Thursday, 23 October 2014

Titchfield Haven Siberian Stonechat

After the disappointment (if I'm honest) of my low key Cornwall trip I was keen to do some comfort birding to cheer me up. I'd noticed a Siberian Stonechat (now a full species) had been present down on the south coast at Titchfield Haven for a few days so I thought that I'd indulge in a bijou twitchette as it wasn't that far and if still present, was likely to be pretty much a sure thing. Monday seemed to be a good day for this as they are generally quiet work days so I resolved to head down there that day on news of its continued presence.

Monday morning duly arrived and after I put out an RFI prompt, news came back that it was still there. I therefore cobbled together a packed lunch and headed off south along the familiar A34 on a route I knew well. I say that but I managed to find myself heading off on the western half of the M27 by mistake though fortunately I was able to duck out at the last minute on the A33 and correct my error. Despite this mistake I managed to arrive in about an hour and a half and parked up along the sea shore next to the reserve. I realised that I'd been here before (though not gone into the reserve) when my VLW and I came to visit relatives who lives nearby in Gosport. They are keen sailors and took us to see the small harbour in front of the reserve that they often like to sail to.

Titchfield Haven
I popped into the reserve centre for my £3.90 entrance ticket and whom should I bump into but Oxon birder Justin Taylor, down for a quick twitch himself - what a small world! We headed off on the five minute walk to the Meadow Hide together where the bird was located. There we found a small queue of birders outside the hide waiting to get in though it turned out that you could see the twitch arena perfectly well from outside the hide and after a few minutes we'd had our first sighting of the bird. It was spending most of its time in the left hand corner of a cleared area in front of a reed bed along with four or so European Stonechats. Also present were a couple of hidden singing Cetti's, a Grey Heron, a Little Egret and a few Black-headed Gulls.

The Twitch Arena - the bird tended to hang out to the back left of the clear patch in front of the reeds
It was a very striking bird - so pale it almost looked sandy coloured with a pinkish unstreaked rump - altogether unmistakable. In the stiff wind and bright sunshine it wasn't easy to photograph but gradually as people left the hide we moved our place up the pecking order until after about an hour I decided to go into hide out of the wind to try to take some better shots whilst I munched on my packed lunch.To start with there were a couple of big lens photographers hogging the main viewing area but eventually they moved aside and I was able to get some decent digiscoped shots off.

The 1st winter Siberian Stonechat
After a while I reckoned that I had some decent enough shots in the can and strolled back to the car and headed for home for the usual celebratory cup of tea with my VLW. A nice straight-forward twitch and another tick for my UK list.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Cornwall in October

Once again an amalgamation of my Pendeen Birding Posts from a recent trip down to Cornwall.

Sunday 12th October: Porthgwarra

So it's that time of year again and I'm back down in Cornwall for my now-traditional October visit. I've been watching events from afar and it seems like Cornwall (and indeed The Scilly Isles) are having a very poor autumn so far with all the action on the east coast or on Shetland. In fact things were so poor that I even had a certain amount of trepidation about coming down - after all I know how bleak it can be when the winds are strong and there are no birds about. Fortunately in the last few days things started to pick up with an Eastern Subalpine Warbler and a Barred Warbler at Porthgwarra, a Little Bunting on the Lizard and a couple of Rose-coloured Startlings, one at St Ives and one at Penzance. I'd suggested to my brother-in-law that he might like to come down again (as he did a couple of years ago) and he was keen. He suggested that he'd come down on Sunday and for want of any other factor I decided to come down the same day. Thus it was that around 8am on Sunday morning I set off from a foggy Oxford back towards my beloved Cornwall.

Regular readers will know that I like to stop off en route should there be something of interest to temp me. However there was nothing of particular note and with the Eastern Subalpine Warbler still being reported that morning I decided to head straight on down and so that's what I did. In fact I had a really good run and so it was in a little under four hours that I arrived in Penzance. I was keen to see the Subalp and so after a quick stop to fill up with petrol I headed straight onwards on the A30 all the way down to Porthgwarra with just a couple of Ravens on the wires near the St Buryan turn-off worthy of note. Thus it was that I turned up at the PG car park a little after 1 p.m.. After working out what had happened to the Pay & Display machine (you now have to pay at the café instead) I paid for two hours and then hurried up the lane past the Doctor's House to the small band of twitchers who were all staking out the scrub and sallows just to the west (not "North" as the pagers have been saying) of the Doctor's House. Apparently it had been seen about an hour ago where it had showed really well beyond the sallows in a clump of dead scrub though it had also previously shown on the far hedge that lined the north west border of the triangular field. Whilst I waited I listened to the quiet chatter amongst the locals: apparently it had been quite difficult to see and some locals had put in a good many hours before they got their sighting. While we waited a Greater-spotted Woodpecker flew over, as did a few Swallows and Skylarks and a Kestrel and a Clouded Yellow flitted about in front of us. After a short while someone called that they'd had a brief glimpse close in just in front of us and Brian Mellow picked it up as well though I, nor anyone else could see it. A little while later a bird flicked up and back down in the same spot and it had the right sort of colour. Another local picked it up again and confirmed that it was the bird but it was hardly a tickable view for me.

At that moment the weather conditions must have aligned in just the right way for a text signal to get through to my phone (not an easy thing at PG for Vodafone at least) and word came through on RBA of a possible Radde's Warbler up by the dried up pond on the moor. As I pondered this a birder came hurrying up to us who turned out to be the finder of this bird. Though he admitted he wasn't sure he seemed quite convinced himself so a few of us decided to go and take a look. A brisk 5 minute walk took us to the pond where there was no initial sign of the bird. We spread out and a short while later a pale green/grey and silver warbler flew back to the original bush. Clearly no Radde's it looked interesting though. I hurried back to the closest viewing point where we scrutinised it carefully. It had no wing bars, pale legs and was rather long winged. It looked like a pale Willow Warbler so there was some speculation that it might be a "northern" race. Anyway, it clearly wasn't a Radde's Warbler or anything similarly good and the finder was suitably apologetic. We all made appropriate "better to mention it than not etc." noises to console him.

Having cleared that up I hurried back to the Subalp twitch only to discover that (of course) the bird had been showing really well whilst we'd been away. Inwardly cursing I resumed my vigil and fortunately was rewarded about twenty minutes later when it appeared once again the far boundary hedge. It performed very well, sitting up and in fact staying pretty motionless for some time so I was even able to take some record shots with my superzoom bridge camera.

Various other locals kept turning up including Brian Field & John Chapple (who'd been there this morning and had come back for the "Raddes") and we all admired this distinctive warbler.After the bird finished showing I decided that it was time to move on.especially since my parking ticket had run out and I hurried back to the car park John teased me that I was bound to have been clamped though fortunately this turned out not to be the case.

Some of John Chapple's video of the Subalp

Time was marching on and I wanted to get in some shopping before the supermarkets closed so it was time to move on. Fortunately the new Sainsburys didn't shut till 5pm so I had a bit of time to work my way back. First stop was up the road at Roskestal Farm to look for the Hooded Crow though in the fifteen minutes I gave it I couldn't turn it up. Next stop was the Polgigga cricket pitch though there were only a couple of Pied Wagtail on show. So it was back to PZ for a spot of shopping. I did a lighting turn around the Morrison's car park for the Rose-coloured Starling though it was getting late now and there were no Starlings at all. With my brother-in-law and a friend due to turn up fairly soon I headed back to the cottage to get settled in and to get the kettle on.

That evening Martin Garner posted an interesting article on his Birding Frontiers web-site about the Porthgwarra Subalp identity, speculating that it was rather strange looking for an Eastern Subalp and was more likely actually a Moltoni's. That evening as I was looking through my photos I found that I'd happened to have taken a perfect flight shot showing the tail which apparently was a key part of the ID. Eastern I think I'm right in saying has a deeper white wedge up the T5 tail feathers.

It had been a good start to my stay though I was under no illusions about the prospects for my time down here. Given how quiet it had been I was mentally prepared for seeing relatively little this trip so to have the warbler under my belt did mean that I at least had something good should nothing else turn up. What's more, word on the street was that all three sub-species (Western, Eastern & Moltoni's) were likely to be split so I probably had an arm chair tick in the bag. Let's see what the rest of the week brings.

Monday 13th October: Pendeen, Penzance & Drift

I woke this morning to drizzle and greyness. In fact I actually woke up in the middle of the night: (my internal alarm clock had clearly gone awry) and struggled to get back to sleep again. At 7 a.m. I got up to find that it was actually still dark outside, so I had a cup of tea and read a bit. Finally at 8 a.m. I got tooled up and ventured outside to do the morning Pendeen rounds. In the breeze and wind it was clearly going to be hard work but I resolved to do my best. Down at the lighthouse I met Paul Bright-Thomas (who found the Daurian Shrike last year) watching the sea though he'd had nothing but a single Balearic Shearwater for his troubles. Whilst I stood there a flock of six Common Scoter went by though that was about it. Back at the lighthouse car park I met up with fellow Pendeen regular Ian Kendall and we worked our way back up the road together though with little to show for it apart from the usual stuff - a Grey Wagtail was the most interesting sighting. At the coastal path we parted company, Ian chose to check up the road whilst I opted for the small valley and headland along the coastal path. Neither of us had much luck and I soon headed home to see if my guests were up yet. They were indeed up and after a good cooked breakfast courtesy of my brother-in-law (who is an excellent cook) I was feeling much better. What's more the sun was now coming out and the weather forecast looked much better for the rest of the day. 

A tray full of moths
After emptying the moth trap (which just contained the usual suspects - Rusty Dot Pearl was the pick of the bunch) my two guests and I pootled around the cottage for a while and then hatched a plan. They wanted to do some shopping in Penzance whereas I had a meeting with a holiday letting agency inspector early afternoon (we're in the process of changing our letting agency). Accordingly they headed off and I decided to do some more local birding so I headed up towards Pendeen village centre. I stopped of at the Calartha Farm copse with just one Robin for my efforts before parking up in Pendeen village centre. There were a remarkable numbers of birds here with the Pendeen stores copse full of common birds all chattering away. The path up to the churchyard too was alive with Goldfinches and Sparrows and there were at least two dozen Pied Wagtails on the green field next to the church. Sadly the churchyard itself was empty except for the usual Rooks. Then it was back to the stores to buy some lunch before heading back to the cottage to eat it and await the inspector.

The inspection was over quickly (fortunately she seemed impressed with the cottage) and I was soon free to head out for some afternoon birding. I'd made an arrangement to meet up with my guests mid afternoon in Marazion so I decided to head towards Penzance first to see if I could catch up with the long-staying Rose-coloured Starling that was hanging out either at Morrison's car park or on the telephone wires behind B&Q. I soon managed to find the bird on the B&Q wires and I passed an hour or so trying to get some digiscoped photos whilst it flew about in a field before it finally settled on the wires long enough for a successful outcome.

The Rose-coloured Starling
Next was a quick stop-off at Longrock Pool to look for the long-staying Garganey though I couldn't see it in the five minutes I gave it. After that it was onwards to Marazion where I rendez-vous'd with my guests and we walked out over the causeway to St Michael's Mount for a cream tea in the restaurant. Whilst enjoying our food I got a text from David Parker saying that there was a female-type Ring-necked Duck at Drift reservoir. With nothing else on offer I thought that I'd pop in for it on the way back and to my surprise my guests seemed interested in tagging along too. However, when we arrived at the reservoir car park the rain and the prospect of a ten minute walk to the hide was enough to change their minds and they headed for home whilst I got my waterproofs on and headed on down to the hide.

In the hide Martin Elliot and "Mush" were just finishing up and Martin kindly put me on to the bird immediately. It was asleep with its back to us but fortunately it raised its head on occasion so that I could get a glimpse of its diagnostic head pattern. I busied myself with taking some digiscoped record shots in the gloomy conditions. Apart from the duck there were a few Teal, quite a few Swallows, the usual gulls in the middle of the reservoir and a couple of calling Curlew flying about.

The sleeping Ring-necked Duck
After a while I wandered back to the car and headed for home where my brother-in-law and his friend rustled up a great evening meal of organic vegetable soup and home made apple and pear crumble. It had been a good day in the end with a couple of nice birds and a pleasant afternoon tea with my companions. Soon it was time for bed to catch up on my sleep.

Tuesday 14th October: Pendeen & Kenidjack

The weather forecast for today looked really good with virtually no wind and full-on sunshine for a good part of the day. What's more I'd slept really well and was keen to get out there to do the morning Pendeen rounds. Just as I left the house I saw Ian Kendall's car pull up down by the lighthouse so I wandered over to meet up with him. Of course the great thing about there being no wind is that you can actually hear the birds and see the smallest hint of movement so I was optimistic about our chances that morning.

It was soon clear that there was some bird movement going on with a steady passage of Chaffinches flying north, calling as they went. What was also apparent was sadly how my hearing has deteriorated. Ian is not only a far more experienced birder than me and shit-hot on his calls but also it turned out has far better hearing than I do. He'd say "another flock of Chaffinches coming " and then perhaps thirty seconds later I'd pick them up. This came in good stead when he called out that a Snow or Lap Bunting was heading our way. I'd not heard it call at all but we picked up two birds in flight with the front one definitely being a Lap Bunt and the second not identified. I'd never have got that on my own sadly as I didn't manage to hear it. As we worked our way up the road as well as the Chaffinches were several dozen Skylarks, a single wheezing Brambling that Ian heard and I didn't and plenty of the usual Mipits, There were four Reed Buntings by the coastguard cottages as well as the Grey Wagtail again. Up towards White Gate Cottage Ian heard a soft "tack" type call though regrettably I couldn't hear it. We staked out the scrub for some time and Ian even played a few candidate bird calls on his phone including Raddes, Booted and Sykes, saying that the latter was the closest match though whatever it was, it didn't respond or call again.

Along the road to Manor Farm a Snipe went up near the track, I think the first one I've had at Pendeen. The Farm itself held quite a few birds though nothing of note. As we worked our way down the fields behind the farm we found a good number of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits, a Kestrel and best of all a Merlin which landed on a post at the far end of the field, beautifully lit in the morning sunshine.

The Merlin
Back near the lighthouse we parted company and I went back home for breakfast and to empty the moth trap. Once again it was the usual suspects with a Rusty-dot Pearl migrant and an as yet unidentified Agonopterix micro the pick of the bunch. As I pottered about in the garden of the cottage I heard the distinctive call of a Chough flying around by the lighthouse cliffs, always a pleasure to see. There were quite a few Clouded Yellow butterflies about and a nice flock of 30+ Linnets as well as the resident Goldfinches, the three Pendeen Ravens, two Buzzards and several Stonechats. All in all it was very nice to enjoy the warm sunshine and calmness of a still day.

Pendeen Meadow Pipit

Pendeen Clouded Yellow
My two guests decided that they wanted to do some walking today so I suggested that they did the coastal walk north to St Just and that I would rendez-vous with them there for lunch. Whilst they set off on their walk I got ready to head off for some birding. Just as I was loading up the car I got distracted by a small browny orange Moth fluttering about by some old sheds. From its flight it was clearly a moth rather than a butterfly but it just wouldn't settle at all despite my watching it for a good ten minutes. Giving up in the end I drove up the Pendeen road, wanting to take advantage of the still conditions to check the local copses though Calartha Farm and the Pendeen stores were both empty. 

I thought that I'd do one of the valleys near St Just so texted John Swann to ask whether the Vapourer moths were still about on his Kenidjack patch and he offered to come with me to help me find one. So I picked him up and we drove the short distance to the lovely valley that is Kenidjack. Given the limited time that I had if I wanted to make my rendez-vous we parked half way down and walked on towards the lower half of the valley. There we met up with Ian Kendall again, this time with his partner Jackie. They'd not seen anything on the bird front though they'd seen plenty of Vapourer Moths and it wasn't too long before I'd seen one too. Having now seen one for my self I realised that my moth by the car back at Pendeen had definitely been one as well, another nice patch tick! We wandered about together, chatting away in the warm sunshine, watching the Clouded Yellows flying about and picking out the occasional Vapourer. Whilst Ian and Jackie decided to stay in the valley John and I did a circuit up over the top of the headland, an area I'd not explored before though we only had a couple of Stonechats and a Chough for our troubles. Then it was back to the car where we parted company and I headed into the town to meet up with my companions. They'd found a lovely spot outside the pub and had ordered themselves too much food so there was plenty left over for me to have.

Kenidjack Chough
After chilling for a while we drove back to Pendeen where I wanted to get a couple of outdoors DIY tasks done whilst the weather was good. Specifically there was an exterior light to sort out which my brother-in-law and I worked on for a while. Then he and his companion decided to head down to Portheras beach whilst I opted to nip over to Penzance to buy some more lightbulbs and a couple of plugs. There I did a quick tour of the Rosy Starling spots though by now it was getting rather late in the day and half the Starlings, including the colourful vagrant, were missing. Nor was there any sign of the Longrock Pool Garganey though it had been reported on RBA that morning. With it starting to get dark I hurried home in order to fit the lightbulb on the outside light and to bring in the garden furniture for the winter before the rainy weather of tomorrow reached us. After another excellent meal from my chef-in-residence brother-in-law it was a chilled evening chatting before heading off to bed.

Wednesday 15th October: Pendeen & Porthgwarra

In stark contrast to yesterday, the weather forecast was for strong winds and heavy rain and this was indeed what I woke up to. I was therefore in no hurry to get out there and with the forecast suggesting that this would continue for much of the day I gloomily wondered what I was going to do today. After breakfast I busied myself with writing up yesterday's birding on this blog and this kept me occupied for some time. When I finished I looked outside to find that it had started to clear up: the wind was dropping and it was much brighter outside. I therefore donned my gear and headed out to see what was about at Pendeen. It was still windy out and with the direction being a strong south-easterly I headed down past the lighthouse and along the coastal path a short way where it was sheltered. It seemed that the birds had had the same idea for there were surprisingly good numbers along what is normally a fairly barren stretch. The pick of the bunch was a Wheatear, the first I'd seen on this trip.There were also several Stonechats, a phyllosc that eventually turned out to be a Willow Warbler and a skulking bird that momentarily had me thinking Radde's before it showed itself to be a Wren, Back on the windy side there were the usual Mipits flying about in the fields and down the western coastal path were several Chiffies and Stonechats and a skulking Blackbird who's call had me thinking Ouzel for a while until it showed itself. So all in all pretty much the usual suspects.

Back at the cottage I caught up with my guests who were going to head out to St Ives for the day. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do and the pager and a few exploratory texts that I'd sent back were doing little to inspire me. In the end the report of a Ring Ouzel at Porthgwarra decided it for me as this was my Cornish bogey bird so I headed south, stopping at St Just to pick up some lunch. I stopped off at Roskestal Farm once more and this time I found the elusive Hooded Crow almost immediately, sitting on the roof of one of the farm buildings. I took a few snaps before it took exception to my presence and flapped off out of sight.

The Roskestal Hoodie

I arrived at PG and parked up at the top of the hill, walked down to 60 Foot Cover to eat my sandwich though the only thing I saw was the resident Greater-spotted Woodpecker fly over. Next it was on to the Subalp "twitch" which consisted of a single hopeful birder. I told him where it usual showed and then I wandered off over the moor towards the dried up pond where the Ring Ouzel had been reported. By now the wind had dropped to a whisper and it was amazingly sunny and warm. In fact it was altogether very pleasant to be out in the fresh air in such wonderful scenery and the almost total lack of birds didn't seem to matter. I wandered about looking to see what I could find but apart from a couple of Stonechats there was remarkably little. Over by the Half Way Wall I found first a helice form of Clouded Yellow (my first sighting of this sub-species) and then I spotted a fluttery white moth. My first thought was the rare Crimson Speckled Footman though it turned out to be a rather delicate looking translucent white micro with an orange-brown costal border. Given the location and a half-remembered photo from somewhere I was thinking that this was a rarer immigrant moth so I texted John Swann a description and he came back with Palpita vitrealis, which was indeed a rare immigrant micro and a moth tick for myself. 

Palpita vitrealis

Back near the pond I spotted a couple of birders in the distance and a quick view through my bins ID'd them as my good friends "Philary" so I hurried to intercept them. We then had a lovely long natter together where we discovered that we'd all been to the same University (though different colleges) together at the same time and in fact we had several friends in common. What a small world! Eventually we parted company and I wandered back towards the Coastguards and the subalp twitch where there were now four people. As it was still sunny I decided to put in a bit of time for a second viewing but shortly afterwards the sun went it and it suddenly started to look rather late in the day so I headed back to the car and set off for home.

Helice form of Clouded Yellow

Back at base I met up with my happy guests who'd had a lovely day at St Ives and then at Cape Cornwall. In fact they were going  to head back to St Ives for dinner and asked if I wanted to come along. However I was feeling rather tired by now and had a number of chores to do at the cottage. In truth I was actually thinking of heading back home again tomorrow and wanted to get ready to depart. The lack of good birdage and the fact that I was coming back again en famille in a little over a week for the half term holiday meant that there seemed little point in hanging around when the birding was so slow. Anyway, that was my current intention but let's see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday 16th Rame Head

As I mentioned yesterday, I'd been thinking about leaving today and I went to bed having resolved so to do. However the night didn't go very well: I was woken up by my drunken house guests in the middle of the night who were talking in that loud way that drunk people do when they think they're being quiet. Rather than getting up and trudging upstairs to ask them to keep the noise down I tried to ring the mobile phone of my brother-in-law's, who is called David. However, in my sleep-befuddled state I inadvertently rang the wrong David and ended up waking up poor old Dave Parker instead - I was mortified to have done such a thing! Anyway, I didn't get much more sleep that night and in the end got up at 7 am and started to pack. I did do a lighting round of Pendeen but came up with little more than a few Meadow Pipits, a couple of Pied Wagtails and a Chiffchaff. My rather contrite and hung-over brother-in-law was there to see me off though there was no sign of his friend as I hit the highway at around 10am leaving them to lock up.

I didn't run the trap last night but I found this moth lurking by the
front door. From it's obscure markings and pale underwing
I think it's a Pearly Underwing

As usual on my return journey I decided to stop off en route so resolved first to try Buttermilk Hill for my arch nemesis the Ring Ouzel seeing as there had been a smattering of birds in Cornwall yesterday. I had just arrived at the car park when I got a text from Philary saying that they'd found a couple of them at Land's End by the cycle track. Doh! Once again I had managed to be a in the wrong place at the wrong time for this species. Never mind, at least there might be some on the hill. However, I'd just got tooled up and was starting to walk up the slope when I met Buttermilk stalwart Viv Stratton and a fellow birder coming down having seen no Ouzels at all. Drat! Well at least they'd saved me a fruitless search. Time to resume my journey.

For my next stop I had a choice of two birds which had been freshly discovered up-county yesterday. One was a very approachable American Golden Plover at Davidstow and the other was a Red-breasted Flycatcher at the coastguard cottages at Rame Head. Having already come on the pager the Plover was pretty much a sure thing whereas the Flycatcher was going to be much more uncertain. However, unlike the Plover I still needed the Flycatcher for Cornwall so in the end that decided it for me. I knew from past experience when I successfully twitched an Iberian Chiffchaff at Rame Head, that it was a long slog to get there and so it proved but I eventually arrived at the rather windswept and grey location and parked up near the cottages. I had a wander around and met one of the residents who kindly gave me permission to go down the side area to the garden at the back to have a look around. I even met up with a local birder who had a look with me but despite this back-garden access and our combined searching skills there was no sign of the bird. The local told me of a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers back in the Sycamore copse by the church so I wandered over to have a look but I couldn't find them in the half an hour I gave myself. Then it was back to the car and a chance to have my packed lunch.

I had been vaguely thinking of trying for the Davidstow Plover afterwards but it was about 2pm already and I was feeling shattered from my lack of sleep so in the end common sense prevailed and I headed for home. It was a bit of a struggle staying alert for the journey but with the radio for company I managed to arrive home safely in one piece for a most welcome cup of tea and a chance to chat with my VLW. Sadly, it had been a rather frustrating and fruitless return journey and the whole lack of sleep incident had rather soured the day for me.

Mopping Up

I wasn't sure whether to write a "mopping up" section now or to leave it until after my second visit as I'm due back down at the end of the week, this time en famille for the half term break. In the event I decided to wrap up the first visit which is my official Cornwall October birding one. Sadly, as predicted it was a rather quiet affair and whilst it looked like it was all kicking off just as I was due to arrive, it just fizzled out again just as quickly. Have Cornwall and the Scillies had their hay day now and should one now be going to Shetland as a matter of course? Who knows, but I do love it down here and have every intention of carrying on with my visits.

Pendeen Stonechat

There was just enough on the bird front to keep me occupied whilst I was here but I'm glad that I left when I did as there were no new birds in and I freely admit that I really don't like slogging around in strong winds when there's nothing around. The most interesting bird was of course the now-departed Porthgwarra Subalp. Sadly it was never heard to call so the rarities committee might well not accept it as a Moltoni's though apparently the tail pattern certainly rules out Eastern and I don't think that anyone has mooted Western as a possible ID.

I was pleased to catch up with the supporting cast of the Rose-coloured Starling, the Ring-necked Duck and the Roskestal Hooded Crow. At Pendeen a fly-over Lap Bunt and a Brambling were both nice birds as well as good views of a Merlin. Once again I never managed to see a Yellow-browed Warbler (not that I tried particularly hard) nor even a Firecrest and my Cornish bogey bird, the Ring Ouzel, once again managed to elude me.  I didn't get a chance to go sea-watching in the end either which was a shame.

Marsh Pennywort at Porthgwarra
On the moth front I had a couple of ticks in the form of a Vapourer Moth and the much rarer Palpita vitrealis. I've not really done my "moth du jour" posting this time so here's a selection from the moth trap all in one go.

Angled Shades
Black Rustic
Feathered Brindle
Feathered Rustic
Lunar Underwing
Parsnip Moth
Rusty Dot Pearl

So all in all a rather low key affair though still enjoyable. I leave you with another photo of the bird of the trip: the putative Moltoni's Subalpine Warbler.

Bird of the trip

I've just been told that actually the Subalp was heard to call, making a weak "chekk" call and that the general opinion now is that it was a washed out Western Subalpine Warbler, which is of course most disappointing.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Otmoor Red-backed Shrike

Whilst I have been known in the past to moan about Oxon county birding and how hard it is to make progress the truth is that I can't really complain this year. In fact I'd already manage to gain five county ticks this spring and yesterday there was an opportunity to snaffle yet another one.

I'd been staring dopily at my computer screen. It was late morning and I was starting to think about lunch. Just at that moment I got a call from Badger. Probably some web-site related query I thought, but in fact it turned out to be news of a first winter Red-backed Shrike that had been found on Otmoor. Now this was a blocker for many of us in the lower half the of county listing table and was certainly a bird that I needed. In fact there have been records in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire this year already so I'd been half expecting one to turn up in Oxon. I didn't need any further encouragement but hastily got my gear together, fired up the Gnome-mobile and headed off for Otmoor.

Fortunately the bird was located at Noke Farm so it was a mercifully short walk from parking in the village to get down to the farm. None of this running for two miles as I'd had to do in the past for my Wryneck and Whiskered Tern county ticks, this was a brisk walk of a couple of minutes. Justin Taylor arrived at the same time as I did and we hurried down past the farm together to find a dozen or so of the county's finest all at the bottom of the path looking back towards us. We spun around and looked along the barbed wire fence that borders the farm and lo and behold, there was a cracking Red-backed Shrike not more than thirty yards from us. The bird was very settled, sitting in the same location and frequently flying down to catch various insects so it made for a very co-operative photographic subject and I quickly busied myself with my digiscoping gear.

I also took some video for good measure

After a little while the assembled crowd, satiated with their Shrike views, turned to chatting instead and we all passed some time with a good old chin wag. Eventually I decided that I had to get back, not least because my VLW has texted me a shopping list so that I could pop in at the shops in Summertown on the way back home. Well, it was a small price to pay for seeing such a lovely bird at such close quarters. So that's now six county ticks this year - I wonder what the next one will be!

Happy county birders enjoying the Shrike

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

End of an Era and Some Northern Birding

I've been rather relying on some good autumn birding to help bring me back from the pan-species abyss that I blogged about in my previous post but sadly so far it's been a rather quiet autumn in the county. However at the end of the month there was an important milestone in any parent's life: that of taking one's first child of to university for the first time. I can't really believe that our eldest daughter K is all grown up now and ready to fly the nest but on the last Sunday of September she was due to head north to Durham for the start of her term there. It's a long distance to go there and back in one day (though of course most hardcore twitchers will happily do it) so I decided to take advantage of the fact that I'd be up there and to stay overnight to do a spot of birding in an area that I didn't normally get to visit. Naturally enough the long-staying first winter Masked Shrike at Spurn caught my eye. Shrikes have got to be one of the most twitcher-friendly species about: they tend to stay in the same place for a long time (this one had been more than a week there) and to sit up on the top of bushes so that they're easy to see. With it still present on the Saturday, as long as it stayed one more day I was pretty confident of getting to see it. So I booked in at a B&B in Kilnsea for the Sunday evening with a plan of spending Monday morning birding the area before heading back to Oxford at around midday.

Sunday morning K and I duly got up at the crack of dawn and were soon heading north up the M1 which for some reason seemed to consist in large parts of 50 mph restricted roadworks which made for rather tedious driving. Still, as it was early on a Sunday morning there wasn't much traffic and we made good time. To pass the time we played "spot the fresher", looking out for other cars loaded up to the gunwales like ours with bedding and suitcases and there were quite a few heading north with us. At around 11:30 we reached the Durham turn-off and headed into the very picturesque city. As the centre of the city consists of tiny cobbled streets there was a major police operation to co-ordinate the hoards of newcomers and we were directed to a sports field holding area to await further instructions. Fortunately we didn't have to wait long as apparently there were some parking spaces outside K's college and we soon found ourselves being directed up into the heart of the city and to her college. There a team of keen second years were on hand to help unload the car and take her to her room. All too quickly her stuff was unloaded, good-byes were said and she was off to start her student life and I was free to do some birding. 

As it was a surprisingly long further three hours drive from Durham to Spurn I didn't waste any time but quickly ate my sandwich in the car and then headed back on to the motorway, first southwards and then eastwards along the M62. I remembered much of the latter part of the route from last year when I ventured north to see the Ivory Gull. I passed the time listening to a play on Radio 4 and thus it was in good spirits I arrived at Kilnsea at around 4pm. I didn't waste any time but parked up and having spoken to some other birders soon found out that the Masked Shrike was still about in Middle Hedge and showing well. Middle Hedge turned out to be the hedge that runs east to west across the middle of the first field north of the Easington Road as it itself heads eastwards towards the Bluebell Café. There were a group of birders standing in the edge of the field just off Beacon Lane and I joined them and was soon watching the Shrike. 

And what a gorgeous little bird it turned out to be. It was rather petite as Shrikes go with scaly dark feathering over its head and much of its back whereas it's underside was pale white except for an exotic flush of orange colour on it's lower right flank where its adult colours were starting to show. There was a large white patch on its coverts and a white block at the base of its flight feathers, this latter marking it out from a juvenile Woodchat Shrike (which it was originally mistakenly identified as). The main diagnostic feature however was its rump which was dark compared to the always pale rump of a Woodchat. It was very active, working its way along the hedge and frequently flying down to pounce on some prey items of which there seemed to be plenty given the Indian summer we're currently enjoying. I watched it for about an hour, taking frequent photos or just admiring it in all its Shrikey loveliness.

After I'd had my fill I wandered over to the café to see if I could get a little something though annoyingly it seemed just to have closed. I therefore decided to explore a bit further down the peninsula so got back into the Gnome mobile and headed down to the Canal Scrape where I'd heard that a Jack Snipe was showing well in front of the hide. This indeed turned out to be the case and I spent a while watching this delightful wader bobbing up and down right in front of the hide in what amounted for a Jack Snipe to full view.

I wanted to do some reconnaissance work for tomorrow morning to see where the various other location were so I headed further south and parked up just before the gateway entrance to the Point itself. I wandered over to a pond and watched a Hawker dragonfly that was working its way around a small pool in the late afternoon sunlight. Just at that point I heard a down-slurred call. Could that be a Red-throated Pipit? I looked about frantically but couldn't see anything. Sadly it never called again and it's always difficult when something only calls once: the first call gets your attention, then if it calls again you can usually nail it. In the end, despite my uncertainty I put it out on RBA as a "possible" so that people could look out for it just in case. I wandered over to the sea-watching hut where there were a dozen or so Mallards and a couple of dozen Common Scoter on the sea but little else. It was all very peaceful, with passing calling Curlews and a large wheeling flock of what I took to be Knot flying over the estuary in the distance. What's more I had a Mega under my belt and the prospect of some good birding ahead of me tomorrow morning so I was a contented bunny.

The Humber estuary at dusk

By now I was feeling very tired after my early start and long drive as well as extremely hungry so I returned to the Gnome-mobile and headed back to Kilnsea to the Crown and Anchor where I enjoyed a very welcome plate of scampi and chips and a half of Tetleys (well I was in Yorkshire after all). In the pub there was a lot of talk about the recent flooding that the peninsula had suffered at the start of the year. I half listened as I watched the tide creeping up the estuary and ate my fare. Then it was a short drive of a few hundred yards up the road to the Westmere Farm B&B where I checked in to my room. The farmer's wife offered me a cup of tea down in the communal dining area which I gladly accepted. I passed some pleasant time there chatting with the farmer and one of the guests who turned out to be a birder from the island of Islay up in the Scottish highlands. There was more chat about flooding and how the eastern shore is gradually being eroded and the soil is being deposited along the Humber estuary instead. It turns out that the peninsula is a very mobile thing here and is gradually moving. In fact the road down the peninsula was washed away during the winter floods and there is some debate as to whether it should or even could be repaired. The birder and I then talked about birding in his neck of the woods and also down in Cornwall. However, in the end tiredness got the better of me and I headed up to my room, had a quick shower, gave my VLW a quick call and was asleep by 9:30.

Given the balmy weather and the fact that there was so little wind, I had been worried about possible fog the next morning but in the event it turned out to be fine. I was up and ready for my cooked breakfast at 7am and out the door by 7:30. My plan was to head down to the Warren area for a spot of sea watching first thing and then gradually to work my way back up the peninsula. I parked up at the Canal Scrape car park and elected to take the footpath along the eastern shore to the Warren area, being rewarded with a Wheatear for my troubles but little else of note. At the Warren area the Observatory team were busy up on the hillock doing some vis migging and there were a couple of people sea watching in the hut. I asked the sea watchers how they were getting on but conditions were very hazy and they had nothing to report. I therefore decided to hang about near the vis mig team with one ear cocked in case the sea watchers should call out anything.

I soon noticed a moth trap down the slope in the garden of the observatory and asked whether they were being run at present. I was told that the moth man was due fairly shortly and right on cue his car could be seen driving down the road. I went to meet him and politely asked if I could watch him unpack the trap which he was happy with. The traps consisted of a couple of very large Skinner-type traps with weather-proofed MV lamps built in. There weren't huge numbers in the traps but of course the moths were very different from what I would expect in my Oxford garden and I passed a happy three quarters of an hour taking note of the species of interest. The highlight was a Shore Wainscot, which feeds on Marram Grass and which is very localised but there were quite a few other species of interest to me including Tawny Pinion. Blair's Shoulder-knot, Small Blood-vein and various micros.

Blair's Shoulder-knot
Shore Wainscott

With the moths duly processed I went back up to the vis mig site and then wandered over to the sea-watching hut. They'd seen a large diver which was probably a Great Northern but they weren't quite sure. I had a little look and picked out a few Red-throated though couldn't see their bird. Whilst the sea was flat calm the hazy sunshine meant that it was hard to see much so I soon gave up. At that point word came through on one of the radios (that all the hardcore locals carry) that they'd caught a Little Bunting in the nets and were going to release it in fifteen minutes time. Somehow I'd been in the right place at the right time and had managed to jam in on a good bird! I wandered down to outside the ringing hut and in due course the bird was brought out. It was a comparatively subtly marked bird though you could clearly see the greyer lesser coverts with the whitish wing bar, the pale cheek mark, the central crown stripe and the fact that the black border didn't extend along the throat side of the cheek area. All in all a great little bird which was soon released safely back into the wild.

Little Bunting in the hand

Talking of ringing, there were loads of mist nests down in the Warren area as well as a heligoland trap. The main species being caught apparently were Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Tree Sparrows, with large flocks of the latter chattering away in the surrounding bushes. There were various tapes playing away in the bushes to lure birds in and it was strangely disconcerting to hear Meadow Pipit song, followed by Serin and even Red-throated Pipit all in quick succession! 

Coastal Orache species, probably Spear-leaved Orache

By now it was mid morning and it was getting hot! The vis miggers and sea watchers were flagging and I too had had enough so I started to wandered back to the car. On the way a car went passed with a familiar face in the passenger seat. "Keith" I yelled out, for it was indeed Clackers and the car skidded to a halt. It turned out to be Keith Clack and Colim Oram, up for the day to pay homage to the Shrike. We had a good chat and then parted company, they to check out the Warren and I to head back to the car. I had a quick look in at the Canal Scrape hide where the Jack Snipe was in the same place though fast asleep so it took quite a bit of time to see it at all. One of the locals there pointed out a few Med Gulls in the wheeling flock of Black-headed Gulls overhead.

After a while I decided to head back to Kilnsea to see if I could score a cup of tea though the café was annoyingly still shut. I parked by the café and I decided to walk along the road to the Church Field behind the old church where apparently a Common Rosefinch was coming to the feeders occasionally. There I found a couple of photographers sitting quietly either side of a screen in front of the feeders. Notice I say "either side of" rather than behind though they assured me that the bird would still come with them being there and even showed me some back of the camera photos as proof. Personally I wasn't convinced but I decided to stay a while. Various Greenfinches would come and assemble on the wires or in the bushes, look at us warily and then fly off. Whilst I'm sure that eventually they might come in, I was also convinced that they would come in a lot more quickly if the photographers at least stood behind the screen. Eventually the photographers decided that they'd had enough and I too decided to leave at that point.

On the way back towards the café I bumped into a fellow birder who asked me about the Rosefinch. I told him where to look and also that one should really stand back to get best results. I headed on to the café and he to try his luck. The café was still shut (does it ever open?) so I popped in to see the Shrike briefly though it seemed rather distant this morning. Back at the car park I met up with the Rosefinch birder who'd apparently had almost immediate success - he said that he stood right back and had no problem seeing it. As it was more or less time for me to depart I decided that I'd just quickly pop back in there to see if I could see it before I headed off on my long journey back to Oxford. I arrived back at the Church Field to see a few other birders all standing around next to the screen making no attempt to hide behind it. I approached them and politely suggested that we'd all have better luck if we stood much further back. They all looked at me blankly and but didn't seem inclined to move at all. There was clearly no point in even trying to wait with these morons standing around in full view so I headed back to the car contemplating the long journey home.

There were lots of great weeds growing in the Church Field including this Borage

I was just about to get in the car when a bloke called out to me from across the road that he'd just found a Richard's Pipit nearby. He seemed pretty sure about it and gave me exact directions to a field just north of the new Riverside Hotel no more than 500 yards up the road. Needing no further invitation I jumped into the car and headed over there, soon finding the field in question. I was the first on the scene and a short time later another bird (Dutch judging by his accent) arrived and the two of us scanned the field. There were a few Starlings and Goldfinches flying around as well as some LBJ's at the back (probably Reed Buntings) but nothing else. As the field was rather undulating we cautiously decided to walk around the edge to get a better vantage point but we couldn't see anything. I could hear other birders starting to arrive so we moved back to where they all were. Just as we were walking back a bird flew down into the middle of the field and my companion says "that looks like a large pipit.." and indeed it was, a splendid Richard's Pipit. It quickly hopped up to the brow of hillock and showed well on this ridge for several minutes as we re-joined the other birders. I'd sent a text out to Clackers when I'd first got the news and sent another one to confirm the report and then continued to watch the bird. Given the heat haze and the fact that the bird kept disappearing over the brow of the hill I didn't bother trying to digiscope it but just enjoyed watching it and also let others look at it through my scope. Clackers and Colin arrived just as I was leaving and given that the bird was reported later on that afternoon as still present I assume that they got to see it though time was marching on for me and I decided to hit the highway. With a four hour journey ahead I got my gear into the car and headed off on the minor roads back towards Hull, very pleased with my bonus last gasp Richard's Pipit.

The journey back was uneventful though the southbound M1 was just as full of road works and with a lot more traffic on the way back it was quite tricky driving at times. Therefore I decided to try out a new route back and came off the M1 as soon as possible on the A42. This turned out to be a great little route home, taking you down to the M42 and then the familiar M40 back to Oxfordshire. I arrived back home to the bosom of my family late afternoon to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea. It had been a great little interlude up in the north with the long-staying Masked Shrike, a fist full of new moths, a Little Bunting in the hand and a last gasp bonus Richard's Pipit all making for a great time away. I must admit I was most impressed with Spurn and would certainly like to return there again some day. Fortunately K will need ferrying backwards and forwards to and from Durham for some years to come so it would be rude of me not to return to this great site.