24 October 2013

Another Woodlark

Almost a year after the last one (which was at Heathfield GP on 27th October last year) another one! This time a flyover at St David's Head today, the 24th October. It's been a great morning's birding with a lot of vis mig, the usual Chaffinches and Starlings but also more Skylarks than normal (160 in a couple of hours mainly). I was counting them as accurately as possible and having to pick out Skylarks from amongst groups of Chaffinches, so my eye was well in. Then a familiar and attractive call off to the seaward side of me as I started down into Porthmelgan Valley. Immediately it was apparent it was a Woodlark and the the hyper-distinctive call, given repeatedly, was supplemented by the distinctive fluttery flight and short-tailed silhouette just round things off. I watched it for a short while as it flew south-east and into the low sun. A brief but brilliant experience on a really enjoyable morning.

A note on bird calls and geography.

When in the Pub on St Agnes recently, I noticed 'tirillee-eep' written on a page of my notebook - just that, nothing else and I recalled that I had written it down a moment after I heard the bird at Heathfield GP last year. However with the St Davids bird, and I'm writing this just hours later, the call is clearly fixed in my head as a softer 'toolloolee'. I know that transcribing bird calls is notoriously difficult and calls can vary slightly but I think there may also be a geographical reason for the difference.

It was the same call with the same syllables but I felt the bird today sounded slightly softer in tone. I think the reason is that the wide open spaces on the headland soften and dissipate some of the clarity of the call, whereas at Heathfield (a more enclosed inland site) the acoustics differ and the call seems a little clearer and sharper. The same thing seems to happen with Grey Wagtails, to give another example, the familiar piercing call, here around the garden can seem momentarily unfamiliar, more diffuse, when heard on a bird over-flying the open geography of The Head. Its something I think I need to check out more in future to see if it holds true.

20 October 2013

St Agnes October 2013

For the third year in a row it was time to head for Scilly for the first two weeks of October. Good birds and great company once again, though the hoped for second wave of migrants never appeared. There's always the Turk's Head, the most southerly and perhaps the best pub in Britain.

The first afternoon we caught up with the Immature Subalpine Warbler, a really interesting bird which threw a few people. A nearby Whitethroat was mistaken for it quite a few times. On the way to see the Subalp we found a Red-breasted Flycatcher at The Fruitcage and later caught up with the sunbathing Barred Warbler near the Church.

The juv Rose-coloured Starling was seen next day and daily thereafter, a very pale individual, missing feathers at the rear of the crown, it headed off to St Mary's for a day or two before returning to its usual spots around St Warna's Cove.

As always the huge numbers of tame Song Thrushes make quite a spectacle, always great to see as are Yellow-browed Warblers and there's usually a few around the island.

This Pied Flycatcher was always around The Parsonage, usually showing well and sometimes in company with a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Kathy missed seeing a Ringed Plover on the first day so when I heard one calling as we crossed the Gugh Bar, I called to her and turned to see it fly over the bay. Unfortunately she was a fraction slow so this turned out to be her first view of the bird.

Two special moths were visible on the school for a couple of days, both huge but the Convulvulous Hawk Moth was definitely eclipsed by the ultra sinister Death's Head Hawk Moth. I was blown away by it.

There were plenty of Wheatears present and Whinchats were regularly seen. We also bumped into a couple of Lesser Whitethroats. All great birds.

It was really nice to catch up with Short-toed Lark in Britain after a long gap, it hung around all trip and was great to see most days.

A Lapland Bunting showed well in the pig field at Castella but the biggie was found in the Marram grass on Gugh though the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was never seen very well and not at all by most. It certainly brought the St Mary's hordes - even though the Bar was covered it didn't stop them!

It's in there somewhere - maybe!

And so with a lack of real quality birds things ended with just a new Yellow-browed on the way to the boat (but they're always great). St Agnes will turn up mega birds in future years and hopefully we'll be here meeting up with a whole bunch of good friends and St Agnes regulars.

01 October 2013

September Highlights

September 2013 proved to be an exciting month for rarities in Pembs, helped along by an easterly airflow in the second half of the month. Luckily a number of birds were trapped or showed well enough for decent photos to be taken so there's a selection in this roundup. Unfortunately the photos of the Citrine Wagtails at St Davids which kicked things off on the 3rd are appalling,(see post below). However things improved with an adult  Semi-palmated Sandpiper at The Gann the same day, followed by by a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs found by Glamorgan birder Mike Powell while looking for the Semi-palmated - a familiar scenario.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper
photo R Crossen
Lesser Yellowlegs
photo D Astins

The next two birds also came together in terms of date; Skokholm trapped a typically big looking Barred Warbler on the 8th whilst on Ramsey Lisa Morgan turned up a delightful Western Bonelli's Warbler which remained on the Island the next day. The Red-backed Shrike was on Skokholm on the 11th and Wrynecks totalled about a dozen in the month including the one below at Martin's Haven.

Barred Warbler Skokholm
photo R D Brown

Western Bonell's Warbler Ramsey
photo L Lomax
Wryneck Martin's Haven
photo M Young-Powell
Red-backed Shrike Skokholm
photo M Young-Powell

Ramsey did it again on the 23rd when Greg Morgan found a Booted Warbler, though Skokholm matched them with their own on the 25th trapped by Steve and Tina Westerberg and Rich Brown and then the same island hosted a superb Red-breasted Flycatcher the very next day. Then the same Skokholm team put the ball firmly in the back of the net with a Blyth's Reed Warbler trapped on the 27th to make a pretty impressive three days. Jonathan Bennett picked out a Yellow-browed Warbler on the 28th at Whitesands, hopefully the first of many this autumn!

Booted Warbler Ramsey
photo per G and L Morgan
Booted Warbler Skokholm
photo R D Brown

Red-breasted Flycatcher Skokholm
photo R D Brown
Blyth's Reed Warbler Skokholm
photo R D Brown

Finally Dave Astins discovered this male Isabelline Wheatear on the clifftop at the Deer Park, a lovely pallid visitor from the east to round things up on the final day of a cracking month in Pembs.

Isabelline Wheatear The Deer Park
photo D Astins

And there's still October to come. Can't wait!