Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Berkshire Sprite

Berkshire seems to be having a real purple patch at the moment. Last month it was the Buff-bellied Pipit, and then unbelievably a second one joined the first one. This month they had a Yellow-browed Warbler at Moor Green Lakes NR - not quite in the same league as a BPP but at this time of year for an inland site, it was nevertheless impressive. Add to this a supporting cast of various Divers, a Long-tailed Duck and a Red-necked Grebe all at at Queen Mother's Reservoir and it makes for a good period. All good stuff but apart from the Pipit which I'd already seen, not enough to tempt me out of God's Own County. However, on Sunday the Warbler was "upgraded" (i.e. re-identified from photos) from a Yellow-browed to a Pallas's Warbler (it seems that people don't bother with the full "Leaf" or "Yellow-browed" bit in the name any more) which is yet another amazing find for an inland county. Anyway, this was enough to tempt me off my rather Christmas-be-larded derrière to go and take a look. Judging from past RBA reports, it seemed that the morning was best but with yesterday's forecast for snow and rain all morning I decided to wait a day until today to have a go for it. Thus is was that this morning at around 8 a.m. I was scraping ice off the Gnome-mobile and setting the Sat Nav co-ordinates for Moor Green Lakes NR, before plunging into the torrent of rush-hour traffic south along the A34. I arrived some time after 9 a.m. after an uneventful journey to find several other cars in the rather small car park. The people in the car next to me were just getting ready as well and one of enquired whether I was after anything special, which rather puzzled me as I would have thought that it was rather obvious. Anyway, it turned out that they'd not heard about the Pallas's Warbler and were just there to take a look around though they didn't seem that interested in looking for it and were more keen on the Mistle Thrush in the adjacent paddock - each to their own. Some ten minutes later I was at the Blackwater River where I met up with a few other birders and we all headed west along the river to the conveyor belt bridge as apparently in recent days it had been seen to the west of this landmark. It was a rather cold and cloudy start with and fairly birdless. After a while we came across a Long-tailed Tit flock and watched with keen interest - apparently the bird was always associating with a flock such as this though it wasn't in this one. At that point I got an RBA text reporting the bird as still present at the western most end of the stretch. I hurried off in this direction where I soon met up with Mike McKee (who found the the Buff-bellied Pipits at QMR) and it turned out that it was he who'd reported the bird again that morning. He was hurrying the other way after the flock with the target bird in and so I tagged along with him. We soon caught up with the flock and I had my first fleeting glimpse of the star attraction. Fortunately after that it wasn't too hard to keep track of where it was and we followed the bird all the way back to the conveyor belt bridge before the flock turned around and went back the other way along the river. Periodically one would get a view of it and sometimes it even came down and worked its way along the bank on the ground, thereby giving some excellent if brief views. Mike was trying to get a photo and he did indeed manage a few record shots with his DSLR but with my slower super-zoom I didn't even bother trying but instead just enjoyed watching the bird.

It wasn't hard to see why it had been mis-identified as a Yellow-browed for so long: the crown stripe was rather subdued and during the whole time I was there I never saw the pale yellow rump. Given how hard it was to photograph it wasn't until some ten days after it was first discovered that someone got a photo good enough to ID it for what it really was. However, even without the crown stripe or rump, the supercilium was striking with the more intense yellow colour between the eye and the bill as well as extending all the way onto the nape along with the strong black eye strike. With the benefit of the correct ID it wasn't too hard to pick out the salient features in the field.

What a stunner! This is by far the best photo that I've seen of this bird 
anywhere on the internet and is a real achievement given how hard it was to take 
any kind of shot of it. Not taken by me of course but by Dave Perrett (c)

The River Blackwater - the bird spends most of it's time along 
the far side which is Hants, the near side being Berks. 

Mike McKee and Chris Heard looking for it in the copse

 Warbler Twitchers

After a couple of hours it had worked its way all the way back to the west end of the river by the road where it was first found. By this time I'd had my fill of this gorgeous little bird and decided to wend my way back home, please to have spent some time with this cracking little sprite.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Cornwall for the New Year

Another summary of my posts on Pendeen Birding from a quiet few days down in Cornwall to see the New Year in.

Sunday 30th December
I'm back down in Cornwall to see the New Year in with my family. It was a bit of a last minute decision but we did it last year so there are the seeds of a new tradition emerging. The weather forecast wasn't that great but we thought that we'd give it a go anyway. Normally when I'm travelling on my own I like to leave nice and early but with the inertia of the whole family to deal with it took ages to get ready to go. A detour to buy some food for the journey and the need to buy some new car windscreen wipers meant that we didn't actually leave Oxford until 12:30 and the usual heavier Saturday traffic on the way down meant that we didn't arrive until well after dark some five hours later. I'd tentatively suggested that perhaps we might like to stop off en route to look at a Green-winged Teal near Torpoint but for some reason the rest of the family weren't interested. It was blowing a howling gale at the cottage when we finally arrived but with some warm food inside us we soon settled in.

Sunday had the best forecast for the next few days so I thought that I'd take the opportunity to check out the local birds of interest. Not that there was much of particular note about but there was an over-wintering Sub-alpine Warbler at St. Just, a Black-necked Grebe in Newlyn harbour and a Ring-billed Gull had been reported along the sea-front at Penzance between Jubilee Pool and Wherrytown. I didn't feel motivated to get up particularly early for these birds and instead had a nice lie in. At around 10 o'clock with my two daughters wanting to do some revision for their forthcoming exams and my VLW and her brother happily chatting away I thought that I'd nip out to do some shopping in St Just where I could at the same time have a look for the Sub-alp. As I drove away from the cottage I had a lovely view of a large Peregrine that flew low past the car.

I was just setting off from the main car park at St Just when I bumped into a couple of local birders whom I'd met before but whose names I didn't know. They knew where to go for the Warbler and kindly showed me the way. As we walked down they informed me that it was a very difficult bird to see: one of them had seen it once for 5 seconds, the other chap hadn't seen it at all in seven visits totalling about 10 hours of searching. I began to reasses my chances of seeing this bird - I already had it for the county anyway so it wasn't that urgent but this was sounding like a needle in a haystack job. It turned out that there were two main areas to search: the back gardens of Princess Street and the front gardens of the next road. My two guides kindly walked around the circuit for me pointing out all the hot spots. One of these was the back garden of a local birder where it was most often see because it was the most closely watched but on our circuit there was no sign of it at all. My two companions seemed happy enough with this one lap and walked off whilst I decided to give it half an hour on my own. I walked slowly down the back of Princess Street peering into all the likely spots though it seemed a pretty hopeless task. I just arrived at the local birder's garden when I saw something moving in the tree that hung out of the back of the garden. A second or two later I got a proper view and blow me if it wasn't the Sub-alpine Warbler itself. It was a cute little thing, looking pretty much like a whitethroat though with a pinkish flush from below its white throat extending down all the underparts, with rather plain grey-brown upper parts. There was a slightly scruffy air to it, presumably because of it being a first winter. It sat there happily in the tree whilst I scrabbled for my camera but before I could even get it out it of the case it slipped off into the garden. Amazing! Since I'd left my two guides it had been no more than a few minutes, a great piece of luck given how long others had tried to see it. I didn't bother hanging around after that but walked back into St Just to do the shopping before heading back. 

 The back gardens of Princess Street - not your typical Sub-alpine
 habitat but it was nicely sheltered from the wind

On the way home I nipped into Kenidjack to check up on the reported Siberian Chiffchaff that had been hanging around the sewage works. There I met up with my two companions from earlier to whom I relayed my good news regarding the Sub-alp. The poor chap who'd still not seen it was remarkably gracious despite the monster grip-off. The Sibe Chiffy was easy to find as it was feeding actively around the settling pool with three normal Chiffies. I spent some time trying to photograph them though they were very mobile and I had to shoot them through the wire fencing. After a while I decided that I had to get back to the cottage and headed home.

Chiffies - the Sibe above and a normal below

After a hearty lunch we all decided to head off for an outing. Given the strong winds were blowing from the south-west we decided to head over to the other side of the peninsula where it should be more sheltered. Some of our party wanted to go shopping in Penzance and the rest of us decided to have a wander around Newlyn harbour. We parked at Tolcarne beach where I met up with Brian Field who'd come looking for the reported Ring-billed Gull. We had a good look around though there were only a couple of adult Common Gulls around and a sub-adult Herring Gull with a rather ringed bill. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls were loafing around with the Black-headed Gulls but that was about it.

 Common Gull

 Med Gull

After a while we headed over to the harbour where the rest of the party borrowed my cameras and set about photographing the various boats whilst I had a look at the birds with Brian and a couple of other birders who were down from Newquay for the day. We soon came across two juvenile Great Northern Divers which were showing very nicely close in near some of the moored ships. Further in the harbour we found another Great Northern Diver and finally the Black-necked Grebe itself. Brian got a text from Mush saying that yesterday's Ring-billed Gull had been re-identified from photographs as just a Common Gull so at least I didn't need to worry about trying to find it,

Great Northern Divers and the Black-necked Grebe

By this time the others had had enough so we headed back to the car and rendezvous'd with the shopping party  in a café for some brownies and hot chocolate. After this we nipped over to Marazion in the last gasps of daylight to walk along the beach to the playground. There we messed around on the zip wire in the dark for a while before heading back to the cottage. It had been a very successful day and I'd managed to catch up with some nice local birds.

Monday  31st December

It rained for much of the day so I wasn't able to get out for more than a brief walk where a Stonechat was the only highlight. In the afternoon we had a wander around Penzance and visited Morrab Gardens where a Blackcap and a Grey Wagtail were the only birds of note.

We decided to see the New Year in in style, first going to the Star at St Just where we'd heard there would be a DJ though in the end it was too crowded for any dancing. Next on to the Radjel in Pendeen for a drink and the girls had a game of pool. After that we headed over to Marazion to count down to the New Year on the beach and to watch the various fireworks going off in Penzance and Marazion.  We arrived at about 10 minutes to midnight at Marazion and I parked looking out onto the sea and briefly flicked my headlights onto full beam so we could see what the tide was doing. At this point the camper van next to us also flicked their beams briefly on. It was then that I realised that we may have inadvertently stumbled into the local dogging hot-spot! We beat a hasty retreat and parked somewhere else. Finally back to the cottage to open the champagne and to discuss the year past and the year ahead.

The cross on the top of St. Michael's Mount from the beach at midnight

Tuesday 1st January
This morning there was a nice north westerly wind and it was quite sunny so I thought that I'd pop down to the Watch for an hour's session. There was quite a lot of movement close in with a good passage of auks and kittiwakes - at one stage they were passing at a rate of about 100 birds per minute. The highlight was a couple of Balearic Shearwaters, one on the sea and one passing through.

In the afternoon we headed over to St Ives so the girls could do some shopping. The boys went for a walk around the island instead. On the sea there was the same steady passage of auks and kittiwakes but nothing of note.

St . Ives Island

Wednesday 2nd January
Today was taken up with packing and stopping off to catch up with my VLW's niece who lives "up-county" so there wasn't any time for the Torpoint Green-winged Teal, nor the Black Guillemot that had been reported in Carbis Bay.

One thing that I've enjoyed is working on my Cornish list - it gives me something to go for even out of season when I come down. Had I been on my own this time I would have had a go for the Torpoint Green-winged Teal, the Short-eared Owls at Men-an-Tol and the Black Guillemot at Carbis Bay but unfortunately I wasn't able to this time. Still I had one good day's birding and seeing the Sub-alpine Warbler so easily was a real bonus. I'm hoping to come down again fairly soon as the cottage still needs some weather-proofing. With any lucky I'll have a chance to chase down some more Cornish ticks then.