30 October 2012

Northern Chiffchaffs in Pembrokeshire

Pale, monochromatic grey-brown chiffchaffs of the Scandinavian race 'abietinus' are probably regular in Pembs in autumn with some wintering, along with 'collybita' birds,  in regular places such as Monk Haven.

Variation in individual 'collybita' birds means that caution should be exercised in claiming 'abietinus' birds, yet there are clear groups of records in autumn associated with the occurence of other species such as Yellow-browed Warbler which make it a relatively safe exercise. These conditions existed in late October 2012 and led to a cluster of records at St Davids Hd, Porth Clais, DaleVillage and St Brides.

As well as this, at least in my view, enough wintering birds have been seen, often in association with 'collybita' Chiffchaffs, to feel quite secure about claiming them as 'abietinus'. Hopefully more will be recorded and photographed. And to add some spice, Siberian Chiffchaff ('tristis') is most likely to be discovered in similar circumstances.

'abietinus' Chiffchaff St Davids Hd 26th October 2012
photo: Mark Hipkin

Other 'washed out' Chiffchaffs were recorded at, for instance, Bardsey during this period and assigned to both 'abietinus' and 'tristis'. 

'abietinus' Chiffchaff Porth Clais 26th October 2012
photo: Mark Hipkin

More observations and photos would definitely be good, maybe starting this winter in  sheltered valleys and sewage treatment works?

27 October 2012


Kathy and I had spent the morning of 27th October at St Davids Hd and dropped in to Heathfield GP on our way home hoping for something interesting since having seen more ducks than usual at Penberi Reservoir. It was still and bright, ideal conditions. We viewed the pit from the south side and Kathy headed back to the gate and the car. I continued round to the west to check out that area which has been productive in the past. Nothing. On a slightly weary trudge back to the car I vaguely heard a distant disyllabic ‘too-eet’ call which I didn’t recognise. I got enough energy together to head off in that direction and from on or near  the concrete parking area a bird flew up, much closer now and calling repeatedly. I instantly recognised the now fully heard call and grilled the bird as it flew off east, taking its time about it, before disappearing from view. I did not see the bird on the ground only in flight.

The call registered as a soft disyllabic ‘too-eet’ when heard from a distance and not really concentrating. When I was closer and it called repeatedly it was a more rolling (very attractive) call which I tried to transcribe in my notebook as  I walked away. I wrote it down as: ‘tirillee-eep’. The bird rose rather vertically and did not fly off really strongly so I got time to really get a good look at it. The flight pattern was rather bouncy, rather than direct.

The wings were clearly broad and rather rounded and the tail noticeably short giving a very distinctive flight silhouette. The bird was pale below and I got a general impression of warm brown rather than colder greyish tones.
I didn't see the white tips to tail but I could see that the outer tail feathers were paler than the central ones. The impression was of a lack of uniformity.

I watched the bird for a couple of minutes I suppose, till it disappeared over trees to the east. Really, really enjoyable.

Woodlarks are less than annual in Pembs.

Woodlarks in Pembrokeshire since 2000

Strumble Hd  21st October 2002  (MYP)
Porth Clais  26th October 2003  (PKG AR OR)
Bosherston 11th December 2005 (DJA)
Skomer 1st November 2010  (DB)
Heathfield GP 27th October 2012  (MYP)
St David's Hd 24th October 2013  (MYP)

22 October 2012

Irish Coal Tits in Pembrokeshire and beyond

Irish Coal Tits in Scilly

Birds showing characteristics of the Irish race 'hibernicus' arrived on St Agnes in the Scilly Isles on October 10th following north-westerly winds. Initially found out on rocks at Horse Point, they were a real Scilly rarity, though there was breeding on the island of Tresco in the past. There were at least 20, eventually, on St Agnes and were  far, far rarer than the Grey-cheeked Thrush which was present three days before, in fact the last record anywhere in Scilly was 2008. They caused quite a stir and there was much checking for the clearer blue grey back and mantle of continental 'ater' but this area seemed to be rather 'britannicus' like olive-brown. Lots of speculation also centred around the obvious yellow suffusion in the cheeks and sometimes nape. At first many assumed that this was age related, indicating 1st autumn birds. This would be unlikely so late in the year, however, when Blue and Great Tits had clearly lost this juvenile feature. It was noted that this yellow suffusion is said to be indicative of the Irish race 'hibernicus' (there is a brief note in The 'Collins Guide' or a little more in Svensson's Ringers' Guide 1992). The back and mantle colour was ok and of course the wind direction when they arrived in Scilly helps with Ireland as the possible origin.

These taken on St agnes. The picture quality is poor, the bright light bleaching out much lemon colour from the head. It is possible to make some out, however, and the underparts are also interesting. The usual British birds 'britannicus' at my bird table all seem to have warm buff flanks with whitish centre to breast and belly. 

In Pembrokeshire

If Irish birds could get to Scilly, well Pembrokeshire is a relatively short hop away.To  find therefore a similar bird on a North Pembrokeshire headland (St Davids) on 22nd October  was perhaps predictable but nevertheless quite exciting. A close look revealed a dullish olive-brown back and mantle warm buff tones on flanks and a creamy yellow suffusion most noticeable in the cheeks. I am aware of two other records of apparently migrant Coal Tits in Pembrokeshire about this time, both from the St Davids area. Nine were seen to fly from Porth Clais, high over St Bride's Bay on 19th October (JB MB) and two were at Rhosson Farm also on 19th October (JB MB). Unfortunately none were seen well enough to give an indication of race, though my gut feeling is that some of them, at least, must be suspects in the affair.

North Wales

The blog 'We Bird North Wales' via Marcbuzzard has taken up the topic and published photos of a 'hibernicus' type bird trapped on Bardsey in 2004. The bird is very clearly yellow  on the cheeks where it might be expected to be white and the underparts appear greyish with a yellow tinge. Comments from at least one Irish birder are encouraging. It has been suggested that this might constitute the first record for Wales. 

The Bardsey bird