Sunday, 19 March 2017

Cornwall - 16th-20th March

A long weekend in Cornwall and nothing much planned, I wanted to relax after a busy time at work, watch the final matches of the 6 Nations and drink some wine! But there were a few birds to see and I decided to bird on the morning of 17th before abandoning the bins and relaxing (unless of course something good was found).  So, on the morning of 17th I was up at 06:30 and on my way to Helston where a Bonaparte's Gull (1st winter) had been present on the boating since 5th March. I arrived at the boating lake at 07:30 and there was no sign of the bird but in the southern end of the lake was a flock of around 75 Black-headed Gull and I decided that this was the obvious place where the bird would appear. I waited for 20 minutes with no luck and then decide to walk around the lake seeing Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Chiffchaff and Grey Wagtail. By the time I returned to the southern end a brief scan revealed the Bonaparte's, obvious because of its small size even at a distance. For the next hour or so I enjoyed good views of this diminutive gull as it loafed amongst the Black-headed Gull and occasionally uttered a distinctive tern like call.

On 19th a morning on the beach with Nigel, Alice, Sarah and the boys found us playing rugby - of sorts! Off shore there were three Sandwich Tern, my first migrants of the year.

Bonaparte's Gull, note the black bill, blackish wing markings and neat trailing edge to the wing. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull - Compare the wing and head pattern to the Black-headed Gull in the background. To me this species is intermediate between Black-headed Gull and Little Gull. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull - Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull - Note the clean white underwing and bubble-gum pink legs. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull - This image is roughly to scale with the Black-headed Gull below. 
Helston Boating Lake.

Black-headed Gull (1st winter) - Roughly to scale with the image of the Bonaparte's Gull above. The greater bulk and orange to red bill of the Black-headed is distinctive and obvious. While the dark tertial centres are said to be darker on Bonaparte's this is not obvious. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull - Note the distinctive white underwing with neat dark trailing 
edge to the primaries and secondaries. Helston Boating Lake.

Bonaparte's Gull - Note the distinctive white underwing with neat dark trailing 
edge to the primaries and secondaries. Helston Boating Lake.

Shoveler - Helston Boating Lake

Shoveler - Helston Boating Lake

Coot - Helston Boating Lake

Coot - Helston Boating Lake

Rook - Helston Boating Lake

With time now pressing on I spent an hour on the Hayle Estuary scanning the saltmarsh at Lelant. I quickly found the three Cattle Egret reported yesterday and one of the two Iceland Gull plus a Spoonbill - quite a nice selection for such a small area of marsh. Other birds here were Bar-tailed Godwit (3), Greenshank (1), Pintail (5), Wigeon (c.150+) and Mediterranean Gull (3).

Cattle Egret (3) with Herring and Black-headed Gull - Hayle Estuary

Iceland Gull (1st winter) with Wigeon and Herring Gull - Hayle Estuary

Iceland Gull (1st winter) - Hayle Estuary

Iceland Gull (1st winter) with Black-headed Gull - Hayle Estuary

Spoonbill with Redshank and Lesser Black-backed Gull - Hayle Estuary

Spoonbill - Hayle Estuary

Spoonbill with Herring Gull - Hayle Estuary

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Beaulieu Road Station and Romsey - 16th February

I paid a brief visit to Beaulieu road Station today in beautiful spring like conditions. There were at least two territory holding Woodlark singing along Bishop's Dyke and small groups of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll were conspicuous in the Silver Birch. The Great Grey Shrike showed rather distantly behind the main pool on Bishop's Dyke where there were also around 15 Teal in full display. These were spooked by a Marsh Harrier - the first I have seen at this site. Around the main pool there were hundreds of Common Frog in chorus - a raft of spawn had been produced measuring at least 10 square metres, I don't think I have ever seen this quantity of spawn before.

Woodlark - Bishop's Dyke, Beaulieu Road Station

Great Grey Shrike - Bishop's Dyke, Beaulieu Road Station

Marsh Harrier - Bishop's Dyke, Beaulieu Road Station

Marsh Harrier - Bishop's Dyke, Beaulieu Road Station

Back at home in Romsey two Chiffchaff were feeding on the first insects of the spring, they occasionally broke into song - spring is arriving.



Chiffchaff - Romsey

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Waxwing at Whiteley - 14th February

Having been away in Vienna for the weekend the arrival of a flock of five Waxwing at Whiteley Retail Village on 11th February was rather gripping given they were such a short distance from home. So, on 14th February with a bit of free time in the afternoon I paid a brief visit to see these birds. I found the flock feeding on ornamental Crab Apple outside of Wagamamma and being admired by birders and members of the public at close range. Surely, no birder can ever tire of seeing these stunning birds and certainly the public that I spoke to were inthralled.

Waxwing breed in a band from Scandinavia through Russia, Alaska and Canada favouring open pine forest. They winter south of this range and when berries are scarce in their normal wintering areas they irrupt further afield with large numbers occasionally occurring outside of their usual range. The size and timing of irruptions is influenced by the post-breeding population size and by the abundance of favoured food sources such as Rowan and Whitebeam. The winter of 2016/17 has been a particularly good winter for the species in the UK with many thousands being reported.

Adult male Waxwing, note the white edges to the primary tips and the well developed 
red waxy appendages to the secondaries


First winter Waxwing lacking the white tips to the primaries and having a straight 
yellow line on the outer web of the primaries



Cotswold Birding - 3rd February

The 3rd February found me heading up to the Cotswolds for a relaxing weekend but I couldn't resist some birding en-route. First stop was for four redhead and a male Smew that had been present for a few days on Pit 29 of the Cotswold Water Park. Arriving at around 11:00 I was fairly optimistic that these birds would give themselves up quickly so setting up my scope I was disappointed when the first scan produced no-sign of them - 25 Tufted Duck, three Red-crested Pochard and five Great-crested Grebe were the highlights. I walked from the southern end of the pit to the northern end scanning all the way across both Pit 29 and 35 and then eventually Pit 38 but there was no sign of the Smew. I decided to cut my losses and head off before the rain forecast for the afternoon set-in.

I headed for Stow-on-the-Wold just as news broke of the continued presence of the Blue Rock Thrush and just as the heavens opened. A 45 minute drive through persistent rain did not bode well. I arrived at Fisher's Close but there was no sign of the bird so I wandered to Maugersbury Park where I quickly located the bird on the roof of number 9. I watched the bird for around 30 minutes, it seemed to favour perching on the solar panels on the roof of the property. In this dull light and rain the plumage looked largely slate grey with perhaps a slight bluish tinge. On one occasion the bird dropped down to eye level when the blue plumage tones were more evident.

First identified on 27th December 2016 but by then already present for a week this bird seems to be in an unlikely location for a genuine bird. However, it is hard to believe that such a scarce bird in captivity would not support rings, even commonly kept species such as Budgerigars and Zebra Finch are usually ringed - and why has no one claimed it as their lost bird? The bird seems to have a slightly drooping left wing and some feather wear but such features are commonly seen in wild birds also.  DNA analysis has indicated that the bird is of one of the southern European or North African subspecies either the nominate subspecies or longirostris. I would have thought that most of the captive birds would be of Asian origin where trapping for the cage bird trade is more common place. While its geographical location and rather odd choice of a housing estate would not seem to indicate a genuine bird I can only see that on balance this must be a wild bird.

There are six accepted British records of Blue Rock Thrush as follows:

  • 4th-8th June 1985 - Skerryvore Lighthouse, SSW of Tiree, Argyll. Male.
  • 4th June 1987 - Moel-y-gest, Gwynedd. Male.
  • 14th-15th October 1999 - St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly. Male.
  • 25th October 1999 - Cot Valley, Cornwall. Male (possibly same bird as the Isles of Scilly bird)
  • 14th-18th May 2000 - Geevor, Pendeen, Cornwall. First-summer female.
  • 11th April 2007 - Elan Valley, Powys. Male
Interestingly all these are of birds in the west of the British Isles perhaps making the Stow-on-the-Wold bird a little less surprising in terms of its geographical location although the time of the year is at odds with the other British records. Surely, the spring records are of overshooting migrants from the south and therefore of the same race as the Stow-on-the-Wold bird?






Blue Rock Thrush - Number 9 Maugersbury Park, Stow-on-the-Wold

After getting my fill of the Blue Rock Thrush I headed for Kingsway in Quedgeley where up to 40 Waxwing had been present since the 24th January. I spent a fair bit of time looking around the orchard and playing field with no success and being gripped off by the locals pointing to where they had seen the birds. Eventually six Waxwing flew north overhead and appeared to land in the nearby estate but despite trying to relocate the birds I did not see them again. It was time to head to the cottage and open a bottle of red wine.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Cornwall - 12th-16th January

Sarah, Tobias and I had a long weekend in Cornwall at our cottage at Trowan a couple of miles west of St. Ives. The cottage is located on a spectacular stretch of coastline which is designated an AONB, it is wild, rugged and unspoilt. We were primarily down to meet builders as the cottage needs to be redecorated but at the same time we are going to reconfigure walls to change room dimensions. We also wanted to relax in front of the fire and do little after a very frantic time at Christmas and period at work. However, on Saturday 14th I met up with my good friend Nigel Wheatley and we spent the morning looking for some of the long staying Cornish rare's. I picked Nigel up from St. Just at 07:45 and we headed straight for Mousehole. The target here was an 'Eastern' Black Redstart that has been present since 18th December 2016 and is the phoenicuroides race of Black Redstart that I have not seen in the UK previously. I have however seen this race elsewhere most recently in India on 11th February 2016, see here. We arrived at the car park in half light but Nigel almost immediately picked up the bird on the path running alongside the beach. Over the next hour or so we enjoyed great views of this stunning little bird as it fed amongst the rocks on the beach. Also here were Grey Wagtail, Mediterranean Gull and despite scanning through the gull flock we failed to find the recently reported Kumlien's Gull.

There are around half a dozen accepted British records of 'Eastern' Black Redstart up to 2015. However, in 2016 there were an amazing nine records (approximately), this influx no doubt as a result of the near constant flow of easterlies during the autumn period. There are currently two wintering Eastern Black Redstart in the UK, the Mousehole bird and another at Skinningrove, Cleveland. This latter bird having been present since 27th October 2016. While there are some that advocate Eastern Black Redstart as a full species the recently published Volume 2 of the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (Lynx Editions) treat this as a race of Black Redstart and although typical males are distinctive integrates between the various races occur. Maintaining one species with five races would seem the most sensible approach - unless one simply wants to bump up ones list!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart - Mousehole, Cornwall 

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart - Mousehole, Cornwall 

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart - Mousehole, Cornwall 

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart - Mousehole, Cornwall 
Distribution of Black Redstart races,  phoenicuroides is the dull red area in central Asia (breeding range) and bright red (winter range) - From Steijn (2005), see here

Rock Pipit - Mousehole, Cornwall 

Grey Wagtail - Mousehole, Cornwall 

We then went on to Jubilee Pool to look for the Pacific Diver. We spent almost two hours scanning out to sea seeing four Velvet Scoter, 15 Common Scoter, seven Great Northern Diver and 11 Purple Sandpiper. A brief view of a Black-throated Diver was almost certainly the Pacific Diver but unfortunately the bird was lost after it dived and despite there being five birders present we could not relocate this bird. However, from the view I had there was no flank patch so it would appear to have been a good candidate for the Pacific Diver - one that got away unfortunately.

Purple Sandpiper - Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Purple Sandpiper - Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Purple Sandpiper - Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Purple Sandpiper - Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Purple Sandpiper - Jubilee Pool, Penzance

We then went onto Perranuthnoe for the Hudsonian Whimbrel. After parking at the car park we walked the coast path westwards and on arrival at Boat Cove we found the bird fairly quickly feeding among the rocks. We repositioned ourself to the west side of the cove as the light was better but unfortunately the bird flew and disappeared into the distance - still, my fifth visit and I had at last seen the bird fairly well.  Also here were five Black-throated Diver offshore, three giving cracking views, a single Great Northern Diver and a Mediterranean Gull. The Hudsonian Whimbrel was first found on 15th October 2015 on Tresco, Isles of Scilly before it moved to Marazion on 30th October, it has been present here now since then. There are 12 records of this race in Great Britain since 1975 with the Cornish bird being by far the longest staying bird although there is a general tendency for long staying birds, the next longest staying bird being the Pagham Harbour bird which was present from 9th June to 27th July 2015 2015, a total of 49 days. Again, Volume 1 of the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (Lynx Editions) treat this as a subspecies of Whimbrel but identify it as a potential split, American Whimbrel.

Hudsonian Whimbrel - Perranuthnoe, Cornwall

Hudsonian Whimbrel - Perranuthnoe, Cornwall

Hudsonian Whimbrel - Perranuthnoe, Cornwall

All too soon, our morning was over and it was time to say goodbye to Nigel and head home. In the afternoon Sarah, Tobias and I walked the beach at Marazion and I spent some time scanning again for the Pacific Diver but with no luck but the light was poor. The highlights were two Velvet Scoter and a Common Eider.

On the morning of the 15th I managed a short visit to the Hayle Estuary where a Green-winged Teal has been present since 10th November hanging out with the Eurasian Teal from the B3301 causeway. On arrival I located the bird fairly quickly but during my 45 minutes there it slept for much of the time. t was not until I returned home that I noticed the bird was ringed, unfortunately, the bird was too distant to read the combination but it includes the numbers 08 and an address. Again, Volume 1 of the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (Lynx Editions) treat this as a subspecies of Eurasian Teal but identify it as a potential split. Also here was a Spoonbill, four Mediterranean Gull, 12 Bar-tailed Godwit 45 Wigeon, large numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull and a possible 1st winter Caspian Gull which  looked pretty good but  took my eye off the bird to check some characters on my Collins app and the bird had flown by the time I looked back.

Green-winged Teal - Hayle Estuary

Green-winged Teal (lower right) amongst Eurasian Teal- Hayle Estuary

Ring on the Green-winged Teal - Hayle Estuary

Eurasian Teal- Hayle Estuary

Bar-tailed Godwit - Hayle Estuary

Bar-tailed Godwit - Hayle Estuary

Oystercatcher - Hayle Estuary

Finally, on the 16th I managed to persuade Sarah to drop into Marazion for a short while to scan for the Pacific Diver. It was calm and the bird had been reported off the beach for the last couple of days. I picked up eight Great-northern Diver, five Velvet Scoter and finally, very distantly, was the Pacific Diver - even at this great distance the lack of the flank patch and the dark chin-strap could be seen. I rattled off a couple of shotes, not even bering able to see the bird in the view finder and I ended up with one shite image of the bird.

This is the Pacific Diver or 'Pacific Thing' as Nigel called it - you have to trust me on this!! I think the throat strap is just discernible but it was far more visible in the field