Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Trevose Head, Cornwall - 27th April

For the final day of our long weekend I started with another pre-breakfast walk around Trevose Head in search of migrants. I started again by the golf course and on the road down to Boobies Bay there were a couple of Sedge Warblers, three Whitethroats and a Blackcap. There were good numbers of hirundines feeding over the fields but they were all Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. As I got to the beach 11 Whimbrel took off from one side of the golf course, flew over the road and landed the other side, they were the only Whimbrel I saw.

Whimbrel - Trevose Head

I worked my way around the fields towards the headland, there was a distinct lack of migrants, although two Wheatears put in a brief appearance. With very little evidence of migrating birds I spent my time looking at the residents. The Skylarks were being quite lazy birds and rather than flying up high to sing, they were just sitting on fence posts singing. They were evidently very used to people and allowed me to walk right up to them for a few pics.

Skylark - Trevose Head
It was a gloriously still and sunny morning and the light was fantastic.I was able to get some great shots, albeit of birds on posts.

Skylark - Trevose Head

Meadow Pipit was also being quite lazy and sitting on a rock and singing, again it was very approachable, and allowed me to get a few images before it flew off.

Meadow Pipit - Trevose Head

Other than a constant stream of hirundines there was nothing to report of note, until that is I heard a singing Corn Bunting. There is a project on Trevose Head aimed at maintaining the dwindling population, but as with many schemes it seems to be failing in its aims. It seems that the conflicts with modern farming practices and farmland birds are not being resolved, and as is happening on my patch in Hampshire, species like Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer are disappearing.

Singing Corn Bunting 

In the end it was a very quiet morning with very few migrants to report, but overall I had had a fab weekend back in Cornwall.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Marazion Marsh, Cornwall - 26th April

My birding today was limited to about an hour at Marazion Marsh this afternoon. We arrived just after lunch, which was slightly fortuitous as the Great White Egret was feeding in a distant ditch, and just about in view. I must admit that I was not really bothered about seeing it, as I regularly see the individual at Blashford Lakes, but stopped for a quick look anyway. A quick look was about all I got, as the bird was deep in a ditch and obscured by reeds, but it was possible to make out that it was a Great White Egret….honest.

Great White Egret deep in the reedbed.....honest

I decided not to wait for a better view and headed along the road scanning over the reserve. There were several Reed Warblers singing, along with the occasional Cetti’s, a single Wheatear was feeding amongst the rabbit burrows and about 50 Sand Martins fed over the reedbed.  

Northern Wheatear

A small willow in the middle of the marsh seemed to be supporting a Grey Heron nest, a single nestling was present in the nest; what I assumed to be the parents were busy feeding on the water’s edge, occasionally taking flight to see off intruders.

Grey Heron
Grey Heron

There was very little going happening on the marsh so I crossed the road and began looking out to sea. Thirty Whimbrel were roosting on the beach, but they were soon flushed by dog walkers and headed off north. I started to scan out to sea and picked up a flock of another flock of around 50 waders that included 48 whimbrel and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. This flock was quickly joined by another 30 Whimbrel, all of them settling on the beach to rest.

Whimbrel and a single Bar-tailed Godwit
Whimbrel and single Bar-tailed Godwit
Resting Whimbrel, except for the one fighting with an Oystercatcher

There was a degree of bickering between individual Whimbrel and some of the Oystercatchers, and the Herring Gulls seemed intent on giving the Barwit a hard time. After about 30 minutes resting the whole flock took flight and headed off north, this seemed an appropriate time for me to head back to St Merryn.

Trevose Head and Valency Valley, Cornwall - 25th April

I arrived at Trevose Head just after 7am this morning and started birding along the road that leads to the beach and bisects part of the golf course. The scrub near where I parked had a singing Common Whitethroat, a Blackbird, a Blackcap and several Dunnocks. There were a few Swallows passing through and Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were displaying overhead. Evidence of migration was again thin on the ground, with a single Wheatear on the golf course and a couple of Sedge Warblers singing from the scrub.

Sedge Warbler - Trevose Head
Sedge Warbler - Trevose Head

There were already several dog walkers on the beach when I reached it, so any migrants present were likely to have been flushed. I had a quick scan out to sea and picked up a few Fulmars, two  Manx Shearwaters and a Gannet and then three Whimbrel took off from the beach and headed north calling. I continued to scan the sea, there was very little moving but whilst there another 12 Whimbrel dropped in and landed on the beach. Some birds immediately tried to sleep whilst others began feeding; they started on the beach but were being continuously flushed by dog walkers, eventually heading out over the golf course. Another flock of three dropped in about 20 minutes later but they didn’t stay around for long.

Whimbrel - Trevose Head
Whimbrel - Trevose Head
Migrating Whimbrel - Trevose Head

After breakfast we planned to go to visit relatives in Boscastle, which would give me the chance to pop down for a spot of birding in Valency Valley. Valency Valley has been a regular haunt of mine for many years and no trip to Boscastle is complete without a visit there. I started from the car park end and worked my way up the valley; Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were the most obvious of the migrant species but they were not my intended quarry. 

Valency Valley is a guaranteed spot for Dipper and that was what I was really searching for. I worked my way slowly up the river scouring the rocks for birds; there was plenty of evidence, bird droppings on rocks in the river, but initially no sign of one. After about 30 minutes I reached an area where I had previously found a nest and heard a bird calling immediately. The first bird I saw flew strongly past me, but soon returned and began bobbing on a nearby rock. 

Adult Dipper Cinclus cinclus gularis
Adult Dipper Cinclus cninclus gularis
When Dippers are this tame, it usually means that they have young nearby, and sure enough, a quick scan downstream produced a recently fledged juvenile. The bird was very approachable and allowed me to get get close enough for some half decent photos. From what I could make out there were two fledgling birds and two adults, I would have expected more fledglings, and there may well have been others tucked away somewhere but I couldn’t find them. I don’t think the fledglings have been out of the nest more than a week and their primaries appeared not to be fully grown and downy feathers were still present. The adults were frantically searching for food to feed their chicks, but they would not come near if I was too close, so I sat back and just watched them from a distance

Fledgling Dipper

Fledgling Dipper - note downy feathers still present

Fledgling Dipper
Fledgling Dipper

I spend a good hour watching the pair feeding their offspring, but decided to head back to the car when the expected heavy rain set in.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Gunver Head and Stepper Point, St Merryn, Cornwall

The intention was to start early and go for a walk around Gunver Head and Stepper Point. A slight over indulgence of red wine the night before meant that we had a slightly later start than intended and arrived just after 9 am. We parked in the lay-by mid way between Crugmeer and Lellizzick and headed along the permissive path to Gunver Head. It was a dull and overcast start, but as we headed west along the path a couple of Barn Swallows drifted past. As we approached the cliff three Northern Wheatears flicked up and sat on a nearby fence, a good start, which built my anticipation for the rest of the walk.

Male Stonechat
Stonechat taking flight
Stonechat in flight

We worked our way around the cliff path, Spring Squill covered the cliff top giving it a subtle blue haze, and the sweet smell of Gorse filled the air. Herring Gulls, Shags, Fulmars and a pair of Oystercatchers had taken up the best nesting sites on the cliff. Linnets, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and several pairs of Stonechats were present in the gorse, and seemingly already on territory. 


A very approachable Raven provided me with an interesting diversion. It allowed me to get within two metres of it, I have never got this close to a Raven before. This unusual behaviour made me question the bird’s health as they are generally such shy birds, hopefully it was just used to people.


Other than the occasional passing Swallow there was little evidence of spring migration and it was only as we approached the car that I picked up our first Whitethroat and Chiffchaff.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Barley Birds are back again

There is an inevitable re-occurring theme with this blog, other than the obvious general birding and ringing one that is, and that is my fascination with the Common Nightingale. Every April I search traditional territories within my patch and try to establish how many there are. It can be very frustrating at times, as the secretive nature of the species means that I will hear them, but often obtain just fleeting glimpses. Over the years I have learnt the patience is the key, and that is exactly what made this mornings visit to Botley Wood a successful one. 

I arrived on site early, just before sunrise, and began my usual circuit. The Ravens were again very obvious, but I am barely even giving them a second glance at the moment. Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a few scattered Willow Warblers were still the most notable of the summer migrants, until I walked up the first ride and heard a Nightingale, my first of the year. The bird was fairly close to the path, but was on the opposite side of the vegetation to me so I crept through a small gap and waited. Although they often sit in the open, Nightingales will perch close to a branch and usually behind it if they have seen you, this makes them very difficult to pick out in spite of their loud song. My first male was in full song and very close but initially I couldn't see it. I stood and patiently waited and eventually picked out some movement in a willow tree. The bird flicked left and perched up right in front of me. At this point, the bird was in the open but I was in vegetation and so getting a clear shot was a challenge. I was eventually able to manoeuvre myself so I could get a couple of shots, while the bird continued to sing....just brilliant! This bird was an unringed male, that may be the same bird as last year as I failed to catch the bird on this territory last year.

Male Nightingale
Male Nightingale
Male Nightingale
Male Nightingale

I continued around my usual circuit and could hear two more birds, one was only giving occasional bursts of song, but the other was in full song. I decided to look for that one and was again rewarded with some great views of a singing male, this one also unringed. Whilst watching this bird a second bird was skulking in the dense undergrowth close to me. This bird was not singing but uttering the typical 'wheeling' and 'croaking' calls, so may well be a female.

Male Nightingale

I pressed on with my circuit and picked up the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker again, Great Spots and Greens were also very vocal, th good weather was clearly encouraging them to call. As I continued it was evident that the Chiffs and Blackcaps were busy nest building. A Chiffchaff was grabbing spiders web, much the the spider's annoyance I should image, although its was better than being eaten.

Chiffchaff nest building

A male Blackcap was singing its scratchy sub-song whilst the female was busy nest building in a small patch of bramble. While I was watching it a second male was paying the female a bit of attention, this went unnoticed by the singing male for a minute or so, but he was quick to see off the intruder once he did.

Male Blackcap

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Swanwick Lakes and Manor Farm Country Park

Rob and I had a planned ringing event at the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust's Swanwick Nature Reserve today (15th April) so we decided to check out the area the night before. We were planning to ring in the north-east meadow and had identified some areas that looked good for a net ride and put up some feeders to attract a few birds in. We cut in three net rides with enough space for four 18 metre nets and left each one open for a while. It was a worthwhile exercise as it turned out because we caught 21 birds, eight each Great and Blue Tits, two Wrens, two Marsh Tits and a Robin.

This morning we arrived on site at 05:45, it had been a clear night and was colder than expected. We hoped that there might be some migrants around, but our first bird was one of the residents, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. The event went very well and the attendees were able to see Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Great Tits and a Goldcrest close up.

Female Blackcap - Swanwick Nature Reserve

After our ringing event had finished Rob headed back with the group to check out the moth trap, whilst I kept an eye on the nets. I continued to catch birds and by the end of the session we had ringed 19 birds, six Great Tits, three Chiffchaffs, two Blackbirds, two Blackcaps and single Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Marsh Tit and Coal Tit. Over the two sessions we had ringed 40 birds of 12 species so a good quantity and mix or species.

Marsh Tit - Swanwick Nature Reserve
Coal Tit - Swanwick Nature Reserve

Later in the afternoon, I decided to pop down to Manor Farm Country Park for a spot of birding. My intention was to try and find Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, as I had heard them there recently, but at this time of year there is always the chance of something else. As it turned out I stumbled across a Lesser Spot straight away, and so spent the rest of the time generally birding. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were present in good numbers and as I worked my way around the fields I picked up my first Common Whitethroat of the year. I headed into the woods, working my way to were the Lesser Spots bred last year; I did not find them but did find a breeding pair of Marsh Tits hanging around their nest hole.

Marsh Tit - Manor Farm Country Park

After a while I headed to the estuary in the hope of a Whimbrel. It was very busy on the water so the only wader was an Oystercatcher, along with four Little Egrets and a few Black-headed Gulls. I decided to head home and started working my way back to the fields; as I did so a Red Kite drifted overhead, my second patch year tick of the day. I passed the area where the Whitethroat was, it was again in full song but was now only giving brief glimpses. As I approached my car I noticed a chat sat on the barbed wire fence around the overflow car park. I was expecting it to be a Stonechat, which would have been a good bird, but it was in fact an adult male Whinchat, so a truly exceptional bird. It was fairly approachable and perching on prominent places as they do. A cracking bird and my third patch year tick of the afternoon.

Whinchat - Manor Farm Country Park
Whinchat - Manor Farm Country Park

Back at home, I decided to sit in the garden and go through my pictures. I had only been out there a couple of minutes when I heard the distinctive mewing call of a Mediterranean Gull, and there above the garden were two adults. Although it wasn't a patch year tick it was a nice species to end the day on.

Adult Mediterranean Gull

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Botley Wood again and Blashford Lakes

In the hope that the first Nightingale would have arrived back at Botley Wood last night I started the day there with a pre-breakfast stroll. There had been a slight frost overnight but it was quickly thawing as the sun got higher. The Ravens were the most obvious birds when I arrived, one bird was sat on a pylon calling away, whilst the other roamed more widely. A couple of Bullfinch's were calling and Chiffchaff song was everywhere, well at least it appeared to be. 

Chiffchaff - Botley Wood

I took my usual route, taking in all the usual Nightingale territories, but not even a croak was to be heard. Several Blackcaps appeared to be paired up, and there was an abundance of Blackbird and Song Thrush, but yesterdays Willow Warbler appeared to have moved on. I walked all the way through to the Whiteley end and recorded several more Chiffs, Blackcaps and Bullfinch's and a single male Sparrowhawk, but that was about all of note. In spite of the early start there were a few butterflies on the wing, I recorded Brimstone, Green-veined White, Comma and Peacock, the individual below was perched high on a willow taking advantage of the sun.

Peacock Butterfly - Botley Wood

After breakfast I decided to head down to Blashford Lakes. There had been a few Little Gulls around the previous day so I was hoping to catch up with a few of them. I didn't have much time so headed straight for the Tern Hide for a view of Ivy Lake. There were loads of Black-headed Gulls present but I couldn't find any Little Gulls; I bumped into a local birder who had been there all morning and he hadn't seen them today either. There were however a few bits that made the trip worth while, 4 Common Terns were a year tick as were the two Little Ringed Plovers. I don't see LRPs very often so it was good to see them, and one bird was on the foreshore just in front of the hide. 

Little Ringed Plover - Blashford Lakes

The more I watched the close bird it became apparent that something was wrong. Rather than running it appeared to be hoping and was not covering much ground, certainly not in the way that plovers usually do. It would also regularly settle down and rest, which was quite unusual.

Little Ringed Plover - note broken leg

After while the bird turned around and it was then I noticed its right leg. The leg was either broken or deformed and was bent around 180 degrees so it faced backwards. It was also stuck at a right angle so that it didn't touch the ground but just pointed upwards. The bird seemed to be feeding OK and at one point it flew across a creek to the beach opposite the hide, it landed perfectly on its one leg and continued to feed along the edge of the water.

Close up of broken/deformed leg

Over the years I have seen loads of birds with dodgy legs and there was a one legged Redshank the frequented the beach at Hill Head for several years. Hopefully this bird will be able to survive despite its damaged appendage.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Return of the Greater Yellowlegs

I was working my way around Botley Wood this morning looking for spring migrants when news broke that the, or another Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven. This time, instead of being along the canal path the bird was at the bottom end of the River Meon, and was visible from the road. I was keen to see the bird again but opted to finish off my circuit of Botley Wood before heading off. 

There appeared to be very little evidence of spring bird wise, other than the usual species that have been present the last few weeks. Eventually I did manage to track down a Willow Warbler, evidence that just maybe spring is on the way.

I arrived at the Haven and the Greater Yellowlegs was performing very well feeding with a couple of Black-tailed Godwits. It was feeding on the edge of the reeds and would occasionally take flight, calling frequently. At one point it was being harassed by a Redshank, which proved too much for it and it headed into the south scrape. I quickly went and got a ticket and headed into the reserve.

Greater Yellowlegs with Black-tailed Godwit

Views from the south scrape hide were initially very close, but by the time I got there it had moved further from the hide. It was still quite flighty initially, but finally settled down and began to preen. The question on everybody's lips was where has this bird been since it was last seen, assuming that is that its the same bird. Had it really been in the Meon Valley somewhere? It seems unlikely that that is the case since the area is so well watched, but you never know.

Greater Yellowlegs (left) with Black-tailed Godwits
Greater Yellowlegs in flight
Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs (left) Redshank (Right)
Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs
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