6 Jul 2018

6 Jul 18 - Pied Crow: An Unlikely Vagrant?

When odd rarities turn up in the UK where there is a chance they may get added onto the British Bird List, I think I am generally good at being able to predict which will be accepted. However, after the Chinese Pond Heron in Kent which I saw on its last day, a level of doubt has crept into the back of my mind on the odd occasion. I wasn't sure if this would be accepted, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. But I combined it with a trip to my old stamping grounds at Dungeness with mate Marcus Lawson, so it would be a good trip even if rejected. But generally, I get my calls right. However, the appearance of a Pied Crow has left me with a bit more doubt than normal. It first turned up at Spurn where it was seen flying South on 13 June 18. Two days later it reappeared in Winterton, Norfolk & moved around the Great Yarmouth area before heading up towards Cromer for a few days, until it was last seen on 23 June 18. Fast forward three days & it reappeared in Clevedon, near Bristol where it hung around until 1 July 18. Two days later it appeared again in a coastal static caravan site on the coastline of South Wales near St David's (where it stayed till 8 July 18). It hasn't been relocated since.
Pied Crow: The initial views when it dropped in
Pied Crow
Pied Crows are a sub Saharan species occurring widely across the whole continent South of the Sahara, as well as, Madagascar & the Comoros Islands. So on paper not a likely addition to the British List. However, there have been a number of well documented records of them following the coast North into Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco & Egypt with other records in the Canaries, Spain, Portugal & Italy. Although I don't think all the European records have been accepted. I believe their method of travel has included hitching lifts on boats so similar to the way that Indian House Crows have colonised new countries by arriving into ports. The downside is that they are also kept in captivity in the UK & have escaped in the past. However, any individuals if held properly in captivity should be colour ringed. One that has been publicised as escaping in 2017 had a clearly obvious dark blue ring. But the photos show that this widely travelled individual wasn't colour ringed. On balance I think this probably won't get accepted, however, following the Chinese Pond Heron, there was a small doubt at the back of my mind. I was also swayed a bit by this individual's movements as generally I've not been aware of too many escape Birds in the past that have travelled around as much as this Pied Crow has done.
Pied Crow: It reappeared within a few minutes
Could I convince myself to travel to South Wales to see it on the small chance it would get accepted. The answer was no, unless I could find a better reason to go in that direction. There were no Butterflies or Dragonflies that I could tie into the trip. However, it was on the headland by St David's and daily boat trips run form this headland out to Grassholm Island, the third largest Gannet colony in the UK, as well as, Cetacean trips. That sounded a good reason to head off to South Wales, given the continual good weather. A quick check of the internet confirmed that boat trips were going several times a day to Grassholm which looked for Cetaceans. I still hadn't decided to go. However, I woke up well before dawn the following morning & decided that a trip to South Wales might be more fun than waiting for dawn, so I could walk along the South Haven patch trying adding Little Ringed Plover to my South Haven patch list. LRPs are just about annual in late June/July, but they disappear when the first dog walkers flush them from the beach. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed the cameras and optics & headed off for St David's.
Pied Crow
Pied Crow: It came into food, but so will Carrion Crows & Jackdaws if people throw food to them
It had been present for several days in the overflow camping field in the caravan park, so when I arrived at Pencarnan caravan park, I drove through the site & carried onto the overflow camping field. There were a few tents & towing caravans set up, but plenty of empty field. The field provided a great view over the incredibly beautiful coastline & across to Ramsey Island which lies about a half mile offshore. There was a steady movement of Rooks & Jackdaws between various farmland fields on either side of the camping field, but no sign of the Pied Crow. After an hour, I decided to have a drive around on the headland to see if I could find it in other fields, as it had been mobile on occasions. Another hour passed and no sign, so it was back to the caravan park. This time I stopped at their reception & shop to ask if they had seen it. The answer was yes, it had spent most of the morning on the open grass fairly close to the reception, but it wasn't around at the moment. I bought some snacks for lunch & made a coffee & set back to wait. About ten minutes later it flew in & landed 50 metres away. I took some photos & moved a few metres to my left to get a better background on the Pied Crow, but it was spooked & disappeared again. Ten more minutes later & a bit of bread thrown down & it was back again. This time it was around on & off for about 30 minutes before it disappeared. At this point, I decided to ring one of the boat operators to check about trips that afternoon. I was quickly booked on a Cetacean trip going out to Grassholm, which lies about 18 miles offshore & then onto the Smalls Lighthouse, before returning. I had to pop back into St David's to pay for my boat & bus tickets, as there is very limited parking where the boats leave from. This left enough time for a proper lunch before getting the bus. The trip isn't cheap at £60 for 2.5 hours in a fast rib, but the boat handlers were good. We quickly stopped for every party of Dolphins & Porpoises seen, as well as, having the time to really enjoy Grassholm. I was also impressed when they pulled over to retrieve a floating balloon from the sea: a nasty problem which has a good track record of killing sealife which mistake them for food. Overall a great trip which I will cover in the next two Blog Posts. I couldn't justify going to Clevedon to see the Pied Crow while it was there. Hanging around in front of a cafe waiting for it to appear, then heading home would have been a waste of a day. However, the boat trip was so good it made it a great day out.
Pied Crow
Pied Crow: There are clearly no rings on its legs
Finally, will the Pied Crow get added to the British List. Personally, I don't think it has a high chance. However, while it was happy to come in if there was available food, it was nervous & easily spooked. It was never as tame or approachable as my local Jackdaws and it isn't ringed. Given the previous Western Palearctic & European records they clearly wander outside of their main range & with their presumed ability to use ships or fly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Southern European records are largely valid records. As for this record, then I guess we will have to see what the BOU think.