Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Blast from the Past No.4

Blast from the Past No.4

The remainder of the scarce/rare Phylloscopus Warblers.

To complete the analysis of the scarce/rare Phylloscopus warblers recorded at Beachy Head since 1960, I will now deal with Wood, Bonelli’s and Greenish Warblers. I did briefly comment on an earlier Blast from the Past on Greenish Warbler but will now complete the picture for this species.

Wood Warbler - Phylloscopus sibilatrix

This species is virtually an annual migrant albeit in very small numbers at Beachy Head. Our earliest Spring date is the 11th April, although the majority in the Spring are recorded in the last couple of days of April and the first 10 days in May. In Autumn, our latest date is the 6th September, but by far the majority are recorded from the end of July to mid - August.

During the years 1960 to 1968, it was first recorded from the Headland in 1963 when 2 singles were seen during August. There were 3 sightings during the Springs, with the earliest being seen on the 21st April, 1966. In 1969, singles were recorded on 9 separate dates with just one in Spring with the other eight being recorded from the end of July to the end of August.

During the 1970’s it was recorded annually, with at least a total of 49 different birds being seen or ringed during this decade. Six were found in 1970, with the last being seen on the 30th August. Seven were found in 1975, of which no fewer than 5 were in the Spring, between the 11th May when 3 were found to the 31st May, but only 2 during the Autumn and both occurred on the 8th August. During 1976, six singles were found or trapped with 3 each in both the Spring and the Autumn, between the 30th April to the 5th September. Our best year to date was in 1977, when no fewer than 12 were seen or trapped, all of these were in the Autumn between the 8th to the 29th August. In 1978, a further 8 were recorded of which 4 were trapped for ringing purposes, between the 11th to the 27th August. Although only 4 were recorded in 1979, three of these were on the 11th August.

In the 1980’s numbers of birds recorded remained fairly stable, although the ringing effort in Whitbread Hollow during the early mornings during August, the prime month for this migrant, was far less than in the 1970’s. Therefore fewer birds were trapped and our numbers were less overall. Even so, it was regularly seen with 3 different individuals on the 3rd August, 1980, at least 3 and probably 4 different birds seen on the 3rd May, 1984. In 1987, 1 was seen on the 26th June and although this may have been a very late Spring migrant it may also have been a failed breeding bird and was just wandering locally around.

During the 1990’s, a decline of this attractive migrant was noted from the Headland and several years during this decade sadly none were recorded. This accords with the numbers of breeding Wood Warblers in Sussex which also declined during this decade. In 1994, 4 singles were recorded with 1 in the Spring and 3 in the Autumn. Three singles were recorded during August, 1996, but sadly none in 1997 or 1998 and only 1 in 1999 on the 24th April.

2000-2009: Pleasing to report that more sightings have been made during this last decade than during the 1990’s, although this can be partly explained by the use of tape luring, and it was recorded annually during this decade. In total 30 individuals were recorded during this period with 8 seen between 2000 to 2004, in 2005, 7 were recorded with 2 in the Spring between the 30th April and the 8th May and 5 during the Autumn between 31st July to the 6th August and on this latter date 3 were seen including 2 together along the Cliff Path and 1 in the Old Trapping Area. Five were seen during 2006, with 4 during 2007, only 1 in 2008 but 5 in 2009.

Wood Warbler in the Old Trapping Area on the 30th July 2007. (Martin Casemore)

Wood Warbler in Belle Tout Wood, July 2009. (John Cooper)

Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli

Our first record for the Head and also for Sussex, was found by Roger & Liz Charlwood in their garden at Hodcombe on the 25th August, 1970. It particularly favoured the large sycamore tree in the garden and spent the rest of the day in this tree. It was also seen by John Cooper and Peter and the late Valerie Wilson. When this species was split into Eastern and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, British Birds were unable to ascribe this individual with certainty to either Western or Eastern species. It was the 21st record for the UK.

One was found by Keith Verral, Roger Haggar & Bob Smith in the run, leading up from the cliff edge in Whitbread Hollow during the morning of the 9th April, 1972. It moved up the run and was then lost in the bowl of the Hollow, and was not seen again. The bird was heard calling and this record was acceptable to British Birds as a definite Western on the call. It was the second record for Sussex and the first acceptable Western. It was the 33rd record for the UK.

Our third record, was trapped in Whitbread Hollow by John & Doreen Cooper at the bottom of the run leading up from the cliff edge. It occurred with a large fall of Chiffchaffs during the morning of the 15th September, 1977 and proved to be the 4th record for Sussex. It was also seen in the hand by Tom Gravett, and the late Brian Whitby et al and also by chance by Frank Lambert who just happened to be passing and looked in at the Ringing Hut, one of the few occasions he has done this. This record was acceptable to British Birds as a definite Western on its bio-metrics. It was the 51st record for the UK.

Our fourth record was a migrant found singing above the Gully in Cow Gap during the early morning of the 5th May, 1979, by John & David Cooper. It sang and showed very well for around 10 minutes before if headed up into Cow Gap proper. There was a good arrival of Willow Warblers and other migrants and subsequent looking failed to re-find this bird by the original and other observers. Although singing constantly, it did not call, and therefore British Birds were unable to ascribe it as either a Western or Eastern Bonelli’s. It was the 5th record for Sussex.

Our fifth record was trapped by Roger & Liz Charlwood in their garden at Hodcombe on the 30th September, 1986 and was seen by a number of local birders. In the hand it was aged as an adult and was acceptable to British Birds on its bio-metrics as a Western Bonelli’s. It was the 6th record for Sussex.

Our sixth and final record was originally found in the Old Trapping Area at around 9.00am on the 2nd September, 2005 by John Cooper, Roger Haggar & Liz Charlwood. It then moved to the bushes on the cliff edge and we were joined by Roger Charlwood, David Cooper & John King. After several minutes, it departed along the line of bushes leading to Shooters Bottom. John Cooper and Roger Charlwood then walked through the bushes looking for the Bonelli’s and they then went into Hodcombe at 11.00 am and were joined by Bob Smith. John then played his tape and attracted the Bonelli’s to them. We quickly contacted David Cooper who joined us in the garden. It remained fairly elusive and mobile and around 11.30 am it flew out of the garden towards the Old Belle Tout Lighthouse, and was not seen for the rest of the day. It was again present in Hodcombe the following morning and was well settled and showing very well. It was seen by a good number of Sussex birders and it stayed until the 4th September. It was heard calling and was acceptable as a Western Bonelli’s by British Birds.

Bonelli’s Warbler, trapped at Hodcombe, 30th September, 1986 (Roger Charlwood)

Greenish WarblerPhylloscopus trochiloides

Our first record and also the first for Sussex, (after four previously accepted birds by BBRC have now no longer found to be acceptable, following a full review by BBRC) was found by Colin Winyard in Belle Tout Wood on the 19th May, 1981. It was a male bird and spent most of the day singing which helped observers to locate it in the wood. During the day it was seen by several observers including Richard Fairbank and Roger & Liz Charlwood. The song was recorded by observers from the Sussex University. Just as John & David Cooper and David Parmenter arrived at the wood, the sun went down below the downland and the bird stopped singing and it could not be re-located.

Our second record and the second for Sussex was found by Mike Nolan and Tony Quinn in the hedgerow on the northern side of the Beachy Head Hotel Garden on the 10th September, 1995. It showed well and remained in the hedgerow for most of the day and was seen by a number of Sussex birders including Roger Charlwood, David Cooper and John King. It was one of a large national influx of 32 individuals during the 2nd to 20th September. John Cooper was present on Out Skerries at the time and found 3 Greenish Warblers and trapped 2 of them during this influx.

Our third record, was present in the Gully below Cow Gap from the 7th to the 10th October, 2005, and was the third record for Sussex. It was first seen briefly by John Cooper on the 7th, but as it only had the wing bar on one wing only, and not the wing John was looking at, and it wasn’t calling and Roger Charlwood had just found a Raddes Warbler in Hodcombe, John felt it was best left for later. On the 8th, John with David Cooper and Martin Casemore, re-found the Greenish, and after hearing it call we could confirm that it was a Greenish. It was seen by a good number of observers during its stay including Roger Charlwood Tony Quinn, Alan Kitson and Richard Fairbank and it was photographed by Tony Cook. John was highly delighted with it, as it was a Sussex tick for him as he had missed the two earlier birds.

Greenish Warbler in the Gully below Cow Gap on the 8th October, 2005. (Tony Cook)

Greenish Warbler trapped on the Out Skerries in September, 1995 (John Cooper)