Wise Birding Holidays

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Exmouth Cackling Goose

The Exmouth Cackling Goose has been around for a few days now.  I first saw it with good friend Matt Knott (the finder of the bird) on the evening of the 29th September though it was a little distant. Therefore today I returned and managed to get a few record shots just off Exmouth Station where the bird fed with 350+ Brent Geese until it was flushed by a helicopter! 

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii is the small-bodied form of Canada Goose that breeds in the arctic tundra. There are 4 recognised subspecies. The bird at Exmouth is thought to belong to the smallest subspecies of the four, Branta hutchinsii minima or Ridgway's Cackling Goose. This subspecies has a very small bill, short neck, relatively long legs and typically very dark brown plumage. Ridgeway's Cackling Goose is stated to have a strictly Pacific population in the States with very few records east of the Rockies!  

Regardless of its origin, it is still an interesting bird and even more interesting that it has joined mostly a Dark-bellied Brent Goose flock. An unlikely carrier species??

As Matt has mentioned on his excellent Blog, it is always best to keep an "open mind" regarding its true origin, though it seems unlikely to be a true vagrant.

I am not at all certain of the bird's age, but it looks to possibly be an adult? Obviously a juvenile would be better for a "wild" candidate!

Useful links HERE to ageing Canada Geese by Sibley and more HERE by Brandon Holden.

Also check out the great photos of a bird in London last year taken by good mate, Peter Alfrey HERE

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - seems to show a strongly barred pattern on the back
with straight pale lines as well as contrasting dark and light flank lines, indicative of adult? Also wary of harsh light......

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

"Ridgway's" Cackling Goose - Exmouth

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Unringed and fully winged!

Still pretty quiet for migrants on the patch today, though Alan did well to find a Turtle Dove early this morning. The highlight this afternoon was a Barnacle Goose in with the Canada Geese. The bird was first found yesterday by David White. This is the first one I have seen on the patch. Perhaps a shame in the same flock there is a Bar-headed Goose and a feral White Goose, but who knows where the Barnacle originates from.....

Barnacle Goose on the Otter Estuary

Barnacle Goose looking a little less wild in with the Canada Geese!

Male Stonechat on the Top Fields

Peregrine along the coast today

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Keeping it Cornish

The Mrs and I headed to deepest darkest Kernow on Saturday for a change of scene. The weather was glorious with not a cloud in the sky and wall to wall sunshine!

First stop Saturday evening was the Hayle Estuary where we tried out Birdies Bistro for tea, cake and millionaire shortbread. A great spot well situated for the high tide roost at Lelant Saltings where a couple of Garganey were the highlight whilst sipping tea from the garden. Then onto the Cot Valley Youth Hostel which was to be our stop for the night. This is a cracking spot and the location of my very first Red-eyed Vireo back in 1990! 

On Sunday we were up early and did a big stomp from the Cot to Nanquidno and onto Sennen and back. Nothing outrageous on the birding front, but a great walk. Once back in St Just, we popped in to see good friend Nigel Wheatley (check out his great website on where to watch birds and wildlife around the world HERE) and his family. Here we enjoyed a fine Cornish cup of tea with Saffron Buns and Cornish butter - Lovely! It was great to see Nigel and Alice and catch up on news. We also discussed the finer points of Dinosaur id with young Ned! Great to meet Tom too!

An afternoon foray back into the Cot after a tip off from Nigel produced the best birding of the day with 2 Yellow-browed Warblers, a Firecrest and 2 Chough being the highlights. All in all, a fabulous area and one that reminded me how I really should get down more often. Watch this space.....
Mr Wheatley - After being a little elusive on Saturday night he finally showed well on Sunday complete with Saffron Buns!

The lovely Cot Valley - local patch of good friend Nigel Wheatley

Glorious Sennen Cove 

Sennen Cove looking north towards Cape Cornwall

One of the Yellow-browed Warblers in Cot Valley

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Saturday, 12 September 2015


Pretty quiet locally during the last few days, despite regular circuits of the scrapes and top fields. A group of 15+ Siskin heading south on Friday morning plus a few Wheatears and small numbers of Skylarks have appeared in the stubbles. The Bar-headed Goose continues to frequent the stubble fields with the Canada Goose flock or on the Otter and the scrape has had up to 12 Dunlin, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, 50+ Teal, the odd Wigeon and the odd White Wagtail. Other than that, just the usual suspects! 

Bar-headed Goose and Canada Geese

Black-tailed Godwit

Little Egret

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Wildcats, Wolves & Wallcreepers

I have recently returned from a Wise Birding Holiday trip to Northern Spain in search of Wildcats, Wolves and Wallcreepers. It certainly did not disappoint with a minimum of 9 individual Wildcats seen (including kittens) plus 3 Iberian Wolves (including cubs) and many good birds including the beautiful Wallcreeper. 

This was my first trip to look for European Wildcats and I was amazed at just how many different animals we saw! It seemed an exceptionally good year for small mammals in the meadows and therefore perhaps no surprise there were so many cats! I had a cautious approach to the possibility of hybrid cats, but all animals seen seemed to show the key characters:
thick bushy tail
black blunt tipped tail
clear black rings on tail
thick black nape stripes
black shoulder markings
clear black dorsal strip ending abruptly at root of tail

Some animals had slightly differing tail thickness and markings but this seemed to change a lot on pose. Also some animals had pale throat patches, but this is supposedly a trait of the European Wildcat race Felis silvestris silvestris and may be different to that of animals found in Northern Scotland Felis silvestris grampia
All in all, they are probably some of the best looking Wildcats you are likely to see in Europe and they were fantstic to watch hunting!

The Wolves were impressive too and it was a real privilege to watch the cubs playing together. Wolves are always more distant (as often hunted), hence no photos, but we all had great scope views at around 700M range - I shall put up some video in due course.

I shall be running this trip again in 2016 if anyone is interested....

Male Wallcreeper, Picos de Europa

Male Wallcreeper, Picos de Europa - note black throat markings

Wallcreeper and Alpine Acentor habitat at the top of the cable car at Fuente De

Cantabrian Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica parva), Picos de Europa

Cable Car at Fuente De - luckily it was clear at the top!

Alpine Accentor - at least half a dozen birds were seen at the top of the cable car

Alpine (Yellow-billed) Chough in the clouds!

European Wildcat - this was our first sighting of an animal that swiftly disappeared after a heavy downpour!

This was our second sighting of a different animal - the light was poor but check out that lovely thick bushy tail!

This male is again a different cat to the above two animals and showed very well on our last morning as it hunted voles

Same animal as above in mid pounce!

Same animal as above

Same animal as above with prey

This is a different animal again and seemed to be bringing prey items to an area of thick cover where we later found 2 kittens!

We were in the right place at the right time on our last morning with these two Wildcat Kittens taken by tour participant John Nadin

Western Bonelli's Warbler seen on a walk near the hotel

Short-toed Eagle over the hotel

European Honey Buzzards were regularly seen close to the hotel and were surprisingly vocal. Adult male showing tail moult.

European Honey Buzzard - Probably adult male based on distinct primary tip and trailing edge markings and
widths between tail bands, but possibly female? Translucent inner primaries supposedly not shown in male?

These paw prints are from a Brown Bear that I found whilst taking a call of nature! Note the classic "human-like" back paw print and the front paw with claws

Monday, 7 September 2015

Back on the Patch

Just returned from a great short break in Northern Spain looking for Wildcats, Wolves and Wallcreepers - more on that later though!

It was good to be back on the patch yesterday where an evening wander around the patch revealed nothing exceptional but at least 10+ Yellow Wagtails flying east and at least 3 Wheatears in the top fields were all signs of Autumn. The arable fields have now been harvested so plenty of stubbles now to add a bit more autumn potential!
An obliging Northern Wheatear on the top fields

Monday, 24 August 2015

Feeling Autumnal

After a very successful weekend at the Bird Fair all weekend on the Wise Birding Holidays stand, I was eager to get back to the patch where it seemed distinctly autumnal today. I was hoping for a Wood Sandpiper as it seemed to be literally raining Wood Sands yesterday with an incredible count of  34 birds yesterday at Black Hole Marsh, Seaton just to the east of us.

No luck with Wood Sandpiper, but 2 Green Sandpiper on the estuary was noteworthy for the Otter as were 2 Sanderling this evening. Other highlights today around the estuary and the top fields were:
10+ Wigeon
15+ Teal
1 Whimbrel
5 Dunlin
5 Ringed Plover
1 Black-tailed Godwit
8+ Wheatear 
1 Whinchat

1st year Great Black-baked Gull, Budleigh beach

Juvenile Ringed Plover, Otter Estuary

Adult Sanderling, Otter Estuary

Juvenile Sanderling, Otter Estuary

Adult Little Egret, Otter Estuary

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Budleigh Balearics

As part of the joint RSPB Marinelife dedicated Balearic Shearwater count in the South West today the Mrs and I watched from Budleigh 06.45 - 13.00hrs and despite the calm seas and a beautiful summer day we still managed to tally:
21 Balearic Shearwaters, 600+ Manx Shearwater, 1 Arctic Skua and 10 Common Scoter. 
All the shearwater activity was between 06.45 and 08.15hrs with all birds heading East except 5 of the Balearics which went West. Also two groups of Bottlenose Dolphins making 12+ minimum. 
Thanks in particular to Pebbles B&B for keeping us supplied with Coffee, Bacon Sandwiches and Cake!
It will be interesting to see the other counts from across the region's other watchpoints. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Garden Tick!

Had a surprise today whilst having breakfast as a Common Redstart landed in the garden and duly performed for 10 minutes before disappearing into adjacent gardens. It takes the garden list tally to 71 species.

1st year male Common Redstart

1st year male Common Redstart