Friday, 13 September 2019

August Autumn Arrivals

Autumn Migration is happening and has started in spectacular style! For a couple of weeks heavier migration was apparent as Nanjizal had started producing exceptional numbers of passerine migrants, as expected Sedge Warbler and Whitethroats made up the majority of catches. But the scarcer birds, the ones that get birders out of bed in the morning, had not made much of an appearance as yet. 

My first inclination that things were about to change came on the 22nd of August. After a family meal and with only limited time before the sun sank to low, I opted for a brisk stroll around the nearby Parkhead National Trust headland. Located between Porthcothan and Mawgan Porth it is always worth a visit and is a real beautiful spot. As I started to descend into the small valley a familiar call caught my ear as I inadvertently flushed a Yellow Wagtail from the nearby cattle field. As it sailed over head, I manged to locate it in the bins and realised it was the far more unusual nominate race “flava” as it showed a blue head! Always a red-letter day when you get a different wagtail in Cornwall.  A short while later I had made it into the foliage rich valley and had started to enjoy the brief views of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff, clearly some birds were on the move. A larger cleaner looking bird flitted in and out of view that grabbed my attention. I patiently waited a few moments staring into the tree that it seemed to bolt towards. My patience paid off as a Pied Flycatcher dropped into view, feeding heavily and obviously stocking up for another journey that evening. Little else noteworthy was found but there was enough variety to switch my brain into autumn mode, what was going to happen over the next few days?  

My next venture out was on Saturday the 24th. A 4 30am start saw me and Bob bundled into the car and heading to West Cornwall and more specifically Nanjizal! Not classic conditions but it was the peak Sedge Warbler period so felt it was going to be worth the effort. My morning was already made during the first net round when John Ryan presented us with a Convolvulus Hawkmoth that he had carefully extracted from a mist net. This was a new species for me, and I was thrilled to see it! We didn’t ring a huge amount of birds, finishing on around 50 new (slow for the site at this time of year), but it is always a pleasure to process some Grasshopper Warblers and we also had a single Garden Warbler of note. The real highlight happened during a mid-morning net round. I was at the Trevilley end of the site and my attention was grabbed by a distinctive call that I subconsciously knew deserved my attention! A sharp ‘tshilp’ call with a House Sparrow like quality about it, could be heard sporadically coming from the seaward end of the valley and heading towards me. I cottoned on quite quickly as to the species responsible for two reasons. Firstly, Kester had the same bird a couple of days previously. But more pleasingly I had studied this species quite intently on a trip to Cyprus last year. It was a Tawny Pipit! My first in the county for some years now and I was even more pleased when Bob had confirmed that he “had it” as well! A great morning that I really enjoyed.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth was a pleasant surprise

On our way home we stopped off at Drift Reservoir as it was the sort of weather conditions that has seen many good birds turn up there in the past. I opted for the easiest option and stayed at the car to rest my eyes whilst Bob took a walk around the reservoir to see what he could muster up! The agreement was that we would call each other if we picked up anything of interest. I am not sure how long I was in a comatose state but remember being startled by the loud ringing that woke me! Bob had picked up an Osprey that had flown in and had started fishing, sending the Gulls into panic mode. Awesome, a great year tick and one you don’t mind being woken for! A little while later I had regained full consciousness and was chatting to visiting birder Graham Lawlor, Bob had made it back to the car and we were merrily chewing the cud and scanning around for anything else that might be making the most of the thermals. A bird was then viewed heading in from the west that looked remarkably different from the nearby Common Buzzards. It was broader winged, appeared to have a longer tail and a pronounced head. Most interestingly it was soaring on bowed wings! As it got closer it became apparent that this was in fact a Juvenile Honey Buzzard! A stonker and never easy to connect with in Cornwall. We were ecstatic with the days tally and couldn’t wait for tomorrow!

After the previous day’s excitement, the 25th saw Bob and I bundled back in the car at 4 30 am again and on our way to Nanjizal. Weather conditions were more favourable, and our expectation was for a better quantity of birds. The first round proved our theory correct as it was certainly busier! A good showing of Sedge Warbler and 4 Grasshopper Warblers in the first round! I left Bob and John at the ringing table and started the 2nd net round and mid-way through the valley extracted a pleasant surprise! Once back at the ringing table I made sure a certain bag was directed John Ryan’s way as it was a bird that he had wanted to see in the hand for some time! There was no need for tricky wing formulas to identify the bird as he carefully extracted a Wryneck! It was an absolute beauty too.

Wryneck was an exciting encounter at Nanjizal Valley
The morning continued to produce birds to ring and Nanjizal threw up another exceptional bird overhead. Myself and local birder, Royston headed off to check some nets not far from the ringing table and as we started to return I picked up a wader call that I knew was from something special. A mournful, disyllabic “K-lip” emanating from a Plover. The bird came into view and there was no doubting that it was an American Golden Plover! The bird had been seen and heard several times in the area by Kester and Mark Wallis. A great year tick and delightful bird to see at Nanjizal.

Once back at the table and most of the birds had been processed, I was about to venture off to empty the nets once again but was told to hang fire! The last bag contained a surprise from Bob that I would want to see. Another fantastic Wryneck! Two in a morning cannot be bad? A total of 150 birds were ringed that morning much of the catch being made up of 76 Sedge Warbler.

The 2nd Wryneck of the morning!
Here the bird is showing exactly how it got its name!

A Spotted Flycatcher also added to the variety that morning.
After Nanjizal we were on route home with not much of a plan but then news came out that a flock of over 20 White Storks were over Lizard Village! Bugger what do we do? By the time we drive there they could end up just about anywhere! We opted to head to Marazion, as we guessed that they would hit the coast and then start heading back towards us. A great plan that probably would have worked perfectly if Marazion wasn’t bedlam! Roads were blocked and traffic was extremely heavy as a consequence. I decide that I would skirt around the town and head in from the other end. Again, not a bad plan until the traffic and disruption was just as bad there too! What made matters worse is that during all this upheaval the flock had now made its way to Drift Reservoir and we were caught in heavy traffic and 30 minutes away. I decided to do what any Cornishman would do and took to the back roads not knowing exactly which route would work and ensuring that any passing motorist knew how annoyed I was finding life right now by rapid hand gestures and vocal obscenities! Thankfully it worked and eventually we made it to the Reservoirs just a short time before the Storks started to descend to the banks to roost for the evening. A truly breath-taking sight that I hope to witness again in Cornwall in future years. As it transpired this flock had been seen at several locations on the south coast over the last few days and had originated from Knepp Estate where they are reintroducing the species. More information can be found here:

White Storks roosting at Drift Reservoir
              A real sight to behold in Cornwall! 

The 26th saw Bob and I take a more leisurely approach and a later start. At 5 30 am we were on route to the Goss Moor to carry out one of my final CES ringing sessions for the year. Slightly perturbed on arrival as we glimpsed a middle-aged man in the area. A most unusual sighting in this location at this time of day. After getting some nets up and open it became clear what he was doing there as we stumbled across him and his family “wild” camping in the middle of three of my net rides! Sadly, this drastically reduced my ringing totals for the day however, the pain was eased a little as a Tree Pipit was part of the catch. By late morning we had decided to knock it on the head and try and salvage the day by a visit to Colliford Reservoir and Dozmary Pool located on Bodmin Moor. We started by scanning Loveny Arm at Colliford but sadly the heat haze was so severe that there was little chance of picking up anything of note! From here we ventured on to Dozmary Pool. As we drove in along the road a bird that had just alighted from a bramble bush on my side caused me to call out to Bob immediately! I knew from its size and odd Warbler like flight that it was a Wryneck. Our third in two days! I was even more ecstatic as every year Cornwall sees this species reported from inland locations and I have never had such luck seeing them away from a coastal headland. We had distant but prolonged views of the bird as it fed on the lawn of a nearby remote moorland cottage before perching on a gate for a few moments and then off into the undergrowth and out of sight. There were plenty of other birds in the vicinity with at least 20 Wheatears present and it deserved a better scan. This paid off as Bob had soon located a single Tree Pipit and a Whinchat amongst the conglomeration of birds present. It was at this time that news broke of a Western Bonellis Warbler sporadically showing at Trevescan in West Cornwall. This was over an hour away from my location and despite having never seen the species in the county I decided that it would have to wait for another day before I made the effort! Bob and I continued our tour of Colliford and were pleased to pick up a Little Ringed Plover for our efforts. All in all, a great visit and well worth the effort. The added bonus was that we were home with our families for lunch and back in people’s good books.

A pristine Tree Pipit ringed on the Goss Moor 
Our 3rd Wryneck in 2 days, made even more notable by the inland location!
After an afternoon of chores and cooking I received a call from “the boy” young Reuben Veal about the Bonellis Warbler that by now seemed more settled, pinned down to a location and showing well at frequent intervals. Reuben was struggling for a lift to the bird, had a driving lesson booked and didn’t know how he was going to connect. Never let it be known that I would leave a damsel in distress and I agreed to pick him up ASAP. Secretly it was the kick up the arse that I needed to get down there too and not waste this opportunity to connect with a new county tick for my list! It didn’t seem long before we were on site and enjoying great views of this joyful species. The evening was made even more pleasant as “the boy” went for a wonder and soon got a few of us present on to one of the lingering White Storks that had choose a nearby chimney top as its evening roost, a Yellow-legged Gull and some Common Ringed Plover! Not only do Reuben's growing birding skills impress me but I was dumbfounded by his organisational abilities too, managing to recruit a driving instructor (Pete Walsh) that is also interested in twitching to meet him at a twitch and then have a lesson after. I tell you this, he is one to watch! 

Western Bonelli's Warbler showing well at Trevescan
The next few days saw me tied up with work and travelling! As I was driving out of Cornwall there was some news that nearly resulted in a handbrake turn and heading back home. The Brown Booby that Kester located without bins from St Ives had shown up again with some frequency! What a record and I am sure would have been low on the list for many birders if asked what is the next first for Britain! Also, that morning a Blyths Reed Warbler had been trapped and ringed at Nanjizal! Of all the birds to show up it had to be that one. I have never connected with one anywhere in the Western Palearctic, so I was a bit gutted to say the least!

Blyth's Reed Warbler trapped and ringed at Nanjizal showing the diagnostic wing formula
 I was back to normality on the 29th and after some serious discussions with Bob the previous evening I hatched a plan to get to Carbis Bay as early as possible before work to give myself a chance of seeing the Brown Booby, even if it was a slim chance! From this vantage point I had a view of the whole bay and felt that if news broke, I could view the bird albeit distantly wherever it was in the bay. My morning was pleasant and started well as I picked up a couple of Arctic Skuas in the Bay, a year tick and exciting species even on the busiest of days. The next couple of hours seemed to pass by in no time and although the birding wasn’t bad, I still hadn’t connected! Around 8am a distant bird caught my eye at Godrevy! A Gannet like bird that seemed small and stocky, an overall brown appearance but with a striking white belly! Could this be it? As the bird moved marginally closer, I could see that it was diving at a pronounced angle and showed a pale-yellow face! It was the Booby! Booom!!!!! My next dilemma was that no news was coming out over the regular channels so I started by contacting the local WhatsApp group so that any locals present would have an idea of place names etc and could get any visiting birders on to the bird. Thankfully by the time that I had done this Mike Mckee had also located the bird and the news was spread far and wide!

The St Ives Brown Booby in all its glory! 
A delight to see and witness in Cornwall. If anybody has any theories as to why multiple birds have appeared around and near Britain this autumn I would be delighted to know. My own theory is that there was possibly a food shortage in the areas that these birds normally reside forcing them further out to sea where they have been caught in rough weather and forcing them here. But what do I know?

What a start to the autumn in Cornwall! Hopefully September will be just as productive.

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