Monday, 7 July 2014

Ending the Day with a Self Found Pratincole

6th June.  After being unable to find my over-trousers (are they still in Hungary?) Sam and I left for St Mary’s Island with the intention of walking via Seaton Sluice to Holywell Pond.  With heavy showers forecast I just had to accept that I’d get wet legs.  In the event it was a wonderful day and at times we were under a hot sun.

Initially our most interesting finds were the numbers of Burnet Moths and a couple of Ringlet Butterflies amongst many Meadow Brown Butterflies.  A few Curlew were in the fields behind the now very overgrown wetland area.  Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were heard and Swifts, Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins were about in numbers.  Sandwich Tern numbers were high, although we did have sighting of at least one Arctic Tern and later further in land Common Terns.  A Puffin flew very close to shore at St Mary’s Island where Common Seals were laid out on the rocks with notices up for public attention asking that everyone keep their distance.  An American tourist admired the bathing Starlings.

Burnet Moth

 I’m pleased to say that we found two families of Stonechats, Common Whitethroat and a very visible and singing Grasshopper Warbler (which we watched at length) holding territory.  This I thought would be our bird of the day, but I was to be proved to be wrong, as you will see later.  We also heard four Reed Buntings singing in a relatively small area.  There was little on a flat and calm sea although we had Fulmar fly by the cliff and several Kittiwakes and Eider Ducks.  Fish and chips were taken in the sun at Seaton Sluice and I really enjoyed the cold can of coke.  The forecast had been for a very heavy shower at this time so wrong again.

A good area for wildlife.  I'd never realised the history behind this house. It was the officers quarters for the defence and gun emplacement during World War One and radar was tested here during World War Two.  The house was designed so as to look like a Georgian Villa.  Changed a bit now of course with at least one tower gone and a additions made.  The large 'garden' area is left for wildlife.  We got speaking to a local gent who told us about the history of the nearby tunnels etc.

A calm sea and perfect lighting conditions.

The dene provided us with several Song Thrushes, a calling Tawny Owl, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff et al.  It’s a while since I’ve been down to the area and I was surprised to find just how overgrown everything had become.  Everything seems to be growing fast, except me!  We talked to a guy in Holywell Dene who works on the tour boats at Mull and to prove what a small world it is he confirmed that he knew Geltsdale Warrior (Ewan).

We made for the pond area listening to Yellowhammers along the way.  On arrival we found the pond fairly quiet, but we remained in the public hide which I find far more productive than the members hide these days (just as well as I’d forgotten the key to the latter).  The odd Oystercatcher flew in and Grey Herons gave nice sightings.  Birds on the water included Little Grebe, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Teal.  We were just commenting on how quiet it was when at 6.50pm I got my eye on a bird flying south towards the woodland on the opposite side of the pond.  It threw me for a few seconds.  I caught some white on it and had to check that I was not getting size and distance wrong.  Sam took a look at it and when I noticed the flight I called pratincole!  The bird flew south over the pond and we dashed out to try for a better sighting.  We caught it flying directly over our heads as it diverted south westwards.  It gave an extremely good if fairly short sighting and I have to say we were convinced by some features that it was a Collared Pratincole.  On reporting this bird we met with some scepticism considering that there is a Black-winged Pratincole in the the North East.  We didn’t much care as which ever species it was a great co-find by Sam and I.  Holywell evenings are rarely boring!  We did spend a bit of time hoping that the bird might drop into the pond area, but it had disappeared.  We went home as the thunder storm approached from the north, well satisfied after the pratincole had provided the icing on the cake of what had been a very good day.  I still haven’t found my over-trousers.

od Ichneumon wasp species

Grey Heron
Well today I understand from friends and Birdguide staff that the pratincole was relocated near the pond and its identification confirmed as Black-winged Pratincole.  That’s a lifer for both Sam and I and as for the self found list, as the song says ‘You can’t take that away from us’.  I’ve seen dozens of Collared Pratincoles in Europe.  Not an easy pair of birds to tell apart and we feel in good company in getting it initially wrong and that takes nothing away from such a great self found species.  I’m only pleased we managed to identify it as a pratincole at long distance.  This species does have a very distinctive flight pattern.  I’m pleased to hear Cain caught up with it this morning.  It’s his patch after all.  In my humble opinion no twitching of birds can beat just going out and finding your own birds in a relaxed manner.  There was no one else about when we found the pratincole yesterday evening.  Great stuff.

Just as an aside it is interesting to note that Sam having checked out pratincole sightings at Holywell, found that the previous sighting of Collared Pratincole was 6th July 1966!  The Black-winged Pratincole is of course a first for Holywell Pond.


  1. Well done for your Pratincole spot

    1. Cheers. It'll go on my very short list of self found rarities. :-) Nice one though.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks John. A very exciting find.

  3. Very nice shots of the Burnet Moth and the Mayfly (or Mayfly lookalike, lol).

  4. Your 'mayfly' looks more like a species od Ichneumon Wasp Brian...possibly Diphyus quadripunctorius if the guide I'm looking at is correct...leg markings and thorax spot seem to match ok. Gill xxx

    1. thanks Gill. Just looked at some images and I'm sure your correct. I'll do some checking later. Brian.