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)