‘Scoping wilder waves.

The ribbon of cat’s eyes was beguiling, snaking left and right, rising and falling off to the south west through the night.
So close, yet so far.
The long haul to Cornwall is always a drag, but needs must when the Devil drives and effectively prevents the annual August trip to the Bridges of Ross (howdy to all our Irish friends in the bowl – hope you have a great season in Clare).
With Storm Ellen throwing her weight around from Wednesday last I was lured to Porthgwarra and Pendeen in Cornwall’s wild west in the hope of decent seawatching.
I wasn’t the only one – scattered across the cliffs, Neill Hunt, Tropical Thomason, Niall Keogh, Garry Taylor, Jacob Spinks et al from Spurn, Dan Pointon, Pete Stronach, Martin Elliot and many others took shape as the sun rose over the cliffs above Porthgwarra on Thursday morning and shadowy lumps became seated seawatchers ‘scoping the dawn waves.

Wilder weather would have been better, and although Thursday and Friday had a few good birds, it was quiet given the force six-seven winds from the south and south west.
But the long drive really paid off on Saturday morning when a switch to Pendeen Watch across the toe of Cornwall provided the quality.
Totals are mine only (overall figures of some species, notably Balearics and Storm Petrels, were higher, but I didn’t connect with every bird).

20.8.20, Porthgwarra 0600-1700:
S/SWly f5-6, sunny spells, mist, cloud.

Gannet loads
Manx Shearwater 1,200+
Fulmar loads
Bonxie 4
Arctic Skua 1
Cory’s Shearwater 6
Balearic Shearwater 6
Sooty Shearwater 2
Guillemot 1
Shag, Med Gull, Kittiwake, Sunfish…

Great views of lazy Cory’s Shears slipping west out by the Runnel Stone, and pot-bellied Balearics just under us in the stream of Manxies.

21.8.20, Porthgwarra, 0600-1700:
SWly f6-7, mist and squalls, broken cloud, then sunny.

Manx Shearwater 1,700+
Balearic Shearwater 7
Common Scoter 1
Sooty Shearwater 4
Guillemot 1
Storm Petrel 1
Cory’s Shearwater 2
large shearwater sp 1
Bonxie 2
Arctic Skua 1
Kittiwake 3
Whimbrel 4
Gannet loads
Fulmar 30+
Med Gull, Raven, Chough…

There were long spells when it was strangely quiet given the weather conditions – the birds just weren’t showing up.

Time for a change of tactics and at dawn yesterday the slopes below Pendeen Watch bristled with scattered ‘scopes and the birds were piling through.
So that’s where you’ve all been hiding… perhaps Storm Ellen had pushed everything up into the southern section of the Irish Sea and in the W/Swly and squalls thousands of birds were re-orientating and sweeping by offshore, heading west out into the Atlantic again.
Numbers of Manx Shearwaters were dizzying at times – Jacob Spinks dutifully counted ’em and recorded 1,000 passing every five minutes in a shearing blizzard!
It was marvellous.

22.08.20, Pendeen, 0615-1100:
Strengthening SW/Wly f 6, squalls, sunny periods.

Manx Shearwater approx 9-10,000
Sooty Shearwater 6
Great Shearwater 1
Balearic Shearwater 6
Storm Petrel 50+
Wilson’s Petrel 1
Sabine’s Gull 4
Sandwich Tern 1
Bonxie 6
Arctic Skua 2
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Sunfish 3
Whimbrel, Raven, Chough, Stonechat, Rock Pipit…

Absolutely brilliant views of the Wilson’s Petrel as it bounced about, gliding, stalling and pattering past at close range, visible for about five minutes – the best audience I’ve had with one from shore.
Pale upperwing panel, broad-based wings, square tailed, bull-necked with a wrap-around white rump and dangly legs – what a bird!
Thanks to Niall Keogh for sending me this video clip of the bird – the poor repro is entirely down to my computer, but at least you can make out the flight action, and hear Niall’s expert analysis of the bird’s behaviour…

Likewise the Great Shearwater that cruised by in fine light, showing off every aspect of its plumage from smudged belly to dark cap, white rump patch and scaly back, superb.
Sadly the Sabs Gulls were a bit distant, as is often the case, but at least one passed by close enough for me to admire it’s classy design.
A great session.

Waderville

A fine bag of waders at Hesketh Out Marsh today before the rain swept in, with a spangly fresh Wood Sandpiper being the most entertaining and reasonably close to the bank on HOM East (close by HOM standards anyway).
I watched it for the best part of an hour as it pulled off that peculiarly Wood Sand trick of appearing gangly yet elegant at the same time, high stepping around the salicornia and darting after prey items in the overcast conditions.

The bird was just one of a great selection of waders – at least four Greenshanks, two Green Sandpipers, two Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Redshanks, Curlew, one Whimbrel, 11 Dunlin, eight Ruff and 50+ Golden Plover.

More than 20 Snipe were feeding at the edge of the vegetation out on HOM East and as I ‘scoped them a pair of golden braces and a short stubby bill emerged from the greenery.
I swear the Jack Snipe winked at me before it scurried back into cover.
Stuart Darbyshire had one here two days ago, but I was still astonished….I’ve never seen Jack Snipe so early in the UK before.
It was turning into a very good lunchtime sesh – and I only managed to give HOM West the most cursory of sweeps, although two of the Marsh Harriers were up.
Back on HOM East the Great White Egret was roosting in exactly the same spot as last Sunday right at the back before going for a stately stride in the shallows, a Raven cronked over and five Yellow Wagtail dashed amongst the cattle.
Marvellous.

A Wheatear paused on the fenceline beneath me before the rain came in and I headed out.
HOM is on superb form at the moment – I expect big rare from it in the next fortnight.
Why not let me know what you’ve being seeing too on the “comments” thingy…

Another donation in the karma bank.

Gave Cabin Hill a good hammering this morning and in the tradition of west coast sites remaining stoically unaffected by superb easterlies, it hammered me right back.
A glorious morning before it became too hot though, with at least 30 Willow Warblers flycatching and calling around the hawthorn scrub, especially in the area at the end of Range Lane (always a good spot), small parties of Swallows moving through and the local Common Buzzards mewing away overhead.

The fledged Stonechat family was on the fenceline border with the Rifle Range as usual and a few Whitethroats squabbled with the phylloscs.

Blackcaps tutted at me from cover and small parties of Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Linnet bounded about.
A quiet one then, but goblets of Wild Carrot, and swathes of Harebells, Purple Loosestrife and Golden Rod were as easy on the eye as ever.

Odd

Thanks to Chris Kehoe for letting me use his shots of this striking partial melanistic Black Headed Gull he came across on Crosby beach yesterday morning.
I bumped into it in a small gull roost on the Alt sandbanks off the yacht club at Hightown this morning, but it didn’t hang around long and flew inland on those weird wings with a few Black Headed Gulls, before I got my camera out.
A few Sandwich Terns in the roost too, but Dave Hardaker had counted approximately 800 Sarnies back down the coast towards Crosby.

A freaky looking, but quite attractive gull.
It’s been seen at the Seaforth reserve too, so hopefully I’ll bump into it again as it does the rounds on the coast.
Far more expected, but equally odd, were three Migrant Hawkers that darted about in front of my windscreen in Crosby when I stopped at the lights at the College Road junction by Merchants later this morning.
A weird Disney-esque interlude on another sweltering covid summer day.

Well, they do say afternoons are best…

* October 2020 update: With echoes of the “not-Atlas Fly” at Flamboro’ in 2012, results from DNA samples on this bird have now revealed it to be a Pied Flycatcher. This presents the awkward reality that female-type Collared Flys in autumn may not be safely identifiable in the field or in the hand! Waiting for a nice spring male is the smart way forward.

With the decks cleared by 9.45am, emails answered and the beach entrance (almost) cleared of flood water the only sensible thing to do was to blag a lieu day and tazz over to Spurn for the reported female Collared Flycatcher.
The bird was zipping about the Warren as I arrived in the early afternoon, courtesy of Neill Hunt, Paul Thomason and Andy Pryce who had it all pinned down for me.
I enjoyed some lovely views, when it wasn’t chasing one of the many Pied Flys on site.
Nice striking wing pattern – although it’s always easier to pontificate when someone else has done all the hard work.
For all the feather details, tail and measurement mullarkey, check up the superb article on the always superb Spurn Bird Obs website here.
I shot a wee video clip of it, which you can watch on You Tube here.
I sincerely hope that’s a hayfever snuffle nearby my audio has picked up… masks on!!!!!
Fortunately Neill, who is now almost part of the Spurn furniture kindly sent these brilliant “in the hand” shots of the flycatcher when it was trapped, ringed and released yesterday.
So you can see all the fiddly bits.
Thanks Neill.

I’ve dipped Collared Flycatcher in the UK three times before today – hence the mad dash east.
There was not going to be a fourth bout of unpleasantness.
It was wonderful watching the bird darting amongst the Red Admirals with Neill, Trops and Andy Pryce in the soaring temperatures of a balmy day at Spurn.
Although it did feel a bit weird lining up to watch the bird on the old outline of “Dunbirdin'” the long gone asbestos tainted hovel we crashed in so many times here back in the old days.

A sulphurous Icterine Warbler shimmied through the foliage behind the Collared Fly and Whimbrels trilled away on the Humber. Marvellous.
With Neill, Trops and Andy I strolled back towards Kilnsea through the Canal Zone, where many Pied Flycatchers nipped about the bushes and two young Red Backed Shrikes were perched up in the Triangle.
The male was a bit closer, so I papped him and shot some video through the heat haze as the temperatures rocketted.

You can see the vid on YouTube here
A quick peek in Kilnsea churchyard revealed a further abundance of Pied Flys, with Willow Warblers and a bigger brighter flyover through the branches which may just have been a Wood Warbler, but I didn’t see it well enough to pin down.
Migrant Hawkers, Wall Browns and big smiles, it seemed a shame to leave.
I was back at Dempsey Towers for 6pm, with me gob around a cold one and planning tomorrow’s working day.
With any luck they won’t have missed me…

The start of stirrings

A freshening easterly put a fizz in the air long before I’d clapped eyes on two Wheatears fence-hopping at Hesketh Out Marsh today.
Initially high water levels from the last tide cycle suggested it would be a quiet session – five Avocet, five Golden Plover, four Curlew, a Snipe, a few Oycs, a Greenshank and 11 Blackwits was the best I could muster from amongst the roosting Lapwings and bustling Starling flock on the west side.
Two or three Marsh Harriers tilted along the bank and tussled with Buzzards, Kestrels busked for aerial insect prey and a spectacularly inept Peregrine missed and missed again as it smashed into the Starlings.
That is not how you do it.
Sorta “situation normal” – plenty of Horseflies (tickle, tickle, BITE, BANG OooYAH!!!!) and frankly more sheep shit on the west bank than anyone can reasonably expect to stand in during any normal socially distanced activity.
Then just before 1pm six Crossbills flew east along the bank, calling away like frantically flicked Zippos, their yellow backsides really obvious in the strengthening sun.
Mark Fanshawe got on the flock too – they kept on heading up the Ribble, but any day with Crossbills in on the coast is a good ‘un.
20+ young Pied Wags chasing midges on the inland fields, but I only heard one Yellow Wag here today.
No sign of any Arctic Terns.

It was getting hotter, but I decided to give the east side a try.
A Greenshank basked in the sun at long range (possibly three out there this afternoon) and flights of eclipse Teal with one full male whizzed in to feed on the lagoons.

A Great White Egret was right at the back roosting with a few Littles, two young Willow Warblers were calling in the hawthorn hedge and perhaps nicest of all, a bright Little Stint tiptoed along the edge of one of the lagoons – not too far off the bank, but far enough to make photography embarrassing…

Felt good, felt autumn.

Death’s-heads and Honey Bees

Many thanks to the Bridgwoods for inviting me into their lovely garden for a gander at the mummified remains of one of the Death’s-head Hawk-moths (above) they discovered in their bee hives recently.
It was fascinating discussing the relationship between this honey-obsessed rare uber-moth and Honey Bees, as Swifts screamed overhead and a Sprawk zipped through clutching a snack in its talons.
I’ve not seen a live Death’s Head (yet) but just the thought that they visit local bee hives was thrilling enough, and it was a pleasure chatting about their behaviours, immunity to bee stings (?), the squeaking they make by pushing air through their proboscis and the strange processes that see them change colour to a light brown once they force their way into a hive due to propolisation by the bees.
It’s all there on the interweb.
More than enough to inspire me to crank up the moth trap again last night on what was a very warm evening.
No Death’s-heads this morning unfortunately (maybe I could trying luring them with a big pot of honey???) but a trap full of the usual summering species at Dempsey Towers, and very large numbers of the three regular yellow underwings.

The subtlety of a Grey Dagger and the intricacies of the markings of a Knot Grass or two are always worth sacrificing a few hours sleep for.

Raking ashes

It’s been so long since I had a good birding sesh I’m not sure I can remember which end of me bins to look through – and a bracing work rate at present means that’s unlikely to change in the forseeable, so thanks for everyone still following the blog.
I don’t believe in rehashing former glories online – the future is far more interesting, that said I think even I have to recognise there’s more chance of me getting to Brigadoon than the Bridges of Ross for my annual visit this year.
So for all my seawatching friends over on the civilised side of the Irish Sea and everywhere else for that matter, here’s some flashbacks from the last four of our visits to the wild west of County Clare.
Best wishes to you all, our first Pterodroma heady trip in 2011 was the start of an annual tradition I fear I will miss this year – so here’s to 2021…

Bridges of Ross 2016
Bridges of Ross 2017
Bridges of Ross 2018
Bridges of Ross 2019

And to those of you who do make it to the bowl this year, I hope the wind comes roaring in from the west for you.