My decent(ish) finds in Feb 2012: 1 Yellow-browed Warbler Carnon Downs 04/02, 1 Water Pipit Carnon Downs 04/02, 1 Smew Loe Pool 01/02

All recent sightings

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Sunday, 29 November 2009

Pendeen: unseasonal migrants, inflatable rubber rings + more of the usual fayre

After last night’s storm, Tremough stalwart Thor Veen, newbee Will Jones and myself (neither new nor stalwart) headed for a morning’s seawatch from half way down the cliffs at Pendeen Watch. Pretty decent all in all. Freezing our ass off  from 8:00am to 11:30am, despite the sheltered spot we found, scored us the following:

1 Common Tern
1 Leach’s Petrel
5 Grey Phalaropes
2 Little Auks
2 Puffins
70+ Common Scoters 
3 Great Northern Divers
1 Red-throated Diver
2 Black-throated Diver
A few more unidentified divers
5 Bonxies
1 dark phase Arctic Skua
18 Balearic Shearwaters
2 Manx Shearwaters
1 Med Gull
Shedloads (literally) of Auks & Kittiwakes
2+ Common Dolphins
1 inflatable life ring
0 dead cows
1 distant possible Giraffe

Mostly going back west. Not bad for a morning's work. Cornwall ticks in the shape of Leach's, Little Auk & Redthroat for me, and  (pleasingly, albeit embarrassingly:-) for Will - two lifers!

Bar the possible Giraffe and a few phalaropes that must have died en-route, nice to see our stuff pretty closely matching the stuff they had from St Ives, suggesting we're not complete feckless stringers. I'd be suprised if they didn't have a few Bals they're suppressing;-)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Lizard strikes again

Nothing about birding on the Lizard in Autumn 2009 can ever be straightforward. First the Brown(ish) Shrike, then the Green(ish) Warbler. The events of yesterday, are thus probably to have been expected. Tremough newby Will Jones and myself were down at Church Cove, witnessing the aftermaths of last nights Storm. Walking along the road near the carpark, we caught a bird out the corner of my eye, scooting across the small pool and into the dense vegetation around the edge. Something about it, didn't quite suggest moorhen, so I went down to investigate, while Will kept a close eye on the pool from above. The pool is less than two metres across at its longest and there isn't that much to hide a bird. Or so we thought. Just as I approached the water's edge and gave the vegetation a poke, out shot a crake! It flew across the pool, and landed in a clump of dense vegetation on the opposite bank.  BLOODY NORA! Or, more accurately, the thoughts running through my mind given the hurricane force westerlies: BLOODY SORA! Unfortunately, the only features we got on it, were the fact it was smaller than Water Rail, had a brown back, streaked with black markings and a short bill. Confident, that we'd relocate it (it flew less than 2m away into a clump of vegetation less than two foot across), but very reluctant to repeatedly flush the bird, I decided to phone several local birders while Will kept a close eye on the pond. The alternatives to Sora were pretty good too: Little or Baillon's Crake (my impressions were of a slightly larger bird, but very hard to say on such a brief view), or perhaps more likely, a late Spotted Crake. As nobody could make it down for about 45 minutes, we decided to have one more attempt at flushing it, with a view to establishing its identity. However, the bird itself had other ideas: it spontaniously vanished. I walked over to the patch of vegetation we were both 100% sure it had flown into, and absolutely nothing emerged. Either it kacked in the bush, or it serruptitiously slithered away down the ditch that drains the pond, invisible, despite having to cross open ground.Unfortunately, vanished it remains, despite eight of us searching for it until dusk and again this morning. I hope someone finds it again. I'll have another search for it early this week, but I strongly suspect we let it slip away.

Apart from that - a very good candidate for a 'Siberian' Chiffchaff (so much so, that I submitted it to Birdguides as such) at Helston Sewage Works. I'm not totally up on the latest ID (comments on a post card please), but the bird lacked any hint of yellow/olive tones, the upperparts were grey-brown and the underparts were off-white, with a buff suffusion on the breast, flanks and ear-coverts. In true fashion, unlike the dozen or so colly chiffs present, it didn't call though. There was also an unseasonal Willow Warbler (standing out like a Bright Green Warbler amongst the other phylloscs - pp also seen) along with a classic steely grey-white abietinus.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Green(ish) Warbler - part 3

Managed to get down before first light and nail a recording of the bird as it emerged from roost calling. Downloadable from here. Recorded with a Seinheisser ME66 onto an Olympus LS-10 Linear PCM digital recorder as a wav file (thanks to Thor Veen for the loan of the equipment - Dave when am I getting mine back!).  Excuse the rather poor quality and sounds of Stuart Piner getting the assembled masses onto the bird. It was quite distant with a lot of background noise. A mp3 version kindly cleaned by Hugh Harrop using a high-pass filter is available from here. In my opinion very similar to this call of a normal Greenish on the Xeno-Canto website by Wouter Halfwerk in Kiat Ngong wetland.

A recording of a Green Warbler by Stuart Fisher in Kumarakom, India is available here and one of a Two-barred Greenish by James Eaton at Mondulkiri in Cambodia here. Note the lack of House Sparrow like "chirrup" quality to the Greenish Warbler, present in both Two-barred and Green. The Church Cove bird also lacks this.

The top sonogram was kindly created by Hugh Harrop is a high temporal resolution version of two of the clearer calls. The bottom version, created by Neil Hagley is a longer version of the recording. Both are a near-perfect match of the Greenish Warbler sonograms published in the 2001 Dutch birding article by van der Vliet et al, available here (if you subscribe to RBA - you can also get it with the 7 day free trial), Green has a W-shaped sonogram and Two-barred even more peaks and troughs. There are a whole bunch of useful songs and sonograms here.

Incidentally - there are some more photos of the bird here. The third one down initially struck me as particularly interesting as it does suggest that the bird had a more typical Green Warbler wing formula - i.e. P3 and P4 are the longest and P2 is between P6 and P7 in length. In Greenish P4 and P5 are generally (although not always) the longest and in only 14% of females and 9% of males is P2=P6-7 (see Dutch Birding article here). However, there are some more photos in the UK400Club blog here. On this photo, the wing formula is suggestive of Greenish - i.e. P4 & 5 look the longest and p2=P7-8. This demonstrates the hazard of determing wing formulae from photographs.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Green(ish) Warbler - part 2

I got down to Church Cove a bit after first light and the bird had already been found. It had been calling continually, but wasn’t when I arrived. Unfortunately those present first thing, weren’t particularly familiar with the call and were unable to say which species it was. I played my iPod (which I’d also been playing in the car on the way down) to a few present, and most people seemed to think it was closer to Greenish, but few were willing to commit with 100% certainty. I heard it call once in flight, to me it sounded more like Greenish, but hard to tell on one call. Those who’d seen it initially suggested that the bird had quite a distinctive yellow wash to the underparts, supporting Green. For the next few hours, it showed briefly at intervals up in the canopy, generally in quite poor light as it became very misty. I saw it quite well on a number of occasions –  in all of the views I got, it looked very lacking in yellow, the supercilium had a hint of very pale yellow (but no more than this one) and the wing-bar (strong) looked creamy. Had I seen it without prior knowledge of it being a possible Green, I would quite happily have passed it off as being a bog-standard Greenish (obviously after eliminating Arctic). The only slight oddity was that it looked a bit drab, or dingy below. Others commented on seeing a yellow wash to the bird under certain lighting conditions, but I just didn’t get this at any time.  However, the tone of the bird did seem to vary quite a lot dependant on how silhouetted it was. During the morning, I also heard it call again once, and again in my opinion it sounded a bit odd, but more like Greenish. We also gave it a bit of Rare Eastern Vagrants on the iPod and seemed to get a bit of a behavioural response from Greenish and not Green, but not really enough of one to say anything important about this. I voiced in my opinions on the appearance and call at the time and didn’t really receive any resistance, but was very mindful of the fact that others had seen it in better light before I got there. I did phone RBA though, stressing that I wasn’t 100% sure, but that I thought it was a bog-standard Greenish and as such, a drive across the country probably wouldn’t be worth it. I should also add that my field experience of this group is very limited – I’ve found 3 Greenish Warblers in Norfolk in the last three years (which I obviously grilled closely) and have seen two others, but have never seen Green or Two-barred and have never seen Greenish abroad.

The bird then disappeared for several hours. Most people stayed on, as all of us were unsatisfied with the lighting conditions under which we had seen the bird and only one or two voiced opinions on the call. Fortunately it was relocated about mid-afternoon after the mist had cleared and showed well (or as well as a phyllosc can) for about 20 minutes, and was seen by the 30 or so  birders present. It then became quite obvious the bird really didn’t have distinctive yellow wash to the underparts and the throat etc. The supercilium was indeed washed with a very pale lemon-yellow, but in my opinion, pretty standard for Greenish Warbler. The wing-bar was strong, but creamy rather than yellow-tinged and the throat and face lacked a distinctive yellow wash to suggest Green (at most only a hint of pale yellow). Other observers, including one person who got it through a telescope noted that the supercilium did not meet in front of the eye, which is a pro-, but my no means definitive Green rather than Greenish feature. I missed this, but I completely believe that this was the case.

In short, I appreciate that they can be very tricky to identify at times, but to me the real question is, was there anything to suggest it was a Green rather than Greenish? I appreciate that both would be rare in Cornwall, but personally I just didn’t see anything at any point that made me think anything other than Greenish. I would welcome comments from anybody else who saw it today, particularly if you heard it (I missed it both times when it was calling continually). Also, if anybody with field experience from Asia has any thoughts I would be interested to hear them.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Green(ish) Warbler

A bit of a frustrating day today. I was down at Church Cove fairly early morning, but didn’t give it a very thorough search as I bumped into another birder who had just given the area a blast without seeing much. I did encounter a flock of phylloscs upon arrival and glimpsed one which appeared to have a shortish tail, but my bins were steamed-up, so I went back to the car to get a cloth to clean them and could only relocate a firecrest, which I assumed it to be. After a blast of the Housel drinking pools and the Youth Hostel gardens (nowt bar a Black Redstart) I headed home. Shortly after getting there, I got a text from Tony – “Greenish reported church cove by end house mariners cottage”. Ouch! Realising the date (and hence the possibilities) – I decided to head straight back. I arrived at about the same time as Andy and a few visiting birders. No sign for a couple of hours, but news trickled through that it might be a Green Warbler. Double ouch! As the bird hadn’t been seen I was confused as to how the bird had changed identity, so phoned Stuart Piner at RBA to find out the story. Found by a visiting birder from Cambridge – one Mr Poyser. I relocated the bird while actually on the phone to Stu (who says blokes can’t multi-task!), but decided on single-tasking and hung-up before getting the full story. Myself and about five other birders managed reasonable views, but in very poor light. I gave it a blast of Rare Eastern Vagrants on my iPod, but it didn’t respond to either, nor did it call. To me it seemed very fresh – clean white underneath rather than yellow, but with a bit of yellow in the supercilium. Based on my views, I’d lean towards Greenish rather than Green, but the light was appalling and I'm sure the original finders would have seen it much better. No hint of a second wing-bar that I could make out. Certainly one of the "Green(ish)" super-species rather than a wing-barred Willow though. It was favouring the trees around the pool near the carpark rather than the bushes down by Mariners cottage and crossing over to the graveyard on occasion. I’ll be down first light tomorrow to try and get better views. A very late date for a Greenish!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Expect the unexpected

Thursday morning saw Thor Veen and yours truly down at Church Cove for yet another pre-work blast of the bushes. First light, mid-October, a light south-easterly, overcast conditions and a fair few grounded migrants. Just right for something from the east: Red-throated Pipit, Red-flanked Bluetail? The possibilities were endless. It was therefore with an air of expectation that I checked the trees around the pond at Church Cove. What would it be? Taiga Flycatcher? Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler? Redstart or Yellow-browed more likely. Some interesting passerine if anything at all. What I certainly didn’t expect, is what I saw: a roosting Cattle Egret! WTF? Unfortunately it saw me at around the same time as I saw it and it decided to depart. Even more unfortunately, Thor “was trying his luck in the graveyard” (his words, not mine), and missed it, despite my attempts to call him as it flew over him. It just goes to show though: you never can predict what’s about.

PS. Discovered shortly afterwards that it may have been in the area for several days, but in true Lizard fashion was suppressed. I decided to follow this example, only informing a few local birders. If roosting in the area, it would have been horribly prone to disturbance (as I inadvertently discovered myself). I’ve checked several times and I don’t think it’s roosting there anymore. Bound to be around somewhere though....

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Humble beginnings?

I was curious to note that Kate Humble has been elected as the new president of the RSPB (see here). Needless to say, a position of gravitas and levity. But what's that I spy? That couldn't possibly be the new president cavorting naked in front of the camera could it?

Friday, 9 October 2009

More on Brown Shrikes

Having done a fair bit of reading over the last few days and having received many helpful comments from other birders, I now feel a bit better qualified to comment on the identification of this shrike. In short, I think it is a Brown Shrike, intend to submit a description to the BBRC, but suspect that we may not quite have enough to get it through. The only sure fire way to clinch these buggers is on wing-formula (see right - click on image to see it properly ). Actually, the Lizard bird represents a bit of a test case as to whether these birds can be accepted without in-hand measurements or clear photographs of the primaries (devine revenge for my post about field notes?). Typically Brown has 4-5 exposed primaries, Izzy 6-7 and Red-backed 7-8. Note - all these figures include P2, which isn't always visable. Overall, this generally leads to an impression of shorter primary projection in Brown Shrikes (a feature of our bird), but note how this is partly due to the wing formula. Also compare here and here to see why I think estimating primary projection in the field can be subjective (both photos are of the same Red-backed Shrike).

First-off, a bit of an overview of taxonomy of this and the confusion taxa. Basically there are four or maybe three races of Brown Shrike (the nominate (
cristatus), lucionensis, superciliosus and confuses.
The last one isn’t diagnosable and may represent an integrade between cristatus and lucionensis. Only cristatis is likely to get here (the others are mega far-east) and has breeding and wintering grounds overlapping with e.g. Radde's Warbler. Many of the typical Brown Shrike features (e.g. long tail) are accentuated in the eastern races, so those of you familar with Brown Shrikes from the far-east may not appreciate the extent to which they can be quite similar to other shrike species. There are four races of Isabelline Shrike. It all becomes bit of a 'mare naming them, as the old type specimen was attributed to a different race, so that race became the nominate (see Pearson 2000 Bull. B.O.C - also here). However, it’s also been argued that Pearson’s changes are not valid as the type was actually a hybrid (Panov 2009, Sandgrouse), so it might change again. I’ll stick to Pearson, in which case we have isabellinus (Daurian Shrike), phoenicuroides (Turkestan Shrike) and aranarius and tsadamensis. Only isabellinus and phoenicuroides are serious vagrancy cabdidates as the others are short-distance migrants from the far-east. Red-backed shrikes comprise three taxa: the nominate collurio (Europe), pallidifrons (Siberia) and kobylini (Caucasus and Crimea). The fourth: juxtus was the British type that’s now extinct. Anyway there's some good photos of eastern Shrikes here even though most represent races unlikely to get here.

Second-off – why is almost certainly not a red-backed shrike? Firstly, very few 1st winters or females have very dark, almost black ear coverts (see here for a typical one). However, red-backed shrikes, especially the eastern ones are a very variable and some females can look very like males. Males have black ear-coverts, and male-type females do too. It's conceivable that the odd female or juvenile does get quite dark, like the Scillies bird last year, which had a typical Red-backed Shrike wing-formula (see here - you'll need to login to surfbirds though - browner than ours though). More importantly - 1st year shrikes of both Brown and Red-backed have distinct pale fringes to the tertials (and greater coverts) and adults (second years?) only rarely do. This feature was noted in the field by several observers, suggesting our bird was a 1st winter. Other features in support of it being a first-year was the barring on the upper-tail coverts observed in the field. Adults also generally have darker-based bills and dark lores. 1st winter Red-backed Shrikes always have distinct heavy streaking on the back, lacking on Brown. The photos show only feint streaking and from field observations I'm confident that heavy streaking was lacking. Another feature in favour of Brown, was the observed clear-cut and bolder fringing on the coverts (see here - again login to surfbirds). The bird on top is a Brown, the lower Red-backed). Other supporting features in favour of Brown are the general tone of the bird and the lack of obvious grey nape.

This leaves isabellinus (Daurian Shrike) or phoenicuroides(Turkestan Shrike). I think the general tones of the bird rule out Daurian Shrike. They never really look anything like our bird. I think the serious sticking point is whether the bird was an usually brown Turkestan Shrike lacking the typical rusty tail, the latter being the very reliable feature, alhtough often this can be a bit subtle - see here for an example). In the field, I saw no evidence of an obvious rusty tail. The photos suggest the uppertail coverts and rump are slightly rusty and do show some contrast with the mantle, but the lower tail appears much browner. This is a pattern quite normal in brown shrikes, and not evident in photos of Isabelline Shrikes I've seen. Whether it's entirely unprecedented, I'm not sure of though. Two other features strongly suggestive of Brown over Turkestan are the very dark-brown ear coverts and very obvious pale supercilium. Again, I'm yet to see photos of a bird of either race with such a distinct supercilium, but welcome comments to the contrary.

Anybody who fancies a bit of further reading - I thoroughly recommend Tim Worfolk's article in Dutch Birding (2000, 22:323-362).

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Possible Brown Shrike

First found by Tony Blunden (involved in the Brown that was on the Scillies). Managed to get down with Thor Veen who took these photos. Sorry about the quality - the bird was distant and the photos have been heavily cropped. Click on photos for a larger version

Would be interested in any thoughts on its ID. Looks quite good for Brown to me, but I do have reservations - e.g the squareness of the tail and the paleness of the lores - (although tail appears rounded on the left hand side). Will comment more and post fieldnotes in due course. Any comments welcome though.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Can you guess what it is yet?

I rarely post my own photos and the picture opposite is the reason why I tend to stick to field notes! Shameful isn't it? Really need to get a lens for my camera soon.

A coconut for anybody who can actually guess what it is. The only clue I'll give you (apart from the very obvious one above) is that it was on Predannack Airfield, I found it today and it is a long overdue self-found lifer for me. Actually the first I've had since moving to Cornwall.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Sour grapes or field craft?

Before I start, I should probably make it clear that the following is undoubtedly the former, as I haven’t got round to buying a decent lens for my camera. Stay with me take on one of the prevailing arguments in birding:

Birders these days, exercise their hobby in an era of digipics and instant news. Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like back in day when, if you found a rare bird, the best you could do to get the news out would be to sprint to a phonebox and call a few birding mates, who would probably be out birding anyway. If you wanted to silence the sceptics, you had to hope that news filtered out and that the bird would stick around for fellow birders to see it. If you lived on Lewis, that probably meant about six months later. The only real way to get around that problem was to get pretty handy at taking field notes. Well, you could blast the bird in question out of the sky or bush, but for some reason, that became unfashionable about the turn of the century. These days though, nobody seems to bother with notes. One call to RBA or Birdguides and the pagering masses arrive and digi-snap and the entire country can see your bird, so why bother? Why indeed? The human brain is more subjective than the camera lens, and more prone to error.

I suppose there isn’t a need really, but I can’t help wondering if birders are losing some of their field craft and not looking at birds as closely as in the good old days. I wonder how many modern-era birders could actually sit down and accurately describe the entire plumage of a Blue Tit? OK – doesn’t really matter – easy to ID, but what about a Gropper? They’re pretty common down this way, but in all honesty, I haven’t attempted to track-down that many reels to their source and bar the classic diagnostic features, how well-equipped would I actually be to deal with a Lancy or a PG tips in the field? I find that drawing a bird and taking notes helps we look at birds more closely, which brings me on to the real reason for this post:

Yesterday afternoon, after a good thrash of the Lizard, I stumbled across an Ortolan. Almost certainly the one seen previously about a mile or so away, but nevertheless, the incident had that element of surprise that one normally associates with finds. It was a very obliging bird indeed, sitting out in the open for long periods, permitting close scrutiny, even though when it did to decide to fly it didn't like returning to the same place. A great bird to enjoy out in the sunshine on my own and so much better than twitching one at Cley. I could have got a mediocre digipic through by bins with my phone, but to be honest I really didn’t see the point. Even an Ivory-billed Woodpecker researcher could have put it to shame and much better ones already existed. It did offer a really good opportunity to get back to ye good olde days of taking field notes though. I’ve attached my best efforts with the view that, even if a bit grubby, public airing of laundry isn’t entirely bad.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A decent seawatch and an overdue account of my Pec Sand find

Although I missed out on Hurricane Bill's spectacular at Pendeen, due to work commitments, I did manage an hour and half off Lizard Point yesterday late afternoon. Things started off well when a Puffin, almost the first bird I saw, flew east. Less than a minute later a Sooty Shearwater flew west suggesting I was in for a good un. I soon scored another Sooty, but was distracted by a fishing boat chugging east with large numbers of gulls in its wake. I thought I saw a Sabine's Gull in amongts the gulls, but was distracted for a few minutes by several petrels also in the wake, one of which appeared not to have a white underwing stripe - too distant to be sure. Any scouring back through the gulls, I noticed there were actually two juv Sabine's Gulls. Around the same time. two more Sooty Shearwaters flew past. A good haul for 20 minutes! A texted Andy and Tony, neither of whome could make it down, but actually things got quieter. The next hour or so produced a steady trickle of Manxies, Fulmars and Gannets, 1 Balearic Shearwater (W), another Sooty Shearwater (W), 1 Bonxie (E) and few more petrels, most of whch were stormies, the rest of which were unidentified. Last decent sighting of the day was an Ocean Sunfish flapping its dorsal as it drifted slowly past.

I've been out birding a a few times over the last couple of weeks, including a trip back to my old stomping grounds in Norfolks, but aside from Garganey (Cantley Sugar Beet Lagoons), Spoonbill (the long resident bird at Cley) and Green & Curlew Sands (Cley & Rushhill), I didn't see much and havent updated the blog. I should have really updated it for Pectoral Sandpiper though. Late afternoon on the 14th of August, after a scouring the Marazion reedbeds for Aquatic Warbler & Spotted Crake to no avail, saw me scanning the waders on Marazion Beach. As I walked towards the causeway to St Michaels Mount, I noticed bird which stood out from the Dunlin by being slightly taller and having greenish legs. A closer look revealed the classic pale saddle stripes, clean white belly and breast streaking tapering to a neat point. A Pec Sand! Rather early for a juvenile. After watching it for about 10 minutes and taking a few field notes I decided to text a few locals and ring Birdguides. While on the phone, a dog walker scared all the waders off, and unfortunately, although I saw where most of them went, I lost track of the Pec Sand. I walked down to where most of the waders were. What followed, is an embarrassing incident - one which I’d rather forget about, and one which I could attribute to the fading light, but really there’s no excuse! Just as Dave Parker was arriving, I located the group of dunlin that were flushed and immediately noticed one with clean white underparts and fairly clear pale saddle markings. I thought I’d got back on the Pec, and informed him it was there. He looked at the bird more closely in my scope and said he could only see Dunlin. I looked at it more closely and could only see Dunlin too! I thought the bird had moved in the mean time, but it hadn’t. I’d mistaken the Dunlin for a Pec Sand. I actually began questioning whether I’d completely cocked things up first time round. Then I remembered the legs and no – the bird I’d first seen definitely had noticeably greenish-yellow legs and the “Dunlin” definitely had dark legs. Fortuitously both my notes and the extremely poor snap I took through my phone confirm this, along with some pretty obvious structural differences (I was quite relieved when I got home and double checked though!) I set of in search of the bird on other parts of the beach, but in the event, the fading light defeated a relocation.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Wilson's Petrel & Hoopoe

Wilson's Petrel - Thor Veen

After a quiet Spring, it was great to get Autumn off to an excellent start. First off, yesterterday (1st August) saw Thor Veen & Arjen Van t'Hof and myself set off at the ludicrously early hour of 3:00 am to St Ives to join several other local birders on a fishing boat pelagic organised by Paul Freestone from Cornwall birding. About seven miles out, after stirling work by Roysten on the chum and fishing (I never knew Mackerel were attracted to chum), the shout went up - Wilson's Petrel! A lifer for me! After getting on the first, I happened to notice there were two and reckon I just got in there with the shout, so I suppose I can even have it self-found, although in all honesty credit goes to Paul for organising the trip and the albatross crew & Thor for shouting the first. Final haul for the morning also included stonking views of Bal Shear, about 30 stormies, two Arctic Skuas, 3 Common Terns, an Arctic Tern, 3 Puffins, a large shearwater spp, a Med Gull, an Ocean Sunfish & two Risso's Dolphins.

Second off - today saw myself down at Windmill Farm on the Lizard. Walking back to the van after a fruitless visit to Ruan Pool, I heard what sounded very much like a Hoopoe. It being early August, not April and Cornwall, not Spain, I didn't really believe my ears, but after about a 10 minute search of the adjacent fields, sure enough, up flew a Hoopoe heading towards the goat willow. Seem to have developed a habit of getting out of season migrants. In true fashion, after reaching for my camera in an attempt to digibin it, it buggered off towards Predannack Airfield and I couldn't relocate it, despite searching for about an hour. I gave up on it and headed for a seawatch, which produced Bonxie and common tern, which were notable only insofar as both were, rather embarrassingly, patch ticks.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Other Lizard Wildlife

Summer can be fairly slow for birds, so here's a sample of some other Lizard wildlife snapped with the phone cam (hence the poor quality). Not too great on non-birdy IDs, think I've got them all right now, but any comments welcome. Cheers Tony & James for putting me right

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Bog Asphodel

Four-spotted Chaser

Slender Club-Rush

Green-winged Orchid

Saturday, 18 July 2009

July sightings

July is generally a quiet month, but as proved quite good at least insofar as I've seen a noteworthy bird almost evertime I've been out. It started with a Storm Petrel fluttering past Lizard Point on the 7th, with a Balearic Shearwater past there on the 12th offering nice comparisons with the Manxie it was with. There also seems to be quite a few Med Gulls around, with two 1st winters at Swanpool on the 9th and a near-adult on the Penryn River on the 18th and loads reported elsewhere in Cornwall. Apparently a very good breeding season on the continent. Wader numbers picking-up too, with a Green Sandpiper on Ruan Pool on the 17th and a Greenshank on the Penryn River on the 15th and 18th. Curlew and Redshank increasing in numbers there, with about 20 of each, but no other wader species bar a Common Sand

Monday, 13 July 2009


I've never been the biggest fan of sea-watching in the past. I've done, my bit and scored stuff like Cory’s in Norfolk, but I don’t really have the patience to sit there for hours on end waiting for the unlikely to happen. Somehow in Cornwall, sea-watching takes on a more appealing dimension. I suppose the main reason is that you're far more likely to actually find a decent bird. 710 Cory’s flew past Lizard Point in 6 hours last year and you’ve actually got an outside chance of scoring a Fea’s. I think another reason its appealing at the moment, is that there's Scottish Football Association else around at tis time of year, but July is actually the peak month Cory’s. To be honest though, thus far, my struck rate with rare passerines has been nil (hence the lack of updates) and so far and virtually everything noteworthy I’ve found has been at sea: Sab Gull in April (the 1st British spring record for several years) and more recently Bal Shear & Storm Petrel – common birds here, but novel enough for me to keep me interested. Anyway – as a guide to what to go for when and how likely you are to score have a look at the charts above (click on it for a legible version). Numbers are mean number of records per day in Cornwall based on submissions to Birdguides.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A week in Menorca

Balearic Woodchat Shrike - note the absence of white primary patch and more extensive black on the crown (photo courtesy of Dave Appleton -

One of the perks of being a professional ecologist is that you occasionally swan off to international conferences. I've just come back from a week in Menorca, and although it wasn't a birding trip I did manage a few of the resident highlights including, Audoin's Gull, Gypo Vulture (x3), Bee-eaters (x5), Black Kite (x8), Hoopoe, loads of Calandra & Thekla Larks and Zitting Cists, a Stone Curlew and a Balearic Woodchat Shrike. Some of these are exactly the kind of thing I'd hope to find on The Lizard this Spring, but almost certainly won't. Speaking of vagrancy - it was interesting to see that a Bal Woodchat turned-up in Ireland shortly after I returned. This got me thinking. These badius boys regularly fly over the range of senator in North Africa and goodness knows how many make it to Spain? Why don't they interbreed? Surely a good candidate for a full species under the BSC if ever there was one....

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Lizard in Spring

Digiscoped at Hayle Kimbro Pool 24/4/2009 I wish!

Having successfully modified my research work to (a) ensure that it involves lots of fieldwork on the Lizard and (b) involves fieldwork this spring, I'm spending quite a bit of time down there. However, much as I'd like to say that the photo (left) was taken on the Lizard recently, and that I'm a fully paid-up member of the suppression gang, it wasn't and I'm not. The reason I haven't updated the blog much recently, is simply that I haven't actually seen anything worthwhile. Today was a little better. Plenty of hirundines and mipits moving through ahead of a thunderstorm, at least 4 groppers, 1 singing Cuckoo, a Tree Pipit and a Redstart, suggested a few migrants were around as well as the resident Dartford Warblers and Choughs.

A pint to anybody who can guess where the photo was taken. Clue: I did take it last week.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

1st winter Sabine's Gull

1st winter Sabine's Gull west past Lizard Point, 9:05am, 9th April 2009

It is well known fact that most serious birders, whether they admit it or not care about their reputation. It is also a well known fact that a sure-fire way to destroy your reputation is to claim outrageous single-observer records on a sea-watch, particularly if it's the first bird you've found in your newly adopted county. Imagine therefore, the rather curious mixed feelings of trepidation and elation I felt when I watched a 1st winter Sabine's Gull fly past Lizard Point last Thursday. Exceptionally rare in Spring and a bloody good record even if I say so myself. However, not only quite common in Autumn, but also exactly the kind of bird that raises a few eyebrows and causes even the most genial to cast aspersions. Why couldn't it have been something nice and shiny and enjoyed by the masses, like a Great Spotted Cuckoo or a Snowy Owl? Anyway - after watching it for about a minute and a half as it flew past, I was able to take a few fieldnotes. Make of them what you will. The fact it was almost entirely in 1st winter plumage and only just beginning moult into 1st summer struck me as odd. I know Sabs have a reverse moult strategy compared to most gulls, but would have expected the bird to have moulted on wintering grounds. Any thoughts?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Pirate birding: to patch or not to patch?

Part of the coastline of The Lizard peninsula

Since getting serious about birding about 15-years ago, I've wanted to have a decent patch to work. I love the idea of birding a place regularly every morning and building a really decent patch list. I've patched a few areas, but to be honest it gets a bit dis-heartening if the best you can hope for is little gull and even a shag gets you about as excited as a teenager in the full grip of puberty. What you really want is a patch where anything can turn-up. Even a Yank Nightjar. Living in Penryn thus poses a dilemma. There's a few good local spots. The nearby reservoirs have turned-up Pied-billed Grebe & Lesser Scaup, Pennance Point might catch the odd southern migrant of the winds are from the SE and Swanpool has turned up Little Bittern in the past. The trouble is that birding these spots, you can't quite help wondering what you're missing. Most of the coastline around Penryn & Falmouth faces the wrong way and the good parts of the Fal Estuary are a 30 mile drive away on the other side. The Lizard on the other hand has it all. Sheltered coves that scream Dendroica, a solid track record of Continental overshoots and even an appearance by the aforementioned Nightjar. The trouble is - it's about 20 miles away - about 25 mins drive early in the morning and about 45 if stuck behind a happy camper. I haven't quite settled on the patch solution yet - but I'm leaning towards mixing it up a bit. Get out most days to do the local spots, but work the Lizard pretty regularly too. I'm going to keep two lists one for just the Penryn area and one for The Lizard & Penryn area. I haven't totallled them up yet, but will do soon and post them here.

Lizard weather forecast

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