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

Click here or here for recent sightings in Cornwall

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Late Autumn specials

As a former east coast birder, I’m used to November comprising of Little Auks, but nothing much else of note. Fortunately, autumn comes later in the south west and as the rest of the country freezes, the birds head down hear en-masse to seek refuge in the sheltered valleys where insects still thrive.

The birding over the last week or so on the Lizard has been superb. Late autumn started well with a spate of good seabirds including a Sabine’s Gull and a cracking Long-tailed Skua off Bass Point. Regular scouring of the most sheltered valleys is starting to pay dividends though. I stumbled across two Yellow-browed Warblers in two days without really trying last week, with a supporting cast of Siberian Chiffchaff and numerous Blackcaps, Firecrests and Chiffchaffs. While out doing fieldwork yesterday I had a fly over large pipit. Unlike most, this obligingly landed in front of me and called. Richard’s rather than one of the rarer ones, but great nonetheless.

I’m off to bird in the orient and Australia from next week, so won’t be doing much Lizard birding. Back towards the end of January, so sayonara readers (what few you are). I’ll try and update my blog while I’m away. I’ll leave you with this superb photograph taken by Thor Veen. (Un?)fortunately, not an example of Lizard suppression, just one to hope for on the Lizard next Autumn. This one was photographed in Canada recently. That said, Brian’s probably had one or two in his garden without telling anyone;-)......... 

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pied Wheatear find

Two days later than anticipated, due to flight-cancellation, Thor Veen, Arjen VantHoff and myself finally managed to board a flight to the Scillies. My first visit there – so I was quite excited. On Tuesday the 12th of October, Thor and I set off to circumnavigate the great Isle of St Mary’s (Arjen had already returned home by that stage). Avoiding crowds of people as much as possible, but nevertheless stumbling across the RB Fly and Little Buntings without really trying, we were reminded of just how much easier it is to twitch birds than find them yourself.

By mid-afternoon, the previous week of non-stop birding and a dose of man-flu were taking their toll on me and I stopped to restock on caffeine and food while the Thorminator continued his quest to scour every bush and blade of grass on St Mary’s.  Perhaps inevitably if you believe in Karma, but certainly confirmation the expression “no pain no gain”, I received a phone call from Thor stating he’d briefly seen a possible Pied Wheatear on the Golf Course, but hadn’t been able to clinch it before flew off north towards the BBC mast.  At that time, he was wholly unaware of the reports of a possible from the same area, although I’d managed to glean the gist of the story from a mate. At his request, I pegged it down in a taxi ASAP to offer help relocating it.  Fortunately we were able to do so as, after half an hour or so, the bird obligingly popped up in front of Thor. After reeling off a few photos as the bird happily fed a few metres away from us, and offering scope views to some of the lucky birders who happened to be nearby but without scope, we phoned it out and anticipated the impending pandemonium with amusement. I was particularly impressed with the guy in the bright red jacket who waddled towards it as fast as his lard-arse would carry him and promptly re-phoned RBA in an authoritative voice confirming the identity and location. Evidently, young rapscallions such as ourselves, can't be trusted to impart such information correctly.

Cracking find and cracking photo by Thor. Good work fella!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The multi-coloured megalarious

There seems to be a lot of debate surrounding the merits of punkbirder twaddlespeak at the moment (see here and here).  Here’s a brief insight into our experience of using such language on unsuspecting passers-by:

Random passer-by at Cot Valley: what are you looking for?
Me: nothing in particular, we’re just seeing what’s about.
Random passer-by at Cot Valley: that’s nice.
Thor (in Dutch-accented, punkbirder speak): Mega rare!
Random passer-by at Cot Valley: really? Where is that from then?
Thor:  America.....
Random passer-by at Cot Valley: really. What colour is it then?
Thor:..or Siberia, hopefully
Random passer-by at Cot Valley (to husband): here - they're looking...what did you call it again? A megalarious? Apparently it's brightly coloured.
Me: hmmm...I don’t think he meant one particularly species...he was referring to rare birds in general.
Random passer-by at Cot Valley: Oh. I see. Well that's a big lens you've got!

Anyway. Needless to say, we didn't find the multi-coloured megalarious, and had to settle for some more more drabbly coloured mesolarious instead:

Found at about 8am in 60 foot cover at Porthgwarra. Also needless to say, given that these photos are really pretty good, Thor took them.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Bird ID quiz

We all love great photos. Here is some cracking ones of some recent arrivals on the Lizard. But lets face it, most birding, especially in Autumn, involves damp conditions, piss-poor views, bad light, and distant birds. Here's a a few  to remind you that it's easier to identify birds on the internet than it is in real life. These should all be gettable quite easily, but if you can do them from the ones on the left, I'll be impressed!



Even harder:

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Another Blue-head?

Answers on a postcard

Saturday, 18 September 2010


Went for a pleasant stroll across the Lizard today, leaving late due to drunken antics the night before. Caught up with this beast - better in real life than the photos suggest. Also flushed a Quail near Ruan Pool, which was nice for me, but probably not for it. Oddly enough, the first one I've actually seen in the UK even though I've heard many a wet-my-lip emerging from hayfields and flying overhead at night and seen a few abroad. I've always felt inclined to leave the poor things in peace safe in the knowledge that I would eventually flush one by accident as I did today. Aside from that - there seemed to be a few migrants around, with plenty of yellow wagtails still. I'm fairly sure there was a couple of 1st winter Blue-headed wagtails feeding in the cow fields above Church Cove. Seemed to have very dark masks for flavissima. That said, I'm not that hot on identification criteria of this form in 1st winter plumage and appreciate if anybody could give me any pointers.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Lots of scarce but no rare

Despite promises that Earl might deliver a Gloria-like array of Nearctic goodies and despite a pretty spectacular migration of the eastern seaboard of the states, the Lizard has been completely devoid of Dendroicas . It hasn’t been devoid of birds though.  I’ve probably seen more Wheaters, Yellow Wagtails and Whinchats in the last week than I have in the entire time up until now, with at least 100 of the first two and at least 30 of the latter.  However, despite thrashing the entire peninsula for pretty much five days solid, I haven’t really connected with anything.  The best I managed was a single flyover Lap Bunting. West Penwith has played host to flocks of Ortolan, Wryneck and Melodies with a supporting cast of Wilson’s Phalarope and Citrine Wag, Tony’s found c. 6 wrys and 3 orts and Steve managed a woodchat and a flock of black terns. I just haven’t been in the same place as the goodies though. On the plus side, I’ve found a couple of new migrant hotspots, but to be honest, birding has been pretty dispiriting of late. I blame my new camera, which as the shots above attest, I haven’t quite mastered. It should be pretty good for record shots, but it seems to have prevented me from finding any records to shoot! It should hopefully allow me to prettify this blog though.

Edit: any thoughts on the race of these yellow wags anyone?

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Reverend Thomas Bayes on birding

The very Reverend Thomas Bayes, the son of London Presbyterian minister was thought to have been born in Hertfordshire in about 1702. He studied in my own home town of Edinburgh and amongst other things, attempted to prove that the principal purpose of God was to make us despicable human souls happy. What has the good Reverend got to do with birding I hear you ask? Well, allow me to explain in a rather roundabout manner:

Today I was seawatching from Bass Point. Shortly after securing cracking views of my first ever Great Shearwater from the Lizard, I observed a petrel for about 2 mins as it flew past relatively close.  Detailed description aside, to all intent and purposes, it looked like a Wilson’s Petrel. In fact, based on its appearance, I was about 99% confident it was one. The trouble is, being 99% confident of ID, doesn't mean there’s a 99% probability it actually was one, simply because the obvious confusion species, European Storm Petrel, heavily outnumbers Wilson’s. I don’t know the true figure, but let's say, for the sake of argument, by about 100 to 1. Well, it so happens that the good old Reverend Thomas Bayes came up with a formula for working out this problem, although I don’t think he was thinking about birds when he did. For the mathematically minded, the formula is as follows:

Probability of rare bird = probability of ID x probability of it being one based on numbers / (probability of incorrect ID) x probability of it not being one based on numbers  + probability of correct ID x probability of it being one on numbers).

That entire complicated math leads me to the rather unfortunate conclusion that it there was a 49.7% chance it was one.  Less than 50%! Indeed if I factor in a bit of false expectation due to the fact I’d just seen a Great Shear and the conditions were spot on (say 95% confidence with ID) and we allow European’s to outnumber Wilson’s by 200 to 1, then the figure drops to a woeful 8.7%.

Of course, all of this doesn’t matter one bit if one is certain of identification, but it does get you thinking. I wonder how often the rarities committees take such probabilities into consideration? I suppose they do qualitatively, as mega rare birds increasingly require mega good evidence, but it’s rather worrying that even if one is 99.9% confident with identification of a bird that is outnumbered 1000 to 1 by its potential confusion species, the chances of it actually being one are only 50:50.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

SeaWatch SSW

I’ve often wondered whether the Lizard competes with Porthgwarra on a seawatch. I've tried to test the theory a few times, albeit never for much longer than a couple of hours. The few times I’ve tried it, I’ve generally found that, although counts are similar, Porthgwarra fairs slightly better. I think observer coverage may play a part though. After trial and error, consensus seems to be that the best place to seawatch from is sitting just below the coastwatch station at Bass Point. Most seabirds seem take a flight path across the bay from Black Head, passing really close-in at Bass Point, but then continuing in the same direction and thus passing further out when flying past the most southerly point. Oddly, the best viewing is thus looking north across the bay and on the whole, I think birds pass closer than they do at Porthgwarra. This poses a bit of a problem if you’re on your own. You can look out with a scope to catch the more distant stuff, but as the viewpoint is quite high up, a fair amount flies under your field of view.  However, in really poor visibility this can be an advantage as you can just use bins and still see most stuff.

I wonder whether this is why I faired rather better than Porthgwarra this afternoon?  Visibility was dire, at least for the first couple of hours. Their haul for the day (0600 to 1200 and 1400 to 1930) was 22 Balearics, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and 4 Bonxies.  My score in roughly half that time (13:00-19:00) was 16 Balearics, 7 Sooties, 2 Bonxies, 2 Puffins, 5 Stormies and a Cory’s. OK the Cory’s might well have past them while they were on lunch break and the stormies were feeding offshore around a pod of Dolphins and I may have double counted, but on balance, it suggest that the Lizard can outscore West Penwith in the right conditions. Maybe the fact that stuff passes closer is advantageous? Certainly, the guys down there are a lot sharper than me, so if observer skill has anything to do with it, they win hands down.

Anyway ,the real purpose of this post is really just to convince myself that the mythical beast, the Fea’s Petrel is possible off the Lizard and I should put in more effort rather than sacking it off after a couple of hours.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Breeding Blue-headed Wagtails

Now that the horse has bolted, I suppose it’s safe to open the stable door or something like that. Anyway, for some time now, I’ve been keeping an eye on the pair of Blue-headed Wagtails that took up residence on Lizard Downs in late Spring. I first noticed one of them carrying food on the 15th of June. Since then, I’ve been seeing them pretty much every time I go down to the Lizard, but initially thought the nest had failed as I hadn’t seen them carry food since the beginning of July. Yesterday I stumbled across one of the fledged young though.  Unfortunately the best I could manage during the time I've been watching them, was a couple of crap record shots digibinned with my phone (above). Hopefully someone will manage to get some better shots soon. Interesting that most (all?) of the recent records of breeding Yellow Wagtails in Cornwall have been flavas....

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Cracking views of a Basking Shark

Basking Shark in Housel Bay. Possibly the worst attempt at wildlife photography ever, but given that I snapped it with my phone you get an idea of how close it was!

Monday, 31 May 2010

Rare Lizard Clovers

 Above: Long-headed Clover Trifolium incarnatum molinerii

Above: Upright Clover Trifolium strictum

Above: Twin-headed Clover Trifolium bocconei

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Mediterranean sunny days in Cornwall

It's been a while since I posted, mostly because my post-doc fieldwork is in full swing, and I've been spending most of my time with my head to the ground looking at plants instead of watching the skies for birds. Nevertheless, the glorious sunshine on Sunday and Monday produced some good birds on the Lizard, as well as accelerating the flowering of some of the Mediterranean plants.

It started well, with a Turtle Dove near Culdrose on the drive down. Patient watching for overhead migrants eventually got me splendid views of a Red Kite over Lizard Downs. Unfortunately, the best birds were heard, but not seen. I set off from Lizard Downs towards Predannack Wollas doing my usual checks of the water-levels in the Mediterranean Temporary Ponds, one of the habitats I'm studying. Whilst walking around in the Mediterranean sunshine, admiring the Mediterranean habitats, I was pleasantly surprised to be seranaded by Mediterranean sounds. Somewhere high overhead, a flock of Bee-eaters flew over uttering their splendid liquid trill. Unfortunately, Predannack Wollas doesn't offer splendid views of the Mediterranean sky, and I had to content myself with sounds rather than sights. Still - cracking birds, and as I was lucky enough to have splendid views of many in Spain a few weeks ago, so I really can't complain.

Monday, was less productive. Despite camping overnight and getting out at 04:30, the best I managed for my efforts was my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year at Church Cove.  In true fashion, Tony sauntered into his garden several hours after I arose and immediately eclipsed my efforts with a bit of on the ball wizardry, having already done so the previous day with both birds and plants.

P. S. A pint of Spingo for anybody who can identify the plants in the photos (left).

Saturday, 20 March 2010


They say that one Swallow doesn’t make a Summer, but given that most Cornish summers involve torrential rain, the new arrival of a Swallow and a Sand Martin at Caerthillian and Old Lizard Head respectively, was heartening in as much that at least it suggests that the driving rain will be a degree or two warmer.  Apart from that, the drake Lesser and Greater Scaup found by Andy on Monday, were - very oddly indeed, still sat on Hayle Kimbro (to the uninitiated, Hayle Kimbro is little more than a big puddle and would therefore be expected to give any self-respecting diving duck a bit of a head-ache).  Hoopoe in the village recently suggest that prizes could be good for those inclined to put in the effort, but work commitments have unfortunately prevented me from even attempting to bag the big ‘un.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Siberian Chiffchaff

I managed to track down a classic tristis Chiffchaff today at Helston Sewage works, prompting me to offer/recycle a few thoughts on identifying this race (comments and corrections welcome). First-off they're not that cold grey. If you find a really cold steely grey one, it's probably an abietinus. Although the underparts on tristis are cold white, the upperparts are actually quite a warm buffy colour, especially around the ear coverts. The rear of the supercilium is also quite buffy and there's often a slightly buff wash to the sides of the neck. When seen in the field, they completely lack any olive-green tones (they have green tones only on the underwing). Abietinus tend to have quite a bit of olive green on the tertials and coverts. There's photos of classic abietinus here and here. Note the steely grey tones contrasting with the olive-green in the wings. Tristis on the otherhand looks like this or this. Tristis also often have  a very black bill and legs. Our collybitas can vary a bit in colour, but are generally much warmer than abietinus, usually have some olive-green tones, and are not nearly as pale underneath as either tristis or abietinus. See here and here

The Helston bird was calling. Tristis sound quite different. They have a monosyllibic call. Both abietinus and collybita  give either the classic hueeet call (listen here) or a slightly more confusing pweet call (listen here), sometimes mistaken for "eastern" chiffchaff, but readily given by our collybitas. Most people seem to attribute this to the call of juvenile birds during Autumn migration. Oddly, I heard several giving this call last April and May. Some abietinus sound a bit more disyllabic, or almost trisyllabic (listen here). I heard a bird in East Norfolk give a call like this last November. To me tristis is a bit more sad than the others. It reminds me a bit of a Bullfinch (listen to the second "Siberische Tjiftjaf" down here). They can be quite variable though. Compare the other recording of the same bird.

Of course, there's also the complication of 'fulvescens' and other integrades. There are some more useful sites, which go into a lot more detail here, here, here and here.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Ring Ouzel!

My diligent sifting of the thrush flocks in the hope of something rarer paid dividents today, albeit not quite in the manner I'd wished - i.e. no Black-throated Thrush. However, to my utter astonishment, I stumbled across a slightly scruffy-looking, but to all intent and purposes, healthy Ring Ouzel. It was about here at Church Cove near Poldhu. A quick check of birdguides reveals it isn't actually quite as rare as I thought in January - i.e. four records in the UK already this year and about 2-3 most years. I wonder if it was an early migrant blown across in last night's strong southerlies, or perhaps more likely, an over-wintering bird mixed-up with all the other thrushes?  Nevertheless, probably a blocker for at least a month or so on the patch yearlist. Other additions included a Merlin between Poldhu and Church Cove, a Black Redstart at Church Cove, and Hen Harrier and Stock Dove near Cury. On to 100 now, not too bad for four visits, but lots more effort required me thinks.

Update: photos of the bird here

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Jack Snipe

My third trip down to the Lizard and over half way there with the yearlist already. Somehow I think the second half will be harder. Despite the almost tropical weather by recent standards, still evidence of the former hard times. Some of the Redwing seem to have cleared out, but there were still several big flocks of Fieldfare, thankfully looking somewhat less desperate in their feeding efforts. Stacks of Snipe - at least 70 on Lizard Downs, including a single flock of 24 and another 40 or so at Windmill Farm, with a supporting cast of 1 Jack Snipe and 4 Woodcocks. The only other noteworthy birds were a large feeding flock of Kittiwakes and Gannets of Lizard Point, evidently blown north in yesterday's storm, the customary Choughs and a single Dunlin feeding in a flock of Goldies.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Seaweed feeding frenzy rivals Blakeney Fall (almost)

I decided to check out a few of the coves on the Lizard today in the vain hope that I might stumble across a Ross’s Gull. Needless to say, I didn’t. However, Perprean still threw up one or two surprises. A bed of rotting kelp was literally hopping with birds. In the half hour or so I watched it, no less than 50 Redwing, 20 Blackbirds, two dozen Robins, a dozen Song Thrushes, a Dunnock, 8 Rock Pipits, 7 Wrens, 2 Redshank, a Turnstone, a Collared Dove, 2 Chichaffs, a Blackcap, a Stonechat, a Lapwing, a Meadow Pipit and best of all, a Water Pipit took advantage of the glut of food. Something I’ve never witnessed before – it was almost like encountering a fall on Blakeney Point. Elsewhere, a Purple Sandpiper, a Med Gull and 6 Black-throats at Kennack Sands, another Med Gull at Poltesco, a Woodcock & a Dartford Warbler at Croft Pascoe and a Chiffchaff at Church Cove were the best hauls of the day. Thrushes and Plovers everywhere, including several Mistle Thrushes, actually my first on the Lizard.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

2010: the year of the big patch yearlist?

A thin dusting of snow on the Lizard Peninsula takes Cornish motorists by surprise

Ho, hum and Happy Hogmanay to one and all - welcome to the teenies. Apologies for the lack of updates of late. The snow and other frivalties prevented much birding in the last month. Anyhow, another year, another year-list. Actually, come to think of it, I didn't do one last year, but thought it would be fun to try one this year. This time a patch year list for the Lizard Peninsula, with three aims:

(1) to see c. 175 species
(2) to find a few decent birds
(3) to see a few decent birds without having to travel too far

To be kept fully up-to-date here:

Put in my first visit today (64 species) and what a corker it turned out to be. Walked down the Loe Valley from Helston Sewage Works to cover Loe Pool after a tip-off from fellow Lizard birder Andy. Freezing cold, blue skies, redwings, fieldfares, snipe & woodcock everywhere. Water Rails by the dozen skating on the ice and at least two Bitterns and a Red-crested Pochard. Divers offshore, Firecrests onshore and at least half a dozen chiffchaffs sitting on the sludge tanks picking-off virtually the only insects left in Britain.

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