Friday, 3 November 2017

Olive Backed Pipit at Trevose ! Great late migrants at Park Head

With a light south easterly forecast for the day ( probably the best wind for migrants at Trevose ) I was probably too keen as I arrived at the headland at least half an hour before sunrise! Still it gave me time to walk down to my favorite spot overlooking Trevose Golf Course and set my scope up in readiness for what I was hoping to be a good Vis Mig.  A few Thrushes were on the move at first light included a smart Fieldfare but apart from the odd Brambling , Siskin and Reed Bunting there wasn't really much going on. In the tamarisk hedge I enjoyed seeing two species which are common in most places but actually rather scarce on the headland, 8 Long-tailed Tits and 2 Bullfinch. By now movement overhead had fizzled out and with roadworks blocking my normal drive to the top of Trevose I was keen to start walking as I was planning to walk around the whole headland. I nipped back to the car to drop my scope off and set off down the golf course fairway towards some rough ground which can hold migrants. After a few footsteps a call made me stop dead in my tracks, a buzzy Pipit! It called a second time and I picked it up flying fairly low straight towards me , another call was heard as it flew straight over my head I reached for the camera for a record shot , it carried on up to the wires and landed , I couldn't believe my luck! But sadly it either dropped down into the tamarisk or carried on as I lost it to view. This all happened in less than a minute and I felt elated and frustrated at the same time as I am certain it was an Olive-backed Pipit!

  Call - Tree Pipit like but key differences : to my ear sounded 'softer' , less buzzy and clipped at the end , it didn't have that zzzZZZt of a Tree Pipit , more like zzzss .

In Flight - a strong flyer ( more purposeful than Meadow , and in turn Red-throated but no chance it was either of these species). Tail seemed short? No idea if this is a feature but it made the Pipit look rather stocky. Despite the poor light it looked bright and showed a contrast of colour between the underparts and upperparts which was quite interesting in the field, it also looked quite dark around the breast ( perhaps owing to heavy streaking).

Perched- Yes is looked bright , well streaked on the breast,  it had a good supercilium and looked uniform on the upperparts, but that is  is all I got , in my 10 second view I didn't see the black line under the supercilium or the pale spot on the ear coverts , I coudn't assess the flanks either. I was a good 100 yards away - probably too far to see these things. Views were better in flight.

So can I claim it? I think I can , it was a striking bird even in flight , the call was perefect! ( I would claim a calling bird again, I really think the call is different enough from Tree Pipit , I guess it helps that I've heard plenty of Tree Pipits  this year for comparison. I am also confident with my Pipit skills, they have always been my speciality.)

My record shot shows naff all really, but it does show the short tailed , stocky shape I noticed in the field, heavy streaking around the breast , plus you can see it literally flew over my head!

 Trevose didn't produce much else barring a few more finches overhead and a nice Black Redstart so I headed to Park Head for a change ( via lunch at Porthcothan were I heard a Cettis Warbler singing, a nice local record.) . What a great afternoon! Two stunning Black Redstarts showing well for photographs, a smart Snow Bunting on the headland and best of all and totally by surprise a Richards Pipit! A jogger flushed it out of tallish grass by the footpath and it landed in the long grass to the left of the path as you walk up from Porth Mear beach. I didn't chase it in case anyone else went looking for it as I think it's the only Richards that has been reported away from The Lizard/ West Cornwall ( I reckon it will be there tomorrow).

Black Redstart 

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

There were some big flocks of Woodpigeons passing through Park Head, I counted 750

I did have one last stop around the Trevarrian area hoping for a rare Bunting in the good habitat there, but I was happy enough to see a Redpoll and a Brambling feeding amongst finches and Buntings near to Bre Pen farm. Another great day out after I had a very quiet spell in September the end of this autumn has certainly been my purple patch this year.

Reed Bunting

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Nanjizal Ringing and Year listing mop up!

Yesterday Bob and I returned to West Cornwall for a spot of Ringing and Viz Migging at Nanjizal and then a jaunt around West Cornwall to see what else was on offer.

It was exciting arriving at Nanjizal shortly after dawn as it was apparent from the outset that there were birds about. Pigeon's and Thrushes could be seen and heard piling through overhead along with a good number of Siskin. We joined Kester, John, Robbie and Jake, the later two from Falmouth University. They were hoping to catch up with some Yellow-browed Warblers and Chiffchaff's as part of a study that they were conducting on the origin and movements of each species  After the first net round I was pleased to see that there were also a good number of grounded migrants to process and record and that Chiffchaff seemed to be numerous and a Yellow-browed was bagged ready for Robbie and Jake to carry out their study work. Everyone was happy! 

The morning was just stunning with clear blue sky's and little wind. The birds overhead were passing through in phenomenal numbers and it seemed like the Wood Pigeon's were replacing the clouds as large flocks filled the sky over the valley. It was hard to take it all in as I had to concentrate at the birds in hand, thankfully Bob got in touch with his feminine side and managed to multi task by scribing for the four of us and keep an eye on the passing birds!   

The morning ended with 185 birds ringed! An incredible 51 Chiffchaff, 25 Goldcrest, 6 Firecrest (this will bring the Nanjizal autumn total near to 200!), 2 Yellow-browed Warbler. 11 Blackcap, 3 Cetti's Warbler, 20 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Reed Bunting, 2 Redwing and a single Brambling (this happened to be a long overdue ringing tick for me). Viz Mig records consisted of 4 Fieldfare, 4 Songthrush, 13 Redwing, 2619 Woodpigeon!, 56 Stock Dove, 1 Green Sandpiper, 84 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Common Snipe, 253 Golden Plover, 25 Lapwing, 2 Brambling, 1 Little Egret, 1 Kingfisher and 5 Swallows.

An incredible autumn for Firecrest's with many ringing stations processing unprecedented numbers!
It's not often that you get to appreciate the delicate structure of a Cetti's Warbler in Cornwall.

Siskin's could also seen in good numbers and 84 were recorded during the morning.
It was pleasing to see a Reed Bunting also moving through the valley.

Only a single Lesser Redpoll graced the nets, which was most welcome!

My bird of the morning came in the guise of this first year male Brambling! 
After the successful morning we plotted our route and were hopeful of picking up some lingering birds for the year list and we had also received some news that a Red-breasted Flycatcher had turned up at Kenidjack! 

Our first stop was Sennen were we were hopeful of encountering the Richard's Pipits that had been found a few days before. We set off and trudged our way around the grassy fields. I must admit I was finding this a slog after stomping around Nanjizal for the morning! I knew that the only way to get this bird secured on the year list was to knuckle down and drag my fat ass onward. This is always made even more difficult as I am always trying to keep up with lanky git (Bob) who musters one stride to two of mine! Thank god it paid off and 10 minutes in we heard the familiar "sneezey" call coming from the adjacent field as it took up from some rough ground very near to us. Whilst in the area we also recorded singles of Dunlin, Snipe and 2 Siskin. Thankful for the reward of our effort we headed for Kenidjack to try for the Red-breasted Flycatcher!

After a brief pit stop at St Just were I stocked up on energy drink and my all time stamina boosting secret, a Cornish Pasty, we made our way to Kenidjack and spotted a group of binocular clad chaps peering into a group of trees by the engine sheds. We parked the car and made our way to them. I was slightly disappointed to learn that they had not seen the Flycatcher but the finder was reliable and was told it was worth sticking it out. To be honest with you I would have anyway as the habitat is fantastic and right up my street! After a few minutes adjusting my eyes under the canopy of the mature trees Chiffchaff's and Crests were soon starting to materialise. A call went out that the Flycatcher was showing and I managed a clear but brief view as it flitted around in the distant vegetation. After awhile of waiting for it to show again my attention waned and went back to my new favourite stone wall bum perch. From here I had a good view and a flock of Long-tailed Tits added to the excitement bringing with them a Yellow-browed Warbler and a couple of Firecrest. Bob was muttering under his breath and when asked "what was up" he replied "I may have just had a couple of Hawfinch fly past but couldn't really nail them through the canopy foliage" or certainly words to that effect minus a few expletives! A Brambling settled on the tree canopy above us and started screaming in true Brambling style! The Flycatcher materialised again seemingly out of thin air and shortly after disintegrated into the foliage once again. We were both delighted to see the bird as it was one that we had hoped for all autumn and although views were not great it still left a satisfying memory in my mind! 

Our next stop was Drift where we knew a pair of Whopper Swan's had shown up the day before. Whilst talking to the locals at the Flycatcher twitch we were also informed that a Greenland White-fronted Goose was also present! Boom double whammy, we needed to get there before anything sinister happened and we dipped out. Thankfully we made it despite following Bob's gut instinct and taking a back road route. (Bob's sense of direction is sketchy and I often go the opposite way to his suggestion and find it was the right call to do so)! Both species were very obliging and we scoped them from the lay by gateway that overlooks the northern arm. We also observed a Kingfisher and 23 Stock Dove at the Reservoir.

If you are anywhere near Marazion at dusk I cannot recommend enough taking some time out and enjoying this natural spectacle!
We finished the day at Marazion Marsh as the sun set over Mounts Bay. Secretly I was hoping that a Great White Egret would show up as I need it for the year and it would be one that I would catch Bob up on as I was too busy ringing earlier in the year when an individual settled at Helston and Stithian's.  Alas no such luck, but you cannot go away disappointed with Marazion at this time of year as thousand's of Starlings gather in a flock and contort into beautiful murmurations just meters above the car park! What a spectacle to end a magnificent and successful day on and one that will stay in my memory for sometime to come.             

Monday, 30 October 2017

West Cornwall with Reuben

Yesterday I was keen to get down west to see the White Rumped Sandpiper at Gwithian for my year list . I got up extra early and arrived on site at dawn in case the dog walkers flushed the bird, happily for me this little stunner was very showy and very tame so I left it feeding away on the little puddle keen to go back in the afternoon and get some photographs in better light. Next stop was Porthgwarra and on the way I picked up Reuben who was keenly waiting by the roadside. We had a nice walk around Porthgwarra without turning up anything rare. Several Bramblings overhead were also new to my year list whilst on the ground some Firecrest's and 3 Black Redstarts added a bit of quality. The Vis Mig never really got going but we enjoyed seeing some Stock Doves, Reed Buntings, Siskins and Golden Plover.

An obliging Kestrel at Porthgwarra

Stock Doves migrating at Porthgwarra

Firecrest Porthgwarra

White Rumped Sandpiper

What a stunning bird this White Rumped Sandpiper is

Next stop was Sennen and we took our time checking the fields for Richards Pipit but we only flushed a few Snipe, ( Reuben beat me 8 Snipe - 4 Snipe!) . A Merlin put in a brief appearance and on a recently ploughed field we saw several Med Gulls, a single Common Gull and some Lapwings.

Time was ticking and we made our way up to Reubens local patch , the Hayle Estuary. Plenty of common waders were on show as well as 2 Spoonbills feeding at close quarters in the main channel. Finally it was back to Gwithian and we enjoyed crippling views and great photographs of the White Rumped, Pete also came down after work to enjoy this cracking yankee ( and to make sure I didn't get too far ahead in the yearlisting!). Despite missing the Richards Pipits it was a great day out in not so great birding conditions. Monday is going to be the big day!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A lovely walk at Siblyback and duck city @ Dozmary Pool

As it was such a lovely afternoon me and Rachel decided to head up to Bodmin Moor for a walk around Siblyback Lake , it was almost like a summers day as we headed along the shoreline and even the Butterflies were out in force as a late Clouded Yellow butterfly zoomed across us and over the lake. The lake itself was quiet for birds but we enjoyed seeing a dash of blue as a Kingfisher sped past us never to be seen again whilst a couple of Firecrest's showed briefly in the dense cover of the conifer trees. Near to the hide we spotted an interesting diving duck which looked good for a female Scaup , Rachel spotted the all white wing bar whilst I noted the rounded head, obvious white blaze around the bill , slightly larger size than the Tufted Duck next to it, smaller 'nail' on the end of the bill and the subtle grey vermiculations on the flanks. This is always a nice find in Cornwall so we were very pleased! Also I believe it was a new bird for Rachel ! ( although she is not so sure about watching ducks , she is warming to them!). A few more woodland birds were seen plus the aftermath of storm Brian had uprooted a very large tree which showed the power of the storm we had the other day. Apart from this it was just nice to be outside and to spend time with Rach as she is such nice company...

Common Darter- still out in this unseasonably warm weather

Female Scaup - subtly stunning ( note the neat nail on the tip of the bill , would be smaller if Lesser Scaup, head shape would also be more peaked)

Note the white wingbar , rounded head and prominent white blaze around the bill

I don't usually bother with Magpies! But they are always characters

This Pied Wagtail looked stunning in the good light

Red Admiral enjoying the sun

With time ticking we sped across to Dozmary Pool to see the Ring-necked Duck and I was amazed to spot a female Long-tailed Duck! A rare bird on Bodmin Moor ( my 3rd record on the moor, following a drake at Dozmary many years ago and a female type at Crowdy ten years ago.) as they tend to be seen in small numbers each year nearer on the coast rather than inland. Sadly it was time to head home as time was getting on but as usual a great afternoons birding!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Cornwall WeBS Needs You!

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is the monitoring scheme for non-breeding water birds in the UK, which aims to provide the principal data for the conservation of their populations and wetland habitats.

The UK is of outstanding international importance for water birds. Lying on some of the major flyways for Arctic-nesting species, large numbers of water birds are attracted, especially during winter, by the relatively mild climate and extensive areas of wetland, notably estuaries. The UK thus has both moral and legal obligations to conserve both these water birds and the wetlands upon which they depend.

Cornwall has a number of locations that require counters and it is hoped that we can recruit willing volunteers to fill some of these important voids. The areas that currently need filling are as follows:

Hayle Estuary: Perhaps one of the most interesting Estuary habitats in the South West as you never know what is going to turn up! Not only is it one of Cornwall’s premier birding spots but also social spots, as there is always people coming and going at this legendary location.

Helford Complex: This area is a particular priority due to its international importance in the winter months when several species winter here in significant numbers. Currently we are in need of counters at Gweek, Helford Passage, Mawgan Creek, Men-aver Beach, Treath and Tremayne Quay.

Par Area: Whilst not as critical as the above locations this is still an important site for wintering species.

There are also a number of smaller locations that would be ideal for anybody local who could give up a small amount of time once a month to go birding! These areas are listed below:

Bussow Reservoir
Cargenwen Reservoirs and Clowance Pool
Crafthole Reservoir
Gunwalloe Marsh
Harlyn Pools
Mawgan Porth
Merther Pond
Rejarrah Pools
Relubbus Pools
Retallick Lakes
St Erth Pools

For more information on the survey please take a look on the BTO website here:

If you are interested in counting at any of the sites listed please contact me via e-mail at or phone me on 07955216836. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Corn Buntings continued, a reply at least from The National Trust

I have had a reply from the National Trust, which was decent of them but it was largely generic. There was some positive parts of the email which showed that more locals had complained about the Beetle bank and had successfully stopped even more habitat loss ! To be fair at least the National Trust listened to them. My major worry at Trevose and the North Coast of Cornwall is a lack of common sense from management. Nature doesn't always read textbooks, if something works and benefits nature use common sense and keep it there! Speak to locals or at least liase with other departments such as the RSPB before you carry out major work. Don't use contractors or least oversee the work they do. My worry in the future would be these people have jobs and they will never admit to a mistake because they are probably worried about their careers. The National Trust have a big responsibility to care for the wildlife on all of North Cornwalls headlands, including the almost extinct Corn Bunting, step up please!

My reply to them ( due to the Trusts copyright and data protection I don't think I can post their reply on the blog, I wonder if they would publicly reply on Twitter or on here, that would be interesting):

Hello ##### ,

I appreciate you replying to me, I was aware of grass buffer strips needing to be cut as part of the HLS agreement, after all grass and vegetation can become rank and too thick for the breeding birds so a cut is worthwhile. I'm also not unrealistic in knowing that this is a working farm and compromise is the big word, after all the farmers need to make a living off of the land. The Trust's management plan sounds excellent but words are easy and forgive me for being cynical but there is no way a working farm could be so perfect world. However if these words are true it is a nice thing to aim for.

As regarding the ' margin'  in question ( beetle bank as it was commonly known) I would argue that it was a hedgerow? Perhaps on a map it is a margin but it is well over a decade since  this habitat was any different. Did you ever visit the site? It worked really well for all nature! It separated two entirely different fields, one which was left as a set aside field for winter stubble and one which was a corn field, surely not a field margin? I would be interested to know if any of the aforementioned groups where consulted before the bank got removed, as perhaps they would never have realized this would happen when the plan of managing field margins was discussed as I don't believe it was one!

Sadly I am not an ecologist so I cannot back up my feelings that this was a big error with any data ( and I don't just have Corn Buntings at heart, I do care for all the nature on the headland and can see the bigger picture if that was what you where insinuating). I doubt you will ever accept that removing this was a big error, my hope is this , speak to people before you act! It is great news that you spoke to the local birders and agreed to leave some habitat but this is reactionary and after the event, believe me they would have thought you were bonkers to remove that bank. Claire Mucklow at the RSPB knows the headland well and I would hope her input would help on a professional scale . Stan Christophers is the local birder up there, my personal feelings aside he is the man to talk to , he knows the Headland and its birds better than anybody and from when I used to talk to him up there he is realistic in striking a balance.  

Sometimes in nature if something works then it is best left as it is and I worry there is no common sense left in managing Trevose Head and other sites on the North Coast, just ideas and strategies dream't up in an office.  I would love to be proven wrong in this instance and hope the Corn Buntings will thrive regardless of the loss of their home, but please remember that they have had a really tough time in the breeding months for many years as nests have been lost, just a tiny change in their habitat could wipe them out and they are a sedentary species, more Corn Buntings will not migrate here and re-colonise, once they are gone they are gone. When I heard the National Trust had obtained Trevose Head I was genuinely pleased! I am a member and moving on from this I hope my trust in the charity can be regained...



Sunday, 15 October 2017

Ringing Rewards!

Yesterday I had to meet with some local representatives from the BTO at a location not too far away from home. I was looking forward to this as it was long over due and I was excited about the new proposals that the new regional ambassador, Simon Taylor was suggesting. The only snag was that it buggered up my birding day somewhat. This played into my hands as I had been neglecting my local ringing site and had been very focused on bird watching of late. I arrived on site at dawn and opted to just put up three nets and try my luck during the morning. 

The Goss site tails off during mid September with just a scattering of migrants passing through and my enthusiasm generally wains as I start seeing reports of good birds found around Cornwall's headlands and valleys. I have always traditionally had a days ringing or two in October on the Goss, when Bob and I have our week off work together. You would think I would have learn't that it can still produce after an inland Yellow-browed Warbler record this time last year! 

Anyway to cut a long story short it seems as if West Cornwall is not the only place harbouring large numbers of Crests at the moment! I ended my session on 55 new birds with the bulk of the catch being 22 Goldcrest, 10 Long-tailed Tit, 11 Blue Tit and a most welcome 3 Firecrest! I also had a Greylag Goose fly over the Moor which was a first for me. There were also several Siskin's about which I hope will stay for the winter so that I can target them and try and determine where they originate from. I shall certainly be readjusting my focus moving forward to see what else may turn up! 

It seems that I missed a family party of Long-tailed Tits on my previous visits and was splendid to catch up with 10 new faces to say hello too! 

      I was overjoyed to ring three Firecrest on the Goss as they are never very numerous! 

Today, Bob and I headed to Nanjizal to help a newly arrived ringing group find thier feet and take the pressure off their first morning. It started well with a Yellow-browed Warbler (a species that has become synonymous with Nanjizal), a couple of Firecrest, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff's. Being aware of the Hawfinch numbers that occurred on the Scilly Isles yesterday I thought it prudent to play the call near some berry trees that I spied on the first net round. 

I split from the group during the second round, a) we could cover more ground quicker b) I wanted to get to the Hawfinch net and see if my call had worked! 

We returned to the ringing table and started processing our catch and were blessed with another Yellow-browed Warbler, even more Firecrest and a good catch of common migrants. I saved one bag till last and patiently waited for the birds to be processed and released. Just as the group started to relax I hoisted the last bag and exclaimed "There is one more bird to process"! 

I could see the suspense on the groups face as I extracted the last bird from the holding bag. The look changed to shear shock and awe as I pulled out a beautiful and pristine male Hawfinch! What an absolute stonker and I struggled to contain my excitement during the ringing process. 

The bird was processed and once all the relevant data had been collected had a few photos taken and was released on its merry way. Wouldn't it be amazing if it was controlled in the future to see where it ended up! 

Normally species always appear smaller in the hand when first encountered, this wasn't true of the Hawfinch! 

It was apparent that the individual had been gorging himself on a berry crop recently as the beak was caked! 

The tail was stunning and so clean, no wonder the contrast is so apparent when in flight.

The sides of the secondaries had a gloss black edge allowing me to sex it as a male.

The morning finished with a fantastic haul of 3 Yellow-browed Warbler and 2 retraps, 8 Firecrest and a retrap, 31 Goldcrest, 19 Chiffchaff, 9 Blackcap, 5 Chaffinch, a Sparrowhawk and the incredible Hawfinch! What a cracking morning and what will Nanjizal turn up next?       

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Key Corn Bunting habitat destroyed by The National Trust at Trevose Head

As  I drove up to the top car park at Trevose Head today to check on the Corn Buntings I couldn't believe my eyes, I was dismayed to see that the best place on the whole headland that the Buntings use to rest and take cover has been completely removed! The Beetle bank ( a wild raised hedgerow purposefully left alone for invertebrates , wild flowers and birds) was one of the last remaining outposts for possibly Cornwall's most threatened breeding passerine. It's position between two of the headlands main feeding sites was perfect nesting habitat for many other scarce red listed breeding birds such as Skylark and Meadow Pipit, it was also commonly used habitat for tired migrant birds such as Short-eared Owl and Woodcock. However the really big issue here is the future of Corn Buntings in Cornwall , for me this habitat destruction is really that big a deal! Trevose Head is ( was) the last stronghold for this species , ten years ago you could see 40 birds , last winter seeing 12-13 was as good as it got.

The previous land owner was awarded funds to preserve and protect the habitat for Corn Bunting and although not ideal they did work with the RSPB to help conserve their breeding and wintering habitat. In 13 years of birding and monitoring the Corn Buntings at Trevose this is the single worse disaster for the Corn Buntings I have seen. There can be no denying that the National Trust has made a huge ecological mistake by removing the beetle bank. My question to the National Trust is           this: Can you acknowledge you have made an error? If so we all make mistakes. What can we do about it , can you restore the original habitat ?( although it will take several years to regrow). If this in fact part of your management plan have you allocated extra habitat for Corn Buntings in replacement? Do you still get paid by Natural England and the RSPB to conserve and protect the Corn Buntings and their habitat? 

This could be the final nail in the coffin of Corn Buntings at Trevose and unless something can be done we will lose them in circa ten years.

A Corn Bunting perched on the Beetle Bank, the bracken and rich abundance of insects was important in both summer and winter.

The long green strip was once a raised bank of long grass and bracken which was perfect for the Corn Buntings and nature, sad times.......

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Great days birding on the Camel Estuary

Our plan this morning was to start at Trevose Head but as we drove towards the coast it looked so misty and horrible that we changed plan and headed for Walmsley Sanctuary instead as it was going to be high tide at 9am and at least it was dry ! It turned out to be a really brilliant visit with probably the best variety of birds I have seen there this year. It all started with a Bittern I picked up flying across the reedbed in the corner of the reserve ( definitely a Eurasian I'm afraid!) , luckily Pete got on it just before it went out of sight as we didn't see this elusive Heron again... The next bizarre record was a very late Wood Sandpiper. We picked up 3 Snipe flying towards us with a smaller wader tagging along which was obviously a Sandpiper in shape and flight style , as it banked and turned side on I realised I couldn't see a white rump or any contrast at the rear end of the bird and when it got closer still I saw that the rump was barred , now being October alarm bells were going off in my head when thankfully it called and I realised we where looking at a very late Wood Sandpiper! The first one we have seen on Chough Junior ( and quite possibly the only one we will see in October) . As we walked back to the car we noticed a few Mistle Thrushes sat in the dead tree's at Trewornan Manor so we stopped to admire them for a few minutes when came apparent that small groups of Mistle's where flying from tree to tree , so I started counting 1-2- 10- 15- 18- all the way to 58 Mistle Thrushes! A very welcome and heart warming sight to see so many as I had noticed a decline in recent years ( where had all these birds come from? Perhaps Bodmin Moor...)

Back in the car and after a pasty stop for Pete we made our way to Davidstow Airfield , whilst dodging the film crew currently up there ( and avoiding all the security!) we saw a nice bunch of Golden Plover , some Dunlin and a late Curlew Sandpiper , it was so foggy up there that we could have missed anything, it wouldn't surprise me if more waders are to be found , so long as it stays mild...

Back on the Camel and as we had all day I wanted to check all the sites around the Estuary , even Treraven Meadows! ( a site which is pretty good but I'm not really very keen on. ). Pete was avidly looking through a big flock of Black-headed Gulls for colour rings ( he picked up a bird from the Thames Estuary) whilst I scanned the skies for anything different. Firstly I was enjoying two Peregrines flying over the town and displaying with one another when I started to scan across Egloshayle I picked up an interesting passerine with a bounding flight, I quickly shouted directions to Pete as he needed to get on this bird. Reminding me of a small woodpecker almost , it was showing a rather bullish head, long body and with white flashes in the wings I was sure we where looking at a Hawfinch! Pete soon got on the bird as I actually gave good directions and we enjoyed this stonking finch for a few more seconds before it dropped into Treraven Wood, I was actually a little concerned that I could see a bit of a tail sticking out on the Hawfinch which I wasn't sure was right, but a quick google put my mind at ease and we where both super excited to see another Hawfinch in Cornwall ( almost 7 years to the day since my last one at Trevose Head).

My luck seemed to be in today but little did I know I was about to see another quality bird! Pete had gone to Lidl to do some shopping so I decided to walk along the river through Wadebridge to get Kingfisher and Common Sandpiper for our week off... this proved easy and as I got to the Car Park at Town Quay I saw another color ringed bird, this time a 1st winter Med Gull , without a scope I phoned Pete and he drove across , got on it and read the ring in no time, boom! Pete was then chatting to a mate of his whilst I kept scanning the skies for no particular reason.... I saw a bird circling across from us on the opposite side of the river , I thought surely not ! But I was looking at a Glossy Ibis!! Pete seemed a little stunned as I shouted ' Glossy Ibis' ( I mean we where stood in a car park in Wadebridge!) but he got on it quickly as it continued to circle but slowly lose height we lost it behind some trees as it appeared to head for the Chapel Amble, Walmsley area ( so hopefully it will turn up again). The rest of the Camel was still very good and I was buzzing after the last couple of hours! In amongst a plentiful array of waders and gulls we finally caught up with the Cattle Egrets at Pinkson Creek, seeing 5 of the 8 birds present , feeding in a cattle field behind the creek , all in all an amazing red letter day on the local patch! When I least expected it! Typical birding...

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Chough Junior Day One - Porthgwarra and West Cornwall

I'm not sure where the time goes but another year has passed and it is time for another week of birding with Pete in October, we try and see as many birds as we can across the county and we also try and eat as much food as we can along the way! The Sunday of Chough Junior has always been a great days birding for whatever reason and with Pete out of action ( it was his girlfriends birthday so he was being a gent and spending the day with her) I headed to Porthgwarra full of hope for the day ahead...
Juvenile Ring Ouzel - poor photo in dull light but note the pale wing panel and scalloping on the flanks and body

Garden Warbler - not ideal views to ID this bird but note the rather featureless appearance and plain undertail coverts

Although it was a tad gloomy at first light there did seem to be a few birds on the move overhead and it wasn't too long before I had a Woodlark fly through the valley calling as it went... As I walked down towards the car park I heard a loud dry tack call and soon spotted the culprit ,a smart female type Ring Ouzel. This turned out to be one of three Ring Ouzels seen during the morning and the other two birds where more cryptic juveniles ( again picked up on call , included the soft trill that sounds a bit like a Fieldfare). I enjoyed watching one of there birds with local birder John Ryan and it was nice to hear his stories of seeing Polar Bears and Ivory Gulls in the Arctic this autumn including an amazing sight of over 200 Polar Bears feeding on a dead Whale ( one day I will go there ! ). I carried on down into the car park and picked up a larger warbler feeding high up in the willows , after 5 minutes of studying it gave itself up as just a Garden Warbler ( but very welcome for me and Pete as it is the first record on Chough Junior) .

I carried on towards the moor and walked as far as Trevean Pool , adding 2 Redpoll's , Firecrests and plenty of Blackcaps. At Trevean I had a warbler tacking from the bracken/ reedbed which sounded to me like an odd Acro type but I never saw the bird despite spending an hour waiting and hoping for it to show. With the rain getting heavier and the bird having not called for half an hour I gave up and started to head back to the car.... by the wall of the moor I bumped into Mark Wallace and mentioned the warbler in Trevean so hopefully he will get to grips with it over the net few days. It was nice to have a catch up with him and hear about how he found the Amur Falcon in July! You just never know what you may see when your out birding and he deserved that on his local patch considering the time and effort he puts in...

After Porthgwarra I made my way to Pendeen as I had heard on the grapevine that a Wryneck had showed up during the morning. I literally pulled off the road by the Coastguard cottages , had a quick chat with John Chapple and Reuben Veal before walking down the path and seeing the Wryneck within 5 seconds as it sat on the top of a bush! A most welcome year tick and another new bird for the Chough Junior list. Instead of heading to the valleys I had a walk around the church yard at Pendeen ( a very underrated spot and well worth checking ) . A late Spotted Flycatcher was the best thing on offer but it looks spot on for a rarity at the moment. 

The last place I went to was the Hayle Estuary and although the tide was out there was a nice mixture of waders and wildfowl with the highlight being a Black-necked Grebe in Carnsew Basin. It was a great day out and I'm looking forward to tomorrow already!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Ten years worth of colour rings in one day!

Sunday Bob and I had a little jaunt around North Cornwall in the rain to seek out waders once again. We had a great day and although we didn't find anything particularly rare we had a nice selection considering the conditions. However we did have something that in our opinion was probably a once in a lifetime event and of great interest to us!

Whilst at Davidstow catching up with  a third Buff-breast that had turned up in the week, Bob picked up on a Ringed Plover sporting a Yellow Flag! We tried to read the code with no luck and it flew high and into the mizzle and fog that enveloped the airfield. Out of view and lost from sight we made the decision to travel up to Bude and check out Maer Lake. Not an easy decision to make as Bob and I are both obsessed with colour ring reading and a Wader is like hitting the Jackpot! But we knew it was the right thing to do as we wanted to cover several locations during the day.

I guess thankfully, Maer Lake was quite and despite a thorough check by the both of us didn't really produce anything that made us want to hang about to long. This meant that we had time to give Davidstow another go and see if we could pin down the colour ringed Plover. It took a bit of hunting down but eventually we picked it up again and with some gentle manoeuvring of the car managed to read the code VSV. 

Yellow flagged VSV on Davidstow Airfield.
The bird was ringed at Giske Ornithological Station, Norway just 25 days beforehand! Please see map below to get a perspective of the 910 miles that this individual travelled in such a short time.

Ecstatic with our find we headed to Wadebridge to check out Walmsley and the Camel Estuary . We started on the Camel as we wanted to get a look what was around on the rising tide and see what got pushed out of the nooks and crannies. It became apparent early on that there were a lot more waders about compared to my previous visit the week before. Only one small problem, a bloody Peregrine was hunting in the area and everything was on high alert and flying all over the shop. I have a lot of respect for this most amazing aerial predator and Bob is an active surveyor for the South West Peregrine group so we spend sometime in the summer surveying and monitoring eyeries along the North Cornwall coast. That said when you are trying to count and see waders and one is in the area your love and respect soon fades to a pair of fingers being raised in its general direction! 

Bob picked up on a large group of waders heading up river and out of view so we headed up after them. We picked up an estimated 50% of what we seen travelling up river, this consisted mainly of Dunlin but had a few Ringed Plover too. We waited with the current flock in a hope that the rest would comeback and join them. Sadly the Peregrine put in another appearance and most birds were in the air again. Eventually after the panicked birds calmed a large flock of Dunlin could be seen out on the mud flats at distance amongst the flock was a single Stint/Peep. Whilst it did look to be a Little I was not happy that I had checked it properly and did not want to overlook something different. A short while later the birds appeared to fly down to the mudflats at our original location back down the river, so I said to Bob that I was going to check the different bird more thoroughly. He opted to stay where he was in case they flew back up river. I made my way to the location and sure enough there was a good sized flock feeding just below my chosen bench. I soon picked up the different wader and it was indeed a Little Stint which was showing wonderfully.

Little Stint on the Camel Estuary
I decided to make the most of having the birds in close proximity and started scanning through them and soaking them up. Bugger me, a Ringed Plover was present with a Yellow flag, I couldn't believe that the bird from Davidstow had made it to the Estuary so quickly! I settled the scope and read the flag, TZS. Another colour ringed wader on the same day! I checked it again to ensure I had all the details correct and documented ready for submission. Another Ringed Plover ran past and something bright caught my eye. I panned with the scope to catch up with it and it had a series of colour rings! I studied it and read the combination and I was ecstatic, a third colour ringed Plover!

The tide was quite away in now so we headed to Walmsley. Apart from ducks it seemed fairly routine on arrival. We did have our first Pintail of the autumn which is always exciting to see. We then had three little Stints flying into the reserve and land behind some rushes at the back of the reserve. They were soon being hunted by a Sparrowhawk which inadvertently flushed four more bringing our total to seven. It seems to be a good year for the species in the county! Perhaps the most exciting sighting was of two Otters playing and hunting on and around the islands. We had good views for around five minutes before they seem to just vanish into thin air! A most enjoyable visit, but I could not wait to find out where all the Ringed Plovers had come from. As soon as I got home I fired up the computer and was searching for the relevant schemes. This to me is one of the most enjoyable parts!

Yellow Flagged TZS on the Camel Estuary

The flagged bird was obviously again from 
Giske Ornithological Station, Norway and was ringed 38 days prior to its discovery on the Camel Estuary with no other sightings anywhere else.

Colour ringed Ringed Plover on the Camel Estuary
The second bird sporting the colour rings was from a different location! This individual was colour-ringed as a chick at nature reserve Beltringharder Koog in northern Germany at 11th of June 2016. It was seen at Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve at 25th of July 2016 and later on the Camel Estuary on the 4th of December, 2016. So it seems as if the Camel is a favourite wintering spot for this individual and great to see that it made its way back for another year! 

To get three colour ringed waders in a day is truly epic. I always find it fascinating and I always look for the learning in such finds. If you would like to know more about colour rings please take a look at the following BTO page:

Monday, 2 October 2017

Annual Leave Delights

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take a week off work and try and enjoy any migration that maybe happening throughout Cornwall.

I started in one of my favourite spots, Land's End and was hopeful of something juicy to start my week off! I was with Bob and we have found that the benches to the left of the complex offer shelter from the wind and birds that are coasting often pass overhead early in the morning. It also gives you the opportunity to watch the seabirds until things gear up as the sun rises. It was evident that Meadow Pipit were on the move and that things were moving over the sea, albeit distantly. We had soon racked up a good list of seabirds and by the end of 1.5 hours had listed 6 Sootys, 1 Arctic Tern, 2 Sandwich Tern, 1 Arctic Skua, a single Ringed Plover and 4 Grey Phalorope.  We also had views of 6 Common Dolphin and another Minke Whale. What a year it has been for the Cetaceans! Whilst sat on the bench the consistent stream of Mipits continued throughout the morning and were joined by Pied and Grey Wagtails and a good number of Tree Pipits. Bob's super human hearing also kicked into play and he exclaimed "Sssshh, I have something interesting coming" cutting me short mid conversation! Sure enough a clear call materialised from a far. "That's an Ortolan" Bob called confidently. It had been awhile since I had heard one so double checked that I agreed with him by playing the call on my phone. I downloaded a track and sure enough the same call graced my ears! We spent the rest of the morning ambling around and covered the whole area as throughly as possible and ended up with a decent list consisting of: 452 Meadow Pipits, 11 Tree Pipits, 26 Pied Wagtails, 19 Grey Wagtail, 1 Ortolan Bunting, 3 Siskin, 6 Goldcrest, 1 Blackcap, 5 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 6 Whitethroat, 4 Curlew, a Peregrine, 2 GS Woodpeckers, a Water Rail and a Whinchat.

Whinchat on Passage at Land's End
From Land's End we headed to the nearby Land's End Airport in the vain hope there may be a decent wader hanging about. No such luck! However we had a kettle of Buzzards circling in a thermal that had no less than 22 birds! Certainly one of the biggest flocks of Buzzards that I have ever seen in Cornwall.

A Quick check of Hayle Estuary on our way home was a little uninspiring but by this stage we had our fill and could have checked in a little more thoroughly! Waders present consisted of: 65 Dunlin, 4 Ringed Plover, 1 Sanderling, 11 Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Greenshank.

On Monday I opted to go to Nanjizal Valley for a spot of ringing at the infamous location. I joined Kester Wilson and Nick Ward who were both anticipating a reasonably good catch as it was the first day  for some time that the weather had been calm enough to ring. The first two net rounds brought in the majority of the days birds. Blackcap was by far the common species with a total of 80, but Chiffchaff were also about in strong numbers, totalling 31. We also had a lovely support cast of 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 3 Sedge Warbler and singles of Grasshopper, Garden and Reed Warbler. A delightful Kingfisher also put in an appearance! A single Firecrest and 11 Goldcrest suggested that a more easterly arrival was immanent and surely the first Yellow-browed was due!

Kingfisher at Nanjizal
After the ringing I headed back to Helston where my in-laws live and a visit to the shops was required. I took the opportunity to pop over to the boating lake and take a look at the storm blown Grey Phalarope that had been resident for a couple of days. It must have been one of the most popular and photographed birds in Britain that week! It was showing well at arms length during my brief visit and was a pleasure to spend a bit of time with.

Grey Phalorope on Helston Boating Lake
With the weather looking changeable later in the week I thought it best to make the most of the ringing and opted for a second day at Nanjizal on the Tuesday. Again the majority of the action was early on with Blackcap still being the most numerous species however not quite as many as yesterday with a total of 67. 31 more Chiffchaff and 3 Willow Warbler were processed during the morning along with 2 Reed, 3 Sedge and a single Garden Warbler. However the prediction of some eastern promise came true and we were graced with 28 Goldcrest, 4 Firecrest and the first Yellow-browed for the site this Autumn! Well worth the effort at this magical, well managed location.   

Firecrest at Nanjizal

Yellow-browed Warbler at Nanjizal

The weather took a change for the worse on Wednesday so I decided to stay in North Cornwall and see what waders were kicking about. I started at Davidstow Airfield and was soon looking at a splendid Buff-breasted Sandpiper that had been kicking around for a week. The weather was overcast and calm and with little else to keep me entertained I headed for Maer Lake at Bude. It is a bit of a trek but in my opinion under-watched as it turns up good things regularly! On arrival the two Snow Geese that have been kicking around for 2 or 3 weeks were just dropping back into the Reserve. I know they are a bit plastic but are showing no signs of captive origin and are behaving very wild! (They have been added to my year list). A Cetti's Warbler was also in song. This species has not  always been resident at the site so I was glad to hear it again and am hopeful they have a foot hold here now. Sadly no small waders were present which was surprising as the reserve was looking cracking with lots of soft slushy mud at one end of the lake. A substantial flock of 32 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit and 19 Curlew was all I could see on the wader front. I also noted 62 Teal and a single Wigeon. 

Snow Geese of unknown origin present on Maer Lake

Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Davidstow Airfield
At this stage some heavy, consistent rain had arrived! I cursed the weather men as they only ever seem to get it correct when you don't want them too! I felt that I should go back to Davidstow as the groggy conditions often push birds down on to the airfield. I got back to the location and parked up to have a cup of tea and a bite to eat. At around 1.20 pm I noticed the Buff-breast flying about and heading straight up the runway into the distance. I fired the logical side of my brain up and surmised that anything new that might turn up was likely to join the existing flock of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and the lone Buff-breast. I tootled down the runway in the direction  the Buff-breast headed and soon caught up with the flock. I started counting; "1 Dunlin, 3 Ringed Plover, 1 Buff-breast, 2 Dunlin, 1 Buff-breast"! Hang on a minute that bird relocated quickly! A second scan with the bins and hey presto two Buff-breasts together! I was chuffed and suddenly the sullen conditions didn't matter. I headed home content, having seen a multitude of Buff-breasts in Cornwall but never actually getting it on my self found list. 

Then there were two!
Thursday was a different kettle of fish, whilst still unsettled with the odd shower and windy there was no incentive to go anywhere else, as Davidstow was producing and I enjoyed my previous day. I had also seen reports of a Spotted Sandpiper being present on Crowdy Reservoir a few days before and with the weather that we had been having, could not envisage that it was going to go from there any time soon! I arrived at the airfield and  plugged the run way again which was surprisingly busy with birders catching up with the Buff-breasts that were still present in the mixed Dunlin and Plover flock. After an hour or so I bumped into Royston Wilkins and joined him for a cuppa and chin wag. Whilst putting the birding world to rights I picked up on a call amongst a flock of Meadow Pipits that were flying overhead. It called a couple more times and this time a little closer. It was a Snow Bunting but sounded as if it had passed right through. Still despite no views it was nice to get the species on the year list. Royston and I got talking about the Sandpiper on Crowdy and now that the weather had settled and I felt I had exhausted the airfield I decided to go and take a look. I parked in the dam car park so that I could check the whole Reservoir from top to bottom. About 100 meters up I inadvertently flushed a Common Sandpiper and wondered if somebody had made a mistake. Knowing that Crowdy can harbour multitudes of sandpipers even when the water level is high I watched it and as it flew to the far end of the lake and joined another Sandpiper. Whilst distant, I could see that the profile of the later bird was different. Boy did those legs look yellow and was that tail short or was it a trick of the light? The birding gods were looking down on me as a short while later both birds flew and landed at a much better range to get some detail on the bird. I knew that it was promising as the restricted wing bar was evident on the distant bird and it was really handy to have the Common flying along side it as this feature was easy to compare. Once settled and in the scope I could see that indeed the tail was short, it had a very distinguished eye ring, the bill was two-toned and indeed those legs really were yellow! I have seen Spotted Sandpiper in Cornwall before but never one in winter plumage so it was a great opportunity to study it and get to grips with the plumage differences that I hope will stand me in good stead in the future.    

Sadly my only shot of the Spotted Sandpiper!
On Friday I joined up with Bob and we hatched a plan. A breezy start in the morning but getting a lot windier in the afternoon with a lot of southerly in the direction. We decided to take a look at Walmsley, the Camel Estuary and Davidstow and then head to Bobs new spot, Chapel Point.

We arrived at Walmsley and noticed Pete Maker was heading over to the hide and was about 5 minutes ahead. We got to the tower hide and Pete greeted us with the news "You just missed 2 Great White Egrets". Bugger, I need the species for my year list and it had been a little while since I had the species at Walmsley and it would have been nice to see! Lots of birds were present but no small waders which was a complete surprise! After a discussion about the reasons why it was concluded that the reserve had been looking perfect in the week and had numbers of Dunlin utilising the reserve. Between these few days it was apparent that the sluice gate had been raised adding more water and less slushy mud for the "smallies" to feed! Never mind lets just hope that it doesn't fill up to fast if we get some heavy rain storms. Larger waders present included 71 Curlew, 5 Bar-tailed Godwit, 20 Greenshank, 109 Redshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 15 Snipe, 2 Water rail, 1 Shoveler and 1 Wigeon.

The Camel Estuary was disappointingly quite! We watched as the tide receded and spent a good 1.5 hours hopeful of a flock of waders to scrutinise. All we could muster in this time was 1 Curlew Sandpiper (a year tick so worth the effort), 7 Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plover and a Peregrine.

Davidstow was very samey with 2 Buff-breast present amongst the flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. The wind was picking up and it was time to get to the south coast and nestled into a comfy sea-watching spot!

Bob was excited! He had been a few times as it is near his place of work and it was a great spot for sea watching as the birds swing out of St Austell Bay and can be really close when they pass. Sure enough just moments into the first hour and a pristine juvenile Arctic Skua came into view so close you felt like you could reach out and touch it! This was followed by a Bonxie and then a little further out Manx Shearwaters were trickling through. I must say this is a fantastic location and worth the effort of getting to. The wind was incredibly strong but the cubby hole that Bob had found was dry and very well sheltered. We ended the sea-watch a couple of hours later and had a fine haul consisting of 1 Arctic Skua, 4 Great Skua, 1 Long-tailed Skua, 5 Grey Phaloropes, 1 Sooty and 19 Balearic Shearwaters, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Med Gull and a stonking 1st year Yellow-legged Gull. Not to shabby for an afternoon sea watch!

Saturday arrived and I needed to catch up on a few chores around the house and I quite fancied a later start. Once I had caught up I headed to Hayle Estuary again on a bit of a wader mission! It paid off this time as there had been quite an arrival of Dunlin types. After a trek around all the main viewing areas I finally felt I had seen all that I was likely too. It was difficult at times as the waders were very flighty after a Bald Eagle decided to come in and upset everything else about! Sadly the Eagle was sporting jessies and had obviously come from nearby Paradise bird Park! Still it got the pulse racing when I first set eyes on it through the bins! The variety of waders was much better and a great little fix, certainly got me hoping that something of the American variety might be on the cards in the near future. My final count consisted of 2 Little Stint, 3 Curlew Sandpiper, 3 Knot, around 150 Dunlin, 25 Ringed Plover, 33 Bar-tailed Godwit and 4 beautiful Ruff on Ryans field. I also noted 63 Med Gulls and a White Wagtail.

Bald Eagle, sadly of captive origin!

Distant Little Stint

Splendid Ruff on Ryan's Field

Sunday was a day of rest! But I still managed to fit a couple of hours in at Colliford Lake that evening. I picked Bob up once he finished work and we headed up. It started relatively quite with very little giving itself up at Loveny or Gill house. It wasn't really until we got to the opposite end of the reservoir before we encountered some quality. Firstly a Little Stint had been flushed from the shoreline and sailed over our heads calling as it went. Bob scanned a distant shoreline and picked up a cracking Wood Sandpiper which are not particularly numerous at Colliford, in fact it was my first! We also recorded 9 Wheatear, 1 Kingfisher, a 40 strong flock of Swallow and a 3rd Cycle Yellow-legged Gull flew in to roost with the numerous Lesser Black-backs. Well worth 2 hours out of my day!

Monday, my final day before it was back to the grind! I needed a plan to keep the productive week moving forward and if possible end on a high. I knew what to do, a Red-eyed Vireo had been found by Royston Wilkins at Porthgwarra the previous day and seemed unlikely to move over night if the forecast weather stuck! I arrived shortly after first light and made my way to the trees near the toilet block. It had been seen only twice the day before so it was hard to get too enthusiastic about the prospects of seeing it again. I worked the tall mature trees on the sunny side next to the houses for around an hour with no luck! The sun was creeping ever higher so I thought it about time to work my way back to the car park and have a cuppa and a rethink of the plan. No sooner had a got to the car park and a flurry of activity had just erupted. A single observer had locked on to the Vireo and the small crowd was rushing to the area. I galloped to the far end of the car park and had a brief view as it disappeared into the sallow beneath. I need not worry as a short while later it showed again and I could enjoy the beauty of the American passerine. I hung around the area for the next hour and had brief views on and off but never long enough to attempt a photo sadly. The rest of the valley was surprisingly quite and my final list consisted of 9 Blackcap. 13 Chiffchaff, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Firecrest, 2 Chough, 2 Wheatear and a single Whinchat. A calling Grey Plover also flew over the valley whilst I was in the thick cover looking for the Vireo. Seemed like an odd place to get one!

Cattle Egret and Spoonbill on Hayle Estuary
I had my fill and headed home content with my mornings efforts. I popped into Hayle to see if anything else had joined the waders. I could find very little on the wader front of note but was delighted with close views of a lone Cattle Egret and a little further up river the first juvenile Spoonbill of the autumn put in an appearance. What a lovely way to end the week! I had an amazing time, seen some cracking birds and came to the realisation that my year list was pretty good without really trying to list. My Cornish total for 2017 stands at 229 which I was really pleased with as I had not intended to get a big local list this year. I cant wait to see what October will produce!