Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Short-toed Treecreeper at Beachy (27 October)

While at work on Tuesday morning I received a phone call from David Cooper to say that John had found an interesting looking treecreeper in the Old Trapping Area at Beachy Head.  It had responded to recordings of Short-toed Treecreeper and had buffy flanks. He was going over and did I want a lift?  I quickly sent an email to work colleagues suggesting I might be late for a meeting that afternoon and was ready to go.  At least this time, unlike the Squacco Heron dash from work, I had my 8x20 binoculars with me.  

We arrived at Beachy at about 11am to find a number of birders assembled and the bird not having been seen for 20 minutes.  With no further sign and the bird missing for longer than any time previously we became increasingly anxious that it had left the isolated clump of bushes.  At about noon it was seen again, much to our relief, and I saw it at eye level on the side of one of the nearer trees where it remained in view, partially obscured, for 2-3 minutes. I was struck by its long bill with pale lower mandible and extensive warm-buff flanks.  It flew further into the clump and wasn't seen again despite us searching for a further three hours. I particularly felt for Jake who arrived just too late for the last sighting, cruel luck.  I would have been in a similar position had David not given me a lift ...

There was some debate about the birds identity helped by some very convincing photos taken by John Cooper.  The best is reproduced below, more are on John's blog

Short-toed Treecreeper at Beachy 27 October (John Cooper).  To me this image shows the full suite of features pointing towards Short-toed - long bill with completely pale lower mandible, short hind-claw, white throat, greyish washed breast and belly, very warm buff flanks, only very indistinct supercilium in front of the eye, small white tip to alula which has a continuous pale outer edge, fairly even stepped shape to outer edge of golden wingbar with saw-shaped inner edge, dark outer edges to tertials and small white tips to primaries with p6-8 evenly spaced and a big gap to p9 &p10. 
A more detailed analysis of this bird is on David's very informative blog, see  My feeling is that while none of the plumage features may be diagnostic the overwhelming impression is of everything seen being very suggestive of Short-toed Treecreeper.  Add to this Roger Haggar (and others) hearing the distinctive call and Doreen considering its response to the tape to be identical it seems on call and a suite of characters to be a safe identification.

The bird was in the most isolated group of bushes on Beachy Head and one of the nearest to the lighthouse so it is easy to imagine it being the birds first landfall, rather than a wanderer from further inland.  The area's unsuitablility for the species - and one a local wanderer is unlikely to venture into? - perhaps being demonstrated by it seeming to have moved off after its final sighting.  Several treecreepers have been seen on Beachy Head, although they are less than annual, none in the Old Trapping Area and none that I have seen were really worth much more than a second glance, unlike this bird ...

A similar, although shorter-billed bird was in Essex in April 2005.  It was heard but not trapped and was accepted by british birds in 2006.  Photos are on Birdguides (see  Birding World did a page spread on it in volume 18 number 4 (p145)

Congratulations to John Cooper on finding another new bird for Sussex.  Thoroughly well deserved for all the visits made to Beachy, the more recent ones often under adverse conditions.

To cap our visit we eventually saw the Pallas's Leaf Warbler along the western edge of Belle Tout Wood although the views were not great.  Having spent most of Sunday 25th at Beachy and checked the wood a couple of times hoping to find a Pallas's I had been somewhat disappointed when it was found on Monday lunchtime.  

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