Sunday, 30 August 2020

Sea-watching

Part I
The last three days we've had proper stormy weather and raging southerly winds. As a birder of course this should be music to my ears in August but as I mentioned previously I've been feeling rather unwell. All this meant that I didn't feel up to getting up at the crack of dawn in order to spend all day on a windswept headland. In any event, I've never been a great fan of Porthgwarra - the light and the lack of shelter and the fact that I can't hear what people are calling out half the time all makes for a rather unenjoyable experience. Also, I'm on a family rather than birding holiday and to take off for the whole day with the car would be very much frowned upon. So instead, for the last three days I've gone down to Pendeen lighthouse at whatever time I've happened to wake up to try my luck there instead. Of course the wind direction was completely wrong for Pendeen and indeed the first two days were completely useless and I was reduced to picking out the few Mediterranean Gulls that were passing the Watch. 

On the third day, I was down at the Watch at 9 am to find one other person there. He'd been down at PG earlier but it had been such rubbish that he'd decided to try Pendeen instead. He was in two minds about whether to have a go but after seeing all the benefits of the shelter and the great light he was persuaded. He and I enjoyed a nice chat whilst we tried to winkle out some birds of interested and we even managed a couple of Sooties for our troubles. A third PG refugee turned up who turned out to be a birder all the way down from Aviemore in Scotland. He was younger and frankly more sharp-eyed than either myself or my original companion and things started to pick up with his arrival. We added quite a few more Sooties and a couple of Stormies to the tally and even an Ocean Sun Fish. The pick of morning though was an adult summer plumage Sabine's Gull that he managed to pick out well past the left hand rock. Somehow I too managed to get on it with my bins before it passed the lighthouse wall of oblivion though sadly my original companion never managed to connect.

As time passed and word seemed to spread of the comparative better pickings on offer at Pendeen more people arrived from PG and the session turned from our enjoyable trio who were able to chat amongst ourselves, instead to a large scale watch with more than a dozen hardcore sea-watchers. I tend to enjoy such sessions less, finding them rather intimidating for calling stuff out and I was getting tired anyway so called it a day at that point. Still I couldn't complain: Sabine's Gull was a personal Cornish tick.

Sea-watchers


Part II
I woke before the rest of the family to find the wind was as forecast, namely a moderate south-westerly averaging about 17 mph according to the BBC weather app. So, OK but not exactly classic sea-watching weather. Certainly in theory this should be another Porthgwarra day and as I got tooled up and wandered down to the lighthouse for a brief spell of sea-watching I expected to find myself pretty much on my own. I turned the corner to find thirty or so birders occupying the area below the lighthouse. Indeed there were so many people that I couldn't see anywhere to sit down and so had to retrace my steps back to the cottage to get my chair to sit on - I don't normally bother with it as I can sit on the concrete ledge. It seems that the recent poor PG performance had been enough to relegate it to below Pendeen for a south westerly.

As I've said previously, I'm not a great fan of the large watch but I managed to find a spot tucked right in the corner out of the wind and I was reasonably close to a couple of people who were helpful in passing on calls and all in all it was actually quite enjoyable. Looking around I recognised quite a few of the faces including my Aviemore companion from yesterday. I'd asked how things had been so far and the answer was pretty great! A Wilson's had gone past pretty early and they'd also had a couple of Great Shears and 6 (!) adult Sabine's Gulls. Pretty good stuff! Of course I could have been kicking myself over having missed the Wilson's but I have come to realise that sea-watching is such a brutal game that if you start going down that "if only..." route it can quickly "do your head in" completely. 

It's always interesting to look around at the assembled birders. It's funny how you can tell the serious battle-hardened watchers from the tentative beginners who won't call anything and rely on others to find and identify things. Myself, I suppose I fall somewhere in between the two camps. Compared to many I'm still relatively inexperienced and also I have issues with my eyesight which mean that I can't seem to see the same detail as some people. I also find that my eyes get tired easily and quickly glaze over staring at a blank seascape so I have to rest them regularly and I get tired after a couple of hours of watching. I'm a real light weight I guess! There weren't any locals on show and I've since leaned that they tend to prefer watching together from the lower car park away from the hoards.

I settled down and even managed to find and call a couple of Stormies myself. A couple more Sabs were picked up which I managed to get onto and with a couple of Bonxies and a couple of Sooties it was a pretty good sea-watch, especially for the wrong wind direction at Pendeen. 

A Rainbow over the Pendeen sea-watch

After a good couple of hours things started to go a bit quiet and as a fair portion of the other watchers started to leave, I too followed suit. With another couple of Sabine's under my belt it had been another good session.

Part III

With conditions looking  good for another Pendeen session I mentally pencilled in heading down to the lighthouse once more. However, still feeling poorly and having to do some DIY tasks meant  that it wasn't until late morning that I was finally able to get down there. I elected for the lower car park this time where I soon met up with my local friends P&H who informed me that there had been a number of Wilson's sightings that morning - Gah! Still, there was nothing to be done and in lovely sunny conditions and being pretty sheltered from the wind I had a good chat and managed to see some good birds as well. It was mostly Skuas with Arctic and Bonxies seen as well as some Sooties and Stormies but no large Shears and sadly no more Wilson's. 

After heading back to the house for lunch I elected to come back mid afternoon. Things had gone quieter but later on SR who was sitting next to me, managed to pick out a Wilson's! This was what I'd been waiting for but sadly it kept going down on the sea and he lost it before anyone else could get on it. So frustrating, but it's pretty hard picking out someone else'e Petrel at the best of times and there was nothing I could do. I eventually headed for home and tried to be philosphical about it, though it wasn't easy.

 

Part IV

The day before we were due to leave I had one more go on the sea. Once again from the lower car park though this time the wind was more northerly (perhaps too much so) which meant that it was much colder. It was a very difficult watch - I was feeling cold and ill, all the birds were very distant and I just couldn't seem to get on most of them though I did add a Sootie and a few more Skuas to my tally. In the end I gave it up as a bad job and headed back to the cottage


Pendeen Gannet


Saturday, 29 August 2020

Marazion

One of our favourite family past times when then weather is stormy is to head down to Marazion to sit on the sea front, sipping coffee from a flask and watching the waves crash on the shore. One time we also walked from there to Little London to have our tea and look for sea glass on the beach. There's not been anything particularly interesting on the shore but it's always fun to rummage through the waders and gulls in the hope of finding something interesting.


I always enjoy picking out the Med Gulls from the flock

Ringed Plover

Sanderling

Med Gull in amongst the Black-headeds


Friday, 28 August 2020

Pendeen

I have not been so diligent in my surveying of Pendeen each morning as I have in the past. The truth is that it's a little too early in August and to be honest I've just not been feeling it. Still in passing I've managed to see a few things. The highlight was a lovely female Common Hawker that settled right next to me and allowed some photography at point blank range. This species is pretty rare on the Penwith peninsula and in all my years of coming down it's only the second time that I've seen it. In discussion with local resident JS he says that he's only seen three during his time here.

Female Common Hawker

A few Pied Flycatchers were being reported passing through the county and one day I managed to find one in the Old Count House garden. The trouble is that there is so much cover there that it's very hard to see anything and after about 30 seconds it had disappeared.

Pied Flycatcher


Small Copper

On my regular strolls down to the lighthouse I'd often spot a Wheatear in the fields or posing on a wall.


Wheatears

 Apart from that it was the usual species doing their usual thing. The two Ravens were still around and a pair of Chough have taken up residence in the area.


Monday, 17 August 2020

17th August: Drift Reservoir

With the rest of the family choosing to have a lie-in on our first day in the cottage I decided to head off reasonably early to see if I could see the Drift Spotted Sandpiper - the one rare bird that was around on the Penwith peninsula at the moment. I was about half way from Pendeen to Drift when the heavens opened so I decided to head first to Sainsbury's to do a spot of shopping. This worked out quite nicely and I'd just finished as it started to ease. I duly arrived at the reservoir car park, tooled up and headed off. I soon realised that I'd made a mistake in not wearing my waterproof trousers: whilst it was no longer raining, there was a lot of vegetation to walk through and my trousers were soon soaking. I worked my way around the west shore, hoping that I would strike lucky at the first corner by the boardwalk which certainly used to be it's favourite corner but sadly it was empty. Having failed here I was pinning my hopes on finding it in the north west arm past the hide where waders usually like to hang out. Here I found three Green Sandpipers, a Wood Sand, 2 Common Sand, a Greenshank, a Snipe as well as a few ducks, a Little Egret and a couple of Grey Herons but sadly not the bird I was looking for. Eventually I had to give up and head back home to dry out.

After lunch, we decided to do something that we'd been meaning to do for years, namely climb the hill behind Pendeen itself. It didn't take too long but once we'd left the village the scenery changed and there was a wonderful tapestry of heather and gorse which looked stunning in the afternoon sunshine. 

Heather & Gorse

The view at the top of the hill was definitely worth it and we all wished that we'd done it years ago. After a while we headed down to the  churchyard where after a wander around the churchyard we sat down with our flask of tea and our snacks. We'd just finished when news came through on RBA of the Spotted Sandpiper still present at Drift. As we about to head home anyway I quickly dropped the others off at the cottage and headed off to Drift with my younger daughter along for the ride.

I arrived about the same time as two other birders who were also keen to catch up with the Spotted Sand. The news had said that it was along the east shore 100 yards from the dam wall. This was pretty precise information but despite the three off us searching we couldn't see it. With nothing else to do the three of us worked our way back along the west shore just as I'd done in the morning. Sadly the outcome was the same as in the morning with no sign of the target bird though the number of Wood Sandpipers had now grown to three. One of the party decided to head on whereas myself and the third person both had to head back due to limited time. My daughter and I lingered a bit as the other person yomped on ahead. Back near the dam I thought I'd just take one last look on the far shore just in case. "Was that movement I saw in my bins?" I pondered. I got my scope out again and checked and wouldn't you know it, there was the bird! Had it been there all along but skulking on the shoreline? Certainly as it worked its way in amongst the stone blocks near the dam it was easy enough to lose sight of it. I whipped out my digiscoping gear and took a bit of video footage.

Some video footage of the Spotted Sandpiper on the far side of the reservoir

Having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and with a shiny new personal Cornish tick now in the bag, it was with a feeling of achievement that we headed back to the car and drove back to the cottage for dinner.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Coming Down

It was time to come back down to Cornwall for our summer holiday. This year, because of the exceptional conditions and with so much uncertainty regarding overseas travel we decided just to go to Cornwall and to take two weeks ourselves.

The big news locally was the horrible pop-up camp site that had appeared right  by the Coastguard cottages at Pendeen. So many of the village locals are up in arms about it as of course  are we and all our neighbours. However due to the exceptional covid situation the Council are encouraging camping in the area and there seems to be no chance of stopping it this year. Instead people are trying to make sure that it doesn't happen again next year. Anyway, we did our best to ignore it and to be honest, given the unstettled weather there weren't that many people there most of the time so it wasn't too bad for most of our stay. Let's hope that this is a one-off event.

On a personal level, myself, my wife and eldest daughter are still recovering from a long-term albeit rather low level virus that had been plaguing us for some months now. In discussion with two different doctors, they both said that our symptoms sounded exactly like "post Covid" symptoms  where, after getting Covid itself, some people seem to have a very long recovery time. Indeed my wife did play tennis with someone who definitely came down with Covid a few days later and I'd been commuting to work in London so it's very likely that we both got it. Thankfully in both cases our symptoms were so mild that we didn't even know we had it. However the low level "post viral" symptoms that come and go have been dragging on for months now and we both are finding that if we over do it then we start to feel under the weather again. Whilst we've been lucky to have been so lightly affected in the first place, the length of time for the recovery is becoming very frustrating.

Anyway, that's the backdrop to our trip down to Cornwall. Despite starting off doing day by day postings, I soon got fed up doing that and since coming home I've amalgamated my news into a few summary posts instead.

An Orange Swift that came to the "moth light"




Sunday, 19 July 2020

5th July

It's been nearly a year since I was last down in Cornwall. The terrible Corona virus put the kibosh on our usual Easter visit down and indeed we weren't sure if we were going to be open for the summer at all. In the end restrictions were eased just in time for us to get down to do some blitzkrieg decorating and repairs before our first visitors were due to arrive. As I am presently working full-time (originally in London though now thankfully from home) it had to be a weekend visit so it was a case of coming down, spending a day decorating and then heading off again. Given that the far south west has mercifully been free from Covid so far we made the deliberate decision not to go to any shops whilst down so as to make sure that we didn't in advertently import it ourselves. Accordingly we came with all the provisions that we needed for the weekend so we could hunker down and get on with things.

Given the full-on DIY workload this left very little time to apprectiate any of the nature that keeps me coming back year after year to this wonderful part of the country but I was able to do a bit of sea watching from the house where I was able to add the usual sea birds to my modest year list including a Balearic Shearwater. I don't really "do" year listing but I like to keep a tally all the same and this was my first opportunity in the year for sea watching of any kind. Given that it was blowing a gale all weekend we didn't do much in the way of a family walk so  it was all very low key. Pendeen valley was full of young birds all blundering around in the undergrowth and it was all looking as lovely as ever. Below are a few photos that I was able to take during snatched moments in between sorting out the damp and redecorating.

Gannet off Pendeen Watch

One of several young Whitethroats

Hunting Kestrel

I don't usually see Rooks down at the far end - they're usually up by Manor Farm

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Back Home via Illogan and Clevedon

Sunday it was time to pack up and go. With more guests arriving later on that day we were packed and out the door by 9:30 am. We stopped off first at Jordans to get some journey snacks. Then I persuaded the rest of the family to make a detour to Illogan where a Ring-necked Parakeet had been reported from the churchyard several mornings recently. The churchyard turned out to be a wonderful wilderness with signs saying that it was a "Living Churchyard" designed to promote wildlife. It was fabulous and full of insects and flowers of all kinds. All the family really enjoyed exploring it and seeing Thomas Merrit's grave (the composer who wrote 'Hark the Herald Angels' Christmas carol). Unfortunately there was neither sight nor sound of any Parakeets - let's hope that this bird takes up residence here and sticks around.

Anyone with any interest in wildlife must be aware that this year is a Painted Lady year we saw loads of them all week
We headed on homewards, stopping off for a break at Clevedon in north Somerset. Being only just off the motorway it apparently had a nice Victorian pier that we wanted to take a look at. Clevedon turned out to be a nice little town and the pier was pretty but expensive to go on so in the end we amused ourselves looking for more sea glass on the beach. This turned out to be a particularly productive site and we all founds loads. Then it was back to the car and on homewards to catch up with our cats who we're sure must have been missing us very much. 

Clevedon pier