Gulls steal the Show in March, but only because the ‘Big One’ got away! Paul Freestone runs through the months birding highlights.
The Lesser Scaup was still present at Dozmary on the 1st, as was the Yellow-browed Warbler at Tehidy CP. The latter showed extremely well on occasions in trees near to the café. A nice flock of eighteen Cattle Egrets were at Menadue Farm, St Clement and a 1cy Iceland Gull shared the rocks with three Purple Sandpipers at Godrevy. A female Merlin gave close views at nearby St Gothians Sands and a Little Gull was off Little London beach, Marazion. A sea-watch off Pendeen produced Arctic and Great Skuas. A Kumlien’s Gull, two Iceland Gulls and two Yellow-legged Gulls were together in fields at Polgigga on the 2nd and a Glaucous Gull frequented Falmouth Docks in an area that was unfortunately unavailable to the general public.
A Cattle Egret showed well in low trees by the large pond at Tehidy CP and the Hayle Estuary held two drake Goosander, thirteen Grey Plovers and a lonely looking Lapwing! The Gannel Estuary continued to host a Cattle Egret roost at Penpol Creek and there were eight birds present on the 3rd. The long-staying Ring-billed Gull was also present. Single Iceland Gulls were reported from Sennen and Nanjizal and two were in the roost at St Clements Isle, Mousehole. An immature Pomarine Skua lingered offshore there also and two Yellow-legged Gulls were there during the afternoon. A Yellow-browed Warbler was at UoE Campus, Falmouth and a Slavonian Grebe and Black Redstart were at West Looe. On the 4th, Cattle Egrets were seen at Helston (16), St Clement (12) and The Gannel (7) and and an early House Martin was reported from Coverack. This site also produced an adult Iceland Gull. Hayle also had an Iceland Gull along with a Yellow-legged Gull, Spoonbill and Red-breasted Merganser. A Glaucous Gull was at Newtown-St-Martin and the Falmouth area produced Yellow-browed Warbler, two Firecrests and a Siberian Chiffchaff at Swanpool and Slavonian (2) and a Red-necked Grebe off Castle Beach. A 2cy American Herring Gull at Polgigga on the 5th was overshadowed somewhat by the arrival of what was undoubtedly the Bird of the Month for many. A first-winter Bonaparte’s Gull was found by Tony Blunden amongst the Black-headed Gulls at Helston Boating Lake. It remained until the 22nd and showed incredibly well, often down to just a few feet, much to the delight of the camera wielding brigade! Elsewhere, the Frenchman’s Creek egret roost on the Helford River held twelve Cattle Egrets and fourteen birds were at Loe Pool, Helston. The nearby sewage works entertained a Yellow-browed Warbler along with the twenty or more Chiffchaffs.
There was little change for the following two days and only five Cattle Egrets at Bude Marshes and two Yellow-browed Warblers at UoE campus were noteworthy on the 8th. Sixteen Black-necked Grebes were of note in the Carrick roads on the 9th and two others were at Drift Reservoir. Two Yellow-browed Warblers were at Swanpool and a Short-eared Owl was on private land at Predennack airfield. It was a case of ‘the one that got away’ on the 10th when a report was received from a non-birder regarding a Crake sp. that she had photographed on Porthchapel Beach, St Levan. Closer inspection of photos and video taken on a mobile phone appear to show that bird was a Baillon’s Crake! It was last seen flying across the beach towards Porthgwarra but could not be re-located there the following day. Elsewhere, a Glaucous Gull flew south over Cape Cornwall and spring arrivals were in evidence with an impressive flock of six Garganey at Par Beach pool, Sand Martins at Marazion and a very early Cuckoo was heard near St Ives. A smart first-winter Little Gull showed again at Longrock Pool.
The Frenchman’s Creek roost held twenty-five Cattle Egrets on the 12th and two others were at Sellan Farm, Sancreed. The two Little Buntings were again at Nanjizal and Iceland Gulls were reported from Hayle, Gwithian and St Just. The following day a Black-necked Grebe was at Stithians Reservoir and Black Redstarts were seen at St Ives and Par. A 1w Caspian Gull was with the Iceland and two Yellow-legged Gulls at Hayle on the 14th and a cracking adult Iceland Gull was at College Reservoir, Falmouth. Two more were at Drift the following day and a Wheatear was at St Gothian Sands NR. Three Cattle Egrets were in fields at Tregrea Lane, St Erth on the 16th and another was on the Hayle Estuary. Presumably the same three were later on Lelant saltings. The rest of the day had a distinctly migratory feel to it with a Hoopoe at Gorren Haven, Garganeys at Wadebridge and Marazion and a Little Ringed Plover at St Gothian Sands. Winter still had a small hand in procedures though with nine Fieldfare at Sancreed. An Iceland Gull was in a ploughed field near Camborne and Sand Martin numbers had increased with over one-hundred and fifty at Drift. A Cattle Egret was on the airfield at St Mawgan on the 18th and Iceland Gulls were evident with singles at Coverack, Gwithian, Hayle and Newquay and two were on the sea at Mullion. A White-fronted Goose, a scarce visitor to Cornwall, was at Par Beach on the 19th and a county wide Cattle Egret survey revealed over seventy-seven individuals. With some regular sites and roosts not covered the total could well have been into three figures, which bodes well for the upcoming breeding season. We can only hope they stay around long enough to establish a breeding population!
A Caspian Gull was at Par on the 20th and yesterday’s White-fronted Goose was reported unusually feeding on the roof of a factory there! A Glaucous Gull was at Portholland, Mevagissey and an Osprey was at Bissoe. Two Spoonbills were at Maer Lake, Bude on the 21st and another two were at Hayle the following day. Two Cattle Egrets flew over Ruan Pool, The Lizard and a Yellow-browed Warbler was at St Erth. Two Iceland Gulls were at the Red River mouth, Marazion on the 23rd and others were at Polgigga, Hayle and Falmouth. A Garganey was at Lanreath and a Bonapartes Gull was reported from the Hayle estuary. This bird was looked for later and was believed to be a Kittiwake. However, the Helston bird was not reported on the 23rd or any time after. Was the report actually erroneous? The Hudsonian Whimbrel was reported for the first time in this month on the 24th. Did it go missing? Or was it just un-reported? A Great White Egret flew north over Porthgwarra early morning and a second-winter Glaucous Gull was at Swanpool. A Spoonbill was at St John’s Lake, Torpoint and two Mandarins were an uncommon sight at Marazion Marsh. The Fowey Estuary produced eleven Cattle Egrets and an Osprey on the 25th and a Ring Ouzel was at the favoured spring site at Buttermilk Hill, St Ives. This site also saw a Short-eared Owl fly in off the sea.
The following day, the elusive Bonaparte’s Gull was once again reported from the Hayle Estuary. This is highly likely to be the bird from Helston. A Great White Egret was in the pines at Marazion Marsh early morning before it flew north. Three Red Kites were also seen over the reserve during the day. Another Red Kite was over Bodmin Moor and a Pink-footed Goose, another uncommon visitor, was at Drift Reservoir. A Dusky Warbler was trapped and ringed at Nanjizal on the 27th and the Bonaparte’s Gull flew into the Hayle Estuary with Black-headed Gulls at 1800hrs. A Cattle Egret and two Spoonbills were also present there. A Great White Egret, reported at Marazion was possibly the same bird seen to fly east over Carnhell Green on the 28th and both Ring-billed and Little Gull were at the Red river mouth, Marazion. An Iceland Gull was on the river at Tresillian and a Marsh Harrier was over Goonhilly Downs. Predominantly easterly winds turned more southerly on the 29th and brought with them two Hoopoes. The first was at Mannacan on The Lizard and another was in one lucky observer’s garden near Culdrose, Helston. The next day, another was seen on the path leading to Epp Haven Beach, St Minver. Elsewhere on the 29th, a sub-adult Ring-billed Gull was on the Hayle estuary with two Icelands, a Yellow-legged and twenty-one Med Gulls. A Glaucous Gull was at Sennen and St Ives Island held ten Purple Sandpipers and thirty-eight Sandwich Terns flew past. By the end of the month, the Bonaparte’s Gull and long staying Lesser Scaup looked to have departed. The 31st saw the Ring-billed Gull again at Hayle and Hoopoe showed well at Manaccan. The only other new bird of note was an Osprey that flew north-east over Liskeard.
April usually sees a few more rare and scarce migrants and overshoots. With winds from the south, we should expect our first Red-rumped Swallow reports (there have been two on the Scillies recently and others further north!) along with the possibility of other Mediterranean overshoots like Woodchat Shrike, Alpine Swift, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover or an early Bee-eater. We should also see the arrival of more of our summer breeders with Sedge and Reed Warblers evident in our reed beds and Wheatears, Dotterel and Ring Ouzels on traditional sites as they pass through the county heading to breeding grounds further north. Rarities in April last year included Iberian Chiffchaff, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, American Herring Gull, Gyr Falcon and not forgetting Snowy Owl!!
Paul Freestone (c) Cornwall Birding 2017