Saturday 29 March 2014

Pennington Marsh and Denny Wood 29th March

A beautiful day with temperatures really climbing now (up to 18c today) made it feel like the coast should be crawling with migrants fresh in but once again it was not to be. A lone female Wheatear was intriguing since it was carrying a well grown tick just above its right eye. Given the time of year and that this was probably a recently arrived migrant it was highly likely that that this tick was picked-up in Europe or possibly Africa and had hitched a ride to the UK. 

Female Wheatear - Pennington Marsh

Otherwise, there was a real in-between feel to the day with few winter visitors present and no significant numbers of migrant. Breeding residents were in full swing though with the local male Grey Heron showing a bill flushed with breeding finery and the local Lapwings in full display. Many of the female Lapwing are now sitting tight on eggs with the males in a seemingly endless pursuit of passing crows.

Grey Heron - Pennington Marsh

Lapwing - Pennington Marsh

Female Teal - Pennington Marsh

A brief stop at Denny Wood produced the first Redstart on territory but this bird was very elusive singing from deep within the canopy of an Oak and only giving the briefest of views. The local Nuthatch were far more obliging as they gathered damp mud to size a suitable nest hole.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Early Spring in Cornwall 14th-17th March 2014

We spent the weekend down in Cornwall, mainly for a bit of rest and relaxation but also in the hope of catching up with the first summer migrants. On the Friday I birded the coast from Fowey west to Southground Point in rather dense fog.

River Fowey - Simon Colenutt
Mouth of the River Fowey in fog with St. Catherine's Point to the left
and St. Saviour's Point to the right (Simon Colenutt)

The habitat along this stretch of coast consists of open improved grassland fields, coastal scrub and narrow coombes which look ideal for migrants. The best of these was Coombe Haven which while relatively bird-less certainly looked to have potential for picking up incoming migrants.

Coombe Haven, Fowey - Simon Colenutt
Coombe Haven (Simon Colenutt)

There were many spring flowers in Coombe Haven including numerous Primrose and my first Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage of the spring. This is a classic plant of wet ground and flushes in woodlands and is one of my favourite spring species. 

Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage - Simon Colenutt
Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage (Simon Colenutt)

The only migrant bird that I encountered was a small 'group' of six Chiffchaff which appeared to be newly arrived foraging amongst the Gorse and on the dew covered ground.

Chiffchaff - Simon Colenutt
Chiffchaff, Southground Point (Simon Colenutt)

We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing in our cottage west of St. Ives and while I ventured out birding in the early mornings things seemed to be pretty slow going. I added Great-northern Diver and Hen Harrier, a superb male, to my patch that extends walking distance from the cottage and includes Pen Enys Point and Carn Naun Point along the north Cornish coast.

Carn Naun Point - Simon Colenutt
Carn Naun Point from Pen Enys Point (Simon Colenutt)

On Saturday morning I birded the Marazion and Penzance area. A juvenile Glaucous Gull was present on the rocks known as Great Hogus between Marazion and St. Michael's Mount and the first-winter male Surf Scoter that has been present off Penzance since 9th February 2014 showed distantly off the bus station. This bird is close to adult plumage showing a well developed bill pattern close to that of an adult Surf Scoter with the red bridge and black lozenge to the side.

Surf Scoter, Penzance - Simon Colenutt

Thursday 13 March 2014

Great Spotted Cuckoo - Giltar Point, Pembrokeshire 11th March 2014

Spring is truly here. A classic early spring vagrant has been showing well at Giltar Point, Pembrokeshire having been found on 11th March. This will be the 57th British record assuming that it is accepted. There are two peaks in its occurrence with records extending from February to May and July to October, the peak months are March and April. The species breeds from the Iberian Peninsula east to Iraq and Iran and winters in north-west and possibly sub-Saharan Africa. Populations to the south of the Sahara are semi-resident, migratory or may make seasonal and somewhat nomadic movements depending on rains. In Europe the species is well known as a brood parasite of Magpie and Azure-winged Magpie but in Africa it parasitises species such as Pied Crow and Superb Starling. Certainly when it occurs in the UK it agitates the local Magpie populations even though they are unlikely to have encountered the species previously.

Great Spotted Cuckoo, Giltar Point (Mark Hipkin)

Also found on 11th March was another classic spring overshoot, a Hoopoe at Polgigga, Cornwall. This bird was not seen again but for such a startling bird can be remarkably elusive.

Lepe Country Park 10th March 2014

I had a survey to do in the New Forest and having competed this faster than expected a quick trip to revisit the long staying Lesser Yellowlegs at Lepe Country Park was in order. The weather was superb with lovely sunny spells mixed with cloudy periods and the birds knew that spring was springing with bird song filling the air. The Lesser Yellowlegs was quick to show but as with my previous two visits to the site was always a little distant at the back of the pool at Stansore Point. This bird has been present at this site since the 10th November 2013 so this was its four month stay anniversary. It appears to be undergoing moult with its mantle and breast sides now showing blackish flecking and blotching displayed by summer plumaged birds.

Lesser Yellowlegs, Stansore Point - Simon Colenutt
Lesser Yellowlegs, Stansore Point (Simon Colenutt)

Amongst the assembled waders and wildfowl were approximately 25 snipe feeding within the denser areas of vegetation. However, I saw the three birds below feeding in the open and as I watched them two of the birds loosened their feathers, flattened their bodies and spread their tails to sunbath. I have never seen this behaviour before in snipe but they were clearly enjoying the sunshine.

Sunbathing Snipe, Stansore Point (Simon Colenutt)

Tuesday 4 March 2014

A Trip to the 'Lovely' Walpole Lake - 4th March 2014

I had a winter bird survey to carry out today near to Stubbington so I could not resist a short diversion to see the Ring-billed Gull that has wintered at Walpole Lake, Gosport since November 2003. Why it chose Walpole Lake I will never know! The bird showed well amongst the assembled gulls (Black-headed, Herring and Common Gull), Mute Swans and Feral Pigeons loitering waiting to be tossed bread. Having last seen this bird in 2009 I have to say I felt that the bird is looking a little aged why this was I cannot quite put my finger on but there was a certain crusty look to the bird. In 2003 this bird was found as an adult making it at least 15 years old. A quick Google search indicates that they can live up to 23 years but that three to 10 years is a typical lifespan. How many more years will this bird return?

Ring-billed Gull - Simon Colenutt
Adult Ring-billed Gull (Simon Colenutt)

Ring-billed Gull - Simon Colenutt
Adult Ring-billed Gull (Simon Colenutt)

Common Gull - Simon Colenutt
Adult Common Gull (Simon Colenutt). 

Note this birds daintier bill lacking the defined ring, dark eye, large white mirrors in the wing-tip and darker upper parts which help to distinguish it from Ring Billed Gull.

Herring Gull - Simon Colenutt
First winter Herring Gull (Simon Colenutt)

Monday 3 March 2014

Isle of Wight Weekend

Sarah and I spent the weekend on the Isle of Wight visiting my family. Early morning starts allowed a little birding and some visits to some old haunts. Saturday 1st March was a beautiful still and spring-like day and I visited Newtown Harbour and the Western Yar at Yarmouth. The spring weather sparked a great deal of pre-breeding activity with many of the wildfowl displaying and Black-headed Gulls calling and mating.

Newtown Harbour, Simon Colenutt
Newtown Harbour (Simon Colenutt)

There was a nice (albeit a little distant for photography) gathering of Mediterranean Gull off the boathouse and these were in high spirits giving their distinct and far carrying 'Keouw' calls and walking around pigeon chested chasing off any Black-headed Gull that approached too closely.

Mediterranean Gulls - Simon Colenutt
Mediterranean Gulls (Simon Colenutt)

Most of the Mediterranean Gull were in near summer plumage as can be seen below where five birds from a flock of 12 are present.

Mediterranean Gulls - Simon Colenutt
Mediterranean Gulls (Simon Colenutt)

Whereas the Black-headed Gulls seemed to show a greater variation in their progression to full summer plumage as the image below shows with the central bird in near full breeding dress while the uppermost bird shows no sign of progressing from winter plumage. The other birds show a range of plumage stages between the two extremes. A first winter bird is present to the right of centre.

Black-headed Gulls - Simon Colenutt
Black-headed Gulls (Simon Colenutt)

A walk to the Needles produced excellent views of Raven and Peregrine and my first butterfly of the year, a Peacock.

Needles - Simon Colenutt
Needles (Simon Colenutt)

Back at my Dad's house the first Frog spawn of the year had appeared and based on its condition looks to have been laid in the last few days.

Frog Spawn (Simon Colenutt)

On Sunday another early start and inspired by Saturdays weather I was convinced that I would find my first Wheatear of the year but it was not to be. A seawatch from the lighthouse in strong south-west winds produced little but for three Common Scoter, two Kittiwake and 12 Red-throated Diver moving east. The bushes were devoid of any migrants, not even a Chiffchaff to show for my efforts. The only excitement was a close view of a hovering Buzzard but the light levels were not high enough to get a decent shutter speed and the image below is on the soft side.

St. Catherines Point (Simon Colenutt)
St.Catherine's Point (Simon Colenutt)

Buzzard, St. Catherines Point - Simon Colenutt
Buzzard (Simon Colenutt)

Sunday 2 March 2014

Pennington Marshes - 28th February 2014

I spent the morning at Pennington Marshes on a glorious spring like morning. There was a great deal of breeding bird activity with Lapwing displaying over the still extensive floods and the bushes alive with singing Dunnock, Wren and Robin and with the occasional burst of song from a hidden Cetti's Warbler.

Wren - Simon Colenutt
Wren (Simon Colenutt)

Just off the car park at Lower Pennington Lane and quick scan with the binoculars revealed the distinctive stumpy shape and sowing machine feeding action of the Long-billed Dowitcher that has made Pennington its home. 

Long-billed Dowitcher, Pennington Marshes - Simon Colenutt
Long-billed Dowitcher, Pennington Marsh (Simon Colenutt)

This bird first appeared as a summer plumage bird on 1st August 2013 and has been present on and off since. Now in full winter plumage this bird will likely head north in the coming weeks - will it relocate to its normal breeding grounds of east Siberia and north-west Nearctic? Or perhaps more likely establish a territory in the northern Palearctic. 

Finally, this stunning Bar-headed Goose was amongst the Canada Geese and while clearly not a wild bird it was worth a good look for its striking head pattern and novelty value. This species breeds in central Asia and China and winters in India and neighbouring countries. It is a common species in wildfowl collections in the UK.

Bar-headed Goose, Pennington Marsh (Simon Colenutt)