Friday, 26 April 2019

Cornwall in Early Spring

Another repost from my Pendeen Birding sister blog.
It was time for another Easter break visit to the Far South West. We were due to come down on Sunday 14th but a minor medical eye emergency on my part which needed to be checked out (which fortunately turned out to be nothing serious) meant that in the end we didn't come down until the Monday. My VLW's sister was with us on the way down: she had been staying with us in Oxford while she was convalescing (it's a long story) so we'd agreed to take her back to her home at Ilfracombe en route. Fortunately, in the end we arranged to rendezvous with some friends of hers at some services on the M5 to avoid having to make too long a detour and they took her the rest of the way. Still it broke up the journey nicely though by the time we finally arrived in Penzance it was far later than we were normally used to. Arriving at the cottage we first had to deal with our neighbour who'd been "over enthusiastic" with pruning our garden Tamarisk trees (without our permission). This took several days finally to resolve to our satisfaction but we eventually got an undertaking from him that he'd not do this again. Still it rather soured the start of our stay.

Pendeen Raven...
...and a Pendeen Stonechat

Spring Squill
As usual our day was broken up into the pattern of doing DIY in the morning and then going on an outing in the afternoon to get tea somewhere. Both my VLW and I are getting to the point of being thoroughly fed up with the endless DIY that has to be done on every visit down here. The trouble is that the cottage is just in such an exposed spot that the weather always finds a way of causing one problem or another. Does it mean the end of our trips down here? It's too early to say but there's a limit to how many DIY "holidays" we want to have.

A pair of Wheatears at Geevor seen on our usual walk over to the mine tea shop

As you can tell by the fact that this is a single blog entry to cover the entire trip, this was a very low key trip with precious little to report on the birding front. I re-acquainted myself with all the usual local suspects and I enjoyed seeing the first migrants coming in with Willow Warblers seen working their way north through Pendeen most days. The main highlights of the week were the Pied Crow which turned up at Land's End during the week, the Marazion Glossy Ibis which was around all week and some nasty dippage of a Red-rumped Swallow, again at Marazion. 

Some sightings from a trip to our favourite café, the Rock Pool Café at Mousehole
The Pied Crow turned up one afternoon whilst we were out visiting the Trewidden gardens for the first time. Because of various family commitments I didn't finally get down to the Land's End complex until it was getting quite late. I arrived to find SR and PW watching it fly off towards Sennen. I got good enough views to be able to pick it out in flight quite easily but it was less than satisfactory. I did try visiting the complex a few more times on subsequent days to look for it but it was never around when I was there.

During one of our usual family trips over to Marazion to sip tea from Jordan's whilst overlooking the sea I popped over the road to see the Glossy Ibis which was nice to catch up with. I've seen a few down in Cornwall so it's not a county tick but nevertheless, given how quiet it was I was pleased to see something, anything even, of interest and this bird was pretty cooperative.

The Marazion Glossy Ibis

On the day before we were due to depart news came up of Red-rumped Swallow at Marazion that DP had found. It was really windy that day with a stormy south easterly raging away, making conditions down at Pendeen pretty impossible. Unfortunately I did have some weather proofing DIY that I'd promised to do first thing so I could leave until about 30 minutes after I first got the news. Sadly those 30 minutes proved critical as when I arrived at Marazion I was told that it had last been seen about 20 minutes ago. Grrrr! I spent a bit of time in the eastern corner of the reserve where it was more sheltered, in the company of MM watching the House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows hawking over the marsh but their continental cousin never re-appeared. LL turned up to take a look - I know him from his student days when he and I birded my patch at Port Meadow together so it was nice to catch up. However, it was scant compensation for dipping what would have been a county tick and the dip somehow encapsulated what had been a somewhat frustrating week all round.

We left the "moth light" on when the weather was calm enough. Pick of the bunch were this Oak Beauty...

...and this Red Chestnut

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Blenheim Bonaparte's

Bonaparte's Gull has something of a history in spring in Oxfordshire. Indeed if you look back at past records they have all been in April or May:

Farmoor, April & May 2017
Farmoor, April 2009
Farmoor, May 2007
Farmoor, April 2006
Farmoor, May 2000

So perhaps it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise when Nic Hallam (not for nothing is he called the "Gull Whisperer") found a wonderful adult Bonaparte's Gull on Blenheim Palace Lake a few days ago. Having seen the last two county birds I wasn't in too much of a hurry to go and pay my respects but instead waited a few days until I had a convenient break in my work schedule. Since my family are quite partial to a visit to Blenheim themselves we decided to make a family outing of it. Thus whilst they wandered off to visit the butterfly house and to ride the miniature train I headed off catch up with what would be my third county Bonaparte's.

As I was heading off towards the central bridge that divides the lake into the Queen's Pool to the north and the Lower Lake to the south I thought I'd better catch up on my RBA texts. To my consternation there was a message saying that the Boney's had last been seen at 1pm before flying off high to the south. That didn't sound too promising. It was now 2:30pm, had I managed to come just after it's final departure? Actually I needn't have worried: I arrived at the usual viewing area (south over the bridge then turn west and walk down the slope to view the Lower Lake - see here) to find a couple of birders there who informed me that the bird had returned a short while ago. Relief!

Viewing conditions were pretty terrible: we were looking into bright hazy sunshine and the bird was either flying around between us and the old boat house or resting on the water on the far side of the lake. Having read several other blog posts on the matter, I realised that I'd forgotten to bring the all important bread that would lure the gulls in close enough to get a good look - doh! I therefore had to content myself with scope views which were adequate but not exactly crippling.

Bonaparte's Gull is very much a birder's gull - it has a number of subtle difference compared to our Black-headed Gulls (which were also present today). In flight the most obvious feature was the lack of dark underwing primaries. BHG has P8 to P4 quite dark on the underside, giving a dark tipped look in flight whereas by comparison BG is strikingly pale. One would also regularly get glimpses of the lovely bubblegum pink legs as it flew around which was an instant diagnostic feature.

Blenheim Bonaparte's Gull in flight - pale P8-P4 & bubblegum legs, courtesy of Roger Wyatt

Black-headed Gull - note the dark P8 - P5 undersides, from the internet (c) original photographer
When settled on the water the usual diagnostic feature is the slimmer all dark bill compared to the chunkier more deep blood red colour of the BHGs though in the hazy light and at a distance this wasn't always obvious. The hood of the BG was also darker than the rich chocolate colour of a BHG and extended further down the neck though this can be misleading as the extent of the hood does depend on posture. One of the other birders also pointed out that when resting the BHG's generally had a longer necked look to them compared to the more compact jizz of the BG though you can't see this so much in the photos below as the BHG is in loafing mode.

Floating Blenheim Bonaparte's - slim dark bill, dark hood extending further down the neck, courtesy of Roger Wyatt

Black-headed Gull - chunkier deep blood red bill, chocolate hood that doesn't extend down the neck
(c) David Hastings,
Aside from the gulls there was a drake Mandarin, a couple of Common Terns and the usual water fowl that one might expect. As I made my way back up to the bridge a flock of 25 Sand Martins flew in, swirled around the bridge for a few minutes before heading on their way. I checked the island on the Queen's Pool which had a bunch of nesting Grey Herons and at least 6 Little Egrets but no Great Whites. There were also a couple of Shelduck on the Queen's Pool.

Having had my fill of the Boney's I met up with the family and we rewarded ourselves for our respective endeavours with a nice tea in the tea rooms before heading back to the car and home.

Video courtesy of Badger

Courtesy of Roger Wyatt