Thursday, 9 March 2017

Round up of 2017 so far...

I haven't updated the blog in a while so here is a round up of the birding in January and February. 

I started the new year with a days birding around Pembrokeshire with Dave and Paul. The best birds of the day were a smart male Merlin over Marloes, 10+ Lapland Buntings in the fields by Trehill farm and an argentatus Herring Gull at the Gann.
With all the Waxwings in the country this year, I had to go and see some. So on the 3rd January I went up to Brecon where a flock had been hanging around for a few days. 12 had been reported but I counted at least 19 when I was there!


The Scoter flocks are never particularly close to land in Carmarthen bay so a raft of 1,500 or so off Morfa Bychan on the 4th allowed me to have a look through. I scored big with a smart adult drake Surf Scoter about mid way through the raft. Views were unfortunately brief as it appeared to tuck it's head and was lost in the mass of birds. An amazing bird to get on my patch and also my first self-found Welsh rarity!

I got back to Cornwall on the 7th January, and so the next day, Liam, Calum and I spent the whole day catching up with a few good birds around the county. First looking for the returning adult Pacific Diver in Mount's bay. After viewing from several spots and glimpses of 'interesting' looking birds we weren't confident that we had seen the right bird. The tide dropped further so we were forced to give up. Next to Mousehole were the stunning little Eastern Black Redstart was showing really well on the beach below the cafe. Also there was an adult Iceland Gull (possible Kumlien's) on St Clements Isle. We finished the day at College Reservoir to get the long staying 1st winter drake Scaup on the year list and a bonus Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the woods nearby.

Eastern Black Redstart

The 13th was spent catching up with more good birds in the county. First at Gerrans Bay. Lots of activity offshore including 14 Great Northern Divers, 3 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Red-necked Grebes! Calum also had a Slavonian Grebe, which I could get on to! We finished the day at the Gannel Estuary, where after a short while, and a break from all the dog walkers, we picked up the smart 1st winter Ring-billed Gull. Having only seen the return adult in Pembrokeshire before this, it was great to study the differences between the nearby 1st winter Common Gulls and the Ringer. We decided to wait around for a while with hope of Cattle Egrets coming into roost. It was pretty much dark when they arrived, 9(!) flew down river to roost in the trees at Penpol Creek.

Ring-billed Gull (1st winter)

Calum, Liam and I planned to spend the day in Devon on the 15th, but whilst driving up the A30, just passed Bodmin, my back tyre decided burst! So after a quick chat with Dad on the phone, I attempted to fit the spare. After a couple of minutes the spare was on, and the old ripped tyre thrown in the boot. We discussed the possibility of carrying on to Devon, but it was obviously not going to happen. As we were so close, we had to make a stop at Dozmary Pool, so after a quick drive on my new tyre and a terribly bumpy track, we made it and soon picked up the drake Lesser Scaup with a few Tufties. A lifer for Calum! We didn't stop there. We turned around and headed to Marazion, arriving on high tide and our attention turing to divers. We scanned the area and Calum got onto a group of five Divers, four Great Northern and another interesting one. They were very distant, but after about an hour and a half of watching, we were confident we had the PACIFIC DIVER. For comparison there was 2 Black-throated Divers very close offshore. We noted the thin and short billed appearance of the bird, the very rounded head shape and most obvious the total lack of any white on the flanks.Whilst the guys were looking at the divers I enjoyed some pipit chasing on the beach. In with good numbers of Rock Pipits there was a smart Water Pipit and a female/imm Black Redstart. After a stop at Philips Pasties we arrived at Hayle and I found our second Water Pipit of the day. Also here was the Green-winged Teal now fully out of eclipse and looking very smart. I had a walk around Swanpool in evening and enjoyed great views of 2 Yellow-browed Warblers and 2 Siberian
Green-winged Teal

Water Pipit

Siberian Chiffchaff

The Cattle Egret influx continued, with Ben and Max finding a group of 10 feeding in fields by Loe Pool. On the 27th Calum and I went to have a look at the gulls at Mousehole. Amazingly, one of the first birds I got on to was a very smart 1st winter Caspian Gull on St Clements Isle! This was only my second Casp. and a great bird to see in Cornwall. 
Cattle Egret (1 of 10)

Caspian Gull (1st winter)

We did actually make it to Devon on the 28th. But overall, it was a rather unsuccessful trip. We started at Dawlish Warren were we dipped the Bonaparte's Gull for the third time but did have nice views of 2 Slavonian Grebes. Next on to Broadsands where we had great view of Cirl Buntings in the car park including 4 very smart males. We dipped the next target bird, the immature drake Surf Scoter off Sharkham Point. Despite finding several rafts of scoter in the bay we were looking right into the sun so looking through the rafts was impossible. The day ended on a high at Thurlestone with the wintering Desert Wheatear still on Leasfoot Beach and showing very well in the evening sun. 
Cirl Buntings

Desert Wheatear

Dramatic scene from Sharkham Point (note the burnt out car to add to the effect)

The good gulling in Cornwall continued into February. We spent the morning of the 4th on my PWC Lizard Point adding a few new things for the year (Golden Plover, Lapwing, Common Gull etc). After this we headed up to Hayle and after a famous Philips Pasty (as always) we started working through the gulls from the pub car park. I got onto an interested gull and immediately saw it was a Ring-billed Gull! I got everyone on it before we raced around to the causeway to have a better view of it. A sub adult bird with olive green legs and bill and dense streaking on the head. Unfortunately, it didn't stay long before flying over the A30 and out of view.
Ring-billed Gull (sub-adult)

On the 6th Ben, Calum and I spent the evening at Devoran. The evening before I found where the egrets were roosting but couldn't get an ID on them as it was near enough dark when I found them. Numbers built after 17.20 with several groups dropping into a small creek on the other side of the river. As the light faded they flew into the trees to roost. We counted a minimum of 30 egrets, 18 Little and 12 Cattle Egrets!

2 Iceland Gulls (juv + 2w) were at Helston Boating Lake on the 7th. They showed very well, particularly the juvenile which was coming to bread. There was some debate over the juvenile due to the appearance of dark centres in the primaries. These are evident in the picture and also in the field. It wasn't confirmed but it's possibly a Kumlien's type.
Iceland Gull (2nd winter)

This photo shows the dark centres to the primaries. Clearly obvious on the closed wing but it didn't stand out when the bird was in flight.

Iceland Gull (juv)

I went home for the weekend on the 9th so it was fitting to call in to  Wern Ddu, Caerphilly, en route, in the hope the Red-flanked Bluetail would show. I arrived at the site shortly after midday and the scale of the task was immediately obvious. The area is one massive conifer forest and somewhere in this huge area there is a certain rare bird. I sceptically trudged up to the location where it has been frequenting and began to wait for the bird to appear. After 45 minutes with no sign I was starting to get bored so I tried walking off the path and a bit further into the woods. I walked in about twenty metres and quickly picked up some movement. It was a bird. It came closer and sat on a tree stump in plain sight. At first I thought it was a robin...But hang on, where's it's red breast?!! It's the Red-flanked Bluetail!! It showed well but was very active and moving very quickly after a short time it disappeared; lost somewhere in the woods. Feeling very pleased with myself I return to the path hoping for one more glimpse before I had leave. I only had to wait half an hour before it appeared again this time right by the path! Again it's showed well for a few minutes before darting off and disappearing. A fantastic bird and well worth the wait!
Red-flanked Bluetail (record shot)

The rest of the weekend spent back in Pembrokeshire allow me to catch up with the juvenile Glaucous Gull at Fishguard Harbour, albeit very distant on the outer breakwater. Also on the Saturday I popped down the Gann to see the smart drake American Wigeon. It took all of three minutes to find the bird, feeding on the lagoon in the company of 30+ Wigeon and a few Pale-bellied Brents. Views were great and more than made up of the frustratingly distant views of the bird in Newquay last autumn. I also manage to have a quick look at Telpyn when I was back home and scored 3 Tealoffshore with the Scoter! Also an impressive 9 Velvet Scoters in a separate group to the main raft. Very unexpected as I've only seen the odd single here before.
American Wigeon

Back in Cornwall where we spent the afternoon at Hayle on the 13th. The number of gulls on the estuary was much larger than usual made up of mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls (536) with similar numbers of Herring. Calum and I spent a few hours working through them and got an amazing ten gull species on the site. The best was a 1st winter Caspian Gull, the sub adult Ring-billed Gull, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls (ad + 2w) and the juvenile Iceland Gull
poor phonescope of Caspian Gull (1st winter)

Iceland Gull (juv)

A day out birding on the 18th started at Penzance. From Jubilee Pool I picked out a drake Eider, a nice year tick. I scanned across the bay a bit further and saw a group of divers 3 Great Northerns and... the Pacific! It was fairly close and was immediately obvious. I got Liam and Calum onto the bird and we started to get some pictures. I only manged one half decent shot...but you can see what it is.
We carried on to Nanjizal where we dipped the Little Bunting but did get a very bleached juvenile Iceland Gull at Polgigga. 

Out birding again on the 25th, Calum and I headed to St Austell for the juvenile Glaucous Gull seen the day would be a lifer for Calum! We walked on to the beach and waited around... with only a handful of Herrings around it wasn't looking very promising. We chilled on the beach for an hour or so and enjoyed 2 imm Black Redstarts on the cliff behind us. We were just about to give up and walk back when a few gulls flew over and with them...the Glaucous! Nice to see another as they have been quite scarce in Cornwall this winter. 
The next day I was at Coverack (without Calum) and found another Glaucous Gull feeding around the harbour and much closer than the other two I'd seen this winter. Also a juvenile Iceleand Gull as a bonus.

Glaucous Gull (juv)

Iceland Gull (juv)

The final noteworthy bird of February was also at Coverack a very smart 1st winter Little Gull out in the bay. This was only my second Little Gull, the first being the adult I found at the Gann (Pembs) back in 2015!
1st winter Little Gull (record shot)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Patchwork Challenge 2017

This year I've registered four patches for PWC 2017 on their superb new website. Two back at home (Wales mini league) and two in Cornwall (Coastal South and Inland South mini leagues)

1. Amroth to Pendine

I couldn't fit Amroth and Ginst Point into a 3km patch so I had to split them in two. This patch is the stretch of coastline between Wiseman's Bridge and Marros. The patch also includes some small valleys, the moorland and woodland near Llanteg and my garden. Plus it over looks Camarthen Bay which has nationally important numbers of wintering Common Scoter, although they're often very distant. During the first week of January when I was back home, I visited nearly every day. The first bird of note was the 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull that's been around Amorth and Wiseman's Bridge for the last few weeks. On the 4th the a large raft of Scoters had come reasonably close in off Marros and Morfa Bychan. Viewing from the far east end of patch and looking over towards Morfa Bychan, I made way through a raft of about 1,500 birds. It was worth it! About mid-way through the raft I picked out a cracking adult drake Surf Scoter!! Unfortunately, view was only brief and almost as soon as I found it, I lost it as it tucked it's head and went back to sleep. What a start to 2017! The next day I went down to the same site but with no success. Some consolation was a Velvet Scoter and 6 Brent Geese flying east, which are actually quite rare along this coastline.

2. Ginst Point

This patch is the far east end of Pendine beach and the Taf estuary. It also includes the wet inland fields which have thousands of Golden Plovers and Lapwings in the winter. Its on MOD land so access is only permitted on weekends and there are certain areas with no access at all. However, despite this there are some great birds around the area. Some of the highlights last year were, a Spoobill, Marsh Harrier and a Curlew Sandpiper. Unfortunately, I didn't have anytime to visit the site before I moved back to Cornwall so my score will sit at 0 until I get home!

3. Lizard Point

I adopted Lizard Point as my patch when I started university in September last year. During the autumn I racked up a nice selection of common migrants and a few scarcities amongst them. The potential of Lizard Point is truly amazing and it's why I'm so motivated to regularly cover the site. It's one of the few places where you feel anything could turn up, as the whole area has a very 'rare' feel! Although the area is fairly quite at the moment, there's still a few interesting things about. To start, my first day out was rewarded with a good movement of auks past the point, with mostly Guillemot and Razorbills but also a single Puffin! Since then other noteworthy birds have included, 4 Black-throated Divers past, a male Hen Harrier, Jack Snipes, a Yellow-legged Gull and probably best, a *Sooty Shearwater*! I'm really excited to see what the year will bring to this fantastic place.

4. College and Argal Reservoirs

As these sites are so close to where I live, I thought I'd turn them into a patch. There's a nice selection of woodland around the reservoirs which is a really good place for Firecrest, and the reservoirs themselves have good numbers of wintering wildfowl. There's also a small reedbed at the south end of College Reservoir which has had a Bittern in the past, but we haven't had any luck with that...yet. Although College Reservoir is considerably better in terms of number of birds, Argal still have it's moments, like that Whiskered Tern in September last year! I've also included some of the surrounding fields which often have winter stubble for larks, finches and buntings or may hold the odd migrant in spring and autumn. I am currently up to 64 species which includes some nice birds like Firecrest, the 1st winter drake Scaup (which I found at College in December), Med. Gulls and a wintering Yellow-browed Warbler.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Highlights of 2016

Iceland Gull,  Wiseman's Bridge
A good winter for white-winged gulls started with 2 Iceland Gulls on patch at Wiseman's Bridge. A Glaucous Gull and another Iceland Gull were also seen during January.

Penduline Tits, Horsbere Reserve
Birding remained quiet through February but these Penduline Tits at Horsbere Reserve in Gloucester brightened up a dull day on the 7th. The other highlights of the month were the drake Lesser Scaup at Cosmeston on the 20th and a wintering Yellow-browed Warbler at Monk Haven on the 28th. 

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cresswell Pond

American Golden Plover, Angle Bay
A week holiday to Northumberland at the end of March allowed me to catch up with long-staying Long-billed Dowithcher at Cresswell Pond NWT.  This very showy bird, had just started to acquire its summer plumage when I saw it, but had nearly fully moulted before it headed off. This marked the start of what would be a good year for American waders. Almost exactly a month later I managed my second wader from across the pond, an American Golden Plover in Angle Bay, Pembrokeshire on the 29th. Only the 2nd record for the county.

Golden Oriole, Marloes Mere
May started great with a fantastic day of county birding on the 7th. The highlights included a cracking Golden Oriole and a pair of Garganey at Marloes Mere. 

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Gann
Nothing much, birdwise, to note through June and July but this little beauty at the Gann on the 9th August showed that autumn wasn't far away.

Hudsonian Whimbrel, Perranothnoe
I moved down to Cornwall on the 11th September to start my degree at the Univeristy of Exeter's campus in Falmouth. The next three months was spent birding all over the county. One of the first places to visit was Perranothnoe where the long-staying Hudsonian Whimbrel was still on the beach at Boat Cove on the 12th.

Whisked Tern, Argal Reservoir
The other stand out bird of September was this juvenile Whiskered Tern at Argal Reservoir, only 5 minutes from campus!

Rose-coloured Starling, Gwithian

Red-backed Shrike, Porthgwarra
A great day of county birding on the 30th started with the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling at Gwithian. Also that day I re-found the Richard's Pipit at Sennen and finished with the juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Porthgwarra.

Short-toed Lark, St Agnes Head
More scarcities were seen through October. The month started in style, with a very showy Short-toed Lark in the car park at St Agnes Head on the 13th. This more than made up for missing the 
Pembrokeshire bird in 2014.

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Church Cove
Whilst I study in Cornwall, I have adopted the Lizard as my 'patch'. Being only half an hour from campus I can easily visit this amazing place a couple of times a week. The highlight of the autumn here was a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Church Cove on the 15th. Other highlights during the autumn included a self-found Wryneck in Housel Bay, Great and Cory's Shearwaters and plenty of Yellow-browed Warblers.

Isabelline Wheatear, Godrevy Point
Probably the rares bird of the autumn, in a Cornwall context, this Isabelline Wheatear at Godrevy Point on the 20th was the second for the county. This was surprisingly my second as well having seen the Pembrokeshire bird in Martin's Haven in 2013.

Franklin's Gull, Hayle Estuary
Despite the persistent easterly winds through October a few Nearctic birds made landfall here including an adult Franklin's Gull at the Hayle Estuary on the 27th. It spent most of its time in the fields around the town but would return to the estuary periodically. It took me two attempts but eventually it showed well just of off the causeway.

Pectoral Sandpiper, College Reservoir
The reservoirs near campus delivered again with this juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper on College reservoir from the 10th. It stayed for over two weeks and showed very well, down to a few metres at times.

American Golden Plover, Hayle Estuary
The good birds kept coming through November, with Liam finding this smart 1st winter American Golden Plover at Hayle on the second of the year! Also on this day we saw a rather elusive Dusky Warbler at Lands End (my second of the autumn after one at Chapel Porth on the 17th October).

Cattle Egret, Sennen
A great day of county birding on the 5th was made even better when Calum and I stumbled across this Cattle Egret whilst driving through Sennen. This turned out to by 1 of 3 seen in 2016.

Rose-coloured Starling, Longrock
Also on the 5th Calum and I saw this Rose-coloured Starling at second of the autumn!

Green-winged Teal, Hayle Estuary
A day out on the 9th started with a successful seawatch at Pendeen, with the highlight being 2 Pomarine Skuas. We finished the day at Hayle, where, after scanning through a large group of Teal, I picked out a smart 1st winter drake Green-winged Teal. My best find of the year. It is still present and has since moulted in to adult plumage. On the 13th I connected with the drake American Wigeon, in a very unusual setting, on the sea off Fistral Beach!

Desert Wheatear, Thurlestone
One of the main highlights of the year, the stunning Desert Wheatear at Thurlestone, Devon on the 5th December. It chose to winter and is still present at Leas Foot beach! Also on the trip there we made a stop in Broadsands and had great views of Cirl Buntings in the car park. 

Dusky Thrush, Beeley
At the start of the Christmas holidays I spent a weekend birding with Calum in Cambridgeshire. The highlights of the weekend was the female Ring-necked Duck at Paxton Pits and Shorelarks at Holkham Gap, Norfolk. The 11th was set aside for a twitch up to Beeley, where, after an anxious two and a half hour wait, the very smart Dusky Thrush finally showed in the orchard.

Masked Wagtail, Camrose
Not very often you have a first for Britian in your home county, so my first full day back in Pembrokeshire (the 13th) was spent watching the Masked Wagtail in Camrose. Despite the poor weather the bird showed very well. 

Blue Rock Thrush, Stow-on-the-wold
My last British rarity of the year, the Blue Rock Thrush at Stow-on-the-wold on the 28th. The debate about its origins continue but, whatever the outcome, it's still a very smart bird. The year drew to a close with the return of the adult Ring-billed Gull to Llys-y-fran on the 29th. 

Year list: 233

Including 10 BB rarities: Long-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL, Whiskered Tern, ISABELLINE WHEATEAR, Franklin's Gull, Desert Wheatear, DUSKY THRUSH, MASKED WAGTAIL, BLUE ROCK THRUSH

Scarcities: Penduline Tits, Lesser Scaup, American Golden Plover (x2), Golden Oriole, Rose-coloured Starling (x2), Red-backed Shrike, Short-toed Lark, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dusky Warbler (x2), Cattle Egret (x3), Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck and Ring-billed Gull.

Top 5 birds of the year
  1. Dusky Thrush
  2. Desert Wheatear
  3. Masked Wagtail
  4. Semipalmated Sandpiper
  5. Franklin's Gull

Green-winged Teal, Cattle Egret, Wryneck, Great Shearwater, Cory's Shearwater and lots of Yellow-browed Warblers.