28 January 2021

Celtic connection

Lots of Cornwall's seabirds are very connected to our Celtic neighbours, with our gulls, Kittiwakes and Storm Petrels regularly commuting across the Celtic Sea and English Channel. We share a lot of colour-ringed Kittiwakes with the two important breeding sites at Pointe du Raz and Pointe du Van on the Brittany peninsula (a few French birds shown below) and several of our supposedly-urban gulls have been seen on French estuaries and ports.

We had news from BTO British Trust for Ornithology this morning that two of our Storm Petrels ringed in July 2020 at Gwennap Head, Porthgwarra were recaught at Banneg in the Molène archipelago the next night. Banneq is the largest Storm Petrel colony in France, with as many as 1,000 breeding pairs. At 187km, this is probably only a short trip for a Stormie, but it still always amazes me what these tiny birds get up to!

2 January 2021

New Year, old Chiffs

It seems to be New Year tradition now that the Cornish weather turns cold enough and calm enough to warrant a visit to the local sewage works. Today was no exception and thankfully the hail showers stayed away long enough to allow a couple of hours mist-netting at Gwennap Sewage Works. There were a LOT of Chiffchaffs around, picking insects off the tanks and from the bushes and small trees surrounding them. My estimate of 80 birds was probably rather conservative.

It only took two nets around a settling tank to keep me pretty busy, catching 81 birds! Of these, an impressive 56 were Chiffchaffs, including seven ringed in previous winters. Four had been ringed on 1st January 2020, with others ringed on 19th January 2020, 4th January 2019 and 5th January 2017. The latter bird (HHB667) was caught again in December 2017 but not since, so in its fourth winter at the site is remarkably site faithful. The national longevity record for Chiffchaff is only 7 years 7 months, so HHB667 is quite exceptional for a wintering bird.

In amongst the 'nornal' Chiffchaffs were several paler, eastern Siberian Chiffchaffs (tristis race) and I was lucky enough to catch four, including an exceptionally pale frosty bird. These eastern visitors normally make up 10% of our wintering birds, so the four caught is about the norm.

Some of the 'bycatch' was interesting as well, including Firecrest, three Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtail, three Bullfinch and Meadow Pipit. With the weather set to stay cold and calm next week, we'll hopefully have more to report soon.