Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Spot Flys

Having been away when the only two records of the year have occurred, I've been desperately searching for Spotted Flycatchers at the patch lately, and today it paid off with two showy individuals located near The Scrub. I'm only two away from 100 for my patch year list and still need Brambling, Short-eared Owl, Reed Bunting etc so my target of 105 is well in reach. Yesterday, a Red-legged Partridge appeared along with a new Whinchat. Is the Red-leg the same bird that was around earlier in the year, just visible once again now that they've cut the wheat?

Spotted Flycatcher 1
Spotted Flycatcher 2

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Raptor day at Canons

A day of highs and lows at the patch today. I was with Ian Jones, Paul Goodman and Ian Magness at the back of Legal & General and Jones casually called a Common Buzzard over near Lunch Wood, being mobbed by corvids. Magness and Paul had a quick look at it but, while I'd normally check all raptors, I was putting my sunblock on as the sun was coming out and I burn like a banana slice in the summer sun, so I didn't bother looking. It turns out that at that very moment Steve Gale was watching a Honey-buzzard flying over next to Lunch Wood, being mobbed by corvids. Steve tried to ring me but I was in a blackspot so didn't realise until eight minutes later at which point panic ensued as we frantically scanned towards Banstead Woods. I briefly picked up a distant large raptor that looked as if it was flying on flat wings and had a long, fanned tail but lost it before I could zoom in on it or study it closely enough to satisfy myself that it was definitely the bird. It quickly dawned on us that we'd missed out, I'd probably just seen the bird and the buzzard that Ian, Ian and Paul were looking at earlier was certainly the Honey-buzzard judging by timing and positioning and that fact that none of them gave it much more than a second glance; so for fifteen minutes I threw a bit of a rage. Honey-buzzard is one that I'd really been dreaming of for the patch and another tricky bird added to the list of super patch ticks I've narrowly missed out on this year. Also on this list are: Little Egret while at the other end of the patch; Green Sandpiper while at college, dipped it by about an hour; Whimbrel while showing a bird racer around a site near Epsom; and, finally, Black Terns while looking for Black Terns at Staines. Missing one or two is a pain, but when the list keeps getting bigger and bigger it really starts to grind on you.

It is great in that it shows that the patch is being pretty well watched and birds that would have been missed by me are being recorded. The Honey-buzzard really was a superb and deserved find by Steve, it would have just been a little more superb if I could have seen it well enough to be sure I'd seen it!

After seeing the first-winter male Common Redstart that remained for its second day, and having a mooch around The Scrub, Jones left - to be soon replaced by Nick Gardner, who started down the lane to look for the Redstart. I made tracks for the Watchpoint as the sky was looking promising, and wise-man Roy recommended a good sky-staring session. I hadn't been there more than ten minutes when I picked up a big raptor with long and flat, occasionally slightly bowed wings, approaching. My first thought was 'Is this the Honey-buzzard coming back!?!' but it was very soon obvious that it was actually an Osprey! It cruised along south-westish, roughly along the railway line but started to drift away and become slightly more distant. I rang Nick as soon as I could and he said he just about managed to get on it as it disappeared from view. A superb year-tick and the third year running that I've had one at the patch, all roughly tracking that valley south in the autumn.
Very much a record phone-scoped clip...

Friday, 24 August 2012

Common Redstart

In my ongoing search for a Spotted Flycatcher (they're all at Wanstead) I found this superb first-winter male Common Redstart along Slangs today, showing throughout the day. Also a Yellow Wagtail over earlier in the morning.

first-winter male Common Redstart

Yesterday the two Tree Pipits showed again and I located a Whinchat at Horse Pasture (Ian had two birds nearby in the evening) and two juvenile Yellow Wagtails at Legal & General.

Yellow Wagtail
Not bird-related (that literally is a first for this blog I think) but on Tuesday I really enjoyed going with a couple of college friends to see Icelandic indie folk-rock band Of Monsters and Men in Brighton, I had been looking forward to it for a long time and they put on an amazing show - the first live gig I've been to, believe it or not.

Monday, 20 August 2012


1st Whinchat
2nd Whinchat

Ian was pleased when he found a very smart Whinchat at the traditional chat hotspot of Horse Pasture this afternoon. After enjoying this bird for a while, I went around the corner and found another. One of my favourites, these are! At least one Tree Pipit was flighty around Infront George Field today, probably involving one or both of Saturday's birds (which were a year tick).

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Cuckoo on the wire

A pleasant surprise today: a juvenile Cuckoo found by Ian, feeding from the wires near Reads Rest Cottages. I thought I'd missed out on my chance for one at the patch this year so this was a very nice and very welcome patch year tick!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Lots of sharks, a few birds

Having still never seen a Wilson's Storm Petrel or a Cory's Shearwater, a further trip seabirding trip to the south west was in order and so it was arranged with Liam that we'd spend a week down that end of the country. We had high hopes to say the least, expecting an exciting bird-filled trip. I arrived at St Ives on Sunday 5th and got comfortable in Liam's very handy and very comfortable flat there which overlooks the beach/sea (providing comfortable viewing for people with different interests).

Sunday evening we seawatched off St Ives, which was quiet but it was great to see lots of Manx Shearwaters and a Sunfish. The winds were looking to be north westerly for Monday and following the recommendations of countless birders I've encountered, we tried Pendeen. The road there almost seemed to be a popular furry suicide venue, with several rabbits dashing right in front of the car and the remains of a menagerie of critters littered along a particular stretch. Anyway, we got there and saw a couple of Sooty Shearwaters and Balearic Shearwaters and a Basking Shark. Nice but not particularly eventful.

Tuesday the winds had switched south westerly. Porthgwarra then. The road there was mildly daunting for me the first time but I soon got used to it. We put in a good ten hours and scraped two Great Shearwaters, a couple of Pomarine Skuas, a Balearic Shearwater, an Arctic Skua, a Puffin, a Razorbill, six Bonxies, and four Sooty Shearwaters at sea plus at least three Basking Sharks and a Sunfish. On land two Choughs were a rare treat and a study into the diet of a tame and hungry Herring Gull revealed that they far prefer Quavers to Jaffa Cakes, although they will attack the latter if presented belly-up.


The winds had become less favourable by the following day but we still gave it a (slightly briefer) shot at Porthgwarra. Three Balearics, three Sooties, three Puffins, four Storm Petrels, an Arctic Skua etc etc was the best of the sea. A few Wall butterflies grabbed my attention (being a new species for me) and I managed to get befriend a Banded Demoiselle which really liked my hand. There were a couple of Basking Sharks offshore. News of a Pectoral Sandpiper at Hayle Estuary had us heading there earlier than already planned, it showed pretty well with Dunlins and Ringed Plovers and a Med Gull a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits (including one in summer plumage) and several Whimbrels provided extra interest.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Thursday looked really naff for seabirds so we sat spent the morning on a bench before summoning up the energy to check out the valleys. From the bench we managed to spot a couple of Balearics and a Basking Shark. A Willow Warbler was the climax in terms of passerine migrants but we did stumble upon something very odd that we still can't figure. At one point we came across a pool surrounded at the back by a rather common and standard short green reed-like plant which right now I can't name. We kept hearing rather subdued clucking/mumbling call/noise thing coming from this vegetation so we walked around the edge to where it was coming from, in the process getting soaked almost to the knees in stinky stagnant water. We never saw what was making the noise but in the end there were two whatever-they-weres. The closest we got to a view was seeing a slow, steady and calm movement through the vegeation as something small moved through it. A bird? An amphibian? Something else? A quick look at the Hayle Estuary revealed a Med Gull and a couple of Whimbrels.

Friday: packed bags and got on the Scillonian from which we saw nothing but we teamed up with Jake and Cristian from Sussex, both top guys. We had a quick walk around once we'd landed but this didn't yield much at all. At 5.00pm we emarked on our first pelagic expedition from the quay at Hugh Town, apart from my first good views of Storm Petrels of the year and a small Blue Shark being landed (these were tagged then released as part of a conservation programme), this was a flop.

Saturday. This was when we went on the first of the birder special pelagics. The wind was blowing from the north west so expectations were relatively low but we still thought we'd see more than a Bonxie, a Common Scoter, a few Stormies, an Eider, a Med Gull and a Peregrine. A small pod of Risso's Dolphins were notable but ironically some of the greatest excitement was generated by two creatures more commonly associated with dry land than miles out into the Atlantic Ocean: a Reed Warbler and a Red-veined Darter. Both were tired migrants and landed on the boat for respite. The former ended up getting put in a plastic box and the latter flushed back across the sea. A Blue Shark or two caught.

Storm Petrel
Risso's Dolphin
Sunday was the best day, but only because two semi-scarce birds happened to perform particularly well. The first was a first-summer Pomarine Skua with gave the best views a healthy one could possibly give, flying feet above and around the boat amongst the gulls. Amazing stuff! The other was perhaps more impressive, being a Great Shearwater which spent a considerable amount of time circling the boat and dropping a few jaws. Also Storm Petrels, Bonxie, Blue Sharks, Sunfish etc (novelty wearing off on the fish...).

Great Shearwater

Uncropped - it was too close to fit the whole bird in at times!
Pomarine Skua
Blue Shark just before release, after being tagged; held by Joe Pender

Bob Flood mentioned another pelagic running on Monday at 5.00pm, half an hour after the boat I was booked on was due to depart. Having already invested an awful lot of time and money in getting Wilson's and/or Cory's, and envisaging the pager bleeping with Wilson's that evening in accordance with sod's law I decided to wrangle another day on the islands. As did Cristian, who paid a £10.00 amendment fee for the Scillonian; I called the same people in order to re-arrange and was asked to basically buy a new ticket for £43 or something (taking the piss!) so I pointed out that someone I was with 'only' paid £10.00 to change [still a rip-off]. I was charged £15.00 in the end.

So on Monday Jake, Liam, Cristian and I had a walk on St Mary's before J and L sailed away. The highlight of this walk was a pair of Pied Flycatchers at Porth Hellick. As I watched the Scillonian chug safely away to the mainland from the quay, and felt only a light south westerly breeze on my face, I began wondering whether I'd be happier on the ferry. Too late anyway and soon it was off on the extra pelagic. A couple of Sooty Shearwaters provided light initial excitement but soon it was down to small numbers of Storm Petrels, none sporting a toe-projection, and a couple of Manx Shears. It was pretty fun to watch a twelve year old kid get dragged around the boat about three times after getting a bite from a seven-and-a-half foot Blue Shark before finally getting it on the deck the best part of an hour later. We actually caught half a dozen or so sharks that evening. Almost worth the money.

Pied Flycatcher
 This Blue Shark was 7.5ft and dragged the 12-year-old that caught it around the boat about three times before finally being landed the best part of an hour later!

I looked forward to and enjoyed a casual walk around The Garrison and Penninis Head on Tuesday before heading at last to the mainland. I was so engrossed around the Pine Trail that I forgot to check the RBA app just in case anything had turned up (in classic Campbell style I stepped on my pager earlier in the week and burst the screen); when I did check I saw a message had been sitting about a Melodious Warbler at Penninis for some time so I headed over there, but didn't allow it to interrupt my Garrison walk. I got up there to see no bird and no birders, checked the app again and saw it had flown off. Bah! I was going to walk around Penninis anyway so that's what I did and I dug out a Pied Flycatcher and a Whinchat which was enough to keep me happy. Eventually, time for the boat arrived and Cristian, most of the other birders and myself were sailing away back to Penzance. A Balearic and a Sooty Shearwater were the highlights, plus small numbers of Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.

A night in St Ives then back home. All in all a bit of a damp squib and I'm not sure I wanted almost all my savings going on the slim pickings we scraped out from the bottom of the barrel, guess I'll subject myself to it all again next year. I never don't enjoy myself when I'm birding and it could have been a lot quieter, plus Liam, Jake and Cristian were brilliant company and provided many laughs. If you are into sharks, you'd have had an amazing time with lots of Blue Sharks caught on the pelagics and Basking Sharks all the time off the Cornish coast. I was sick of Sunfish by the end of the holiday.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Autumn starts well

CFBW's first Oystercatcher pipes away as it heads north east
While July slowly shows signs of early migration towards the end of the month, August is the month where my motivation for patching really steps up a gear. I arrived at the farm this morning to be greeted by generally overcast conditions, which I quite like. I spent quite a bit of time at the Watchpoint before starting my walk. I didn't have to go far before I found something. I approached the fence surrounding the barns behind Canons Farmhouse, as the bushes, brambles and scrap piles there can produce the occasional migrant (I fancy Wryneck there one day...). Doing so caused an interesting-looking passerine to fly from the long grass near me and land in the main bush there. It was a Sedge Warbler! Usually streaky autumn warblers flushed like this at the patch are Grasshopper Warblers (which would be the better bird in most places) but this was the first record for the site! It showed well for a minute or two before disappearing and it could not be relocated throughout the day. It shared the area with a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap (both migrants).

An hour and a half later, I was patrolling the now famous Heathside (a.k.a. 'Dotterel') Field when I heard a loud 'peeep'. Dismissing it as catching an odd bit of a Song Thrush song or something I continued, then I heard it again, and again... and it sounded interesting. Look up! A bleedin' Oystercatcher flies past me at c200-250ft height (maybe less? I'm not great at judging height/distance). ANOTHER first for CFBW! It was heading north east, roughly towards Beddington, but wasn't picked up there.

A big female Peregrine also put in an appearance today.