Grey Catbird

Treve Common, Near Lands End, Cornwall
Today, me and my good friend Pete headed off in the hope of the UK’s 2nd recorded Grey Catbird. After our Brown Shrike dip a few weeks ago I for one was a nervous wreck in case it had moved on. So once news broke as we were driving passed Whiddon Down on the A30, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Despite getting caught up with 3 broken down vehicles near Hayle we made it to site in reasonable good time. We parked the car in the field that has been negotiated with the land owner and noted 2 crowds. One had congregated on the other side of the common and some at the bottom of the car park. We decided that the car park option seemed as good as any so made the short walk to the gathered onlookers. We had basically timed it to perfection as the bird was showing nicely and we both got rather good views. PHEW! pressure off and job done. We stuck around for around an hour and half and the bird showed a few times with some very nice views even though the bird was rather mobile. It didn’t sit up enough for me to both enjoy good views and to take a decent phone scoped photo. I didn’t manage a few but they are poor even to my crappy standards. Also on site were a Northern Wheatear that kept us on our toes as it was popping up where the Grey Catbird was favouring, a Male Eurasian Blackcap, Common Kestrel and Eurasian Skylark.

Grey Catbird 
Northern Wheatear 
After filling our boots we had a brief look at Cape Cornwall for Red-billed Chough. Apparently they had been on site all morning but moved on in the Botallack direction. We called in here briefly too but had no joy. I was pushed for time as it was parents evening for 2 of my kids so I knew I had to leave Cornwall earlier than I normally would. On the way home we were a tad disappointed that late news came out about a Red-breasted Flycatcher and Richard’s Pipit within earshot of the Grey Catbird but we soon reflected on the mega sighting we had observed and forgot about what we missed.

Orcombe Point, Exmouth, Devon
After I had dropped Pete off I decided I had enough time for a quick blip from Gore Lane to the coastal path and back. On arrival I was treated to great close views as a Female Peregrine Falcon flew over Gore Lane. There was a small flock of Common Linnet but nothing else of note. On leaving I noted that Matt Knott has arrived and was off doing his round. I got home and received a call off him asking if I was still on site as he had a Short-eared Owl. I advised I wasn’t and thanked Matt for the call and information, its always appreciated. Parents evening over ran so I didn’t get a chance to look but time permitting I may have a look before work but there is also he lure of Red-breasted Flycatcher in Sidmouth and a Barred Warbler at Dawlish Warren. Decisions, descisions. I think its safe to say that Autumn has kicked off!


Northern Wheatear

Orcombe Point, Exmouth, Devon
I finished work early today as I had an appointment and popped to site for an hour afterwards. On arrival at Gore Lane I was treated to a Female Common Kesterl hunting the dung field. In the last field along the permissive path from Gore Lane to the coastal paths were 2 Northern Wheatear hopping around and catching insects. I never tire of watching these guys. Apart from that the only other noteworthy species were a lonely European Stonechat and a few flyover Meadow Pipit.

I’m off tomorrow to hopefully have a successful twitch of the Grey Catbird. I have everything crossed but if I dip I may give up on this twitching business. In all honesty I bet I would get tempted again. Let’s hope it’s more productive than my last Cornwall twitch for the Brown Shrike, which apparently may still be in the area further up the coast from Kynance at Prendannack but it was only reported as a possible on the Cornwall site. Interestingly, someone reported 3 Frigatebirds at Porthleven. A wholly unconfirmed report though.

Northern Wheatear 
Northern Wheatear 

Partridges, White Pheasant And Hares

Stantywell Farm, Otterton, Devon
I decided to walk along the road from the farm to the entrance track to the Sewage works in search of any Finches or Buntings. There were no Buntings and only a handful of Common Chaffinch but I hope numbers will increase the deeper we get in to Autumn and move into Winter. There were decent numbers of House Sparrow. That wouldn’t be unusual a number of years ago but these days a very nice and encouraging sight.

As I moved down the road I came across a nice group of Red-legged Partridge. Some of the bird’s showed at decent range and it was a joy to watch them potter about. The next field held several Common Pheasant with a couple of odd variations, including a lovely White form and a few European Rabbit. Also flying overhead were a few Eurasian Skylark and Meadow Pipit but the best was yet to come as I walked back up to the farm I noted 2 large looking Rabbits. I got the scope on them and quickly realised that these were not your normal European Rabbit but were Brown Hare. The 2 individuals sat there nicely and seemed oblivious to me watching them. Hard to believe but this was my first sighting of this species in Devon.

Red-legged Partridge 
Red-legged Partridg
Red-legged Partridge
Red-legged Partridge (Group)

Common Pheasant (White variation)

Common Pheasant (White variation)

Brown Hare

Brown Hares

Brown Hare

Brown Hare

Red-legged Partridges and European Rabbit

Isabelline Shrike

Thurlestone, Devon
I got up later than planned this morning so missed my chance at a dawn attempt at the Thurlestone Shrike. I did however have the afternoon off as I had an appointment and just had enough time to have a go at it this afternoon. I have to say the bird was easy to get on to as it was busily feeding and perching on a bush (as I would expect a Shrike to be doing) near the coastal path a little way down from the green hut that’s mentioned in all the reports.

I had really good views and can confidently say it’s an Isabelline Shrike or as BOU call it Daurian Shrike. For it to be Red-tailed or BOU name Turkestan, I would have expected a more contrasting bird with darker upper parts and cleaner underparts.

It was a welcome relief to actually connect with a Shrike this year after dipping on the Soapy Cove Brown Shrike (that still hurts) only the other week and a reported Red-Backed Shrike a little while ago on East Budleigh Common. I’m hoping a Great Grey Shrike will turn up on Colaton Raleigh Common soon (one normally has by now). As I do like that species.

Also on site were a few Eurasian Skylark, Meadow Pipit, European Stonechat and a Common Kestrel

Isabelline Shrike 

Isabelline Shrike 

Isabelline Shrike 

Isabelline Shrike 

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

Thurlestone Shrike - BOU Versus IOC And The Confusion Its Creating

The Thurlestone Shrike
Its been intersting to see the converstaions that are occuring on social media about the Shrike at Thurlestone. Let me explain. Since the 1st January 2018, the British Ornithological Union (BOU) have adopted the International Community of Ornithologists (IOC) taxonomy list. Now I have to admit that his was a bold move and in my opion a good one. I know that the BOU have aspired to having or being a part of a uniformed list for some time and even tried working towards a European standard taxonomic list. A few years ago they disbanded thier own taxonomy board to show their intent. I think it is a good move as many bird species occur all over the world and end up having slightly different names in some regions and discrepancies in the amount of subspecies tied to the mominate species. In my mind, if a bird is called something surely it should be called the same thing everywhere and science being where it is these days, we should know the exact definition of what is a species or subpecies. I strongly believe the IOC is working extremely hard to achieve these answers.

Anyway, back to the Shrike. It has been logged as Isabelline on Birdguides then changed to Isabelline Sp, and Daurian on other reporting mechanisms why? Well as far as I can see its due to descrepancies between the IOC and BOU naming of species. The IOC splits Daurian and Turkestan (as we call them) but name them -

Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus
Red-tailed Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides
This can plainly be seen here IOC Shrike List
So these are on the British list but this is where it gets confusing. As the BOU name them -

Daurian Shrike Lanius isabellinus
Turkestan Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides
The British list clearly points out that they name these species differently to the IOC as the list states - The British name, the IOC name and the Scientific name.
This can be seen here BOU British-List to get to the Shrikes just scroll down to page 8 

So already I can see why people are getting confused. I even saw one comment saying "For me its Isabelline as its not datk enough for Daurian" well in fact those two names are the same species. I dont mean any disrespect to anyone by pointing that out, I just think it shows that there is confusion about this bird. I have seen some top birders wonder what the hell to log it as too. So I guess whats needed is another bold move by the BOU and completly adopt not just the taxonomy of the IOC list but the names too.

I know us Brits will struggle with this as we have our names for birds but in order to obtain a true world wide list, someone has to conform somewhere. You'll note that I already have as I always refer to IOC names on this blog but yes I still struggle to call a Guillemot a Common Murre when in the company of other birders. Perhaps its because I dont want funny looks or "You what?" comments. But we can change. After all some bird names in my life time have been changed. Dabchick and Hedge Sparrow for example are now Little Grebe and Dunnock respectively.

There is an excel document on the BOU site that show how names have evolved. If you follow this link English and scientific names – 1923 to 2012 it shows a number of changes in red text. Even the European Robin (IOC name) wasn't called a Robin (BOU name) in those days, it was a Redbreast. There are many of us that still affectionately call a Thrush Nightingale a Sprosser and a Ferruginous Duck was a White-eyed Pochard (I actually quite like that). So we are receptive to change but it could take a generation or so to fully take place,

The only issue I have with the IOC format is the fact that they keep some species as 1 word names. For example I will go back to the poor Dunnock. No for me a believe a bird should have a species name followed by a family name. So a minimum of 2 words, for example Grey Wagtail, House Sparrow. It makes sense to me. Lets give the Dunnock its old name back but with a 21st century twist and call it a Hedge Accentor. I actually wrote to the IOC asking whether this was something that they we planning to work on as they have strick naming policies.I even gave some suggestions, whuch they actually liked but at present I think there is too much pressure not to change some names that have been around for generations.

Out of curiosity I will share some of my naming suggestions. Please note that I didnt just pluck these out of thin air. I actually researched these names as they are used in some parts of the world or are old names from 100's of year ago.

Dunlin - Red-backed Sandpiper
Sanderling - White Sandpiper
Smew - White Merganser
Killdeer - Chattering Plover
Gadwall - Noisy Duck (I do think I would struggle with this one mind!)

Sorry, I have got distracted to the main point of what is the Thurlestone Shrike? Well I havent yet seen it so I can only go on photos. I was hoping to pop along this afternoon but family duties put pay to that but I would say it is Isabelline Shrike (Daurian Shrike in old money).

Common Eider

Orcombe Point, Exmouth, Devon
Not deterred by the poor quality of species from reports I had read from Berry Head this morning, I decided to give sea watching a quick go from the raised beach huts after work. It was initially very quiet and even with the sheltered position, very hard going. A few species finally gave themselves away in the form of a single and brief Balearic Shearwater and 2 Common Eider. And that as they say was that!

Common Eider (Male)

Common Kestrel At Close Range

Bicton Common, Devon
After work I had a mooch around the area opposite the Uphams Plantation car park. On arrival I noted a large mixed flock feeding around the car park. I scanned for anything unusual but the flock consisted of Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest. I continued on my way and had 2 flyover Red Crossbill, several mobile Meadow Pipit and some Common Linnet were flitting about. Then everything went quiet so I turned around to move on only to discover the reason for everything ducking for cover. A close (around 20 metres) range Female Common Kestel was surveying the area from the top of a small pine tree. It’s always nice to be able to appreciate a bird close up.

Common Kestrel (Female)

Common Kestrel (Female)

Common Kestrel (Female)

Little Stint And A Weird Wigeon

Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham, Devon
After work I decided to pop to the hide and see what was going on. As I arrived I checked my phone which had been on silent due to me just coming out of a meeting. On checking I noted the report earlier on of a Little Stint. Sure enough I got on to the bird as soon as I set up my scope. It showed rather nicely whilst I was there but as ever I struggled to get a decent photo. Also of note were several Northern Pintail although I expect there were more in amongst a mass of sleeping birds. 2 Stock Dove showed rather close to the hide too. There are now good numbers of wildfowl on site so I checked for anything unusual. I was hoping that Matt Knott’s Red-crested Pochard may be in the mix but there was no luck there. One of the Wigeon though gave off some signs of American. The bird was I think a Female. It was sleeping all the time I was on site but I got glimpses of a grey head rather than the usual brown. Even if the bird was a juvenile, I would expect a rusty colour to show through. I didnt manage to get a photo worthy of even scrutinising. I may be barking up the wrong tree and light may have been playing tricks wih me so I will try to have another look tomorrow. As ever, some really awful photos!!

Little Stint 
Little Stint 
Little Stint  
Ltitle Stint
Stock Dove
Stock Dove

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