21 November 2012

St Davids Hd Spring Summary 2012


Spring passage probably starts late February but March is the time when it really becomes noticeable. The first White Wagtails and Chiffchaffs appeared mid month with a few Goldcrests and an increase in Meadow Pipits, though their numbers vary remarkably day to day. There was still a Black Redstart early in the month, a species that bridges winter and spring. The first Wheatears appeared on the 15th March as the first Siskins started moving through. The first Willow Warblers and Blackcaps appeared on the 24th. The first day I noted Redpoll passage was the 24th and it continued  to 20th July at least. All pretty remarkable. It was noted elsewhere too and seemed to be made up of both Lesser and Mealy Redpolls, though confused by the problem of worn Lessers in spring. I just wonder if there's not the chance of a North-western Redpoll in there somewhere?
On the 27th a Purple Heron flew along Daffodil Lane, avoiding open water and dropping into cover when it could. This one was in full breeding best and quite showy, for a little while as it stood on the bank of a nearby pond. The same day produced Black Redstart again and Hooded Crow as well as a very interesting, but ultimately inconclusive, Harrier sp. the next day, there was a female Ring Ouzel sheltering in the Burial chamber, perhaps not the first in the last couple of thousand years. A different Black Redstart was present on the 29th and the last couple of days of the month were characterised by Goldfinches moving through.


A Hooded Crow appeared on the 6th but by then the cold, westerly weather pattern had become established, The Jet Stream seemed to be the cause, being so far south, and it was set the same for months to come. The result was a disappointing spring, seemingly lacking any easterlies at all. There was  a good passage of Hirundines (mostly Swallows) on the 13th and the first Cuckoo, a female, was flushed from gorse on the Head. On the 14th the first Greenland/Icelandic Wheatears appeared. On the 15th 3 Greenland Whitefronts were on Ivor's Pond before moving to a field nearby. They stayed till the 17th and then moved along the coast. Part of the national invasion.  Every year seems to bring a a big fall of Willow Warblers and this year it was the 20th, it coincided with a good number of Grasshopper Warblers and a few Blackcaps. Hirundines (mainly Swallows) also pushed through all day. The Hirundine movement continued the next day when the first Whitethroats and Sedge Warbler put in an appearance. The first Whimbrels appeared on 22nd when there were 26 present at Whitesands. Wheatear numbers for the spring peaked at 97 on 28th. Swifts and a first summer male Redstart brightened up the end of the month on 30th.


A Hobby gave great views at Whitesands Car Park on the 1st and there were 79 Whimbrels present, the highest spring count, with a bright male Bar-tailed Godwit mixed in with them. The same day 4 Tree Pipits flew over and two were present at the Gesail, a second Redstart was with the original in Porthmelgan Withies. Large numbers of Wheatears arrived in the afternoon to join good numbers of Willow Warblers in the day. The Willow Warblers lingered into the 2nd along with higher numbers of Blackaps, the only Whinchat of the spring, 2 Garden Warblers and 2 Lesser Whitethroats. A different female Redstart was at the Youth Hostel and the Hooded Crow appeared briefly again. On the 3rd, 3 Common Sandpipers were on Penberi Res, then on the 4th a Cuckoo and Lesser Whitethroat were on the Dowrog. A Golden Oriole brightened an otherwise boring day on the 8th, part of an exceptional nationwide influx and the first of three in Pembrokeshire, all first year males or females. A Brimstone butterfly was a bit special too. I heard a Bee Eater over Carn Llidi on the 16th but unfortunately didn't get sight of it. On 17th the first Spotted Flycatcher was present and the Hooded Crow put in another appearance. There were 3 Cuckoos on 19th and they were pretty regular through the late spring. The Hooded Crow appeared twice more, being seen last on the 27th. On the 25th and 26th a male Firecrest was at the Youth Hostel and sometimes singing, a good spring record.

June - July

Redpolls and Cuckoos kept appearing, right through. The only diversion at the end of a disappointing spring was the appearance of an adult Red-breasted Goose on Penberi Res on 14th. I wonder what would have happened if it had been January!

10 November 2012

Snow Buntings

Races of Snow Buntings

There are three races of Snow Bunting which can be found in Britain, though only two are regular and likely to be seen. The nominate race 'nivalis'. breeds from Canada and Greenland via Scotland to Scandinavia and NW Russia. The second race is 'insulae' which breeds in Iceland (and has been cited as a perhaps rather unlikely candidate for a split). The rarest race to appear in Britain is the NE Russian and Siberian race 'vlasowae'.

A work in progress

Because the number of Snow Buntings seen on passage and wintering in Pembrokeshire (and other west coast sites?) is small, it's difficult to be clear about the ratios of sexes, ages and races present. My own recent experience has produced rather more males of the race 'nivalis' than might perhaps have been expected since on the east coast (particularly Norfolk where there are large flocks in winter at a number of sites) trapping revealed a preponderence of females, particularly 1st year birds, of the Icelandic race 'insulae'. However I understand that the ratio of races at least may have changed significantly there in recent times, though I haven't seen any written accounts as yet. In Pembs there'll be an ongoing attempt to  photograph and, hopefully, trap wintering and passage birds.

Ageing Snow Buntings

Males, are generally whiter than females, having more extensive white on head and cheeks as well as broader white fringes to feathers on back and mantle. The white is often tipped with buff which wears over time to show more white. On the whole adult males have the whiter primary coverts and immature females the darkest but with individual variation. Also 'insulae' tends to be darker than 'nivalis'. The shape of the tail feathers is a useful method of ageing Snow Buntings with 1st year birds having more pointed and often more worn tail feathers (Svensson 1992 has useful illustrations). The tertials are often easier to see and judge and two generations of feathers; with a contrast between fresh chestnut tertials with paler more worn feathers indicating 1st year birds (usually the longest tertial is retained, juvenile). Uniform tertials and all adult type tail feathers do not always indicate an adult bird since a juvenile can, rarely, moult all these feathers.

Sexing Snow Buntings

Overall Males are whiter and more contrasting than females. Male Snow Buntings generally have more white in the wing and the primary coverts , in particular, are generally, largely white. It seems likely adults will, on the whole, show more white than 1st year birds. females have darker primary coverts and less white in the wing overall. All these features exhibit some overlap.

Racing Snow Buntings

Overall 'nivalis' is the brighter and 'insulae' the darker race, though this is subject to the criteria which determine age and sex. Males of the race 'nivalis' exhibit white rump feathers, often tipped buff or gingery buff, this often abraiding over time to become reduced. Females have the 9th primary 60% or more white (a feature often visible in photographs). Males of the race 'insulae' have black based rump feathers tipped rufous-buff. Females of this race have 40% or less of the 9th primary white. The back and mantle of 'nivalis' is often described as 'frosty' looking, having a pale greyish-white appearance. 'Insulae' is darker and browner. While this generally follows from earlier descriptions of the extent of white etc made earlier, at least one individual seen in Pembs suggests that, at the least, this feature may be worth further critical examination.

Some Snow Buntings are probably impossible to catogarise with certainty but many can aged, sexed and raced with some confidence. It is important to use as many characters as possible, in combination.

Snow Buntings in The Wirral

The following, very instructive, illustrated photographs have been produced by Phil Woollen.

This 1st year male 'nivalis' bird was present on St Agnes Scilly on at least 2th October 2012.

extensive white inc white p. cov's = male
white, buff-fringed rump feathers = 'nivalis'

2 generations of tertials = 1st yr
(longest paler and more worn)

The pale, frosty mantle which appears to be characteristic of 'nivalis' may not be useful for all birds. Occasional records, such as a bird viewed at Fishguard Outer Breakwater during a ringing session (but not trapped, unfortunately), may throw some doubt on this feature. Something to assess over time.