29 May 2014

A few favourite moths

A few of my favourite and scarcer moths taken in the last week or two of May, first week of June.

Eyed Hawk Moth

Buff Arches

Silver Hook

Blood Vein

Green Arches
Burnished Brass

Beautiful Golden Y

Coxcomb Prominent

Green Carpet

Alder Moth

Green Silver-lines

Gold Spot
Elephant Hawk Moth

Lesser Swallow Prominent

Lobster Moth

Nut-tree Tussock


Poplar Hawk Moth

Orange Footman

Marbled Brown

Puss Moth

25 May 2014

Adult male Golden Oriole at St Davids Hd

Another dull, boring day at the Head, or so it seemed till at 10:45am I flushed an adult male Golden Oriole at The Withies in Porthmelgan Valley, it flew from an isolated bush into the main block. Brief views and unfortunately out of sight for Kathy. Still it was in the there somewhere so I trotted up to the Head to get a phone signal (quite a distance!) and put out the news; leaving Kathy standing sentinel. But would it show again?  The last one I found here, I had pinned down in a patch of gorse only for it to do a Houdini act when Paul Grennard arrived. Would this one disappear too?

As I got back to The Withies, a right performance was going on with a holiday-maker loudly chasing a badly-behaved spaniel around trhe bracken slope. Lucky for Kathy though, this put up the Oriole, which had somehow sneaked to the southern patch and she watched it fly off to the north then think again, circle and come diving back into the north patch of withies. I missed it but at least she had good views and was able to work out where it was. A patch of yellow eventually moved but when she tried to show me where it was,  it had gone again. It was a bit agitated it seemed and was harshly sqwarking away for a while - a bit like a Jay or Magpie. We knew exactly where it was, we just couldn't see it! We hung around, hoping for a better view for me. Then there it was flying low over the canopy, having sneaked down into the southern patch again (how do they do it?) and giving more prolonged views this time to enjoy the contrasting black and yellow of back, wings and tail as it swooped along. Superb. 

And a bit weird to see it it with looming grey clouds and a very light drizzle - not like the normal sightings in Spain! Maybe a bit better though.

21 May 2014

Iceland Gull on St Davids GC

Wot a stunner!

At the end of the dullest morning for a long while, I scanned the Golf-course and in among the Herring Gulls was this beauty. I'm not sure I've seen seen a smart summer adult Iceland Gull before. It was quite confiding and it was interesting to look at the differences with the Herring Gulls.

The primary projection was obviously longer than the Herrings and the head shape different, more rounded and more 'gentle'. This was all pretty consistent, the Herrings always looked fiercer, as if they were frowning. And their heads' shape was flatter.

The orbital ring of the Iceland was reddish as opposed to yellow and the eye itself appeared rounder. The red gonys patch was reduced, the bill slightly less heavy with little gonyl angle;  the bill base was a duller yellow than the Herrings. It's supposed to have a greenish tinge, but this wasn't obvious to me though it was a duller yellow at least.

 Another good Gull for an amazing Gull year in Pembs.

17 May 2014

European Bee-eaters at St Davids Head

A beautiful May day today, bright sunshine and very little wind - superb. But quiet birdwise until Kathy and I were up on the shoulder of Carn Llidi and I heard a single call; immediately recognisable as a Bee-eater. I know the call as well as any bird call since they are always around our cave house in Spain (named by us 'Cueva Abejaruco' - Bee-eater Cave). Then the panic set in - I know very well the call carries a long way, they can be further off than you imagine and difficult to pick out. Kathy to the rescue! She drew my attention to three birds about 300 metres away and not much above our elevated position. Two of them were indeed Bee-eaters and the third something smaller. I picked out the distinctive shape and the bronze and yellow upperparts along with strong, curved bill. There were a couple more calls and Kathy called out that one was above our heads, and indeed it was, a lot closer and showing the blue underparts and ultra distinctive shape; all angles and sharp edges. They were moving quickly through, heading towards the coast and were soon out of view. We had definitely had three birds but, truth to tell, we hadn't had time to scan properly and there could actually have been a couple more. We trotted back to the top of the ridge and scanned the coast at the low gap called The Gesail, which is a good place to see moving Hirundines and the fields at Trfelli to the north-west where Hirundines etc often gather but no luck. And that was it! No time for photos - a brief but very satisfying experience.

14 May 2014

Tundra/Arctic Ringed Plover

The northern race of Ringed Plover (Tundra or Arctic Ringed Plover) has been recorded at many sites in Britain, sometimes in considerable numbers such as the 500 recently at Breydon Water in Norfolk. My own experience of them comes from birds seen in Norfolk in the '90's where we considered them to be regular if scarce migrants (Google 'Tundra Ringed Plover' for records). The problem with'psamamiscus' identification is that there isn't a nice neat cut off between this race and the familiar 'hiaticula'but a clinal change with intergrades between the two. However, a combination of appearance, feather wear and 'jizz' should nail most individuals, especially when the two races are present allowing for a comparison. 

As well as being smaller and darker than 'normal' Ringed Plover, they are quicker in movement, giving the impression of a chick or maybe a Kentish Plover as they dash about. They can be really quite distinct, especially if compared to a lumbering, pale 'hiaticula' Ringed Plover. 

Additionally, Tundra Ringed Plover has a different moult pattern to 'hiaticula'; unlike nominate birds they undergo a complete moult on wintering grounds - so fresh flight feathers in spring can be a helpful indication of 'psamamiscus' and worth looking for if you have an interesting Ringed Plover. 

My interest in this form of Ringed Plover as a Pembs bird goes back about ten years to a record of three of them (with a 'hiaticula'bird for a neat contrast) on the beach at Fishguard. I think it was 2002. I sent the record in for the Report at the time but they 'disappeared'. (Graham Rees has kindly recovered this record it was actually two birds on 19th January 2013). Tundra Ringed Plovers can and do occur here in Pembs, probably regularly. The bird below was present at Fishguard today, found by Adrian Rogers, and being extremely confiding like many high arctic birds can be. The freshness of the wing feathers, apparent size and colour make it seem pretty convincing to me. (all photos Adrian Rogers).

01 May 2014

Eastern Subalpine Warbler at St Davids Head

I was working on Skokholm on 13th April when I got a call from Ken Thomas, a long-time visiting birder from Neath, to say he had found a Subalpine Warbler out at the Head. Tragically (for me) I was stuck, not due to leave for another day so I contacted local birders to pass on the information and left it at that except to put a belated note and grid reference on the Pembs Blog when I reached the mainland. I also had a look around the area Ken specified as soon as I could but no luck. I did try to contact Ken again but failed. I spoke to him again several days later and he told me he had taken some photos and we made vague arrangements to meet up which never came to fruition and it wasn't until I bumped into Ken and wife Ann at the Head again that we spoke some more. I asked a bunch of questions and ran through some features differentiating Eastern Subalp from Western. I must have hit a chord because Ken sent me a text after looking at the pics again and then dropped by the house with his camera. I wasn't at all surprised to see what looked like a pretty good candidate for an adult male Eastern Subalpine Warbler. Incidentally, there was another Eastern bird reported from Shetland around that time as I recall.

These are all Ken's photos, I've cropped, slightly adjusted exposure and sharpened them a little but nothing else.
Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

The first thing that struck me was the intensely coloured dark purply reddish throat, sharply demarcated from the rest of the underparts. The tone is a kind of brown ochre red rather than orangy/pink as might be expected for Western. Also in Western the strong colour should extend onto the flanks and contrast with the pale belly. In this bird the flanks are pale, apart from a very few streaks on the upper flank/breast and, as far as I can tell, concolourous with the rest of the underparts. Photos 2, 5 and 6 leave no doubt about how well marked the sub-moustachial stripe is. It's pretty stonking, another good feature for Eastern.

I think the bird is an adult rather than 2nd cal yr since the orbtal ring is strongly coloured orangy-red around a darker iris. Given this then the wing coverts, secondaries and tertials might be expected to be warmer brown in Western which is also darker blue-grey on back/mantle/head than Eastern, which is supposed to be a paler bird re the upperparts generally and this bird is quite a pale blue-grey with rather grey-brown flight feathers, the head appears darker than back and mantle at times, (though a caution that this is based solely on the photos and, it seems to me, photos can sometimes be problematic for judging subtle colour tones).

A recent paper by Lars Svensson (British Birds Nov 2013) set out new identification criteria re the pattern of T5 which is unfortunately no use using the photos we have here. It also suggested a three way split into three species Western, Eastern and Moltoni's including a re-ordering of scientific names.

At present BBRC examines records of Eastern Subalpine Warbler, there having been 43 accepted records to the end of 2013. There has been one previous accepted record in Pembrokeshire, on Ramsey in May 1993.