Sunday, 29 November 2015

Pacific Diver!

Last Thursday I met up with fellow young birders and photographers Lisle Gwynn, Max Thompson and Jack Barton to head down to Penzance and see what we could find/photograph. We headed off in the early afternoon, with grey clouds looming overhead and the threat of rain. Nevertheless, we continued on down to Penzance and headed to the rocky point where Purple Sandpipers can often be found at close range. It was high tide, which boded well for finding this smart little waders, but unfortunately a lone Turnstone was all that remained besides the harbour. Unfazed, we scanned the surrounding sea and horizon to see if any wildfowl or seabirds were present in the bay....

There wasn't a great deal to see, aside a few distant Gannets, a flock of Common Scoters, and a lone diver. At a fair range, it looked Great Northern Diver-esque to me, but then we saw what were definitely Great Northerns a little beyond this bird, and realised that this was actually a Black-throated, with a more slender build and compact body. Lisle, knowing the area better than me, mentioned the fact that the Pacific should be returning soon, which spurred us on to try and ascertain a positive ID on this bird. Unfortunately, the diver had other ideas in mind, and proceeded to appear and re-appear in increasingly more distant locations, always seemingly with its back to us.

After a little while we lost the bird altogether, but scanning back towards the seafront in Penzance I picked it up again, this time much closer in. We scurried around and along the promenade, eventually moving close enough to get some reasonable views, where we could clearly see the absence of any white flank patch, and... a chinstrap! Just about visible on Max's images with his monster 500mm f4. We walked even further along the seafront, until the bird wasn't too far away at all, and we proceeded to watch it feeding. The features of Pacific Diver were now much more apparent, and we were all pleased to connect with this superb bird, which seems to have been returning to this area for perhaps seven years!

The Pacific Diver

After happily viewing the diver for a good hour or so, we headed over to the nearby Marazion marsh to witness the brilliant Starling roost that takes place in the reed beds most winter nights. The first undulating flocks arrived around 4pm, and gradually increased in number until around 8,000 birds were visible. We were treated to some cool murmurations, and the amazing sight of seeing 8,000 Starlings pile into an area of reed bed the size of a tennis court! It is always a pleasure and privilege to witness this awesome avian display of coordination and maneuverability.  

Here are a handful of images:

And finally, a few random shots to end this blog post...

Firecrests seem to be everywhere at the moment! There have been up to four individuals on campus, with this bird even landing on the roof of one building! I have been seeing up to three birds around the nearby College lake, and a minimum of three at Swanpool too!

Black-headed Gull at sunrise in Swanpool


Thursday, 26 November 2015

An encounter with a bat...

Last Sunday (the 22nd), I took a late afternoon stroll along the side of nearby College Reservoir, where I spotted this curious bat darting back and forth over the water besides the edge of the wood. I fought my way through some particularly vicious brambles before procuring a clearer look-out onto the lake; it was here that I spent an immensely enjoyable half-hour watching this superb Common Pipistrelle bat! I was very surprised to encounter one so early before nightfall, and also this late in the year, considering that many should presumably be snuggled up in crevices or bat boxes for the winter!

That said, I was extremely pleased to spend the dying light of the late afternoon watching this individual, as it continually flew back and forth in front of me, plucking up insects of the lake surface and darting here and there in an attempt to catch some in mid-air. It followed virtually the same flight path for the duration of its stay, which made for a good photographic opportunity. I must have taken over 600 images in an attempt to get a few in-focus frames! It was very difficult, with its darting and unpredictable flight pattern, but I managed a handful of images that I am relatively pleased with!

The Common Pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, is what this looks likely enough to be, although separation from the Soprano Pip is near impossible! I initially though the bat was Daubenton's, due to its proximity to the water, but later learned that this species largely sports a white belly and underside, which is lacking in this individual. Pipistrelles are said to be able to consume over 3000 insects in one night!

All images were taken using a Canon 7D mkii and Canon 300mm f2.8 lens, largely at ISO 2000, 1/1000th sec at f2.8!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Ringing and Birding Nanjizal - 23rd November

After what has felt like weeks of constant windy and wet weather, it was a pleasant surprise to see a gap open up for Sunday and Monday. This spurred a few of us C permit holders on campus to try and get down to Nanjizal for one last ringing session before Kester brings the nets down for the winter. With the forecast looking good for Monday, I decided to head back to this brilliant ringing site with fellow ringers Ellie Mahew, Louis O'neill and his partner. We headed off early to get down to the valley just after dawn; the conditions were superb, with clear skies, low winds and very chilly temperatures encouraging an excellent movement of migrants. We passed a large flock of c. 5000 Starlings emerging from their roost at Marazion on our way, and arrived on site for one of the first net rounds, after Kester had opened up a while beforehand.

We had a fantastic morning's ringing, trapping a total of 74 new birds, and processing around 20 retraps. It was surprising to find so many Chiffchaffs flitting around the trees and willows, with a total of 30 new birds ringed, and a further 10 retraps! Perhaps the highlights of the morning came in the form of a Water Rail (one of at least four on site), several stunning Firecrests, a Cetti's Warbler, an impressive four Siberian Chiffchaffs, and a good handful of Redwings and Song Thrushes. Commoner species trapped during the morning included Chaffinches, Long-tailed Tits, Goldfinches and Blackbirds. Check out the images below for some more detalils on the ringing session.

In addition to the ringing, it was fantastic to witness the visible migration taking place overhead. The morning's totals were quite impressive by the time we left, in particular due to the movement of Woodpigeons that was taking place. We recorded the following: 1342 Starlings, 1643 Woodpigeons, 27 Siskins, 55 Chaffinches, two Bramblings, two Reed Buntings, 12 Snipe, six Stock Doves, 17 Skylarks, 10 Goldfinches, nine Golden Plovers, 10 Lapwings, 10 Greenfinches and two Mistle Thrushes. A great morning all-in-all; it really was nice to be back down in this amazing site.

A crisp morning at Nanjizal

This cracking Water Rail was one of the highlights of the morning. They are not to be messed with: this seemingly docile and shy creature can be a voracious carnivore, eating anything it can get a hold of

Most of the Firecrests we trapped during the morning were re-traps from previous sessions, but there was one new bird in the mix. This stunning male was aspiring to be a Pacific Royal Flycatcher!!

It was cool to catch a total of four Siberian Chiffchaffs during the morning, all of which were really smart birds that gave a lovely Bullfinch-like 'huuet' call upon release. Here are two of them in the above image, alongside a Common Chiffchaff (far left) 

And again, the tristis on the right and a collybita on the left

One of the Siberian Chiffchaffs trapped and ringed

A comparison of tail shape in Chiffchaffs, for ageing a juvenile and an adult. You can see the browner, tatty and more pointed tail feathers of the juvenile (age 3) on the right, compared to a lovely broad and glossy adult (age 4) on the left

Several Long-tailed Tits found their way into the nets during the morning, although most already sported rings

 One of the seven Redwings ringed during the morning
 An interesting abnormality on the 5th tail feather, with a highly attenuated tip! Very odd

Fault bar with a capital 'F'!! This Robin obviously experienced some stressful or adverse environmental condition during the developmental process when growing the feathers at this point! A look under the upper mandible confirmed this bird as an age 3, due to the extensive yellow colour 

Great to see an adult Great Tit, with bright blue fringing to most of its flight feathers and coverts, compared to the duller tones and contrast in a juvenile's wing

Friday, 20 November 2015

Birding the Hayle Estuary - 19th November

I spent much of yesterday morning birding the Hayle Estuary (north Cornwall) with fellow birder and photographer Max Thompson. Despite the heavy drizzle that presided throughout most of our visit, we saw a respectable selection waders and waterfowl. This was partly due to the high tide forcing many birds into the inner marsh and close to the road, making birding easier.

Spending our first hour in the hide near the inner marsh, we were pleased to see the two Spoonbills that have been present here for sometime, after the pair flew in and landed not far away. It was great to see some 140 Lapwings14 Redshanks12 Curlews, two Goosanders, two Snipe, two Bar-tailed Godwits and a Greenshank from the hide too. We spent quite a while being entertained by the persistent plunge-diving feeding technique deployed by a particular Black-headed Gull directly in front of the hide (see below).

Venturing towards the estuary side after the rain had eased somewhat, we came to the bulk of the birds that reside in the Hayle: wildfowl. There must have been some 700 Wigeons and 120 Teals spread out in loosely-clustered flocks along the roadside, trying to avoid the worst of the weather. A high tide roos of gulls included around 170 Herring, six Lesser Black-backed, eight Greater Black-backed and 20 Mediterranean Gulls. We could also pick out 13 Shellducks, 13 Turnstones, a Ringed Plover and four Dunlins. It was great scanning through this multitude of birdlife and seeing what we could pick out. I look forward to heading back soon. Here are some shots from the day.

The inner marsh and hide at Hayle

Tufted Duck

Black-headed Gulls

The cool plunge-diving technique deployed by this Black-headed Gull was cool to watch

Little Egret


Wigeon numbers are really building around the Cornish coast now


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Hunting for winter inverts

Apologies for the poor upkeep of posts on my blog of late...for one it has been pretty grim weather for the last couple of weeks, which hasn't made it particularly conducive for either birding or photography, and also I am being kept fairly busy with the workload associated with undertaking a university degree! That said, there really is still plenty to look at and fin when you start looking...

I shall start with some moths. My faithful little heath trap has been doing ok just outside the caravan, but catches really have decreased fairly significantly recently. November (slash Autumnal) Moths have been perhaps the most common features, whilst Feathered Thorns have been turning up fairly regularly, which is great! Their bipectinate antenna, presumably from which the name originates, are superb! I have helped out with a couple of the moth-trapping events run on campus by the uni's environmental society 'Ecosoc', and a particular highlight was an Oak Nycteoline, which is a new one for me. Otherwise, the usual suspects such as Beaded Chestnuts, Large Yellow Underwings, Common Marbled Carpets and Black Rustics provide the rest of the entertainment...

Feathered Thorn - a truly superb species which has been a regular moth in the traps recently. This species has just one, relatively short generation, being on the wing from September to November

This smart moth is one of three confusingly similar species, that all occur at this time of year: the November Moth, the Pale November Moth and the Autumnal Moth. It can be very tricky to separate the three species on external characteristics alone, especially in the frequent melanistic individuals

This smart little moth could easily be taken for one of the angular micro moths in the Tortricidae family. It is an Oak Nycteoline. They are on the wing from October through to March, and come in a cool variety of different forms. I have no idea what justifies its name, but it is certainly amongst the more exotically-named lepidoptera species! All online dictionaries have thus far fallen short of defining the meaning of this intriguing name

...onto the other invertebrates then. Scavenging around campus and bush-bashing has revealed a surprising diversity of inverts clinging on despite the grim weather. One of the really cool things has been the discovery of the winter forms of Common Green Shieldbug. As their name suggests, they are for the most part an all-green shieldbug. However, as winter approaches and temperatures cool, individuals loose this green colour and fade into their dark brown form. This re-affirms their camouflage against the increasingly dulled tones associated with autumn and winter. It seems that they may also begin turning green again as temperatures warm in the spring. We have found many of these brown individuals around, and some in-between forms too!

There have also been plenty of other shieldbugs lurking around on plants around the campus- on Friday Will Hawkes and I managed to find three different species in one of the gardens, namely that of Gorse, Hairy and Common Green Shieldbugs. Will also managed to find one of these stunning little Cinnamon Bugs (Corizus hyoscyami). These bright little coleoptera species resemble the Fire Bugs that inhabit the nearby continent, and so it was cool to come across one in the garden. Butterflies and bees are all still very much on the wing, with plenty of fresh Red Admirals and Peacocks still out and about on still days, perhaps looking for somewhere to pitch up overwinter, such as a warm shed. The odd Bombus terrestris passes by still, and Honey Bees are still collecting pollen from the few flowering plants on campus! 

The smart Cinnamon Bug (Corizus hyoscyami). This is a species spreading northwards in the UK, with no records further than Liverpool as yet. It is most often encountered in the south, and is relatively common across Europe, having been recorded as far north as Finland! Its common name originates from the insect's apparent cinnamon fragrance if sniffed closely!

An interesting little beetle, with finely-indented elytra. This is the Cereal Leaf Beetle (Oulema rufocyanea), which can be a pest species on cereal crops

Just one example of the amazing difference between Common Green Shieldbugs at the moment! Very cool. Here are some more...

Common Green Shieldbugs

A Hairy Shieldbug

Gorse Shieldbug

Red Admiral