Tuesday, October 26, 2010

St. Agnes, October 2010 (2)

Part Two - 7th to 11th

The 7th began with blue skies, becoming increasing warm with a moderate SSW, veering S; several circuits, including a couple of hours on Gugh, again revealed very little fresh-in. A few Wheatears, Whinchats, common raptors (including Merlin and Peregrines), and the usual sprinkle of Blackcaps, Reed Warblers and Chiffys were as good as it got during the morning session, excepting a couple of always beautiful Firecrests on Gugh and a memorable half hour alone with the buntings on Wingletang - by approaching very slowly and sitting on the grass, they soon ignored my presence and hopped to within a metre of my boots for minutes at a time. Wonderful.

more Laps - because they're worth it

Back at the house, news reached us of a Black-headed Bunting feeding on the path along the shore of Porth Coose - once again, five minutes later and there it was, allowing relatively close approach and, in subtle immature tones with a yellow-washed vent, a very smart little bird (and another smart bunting for the trip). While mulling around before going our seperate ways again for the afternoon session, a Common Redstart appeared, fresh-in, on a nearby fence; hardly a headline-grabber, but surely another sign...

Black-headed Bunting

There was a communal sense of a corner being turned, and with the winds steadily moving into the south-east and fronal systems due, possibilities once again widened. If the gods deemed Agnes once again unfit to host a neartic wanderer, then palearctic activity would do just fine.

The 8th was like a fresh start, and with plenty of newly-arrived migrants across the island, made for a very entertaining day in the field. The personal tally of commoner species included 20+ Chiffchaffs, a small arrival of Willow Warblers, a minimum of five Firecrests, a trickle of Swallows, Whinchats, Goldcrests, Reed Warblers, five Pied Flycatchers, several Yellow Wagtails, a Common Redstart in the Parsonage, and fantastic views of a Wryneck on Castella Down - the same site rounding off the day beautifully with a Long-eared Owl perched on an outcrop in the golden evening sunshine.

Long-eared Owl

Overnight showers and fierce ESE's promised more for the 9th, and while the windy and gloomy conditions made it more of challenge, it was another entertaining day. A sprinkling of commoner migrants - warblers, flycatchers, chats, hirundines, Siskins, Redwings etc. - were augmented by a dumping of Chaffinches, the first two Red-breasted Flycatchers of the trip, more Wrynecks, and a Common Rosefinch giving excellent views in the fields behind the house. No killers, but more than enough to keep spirits high and minds focused.


Sunday the 10th was full of birds. Numbers of commoner species sky-rocketed - one of the largest falls on the island in recent years - with all available habitat littered with new arrivals, making for a very enjoyable day in the field, and numerous circuits of the island between us.

Pied Flycatcher

Amongst the highlights: no less than seven Red-breasted Flycatchers (two in the Parsonage, one in the Fruit Cage, one fresh-in along Barnaby Lane and three on Gugh), at least eight Firecrests, several Wrynecks (often giving close views), a Quail flushed in a field just behind the house, and an extraordinary arrival of Ring Ouzels.


From messages exchanged early on between us, they were evidently everywhere - singles, pairs, trios, five and six together, from across the island; an incredible spectacle. Allowing, very conservatively, for duplication, we estimated '30+' in the evening log, but in reality it was probably many more.

Ring Ouzels

With scarcities liberally scattered and Ring Ouzels around every corner, commoner species were barely registering - in stark contrast to the previous week, when we knew each migrant by its first name..... they included hundreds of Robins, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds, many dozens of Chaffinches, House Martins, Chiffchaffs and Skylarks, good numbers of Blackcaps, Reed Warblers, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Wheatears, Redwings, Black and Common Redstarts, Goldcrests, Swallows and Siskins, plus various others (Whinchats, Yellow Wagtails, Hobby, Common Whitethroat etc.).

Black Redstart

A Lesser Whitethroat eventually showed well after a little encouragement at the southern end of Barnaby Lane, feeding in bracken and bramble-covered dry-stone walls on the northern edge of Wingletang - and with good views became more and more interesting. Showing concolourous underparts, a poorly-defined (almost non-existent) facial 'mask', obvious white outer-tail feathers and, most strikingly, warm sandy brown upperparts, extending fully up over the nape and onto the crown. Halimodendri seems like a realistic option, especially given the prevailing conditions and supporting cast (as well as e.g. Pied and Black-eared Wheatears just a couple of km away on St. Mary's...).

Lesser Whitethroat showing characteristics of ssp. halimodendri

While photographing the above, a group of House Martins appeared over Wingletang - with a Swift sp in tow..... Aware of the possibilities, I diverted the camera skyward and frantically texted the team as the bird headed towards Covean. Despite initial internal excitement it became steadily obvious that the bird was a very late Common Swift, confirmed by Lee and Laurence as it appeared above their cream teas for extended views. Close, but no cigar (shape).

Common Swift

It was the kind of day when anything could appear, and as the sun set over Castella, I took a walk towards St. Warna's, down the footpath beyond the coastguards. With the light almost gone I heard an oddly familiar call from within the vegetation-covered dry-stone wall; a minute or so later, no sign, and so a last-gasp pish on the off-chance. For all of four or five seconds, the bird appeared, close to, within the crown of scrub - bizarrely, a Cetti's Warbler.

Cetti's Warbler

Completely off the radar when meticulously searching for skulking sibes or asian wanderers, it was, technically, the rarest bird we found (with only a couple of previous records for the island, and therefore much scarcer than, say, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Grey-cheeked Thrush etc) - scant consolation, but another close call and further inspiration.

High hopes for the 11th, which dawned clear and remained sunny and blue-skied all day. Plenty of activity once again, with migrants well scattered (including e.g. a sudden appearance of Garden Warblers, a new RB Fly, a Common Gull, a few redpolls), and a promising start, when two Spoonbills headed east over the north of the island.


Aside from several Wrynecks and various other species previously arrived however, nothing stunning appeared, and the bird of the day was a Nightingale, which showed superbly (when left alone by the visiting crowds) near the old obs in the sunshine.


A quality few days, which were about to get even better......

(click on the 'older posts' link, below right, for the last Agnes Post)