Tuesday 10 September 2019

BB Rarity

Quite a rare one at that, the Kynance Cove Brown Booby.

Here's my two penn'orth on Saturday pm sightings of the Brown Booby. It should actually be my £7.40 worth as it includes a tale of a bacon baguette, a mug of tea and indigestion.

Firstly, on site from before 6.30 am scanning the rocky outcrops and, unbeknown to most if not all on site, the assembled 30+ carloads of birders were not far enough to the west to be able to look back at the 'Booby's' roost site. No sign first thing of the rarity from the slope above the cafe. Loads of Manx Shearwaters moving by in search of feeding grounds out in the bay were nice to see. I picked out a Balearic Shearwater lazily flying by early morning, and throughout the day it would be possible to pick up a, or the same or a couple of Sooty Shearwaters amongst a pack of Manxies. I noted an Arctic Skua and a Bonxie early morning with one of the latter seen briefly mid afternoon. Back on land a couple of Peregrine sightings and a Buzzard flew by, but they could not compete for the wow factor won by the group of 7 Choughs that showed on and off as the morning warmed up. They were perhaps puzzled to see humans with tripods scattered across their perfect grass covered hillside. Viz-mig saw hirundines moving along the coast, mainly Swallows and House Martins with a single Sand Martin picked out. Grey Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and a few calling Tree Pipits added to the migration with a few Wheatears around and local Rock Pipits were easy to see.

The 2 pm sighting

Mid afternoon and will the rarity show? Time for lunch at the cafe in the Cove and as I was ordering the bacon baguette and mug of tea just around 2 pm I noticed folk 'high-fiving' outside the far window. As the scene outside the cafe was predominantly tourists with a few birders, and not knowing the people concerned, I thought it was simply friends greeting each other. Placed the order and went outside and a birder was beaming and explaining to a tourist of the Brown Booby, one of many such instances throughout the day. He saw me and asked if I had seen the Brown Booby, they had just had it fly in the bay at the south end of Kynance Cove but it was currently lost to view. A little confused, this soon turned to excitement of the sighting and I joined the 3 celebrating birders at the side of the cafe scoping without success to relocate the rare Sulid. I gently grilled the sighting, let's be honest don't we all on a bird of interest, and was impressed with the details. I believe they had alerted birders on the grassy bank near the cafe, at least one from the bank (or cafe?) got onto the Brown Booby. Patiently waited for the bird to show without luck, with only a bit of bacon butty indigestion to note. Therefore, time for a different approach, I joined the birders on the grassy bank north of the cafe scoping the far bay and it's headland to have a wider view looking back into the far bay as well.

The 4 pm sighting

Still focussed on the far headland I was lucky to be a couple of feet away from a birder who noted a dark 'Gannet' about the headland, mentioning that to the assembled mass.

I quickly got onto the bird as it moved right over the rocky outcrop leading away from the edge of the headland into the bay. Instead of continuing out to sea it then flew back left and towards us flying this way for quite a few seconds before turning away only to then to go behind the headland. It soon appeared again and did the same flight out and then back behind the headland. As the second pass was being made a shout of 'BOOBY!!!' broke the air from birders at the cafe, the guys who had the 2 pm sighting, one of them popped up and we exchanged gen. Basically, they had independently seen the same bird fly back and forth, the immature Brown Booby.

Over the period of its passes by I noted the following on scoping the bird at zoom, and present the details "without prejudice":

  • Flying over the rocks. Hooded appearance same tone as upper-wing contrasting with pale under-parts. This piqued my interest.

  • Turning to fly away. The upper-parts were brown, clear and distinct at range. The brown was vivid against a deep blue sky and this feature got me zooming in!

  • Banking to turn towards us. Shockingly white belly seen in perfect light conditions, contrasting with dark neck/breast. White on the belly extending beyond the axillaries onto the under-wing. Another key feature was the dark brown lining to both the leading and trailing edge which was very noticeable towards the join with the body. This colouration and pattern coupled with the brown upper-parts gave it a "Cory's" look. 

  • Flying towards us. Could briefly see a pale area to the gular patch / lower mandible area contrasting with the brown head and demarcated from a brown neck/breast band, the top of which seemed to look darker than the lower area of the band.

  • Flying towards us. Coming towards us at an angle the bill dominated the head, appearing to be a continuation of the head (cue comparisons with Whooper Swan and Caspian Gull) and put simply, looked like a cornet stuck on it! The bill was paler than the brown hood in neutral light. Moreover, whenever it turned its head and the sun caught the bill it glowed pale, a feature especially striking all the way along the top of the bill, and this 'highlighting' appeared to emphasise the magnitude of the bill.

  • Flight - not prolonged views to comment much on this, but it wasn't afraid of making a quick to change its path which helped to pick up the different features mentioned above.

In response to comment either heard in the field or seen on twitter:

Expected much celebration about the sightings - if you were down at the cafe at 2 pm, bacon butty ordering withstanding, you would have seen the joy of the finders. Have a look on twitter as the spotters describe the moment. A birder behind me at the 4 pm sighting proclaimed, 'That's a Brown Booby, I've seen zillions of Gannets, that's not a Gannet!'

No news put out - folk attempted but the signal was dreadful by the cafe and nearby. No suppression, nearby parties informed. This time of day saw birders scattered into loose groups covering vantage points up and down the Cove.

Whilst I always welcome debate, and folk have a right to offer opinion, words fail me when correspondents perhaps hundreds of miles away proclaim negative news acting as Judge, Jury and Executioner.

Late on, word was that it was seen from the headland of interest, in the bay to the south of Kynance Cove at 6.36 pm, i.e. the headland to which it appeared from mid-afternoon. Sorry, I don't know anymore details.

It was a day of being in the right place at the right time and importantly to seize the moment. Congratulations to the finders at the cafe, much respect! I was slightly gutted at 2 pm, but lucky at 4 pm.

Sunday 1 September 2019

Cabin Fever - a tale of a 'cream crown', a 'grey crown' and a 'white crown'

You cannot beat a bit of viz-migging and especially when raptors are involved. Many a time I've been lucky to witness cracking raptor passage in the autumn at Cape May, NJ, USA be it marvelling in the numbers involved or the buzz when a rarity is spotted such as a west coast Swainson's Hawk from way out west. Here in the UK we're arguably limited to opportunistic days on the coast at celebrated bird migration watchpoints, and without intending to be disingenuous, cannot match the famed raptor watchpoints found across the globe in terms of numbers and variety. But what about down the spine of the country? The north eastern edge of the Pennines is not the safest place for raptors as is well documented...

During the heatwave on Sunday 25 August 2019 we watched from the Cabin overlooking the Ewden Valley, South Yorkshire, to check out bird migration. First up were several Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs on the walk out west, and before arriving at the Cabin a flock of 16 waders (15 Curlew and 1 Whimbrel) headed west with 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls soon after crossing the moors. A steady stream of butterflies moving west up the valley were noted mainly Painted Ladies (50+) but several Red Admirals were also on the move.

Local Buzzards soon began to stir in the heat of the day and a passage juvenile Peregrine, perhaps seeing this habitat for the first time, exited stage left but not before sharing the sky with a Hobby. The smaller Falcon keeping a safe distance above the big wanderer. Interesting to see this behaviour play out. The Hobby relaxed soon after much to the displeasure of the Odes

Out to the east an all dark raptor appeared, its identity betrayed by its 'cream crown' that shone like a beacon, and also of having a long-ish tail. This Marsh Harrier was soon lost to view over an upland ridge but nevertheless scanning this area paid dividends as soon after a 'grey crown' raptor appeared. Noticeably lacking a dihedral profile the fact which grabbed our attention as it glided towards us before turning south, a turn revealing its distinctive tail, a Red Kite. Just after midday a gliding raptor picked up again down valley to the east had a distinctive flight profile, a shallow 'M', not disimilar to the Kite, but unlike the Red Kite it turned to reveal a gleaming 'white crown' contrasting against uniform dark brown upperparts. As it fanned its tail the dark and pale barring was visible at distance. A distinctive dark eye stripe broke an otherwise all white head. Birding Gold, an Osprey! This individual sported an obvious breast band, the bright white underparts and underwing coverts drew a "wow" from its audience as it flapped them into view before leaving to the south in a strong power glide.