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  • Writer's pictureilyabirding

Thrushes, flycatchers, dipper and sparrows

Updated: Mar 31

(White's Thrush Zoothera aurea)

A much sought after rarity. However, a bird that flew into a window in Mawnan Smith and died on 12th Nov 2021, is the closest that the Lizard has come to hosting this species,

Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus

Rare: just one record - a bird in Lizard Village on 21st-24th Oct 2008 (B Cave).

Blackbird Turdus merula

Very common breeding resident, with numbers supplemented by migrants in autumn and winter. Anecdotal evidence suggest that the species may have increased in Cornwall over the last 100 years or so, particularly in winter. One might hazard a guess that the same is true on the Lizard. However, with little in the way of systematic recording, it is difficult to determine whether this is true.

Female and male Blackbird, Church Cove. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Blackbird on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus [BoCC5: Red]

As a breeder has undoubtedly declined in the south-west over the last 150 years ago, possibly in response to climate change: as the southwest represents the southern part of the breeding range of the nominate race. In the 1800s and prior to that it bred quite widely across Cornwall, Clark (1906) refers to occasionally breeding on Goonhilly in the 1800s, though on what evidence he basis this assumption is unclear. Throughout the 1900s it declined as a breeder and by the 1970s was confined to Bodmin, but has subsequently been lost as a breeder form Cornwall altogether.

It is currently a scarce spring and regular autumn migrant, with birds occasionally over-wintering. Extreme dates for migrants are six in between Church Cove and Kynance on 20th Mar (1979) and one at Mullion Golf Course on 16th Nov (2021). On 20th Oct 2022, coinciding with a huge movement of thrushes, a record 54 were seen in the south Lizard area.

Winter records are of birds in the Kynance and Caerthillian Area on 22nd Dec 1968-1st Jan 1969, at Mullion on 9th Dec 1991-5th Apr 1992 (A Pay), at Church Cove on 2nd Dec 1996, 15th Jan 2014 (T Blunden) and 14th Dec 2019-6th Jan 2020 (I Maclean, T Blunden) and at Gunwalloe on 16th-21st Jan 2010 (I Maclean, T Blunden).

Seasonal trends of initial sightings of Ring Ouzel on the Lizard Peninsula (where dates available). Blue: pre-2020 records. Red: post-2020 records (including 2020). 2022 was a particularly good year for this species.

(Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis)

A possible flew over Kynance Road on 20th Oct 2022 but was not relocated.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris [BoCC5: Red]

Fairly common migrant and winter visitor. Extreme dates are 30th Sep (1979) and 20th Apr (1992), though one as late as 27th Apr (1982) just outside the Lizard at Wendron. Cold conditions in January 1982 brought a flock of ~4,500 to the Lizard area and ~1,000 to Porthleven.

A cold-weather movement of Fieldfare during the 'Beast from the East' in March 2018. Tony Blunden.

Redwing Turdus iliacus [IUCN: NT][BoCC5: Amber]

Common migrant and winter visitor, with numbers greatest in harsh winters - a phenomenon that has been documented for over 100 years. The harsh winter of 1964 saw particularly large movements into Cornwall, with similar occurrence in the harsh winters of 2010 and 2011, where many concentrated on the snow-free coastal parts of the Lizard. Extreme dates are 27th Sep (1997) and 9th Apr (1991 and 1993). Birds of the Icelandic race coburni have been known to reach Cornwall, and may do so quite commonly, though the only confirmed record for the Lizard area is one along Penmenner Road on 30th March 2024 (T Blunden).

Redwings are common on the Lizard in winter. This one photographed by Steve Wood in 2023.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos [BoCC5: Amber]

Known since antiquity and probably historically more common than currently, as anecdotally documented as being more common than Blackbird in the early 1900s. This is no longer the case. Nonetheless, it remains a a fairly common breeding resident on the Lizard, with numbers supplemented by migrants in autumn and winter. Its association with cold weather is more complex than that of Redwing and Fieldfare. While birds sometimes arrive form elsewhere during cold weather spells, it is also the case that it suffers badly in cold winters, and in some years many move out of the country

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Song Thrush on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus [BoCC5: Red]

Fairly common, but declining breeding resident and migrant. Clark (1906) notes its widespread distribution in Cornwall and remarks on occasional winter flocks - a phenomenon that was certainly noted as late as the 1970s.

Its status on the Lizard mirro4s that nationally: it used to breed more widely, but now restricted mostly to the Helford and Loe Pool areas. Neverthless, it can be quite common in the south of the Lizard as an overhead migrant in late Oct and early Nov. However, rarely a more than a small number seen together.

Mistle Thrush at Mawgan Creek. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Mistle Thrush on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding. Breeding was much more extensive than it is today.

American Robin Turdus migratorius

Rare, with just one confirmed and one possible record: at Little Treliever on 2nd Nov 2013 (J Foster). Found in the observer’s garden on the same day he saw a Black-browed Albatross flying past Bass Point and thus arguably one part of the most extraordinary duo of sightings in the history of birding on the Lizard. On 26th Sep a blurry photo of a bird resembling this species was taken in Caerthillian Cove.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas galactotes

Rare, with just one record: one of the eastern subspecies syriaca/familiaris at Treleaver, Black Head on 22nd-23rd Aug 2021 (D Wright). Undoubtedly the bird of 2021 (see finders account).

Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Black Head. Ilya Maclean

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata [BoCC5: Red]

Historically much more common that currently, and in the 1968-72 Atlas period was recorded as breeding in the majority of 10 km grid cells in Cornwall, including the Lizard.

It is currently a scarce and declining breeding summer visitor and fairly common spring and autumn migrant. Extreme dates are 19th Apr (1992) and 24th Oct (1988). As an indication of declines, 7 pairs were recorded around Loe Pool in 1990, where it now no longer breeds.

Spotted Flycatcher, Porthleven May 2020. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Spotted Flycatcher on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Robin Erithacus rubecula

Well known in Cornwall since antiquity, and evidently a much loved species as far back as the 1800s, as evidenced for example, by story of a boy who was caught and killed near Redruth and was forced to parade through the streets, with it hung around his knock while the town turned out to chant at him. As late is he mid-1970s, there are stories from St Just of folk being being told that killing a robin would result in being smitten to death instantly by the almighty.

There are no such stories to my knowledge from the Lizard, where it is nonetheless a common resident. Numbers are supplemented by migrants in autumn and winter and at times in October close to 100 can sometimes be found in the various coastal migrant hotspots on the south Lizard.

Robin, Tremayne Quay. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Robin on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica

Rare, with just three records, all from the 1960s when this species was a more common visitor to the UK, though observer coverage on the Lizard was quite low. A white-spot at Pistol Meadows in 1961 (no date given). Also a 1st-winter at Kyance on 19th Sep 1966 and an adult caught and ringed at Kynance on 28th Aug 1967.

(Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia)

A Nightingale species at Housel Bay on 13th-15th Oct 2019 was thought more likely to resemble this species on brief views. It was eventually accepted by the local rarities committee as a Common Nightingale though there is still some debate about this record.

Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos [BoCC5: Red]

This species has declined catastrophically in the UK, and in the early 1900s bred quite commonly in west Devon, and there is also one breeding record from Cornwall. HOwever, in west Cornwall it has always been a fairly rare migrant.

On the Lizard Rare with just 15 or so records, all bar possibly one record, being of singles:

1992: 4th Oct (Lizard area, location uncertain)

1997: 17th May (singing, Penrose)

2000: 6th May (Lizard Village, T Blunden)

2005: 15th May (Kynance)

2011: 30th Sep (Gunwalloe, M Grantham)

2012: 8th May (Lizard Village, T Blunden)

2013: 4th Oct (Lizard Village, T Blunden)

2015: 22nd Aug (Bass Point, S Votier)

2016: 10th Apr (Mullion, M Pass)

2017: 3rd May (Caerthillian, M Pass)

2018: 1st-7th Sep 2018 (Caerthillian, T Blunden et al - possibly two birds involved)

2020: 15th-22nd Sep 2020 (Caerthillian, I Maclean)

2021: 14th Sep (Caerthillian, I Maclean)

2022: 17th May (Lizard Village, T Blunden), 3rd Jun (singing at Kynance, S Croft)

One of possibly two Common Nightingales in 2018. Tony Blunden,

Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva

Scarce autumn and rare spring visitor, though an adult male was at Church Cove on 19th Nov-6th Dec 2020 (J Foster) and a female was shot at Carwythenick near Constantine on 24th Jan 1863. Aside from this old record, the first documented sighting wasn't until 1983. All records are given (all singles):

1983: 25th Oct (Mullion)

1986: 30th Sep & 7th Oct (Lizard area)

1987: 20th Sep & 7th Oct (Church Cove), 15th Oct (Cadgwith)

1990: 19th Nov (Caerthillian)

1991: 14th Oct (Lizard area)

1995: 20th Sep (Bass Point)

1998: 3rd Oct (Church Cove)

1998: 27th Oct (Church Cove)

1999: 27th Oct (Black Head)

2008: 7th Oct (Church Cove), 18th Oct (Helston), 22nd Oct (Mullion Cove)

2009: 19th Sep (Church Cove)

2010: 8th May (Windmill Farm)

2014: 22nd May (Housel Bay)

2016: 15th Oct (Church Cove)

2019: 14th Oct (different birds at Church Cove and Caerthillian), 1st Nov (Kynace)

2020: 19th Nov (Church Cove)

2021: 29th Oct (Little Treliever)

2022: 27th Oct (Lizard Village)

Adult male Red-breasted Flycatcher, Church Cove, Dec 2020. Ilya Maclean

Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Red-breasted Flycatcher on the Lizard Peninsula.

Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca [BoCC5: Amber]

Historically bred in east Cornwall, but nationally breeding numbers have declined substantially, but as a migrant it may possibly have increased, as it was considered quite a rarity in west Cornwall in the early 1900s.

On the Lizard it is scarce spring and fairly common autumn migrant. Extreme dates are 9th Apr (2000) and 31st Oct (2009). The highest count is of 65 on 26th Aug 2003.

An early autumn Pied Flycatcher in Caerthillian Cove (24th August 2023). Ilya Maclean

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros [BoCC5: Amber]

The first documented record for Cornwall was of a bird shot in Marazion in 1840, but already by the early 1900s it was documented as a fairly common migrant and winter visitor, so it is hard to determine whether the paucity of old records is the result of it being overlooked.

There is also one confirmed breeding record in Cornwall, and on 1st Jun an adult male was seen at Dean Quarry, suggesting possible breeding on the Lizard. It is, however, more usually a fairly common migrant and winter visitor, most common in late Oct and early Nov, with a secondary but lower peak in early spring coinciding with returning migrants.

There is also one wholly unconfirmed report of an Eastern Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides) from Porthleven on 24th Sep 2022.

Male Black Redstart, Porthoustock Beach, 19th Dec 2020. Joe Jones.

Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus [BoCC5: Amber]

Historically this species bred in Cornwall, though never further west than Goss Moor and Newquay. It is hard to detangle trends in numbers from trend in observer coverage, but given evidence of a quite significant decline in the number of migrants reaching the east coast, one suspects it has also become rarer on the Lizard. Nevertheless, the first record for the Lizard isn't until 1952 - a bird at Penrose on 29th Sep.

It is currently a fairly uncommon spring and autumn migrant with spring records mostly Apr-early May and autumn records mostly Sep to mid-Oct. Extreme dates are 25th Mar (2013) and 21st Dec (2002).

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra [BoCC5: Red]

Historically, as at present, this species was a breeder in the east of the Country, though Clark (1906) describes it as breeding breeding regular around Falmouth, albeit wiht little supporting evidence.

On the Lizard it is scarce spring and fairly common autumn migrant, most common in late-Aug and early Sep, though surprisingly, the first documented sighting is of one on "The Lizard" on 1st Oct 1960. Despite a substantial decline in the UK breeding population, the number of records recently relative to historically suggest quite a significant upturn in numbers and least between the 1960s and 1990s.

Extreme dates are 26th Mar (2011) and 20th Nov (2006). One summer record: a female at Hayle Kimbro on Jul 5th 1989, though returning passage birds have been noted as early as 16th Jul (1993). The highest count is of 32 on 7th Sep 1991.

An autumn Whinchat perching on Monbrechia on Lizard Downs. Ilya Maclean

Stonechat Saxicola rubicola

This species has been well-known form suitable coastal habitat since the early 1800s, and other than its tendency to be adversely affected by cold winters, there is little evidence of a significant change in status. It remains a common breeding resident, with numbers sometimes supplemented by migrants.

Male and female Stonechat Porthleven 8th September 2023. Ilya MacleanA common sight on the Lizard at any time of year, but September sees migratory influxes

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Stonechat on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus

Rare, with just five records. One on the Lizard (location unspecified) on 15th Oct 1991, a 1st -winter at Bass Point on 22nd Oct 1997 (B Cave), and another unaged there on 12th-13th Oct 2001. Also one at Bray's Cott on 12th-26th Nov 2006 and one at Higher Bochym on 24th Oct 2022 (E O'Connor).

Some of the earlier sightings are from a period when the taxonomy and identity of Stejneger's Stonechat was less certain, so it is difficult to know whether this species was ruled out. The appearance of the 2022 bird was wholly consistent with maurus.

The 2022 Siberian Stonechat at Higher Bochym. Tony Blunden

Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe [BoCC5: Amber]

Documented as being abundant on the Lizard as far back as 1906. It is currently a fairly common breeding summer visitor and migrant. Extreme dates for migrants are 22nd Feb (1993) and 22nd Nov (2005), though birds seen at both Culdrose and Poldhu on 1st Dec 1997 could either relate to over-wintering birds or more likely, late migrants. There are a few additional winter records: singles at Mullion Golf Course from Jan to mid-Feb 1968 and Dec 1989. The first documented record is of one at Trelowarren on 2nd Jun 1932. O o leucorhoa (Greenland Wheatear) is scarce migrant later in Spring, A few probably also pass through in Autumn but are harder to identify then.

One closely matching race seebohmi was seen in Lizard Village 2nd October 2013 (S Votier), which had it been clinched, would have been the first for Britain. A full account of this record can be found here.

Typical nominate Wheatear. Top: Ilya Maclean. Bottom: Steve Wood

Greeland Wheatear, Hellarcher Valley, 26th April 2009. Tony Blunden.

The putative Seebohm's Wheatear,

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Wheatear on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding and medium-sized squares probable breeding.

Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina

Rare, with just one record: from Church Cove on 29th October 1996 (J Martin). This record, the first for mainland Cornwall, was present on the Lizard at the same time as the Little Bustard. Quite a duo to turn up!

Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti

Rare with just one, possible two records: a female at Loe Bar 28th Nov-15th Dec 1997 (S Bury). One was also reported at Cadgwith on 7th Dec 2014.

Dipper Cinclus cinclus [BoCC5: Amber]

The historic status and distribution of this species is quite similar to its current status, though perhaps it was historically marginally more widespread. It was known to breed regularly on the Cober above Helston and on both sides of the Helford: at Gweek, but also at Trellowarren.

Currently, tace gularis recorded sporadically and probably resident in the Cober River above Helston and in tributaries of the Helford, where it is quite frequently seen in Polwheveral Creek. Rare elsewhere on the Lizard, with the only record is from Ogo-dour Cove on 1st Apr 1992.

An interesting-looking Dipper on the River Cober in Helston January 2020. There was some debate about whether this was a bird of the nominate race cinclus (Black-bellied Dipper) though the dark appearance may be a photo artifact. Tony Blunden.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus [BoCC5: Red]

This species has been known from Cornwall since at least the 12th century. Historic declines from agricultural areas were probably compensated for by a marked increase in suburbia. Despite the substantial decline of this species nationally it remains a very common breeding resident on the Lizard, and there is no particular evidence of a marked decline.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of House Sparrow on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

House Sparrow, Lizard Village, 24th Aug 2023. Ilya Maclean

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus [BoCC5: Red]

Never a common species in west Cornwall, as elsewhere in the UK, this species has declined on the Lizard and was last recorded 24 years ago. Recorded from Lizard area on 9th Dec 1906 and 2nd Oct 1975 at unspecified locations. Also recorded at Penrose on 3rd Sep 1949 and at Mannacan on Oct-Mar 1949 (documented as doing so in previous years too and also overwintered 1950). Up to 6 were seen at Mullion on 13th-17th Dec 1968 and 2 at Trewardreva near Constantine on 8th Feb 1971.

Since 1980, the only records are of singles at Caerthillian on 11th May 1980 and Treleaver Farm on 13th Jul 1982, with 2+ there on 23rd Jul 1985. Also singles at Mullion on 25th Nov 1984, Helston on 15th Feb 1986 and 29th Oct 1987, and from an unspecified location in Lizard area on 29th Apr 1987. The last record is of 4+ at Caerthillian on 29th May-1st Jun 1997 (B Cave).

Dunnock Prunella modularis [BoCC5: Amber]

All writers since James (1808) comment on the abundance and ubiquity of this species across Cornwall and there is a little to suggest a marked change in status, though one suspects that, as elsewhere in the UK habitat changes have caused some decline. Nevertheless, it remains a very common breeding resident.

Dunnock, near Loe Bar, 23rd August 2023. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Dunnock on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

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