Wednesday, 4 January 2017

3rd January - Back Home

It was time to leave already. Frustratingly the weather this morning was absolutely divine with bright sunshine and not a breath of wind. I must admit that I tarried a while as I carried stuff out to the car just in order to enjoy the weather and scenery. There was the usual Raven and I saw a couple of Chough this morning as well as a couple of Buzzards.

I usually take photos of the Raven which likes to sit on this wall but today there was a Buzzard there
My two brothers-in-law were up and off reasonably early but as usual it took our family some time to get sorted and so we didn't finally leave until after midday. Then we had some recycling to drop off, petrol to buy and sandwiches for the journey. Finally at after 1 p.m. were were properly on the way and after a long but uneventful journey were back home late afternoon to say hello two our two cats which were both very pleased to see us again.

Pendeen Song Thrush

2nd January - Trevilley to Porthgwarra

The forecast for today was for bright sunshine though still a reasonably brisk north easterly wind and this was indeed what we awoke to. In the improved conditions I did actually have a brief wander around the Pendeen area first thing and came up with a Raven, one or more heard-only Chough, a few Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Auks moving on the sea and best of all a Merlin which whizzed down the coast path and landed on a distant wall.

Singing Pendeen Great Tit

Back at base, given the sunny conditions we thought that we'd go for a decent walk today and with  the prevailing wind direction we decided to head to the south coast where we hoped that we would get some shelter. We decided in the end to head to Trevilley and from there walk down to Nanjizal beach and on to Porthgwarra where we hoped that the café might be open, before returning back to where we'd come from via a slightly different route. We stopped off in St Just for some pasties and then parked up just on the entrance road to Trevilley and headed off. With a Little Bunting and some Lapland Buntings having been reported in the stubble fields I kept my eyes open but there was so much cover that it would require many hours of tramping around to uncover anything there and just passing through as I was all I could turn up was a flock of about 100 Linnets and a few Skylarks. Out on the moor iotself there were at least six Stonechats and a few Meadow Pipits but in general it was very quiet. Sadly the café was shut, which we'd half expected anyway and on the return leg we decided to go across the moor and up past Higher Bosistow and along the footpath across the fields back towards Trevilley. Again, not much was seen on the bird front but in the sunshine it was a very pleasant walk indeed.

There were plenty of Corn Marigolds in the fields near Trevilley

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

1st January - Marazion

Firstly a Happy New Year to all my readers!

After our late night yesterday seeing the year in we were in no hurry to get up. Eventually we'd all surfaced and found that unfortunately the weather was, as forecast, drizzly and extremely windy. With no prospect of it changing all day, in the end we decided to head over to Marazion. This is often our go-to location choice in bad weather and as one member of our party had never been over to St Michael's Mount before, it seemed like a good idea. For my own part I was keen to catch up with all the gull action that I'd read about on the beach there: over the last few days at Marazion there'd been a first winter Ring-billed Gull, an adult Iceland Gull, a first winter Caspian Gull as well as a possible American Herring Gull all frequenting the beach. However, from what I'd read there were so many gulls swirling about mopping up the stranded sprats that it was rather hard work to find things in amongst the maelstrom. The Caspian Gull was the real prize for me as this is a really rare bird down in Cornwall, far more so than Ring-billed Gull for example, and what's more it would be a personal Cornish tick. It's rather strange that they're so rare in Cornwall as back in Oxford I regularly find them in amongst the gull roost on my patch and indeed found half a dozen or so just in December in what was a particularly good month for them locally.

We arrived at the Station Inn car park to find that the near gale-force north easterly wind was almost as strong on this side of the peninsula as it had been back at Pendeen. I spotted three birders scoping the gulls from the car park, doing their best to shelter in amongst the cars so whilst the others got ready to head off on their walk I headed over to enquire as to what they'd found. The trio turned out to be MA, JR and another birder whom I didn't recognise. They reported that there'd been no sign of the Ring-billed nor the Iceland Gull but fortunately one of them had the Caspian Gull in his scope and I was able to score an easy and much appreciated tick thanks to a quick peek. I headed back to the car to see the others off and to get my gear together but in that time the entire gull flock went up and once I started scanning the Caspian was no where to be found.

The other three birders had had enough of the biting wind and headed off and I was left to try and find a sheltered vantage point from which to view the birds. In the end I went down below the car park to  the bottom of the wall where it was much calmer and more sheltered. There were loads of gulls on the beach in several large flocks with hundreds if not thousands more dotted about on the various rocks in the bay. With the large numbers of people out for their New Years Day walks on the beach the gulls were continually being put up so it was a case of rapidly scanning the flocks each time they formed before they went up again.

Gulls on the beach...
...before being put up by a dog
My first Med Gull of the year
I managed to find a first winter Mediterranean Gull in amongst the Black-headed Gulls - it's always nice to see them and made for a nice year tick. Another birder came over who turned out to be a local that I didn't know and who was keen to see the Caspian though he didn't have a scope with him so he was giving himself a pretty hard task. We worked the flocks together and after a while I managed to turn up a second winter Yellow-legged Gull. Now back home in Oxford these are really common and on a typical evening grilling the patch gull roost at this time of year I would expect to find several of these but down here in Cornwall they're much rarer. In fact I've only seen this species once before today so I was pleased to turn one up. Predictably it didn't hang around too long before the flock went up again but I was able to get some video footage of it.

Some rather wind-shaken footage of the Yellow-legged Gull

After a while I had had enough of grilling the gulls and went back to the car to warm up. Shortly after I got a phone call from the other party saying that they would very much appreciate a lift back from Marazion as on the return leg they were now walking into the wind and they were all feeling cold. Having already scored my Cornish tick I was happy to oblige and headed off to pick them up. 

Our next stop, given the dodgy weather, was to be St Ives where some members of the party wanted to indulge in a spot of shopping. Now I'm not a great fan of shopping personally so after we'd arrived and got some pasties for lunch I headed over to the island to take a look at the sea. With a north easterly wind the waves were quite spectacular and I spent some time revelling in the excitement of it all. I did spot a pod of ten or so cetaceans which I think are Porpoises though I am happy to be corrected on this.

The Porpoises - you may wish to turn down your volume to avoid the wind noise

In due course I rendezvous'd back with the others and we headed back to the car and home to a hearty stew supper that we'd left cooking in our slow cooker back at the cottage - just what you need on a windy January day! Then we passed the evening watching TV and chatting before heading off to bed. Given the poor weather and the fact that I'd only had a limited time to do some birding I was more than pleased with today's results.

Winter Heliotrope in flower on the path down to the town from the leisure centre car park

Sunday, 1 January 2017

31st December - Mousehole

We decided as a family to head back down to our beloved Cornwall to see the New Year in and we'd invited my VLW's two brothers to join us as well. As the previous day we all had a family party to attend just over the border in Warwickshire it made sense for them all to come back to our place in Oxford for the night before we all headed off to the South West the next day. Our intention was to leave for Cornwall at 9 a.m. the next day but with the usual inertia that accompanies a large group it wasn't until after 9:30 that we finally left. Mercifully the traffic was light and we made good progress arriving at Penzance in just over four hours as usual. There was some quite heated debate in our car about what to do when we got there. I had pointed out that as we only had two or three hours of daylight left and that we were only down for a few days then it made sense to go and do something first and then get the shopping in once it got dark. I proposed Mousehole as an option, partly as we all like pootling around there and of course partly so that I could get to see the Eastern Black Redstart that had been lingering there the past couple of weeks. Eventually this was agreed and we headed off there, deciding to bite the bullet and park in the Rock Pool café car park to save time. The other car with my two brothers-in-law were only a few minutes behind us so whilst the others waited for them to arrive, I headed down to the shoreline beneath the café to look for the bird with L our ten year old son in tow. I explained to him what I was looking for but initially couldn't see it at all. Suddenly L exclaimed "there it is, there  it is!" and pointed on the beach though as hard as I tried I couldn't see where he was pointing until a small bird flew up and over the low cliff there into a garden. I hadn't really got anything on it as it flew so quizzed L closely as his knowledge of birds is vague to say the least but he seemed convinced. I left him scrambling around on the rocks and headed further along until I reached the boulders along the foot of the harbour car park which I scoured carefully. I knew that the bird had occasionally been seen along the southern quay instead but I didn't have time to check there now and had to hope that it was still somewhere between the north quay and the café though there'd been no report on it on RBA at all today.

Having drawn a blank on the outward journey I turned at the harbour wall and started to head back. I'd just left the car park when something small, and reddish with a quivering red tail flew down onto the path right in front of me. It was the bird of course which showed remarkably well down to a few metres though in the horribly gloomy weather it was hard to get the camera to focus at all. It soon went back to feeding on the rocks and along the strand line and I eventually managed to get some shots off. It was truly a delightful bird - one that I've been coveting from afar for some time now, what with the one at Cleveland and then the one at Tewkesbury Abbey that I would have gone for had it stayed one more day. In fact I do wonder if this is not the same bird as the Gloucestershire one which has moved as far down south as it was able to go and finding a nice sheltered beach spot has elected to stay. I showed a photo to L who assured me that that had been the bird that he'd seen so there's some hope for his birding prowess after all.

In the end the only photos that came out were when it was perching on a favoured rock

I was soon called away from my appreciation of this eastern gem by a phone call saying that the others had arrived and that they were all in the café now so I went to join them. Unfortunatley it was rather busy there today so the service was a bit slow and they never actually cleared our table of the previous occupants' stuff but we were thirsty after our long drive down and didn't really mind.

They have cute little milk bottles for your milk at the café

After our refreshment we headed back down to the footpath and walked along to the harbour. I tried to show them the bird but there was no sign of it as we walked past its favoured spot. In the town we wandered around peering in the shops and the children all bought tiny pewter mice from a little shop on the southern side. We noticed that the harbour itself was closed with a series of wooden planks along the narrow harbour entrance keeping it all clear of boats so that their Christmas light display could be installed. It all looked very impressive so as it got to dusk we hung around to see if they would light it up but in the end it got rather dark and started to get cold without any sign of the lights so we reluctantly headed back to the car. This time the bird was back on display and I showed it to the others though the light was pretty terrible by now.

Mousehole cat, asleep in a shop

Our next stop was over to Sainsburys for our shopping. Whilst the others went inside I took L over to Marazion beach for some reconnaisance work. The previous time that we'd been down we'd seen in the New Year there on the beach but I'd read that loads of spratts had been washed up on the beach (creating a bit of a gull feeding frenzy in the process) so we were a bit worried that it might be rather smelly. L and I wandered around on the beach a bit but we couldn't actually find any spratts so I guess that the gulls had cleaned it all up though there was a distinct fishy aroma which wasn't normally there. Just as I got back to the car four Grey Herons flew over us and then westwards along the beach. We headed back to Sainsburys where I filled the car up with petrol and then we picked the others up  before heading over the hill towards Pendeen to open up the cottage. It's always with some nervousness that I first approach the cottage each time as in past visits sometimes something has gone wrong, either the heating or the electrics or something. This time the only issue was our outside light which seemed to have been knocked off the wall. Thinking about it later, it was probably our neighbour who'd helpfully put up some tower scaffolding there and the blowing wind had probably done the rest. Anyway, the cottage was looking fine and we busied ourselves with unpacking and getting a meal together.

After dinner we had to plan what to do and once more there was a certain amount of inertia involved. Eventaully we agreed on driving over to Mousehole again to see the harbour lights before heading back to the cottage to see in the New Year, perhaps  with a glass of champagne down on the beach at Boat Cove if we felt adventurous enough. The Mousehole lights turned out to be pretty impressive and we wandered around admiring them for some time. The others went into the Ship Inn to sample some of the local ale though L wasn't keen to go in (there was a rather loud band playing) so in the end I stayed outside with him whilst he played on the beach. The others soon came out again suitably refreshed and we headed back to the car and home to the cottage.

The Mousehole Christmas lights

Arriving back, the wind had strengthened notably and in the end the lure of the warm cottage proved too much and our beach plans were shelved. We saw in the New Year watching Jules Holland on the TV whilst sipping champagne before heading to bed.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

1st November: Looking Back

Reflecting on the week, it was a reasonable enough one. However,I realise that I need to recalibrate my expectations somewhat for coming down to Cornwall in October. When I first started, I had a very modest life list and lots of the birds that I'd see down here were new for me. However, as a wise relative of mine once pointed out: "listing is a law of diminishing returns" and these days I've now seen many of the birds that in the past would have been "champagne birds" (UK lifers which I'd celebrate by buying a bottle of champagne). At least I can still get my "tick kicks" with my Cornish list, which is sufficiently small that there is still plenty of scope for getting something new. Indeed, I had three Cornish ticks this week with Cattle Egret, Barnacle Goose and Franklin's Gull all new for the county. Given these diminishing returns, I'm also starting to understand why many of the visitors who come down to Cornwall each autumn are focusing so much on finding birds for themselves and in fact this week I did concentrate far more on trying to find birds on my Pendeen patch. Indeed I had a modest amount of success on that front with a Black Redstart and a Cattle Egret both found on the patch. In between it was rather tough going however, with several days of slogging around the same bushes and fields and seeing nothing at all. That is of course patch birding for you and I'm more than used to it back on Port Meadow in Oxford. 

This week, the mothing was really at the end of the season with just Feathered Ranunculus to fill the trap. There were of course plenty of nice arable plants that I saw on this trip - there's always something of interest to see. So with three Cornish ticks and a few new plants, all in all it was a modestly successful trip down. I'm already looking forward to my next visit!

One of the resident Ravens on its usual perch. I realise that Pendeen can pretty much count on the entire set of corvids with Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Rook, Raven, Magpie and Chough all see every day. A Hooded Crow was seen within the last month or so and I'm sure I've seen a Jay at some point - so the complete set!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Saturday 29th October - Homeward Bound

So it was time to depart already. First thing I had some last minute DIY to finish off, doing a bit of re-pointing on our garden shed which is letting in water. Fortunately a bag of ready-mix mortar did the trick and it all looks weather-proof now. As usual I kept my ears and eye open whilst I was outside but apart from a single Chiffchaff and a nice flock of Linnets there was little of note. Packing up and tidying up seemed to take a really long time this time though finally we were all done and heading off. We stopped off in Penzance so my VLW could nip into the shops to buy a present for our cat-sitting neighbour back home in Oxford and whilst she did this I had a quick scan from the PZ bus station again. The drake Eider was still there as well as a couple of Grey Herons and a Little Egret but there was no sign of the Guillemot today.

The smart drake Eider

The journey back was relatively traffic free to start with. Since we were leaving so late most holiday makers would have already been long gone and even the Bodmin A30 roadworks were fine. However, on the M5 at junction 26 the traffic ground to a complete halt and was completely stationary for a good three quarters of an hour, apparently due to an accident up ahead. We listened to the radio and I took the opportunity to rest a bit and eventually things started moving again. We finally got home after a total of five and a half hours on the road, tired but pleased to be back in our Oxford home.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Friday 28th October - Pendeen, Nanquido & Penzance

With the DIY bit now firmly between our teeth, after our ritual morning cup of tea in bed it was straight on with working on the windows. With my VLW and I working as a team we made good progress and by late morning we'd done our allotted taskage for the day. Whilst my VLW rested for a bit I did a shortened version of the Pendeen rounds (basically missing out the walk up to Calartha copse and back). It was basically still the usual birds though a couple of large flocks of several hundred Chaffinch passed high overhead which was a bit different. Whilst I'd been working around the cottage I'd seen a couple of Warblers in the form of a juvenile Willow Warbler and a female Blackcap, which made a nice change from just the usual resident birds.

The Blackcap was nice and showy
After our lunch we decided on our outing for the day. The other two wanted to play tennis in Penzance so I dropped them off by the free courts at the bottom of Alexandra Road and then headed over to Nanquidno valley where I wanted to look for some Woodlark that had been reported in the fields around Boscregan Farm a couple of times this week. I still needed this delightful Lark for my Cornish list and with nothing else of particular note to tempt me I thought that I might as well take a look. Nanquidno is one of my favourite of the Cornish valleys and is often a very populate spot with birders but it was amazing just how quiet it was and indeed I didn't meet a single other birder whilst I was there. I parked up in the usual spot and headed on down the valley towards Boscregan Farm. Whilst I wasn't giving the valley the usual attention that it warrants I still saw hardly any birds at all en route

Boscregan Farm

In the "rushy" area at the bottom I flushed a couple of Snipe as I headed over to the farm itself and started to wander around the fields which were covered either with weeds or with stubble. The weedy fields turned out to be a bit of a treasure trove of arable plants and I soon got distracted from my Lark-finding task by all the great plants there. There were plenty of Viper's Bugloss, Scentless Mayweed and Corn Marigolds and I turned up lots of other interesting things as I rummaged around but sadly there were remarkably few birds to be seen at all with just 8 Linnet and a couple of Stonechats for my troubles with 1 Chough and a couple of Skylark seen flying over. 

Corn Marigold
Field Madder
Field Pansy

Viper's Bugloss
Western Ramping Fumitory (I think!)

Time was marching on and with no Woodlarks to show for my efforts I headed back up the valley and then drove over towards Penzance to rendezvous with the other two by the bus station. Whilst I waited I had a scan of the sea there and turned up a drake Eider and a Guillemot, the latter looking somewhat sorry for itself as it bobbed about close in to shore. The others two had enjoyed a good game and had also slipped in a nice café trip as well so I had a bit of tea envy to contend with there. We headed back to the cottage for our evening meal, then did some preliminary packing for tomorrow's departure before turning in for the night.