these birds I thought I'd give them a little more attention.  However, when it came to taking a look through the scope, I could hardly believe it when the classic appearance of a Penduline Tit materialised right next to the two birds I'd originally intended on appreciating!  It took a considerably long time for the gravity of this to finally sink in and numerous shakes of the head, blinking of eyes, waving of arms and few profanities until my brain finally acknowledged there was really a PENDULINE TIT feeding in the bulrushes in front of me!!!  I quickly diverted to taking a few record digi-scope shots just in case it decided on making a dash for it before I put the news out.  Thankfully, Ephraim was just arriving via car and after what felt like an age of desperate phone calls trying to direct him to the the correct lake (both of us being new to the site) we finally nailed decent views of it again.  It only took a further 5-10 mins for a couple local birders to arrive on the scene, most of whom connected with the bird rather quickly.  As the crowd began to swell it eventually decided to take flight and made a high arc over our heads before disappearing into the grounds of the sewage works, a good cue for my brother and I to leave...

Penduline Tit, Meadow Lane Gravel Pit

the beginnings of a swelling crowd

Meadow Lane Gravel Pits

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Herts patching again (15th-27th December)

Back on my good old Herts patch for the winter hols whilst back with my family in Kings Langley.  So far everything's been trundling along as usual with the same garden birds and squirrels still gorging themselves on the garden feeders.  The farmland behind the RSSKL has produced regular Red Kites and I've made a few more trips down to the canal which have rewarded me with a single drake Gadwall ( a decent local bird!), 2 Pochard and a good passage of 1,000's of BhGulls heading South to roost each evening.  Regular Kingfishers and Grey Wagtails are present most of the time as are one or two Chiffchaffs.  A scan across the valley towards Bedmond produced an impressive patch record-breaking flock of 16 Red Kites, with numerous others scattered about the valley at the same time!  Kestrels don't seem to be as prevalent as they once were but the odd Sparrowhawk has provided some consolation as have the increase in Buzzard numbers.  A few signs of spring are already on the way and thanks to continuing mild weather I've already seen a few daffodils and Black-headed Gulls coming into summer plumage.  Other bits and pieces appearing on patch in the past week include Fox, Roe Deer, a few Fieldfare and 1 Little Owl (unfortunately the tree in which it nested last year has blown over).

An off patch visit to Staines Reservoir was well worth the effort as I managed to finally clock a Great Northern Diver on Staines Res, a site at which I've been eager to see one for some time!  Additional highlights included the Snow Bunting feeding distantly on the North Basin and a drake Scaup also asleep on the same basin with 2 Black-necked Grebes.  The South Basin hosted an additional 2 Black-necked Grebes and Green Sandpiper was accidentally flushed from the causeway.  I just about had time to explore Staines Moor but the long walk around to the other side expended some valuable time.  This paid off with the hoped for Water Pipit which I finally located in the damp channels at the northern end of the moor.

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