Tuesday, 14 August 2018

10th August: Sea Watching

A family holiday in August down in Cornwall isn't likely to produce much in the way of tasty rarities down in the famous valleys of Cornwall. Instead it's all about the sea watching and during our time down here I'm always on the look out for a decent wind. In the absence of such weather I still like to do a bit of watching, especially at Pendeen given it's so close and I've been putting in some hours down by the lighthouse this last couple of weeks. Of course, given the poor conditions I've generally been on my own though on one or two occasions I've seen people watching from the lower car park when I've been leaving.

There's not generally been much to report from my Pendeen sessions with a few Balearic Shearwaters, a surprising number of immature Med. Gulls, one flock of Common Scoter and a few Sandwich Terns the highlights of some otherwise very quiet watches. Not that I've minded, I've been enjoying just being down there in the sun, listening to the waves and watching the occasional Pipits, Choughs and Wheatears on the slopes below me. For someone from a landlocked county such as Oxon, just being there is very pleasant. On one occasion I met NH, the legendary "Gull Whisperer" from Oxon. I'd known that he'd been down here as I'd seen his reports and photos on the CBWPS web page and we enjoyed a good catch-up chat.

Pendeen juvenile Wheatear

Pendeen juvenile Meadow Pipit
I'm starting to find that sea-watching is "getting under my skin". I'm not quite sure what it is about it but somehow it's become a bit addictive. It's certainly not because I'm particularly good at it, in fact I'm a bit rubbish, certainly compared to many of the expert locals and seasoned visitors that I watch with. It's partially down to my eyesight: over the last few years I've got anterior vitreous deterioration, a common complaint of ageing where the jelly in my eye starts to break down leading to lots of "floaters" in my field of view. Normally this isn't too much of an issue and one's brain tends mentally to filter them out but with sea watching where you're looking at tiny specks in often tricky light conditions, it makes it all the harder to make out those difficult diagnostic details. It's also down to experience and the number of hours put in. I like to feel that I'm no longer a complete noob on the sea-watching front yet I'm only realistically getting a dozen or two hours a year in of actual watching which is very little and there's so much time in between to forget what you've learnt from the previous year. No wonder it's slow progress on my part!

This wonderful boat has been working its way around the Penwith peninsular over the last week or so

Apart from my numerous short sessions down at Pendeen I did get one decent session during this holiday at Porthgwarra. It was our last full day of the holiday and with a decent weather front coming in over the weekend the weather was forecast to start to deteriorate on this day. Accordingly the others decided to go to St Ives for some shopping and I headed off to PG for the day. As the wind wasn't going to be that strong I did wonder if anyone else was going to be there at all but in the event I arrived at Hella Point to find GW from Oxon and one other person there. I was most pleased about this as having a bit of company can make a huge difference to a sea-watch, especially someone as experienced as GW. I've realised that what I look for in a good sea-watch is a modest number of experienced and friendly fellow watchers where I can feel comfortable making a fool of myself by calling out stuff incorrectly and where they are good enough to pick things out for me. It also has to be easy for me to be able to hear what other people are calling. As well as my eyes, my hearing is also not what it used to be and I often find, especially on a windy headland, that I simply can't hear what's being called which can be very frustrating. But on this occasion it was ideal. The three of us chatted away about this and that: the other two had done a lot of international birding so there was plenty of talk about the various places they'd been to. It was all very pleasant!

In terms of the actual birds, the others had had a couple of Cory's go by before I'd arrived. During my time there my list was:

1 Great Shearwater
10+ Sooty Shearwaters
10+ Storm Petrels,
30+ Balearic Shearwaters
1 Great Skua
2 Arctic Skua
1 Puffin
1 Common Scoter


All good stuff! One thing I noticed was how different it was watching from PG compared to Pendeen. I think that it's to do with the light: at Pendeen you've always got the light behind you so the birds are often lit up against a relatively dark background. There, the Balearics for example were very easy to pick out, just on jizz alone and you could easily make out the differences in the colour of the underside. At PG on the other hand, you're looking into the light so everything looks more silhouetted and you had to look really carefully to tell the Ballies from the Manx. During the middle of the day, everything is nothing more than a silhouette and you might as well not bother! 

By the afternoon things got very slow with very little to show for our efforts so it was time to head off to St Ives to rendezvous with the others for an evening meal. Of course the next day was an epic sea watch with a Fea's going through late morning - once again I'd managed to miss this iconic species. Indeed looking back our holiday was bookended by a couple of amazing sea-watches that I wasn't at with the Trindade Petrel just before I arrived and the Fea's on the day we were leaving. As DP said to me "sea-watching can be brutal". Still, I can't wait to do some more.


Some video of the Fea's Petrel at PG the next day taken by Gary Taylor. 
Be warned, the audio contains some strong language!

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

8th August: Coastal Walks

We've done a couple of coastal walks during our visit down here. The first was our classic one from St. Just back along the coast to Pendeen. After an early lunch we walked up the hill to Pendeen village centre and then took the open-top bus to St Just. There we got our traditional ice creams from the Coop and then walked down to the school where we had a good wander around the arts and craft fair (with several purchases being made). Then we headed off towards Kenidjack via Boscean. We said hello to the two resident donkeys and had our usual snack stop up at the top of Kenidjack by the castle. The weather was perfect for walking though there wasn't much to report along the way: a few Chough, some Stonechats, a few Ravens and today just one Wheatear (a juvenile) at Geevor. We arrived back at the cottage at around 6 pm, gasping for a cup of tea.

Chough

Botallack Ravens

Kenidjack Brown Trout
The second walk was from Marazion over to Perranuthnoe to the café and back. We parked as usual in the centre of Marazion and worked our way doggedly through the crowds until we got to the relative peace and quite of Little London. The tide was right in as we worked our way along the shore and at one point we had to clamber over some slippery seaweed-covered rocks. There were quite a few birds taking shelter from the heaving masses though apart from a few Med Gulls there was nothing of particular note.

At Perranuthnoe we put the world to rights over a cup of tea and some cake before heading back again along the now exposed shorline, looking for sea glass along the shore as we went. This time there were a lot more birds including a splendid summer plumage Knot that PSP had first found a few days ago, as well as a couple of Whimbrel. 




Summer plumaged Knot

A gorgeous Med Gull

Wader trio

Whimbrel
We were all quite tired by the time that we got back to the car so after quickly stopping off at Longrock Industrial Estate to pick up some DIY provisions, it was back to the cottage for the evening.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

7th August: Drift

I've had a couple of trips to Drift reservoir so far during my time down here. The reason for this is that it's been the one location down here where there's been anything half decent reported. The first bird of note was a Pectoral Sandpiper which has been lingering at the reservoir for quite a while in the company of a Wood Sandpiper. With nothing much else around presently and with no decent sea watching winds to speak of either, I'd made a mental note to try there when an opportunity presented itself and on Saturday when the rest of the family wanted to visit the Pendeen Farmer's Market I dropped the others off there and then headed over the hill to Drift instead. There in the NW arm of the reservoir I soon found the Pec Sand along with several Green and Common cousins and a juvenile Dunlin but there was no sign of the Wood Sand. The heat haze was something else so my digiscoped efforts were truly appalling but here's a record shot of the Pec.

A hazy Pectoral Sandpiper (honest!)
A couple of days later PSP found a drake Lesser Scaup at the same location though when the news broke we'd already made plans to go on our customary walk from St. Just along the coastal path back to Pendeen so I wasn't able to go and take a look. The next day however, with nothing else on the family wish list, I suggested that the others may wish to pootle around Penzance whilst I made a return visit to the reservoir and they seemed to like this plan so this is what we did.

At the hide a quick scan seemed to show no sign of the Scaup, nor was the Pec Sand anywhere to be seen. However the Wood Sandpiper was about and the haze wasn't too bad so I spent some time taking some photos. 


The Wood Sandpiper
Whilst there I bumped into PM who told me that he'd seen the Lesser Scaup, in the "same location as yesterday". He showed me where this was (opposite the hide on the far bank) and sure enough there it was - somehow I'd managed to miss it in amongst the Mallards during my scan through the birds. I thanked PM for pointing it out to me and set about taking some digiscoped shots of it.

The drake Lesser Scaup, lookin rather dowdy so presumably in eclipse
I looked away for a brief while and when I looked back the Scaup was nowhere to be seen. I don't know if it slunk off into the other arm of the reservoir or simply flew off but I couldn't see it anywhere. Other birds of note were a couple of Common Sandpipers, one Green Sand and a juvenile Dunlin. Two noisy Greenshank soon flew in calling loudly so after a quiet start it was starting to get quite birdy! Suddenly PM yelled out "what's that?" and I looked where he was pointing to see a Marsh Harrier flying low over the bank, almost over our heads. We rushed out of the hide to see if we could see it and PM tried to follow it down the path to try to get a photo but to no avail. So just a brief sighting but as it happens it was actually a personal Cornish tick, so a very nice bonus to end the day. I headed back to the car and rendezvous'd with the rest of the family before we headed over to Marazion beach for our customary tea in the car overlooking the sea with a few juv Med Gulls being the only birds of note. Then it was off for our usual food shopping trip before heading back to the cottage for the evening.




Saturday, 4 August 2018

Friday 3rd August: Pendeen

I've been doing the local Pendeen rounds most days, checking out the bird life and taking the occasional photo should such an opportunity present itself. One thing I've noticed this time down here is the large number of juvenile birds around. Because of the sunny weather and the lack of rain birds are having a really good year across the country and this certainly seems to include the Pendeen patch. I can't ever remember it being this "birdy" with blundering youngsters crashing about everywhere. This makes a very pleasant change from the rewardless birding that is so often a feature of the area. 

Young Whitethoat

Wren

I came across this delightful pair of young Stonechats on the walk over to Geevor
The highlight of the week on the bird front was a juvenile Yellowhammer which flew in calling as I was walking down by the Old Count House next to the lighthouse car park. It perched on the wires just long enough for a photo or two before heading off again. I've certainly never seen or heard a Yellowhammer here before and in general on the Penwith peninsular they are a very localised species. I remember having to go to some particular farm to get my county tick for them so this is a real patch Mega!

The juvenile Yellowhammer
There have also been some good insects around with Hummingbird Hawkmoths being seen most days and on a walk to Geevor I came across five Painted Ladies all on a small patch of Hemp Agrimony.

One of five Painted Ladies

A rather battered Wall Brown
Talking of Geevor I found at least three Wheatears there in amongst the old mine ruins including some youngsters so it may well be that they've been breeding there. Indeed, so delightful were they that I went back the next morning for seconds though the rather misty conditions (typical Pendeen!) meant that there weren't any photographic opportunities.



Geevor Wheatears


Monday 30th July: Moths

I'm back down with the family (well, most of them - we're missing a daughter who'll be arriving at the end of the week) for our summer holiday. We were originally supposed to come down on Saturday but I had a number of work commitments which spilled over into the weekend so it wasn't until today that we finally made it down. I can't help but ponder on what might have been had we come on the Saturday in which case I may well have been at PG on Sunday when the first Trindade Petrel for the UK went passed. Oh well (or words to that effect!). Apart from the weekend stormy weather the forecast for the next couple of weeks is for sunny pleasant weather - great for holidays and a blessed relief from the sweltering heat of Oxfordshire but no exactly promising on the birding front so I'm not expecting much and will generally be relaxing and doing very little.

I'm thinking of changing the format of this blog slightly: rather than giving a daily blow by blow account of what we got up to and what I saw I might post less often, especially given that there's not a great deal to report and I'm sure that readers don't really care which café we went to on which particular day. So instead I'll give a few round-up posts along with special posts should there be something of particular note. To this end, this post is going to be about moths. Now, I've more or less "phased" (or whatever the moth equivalent is) as far as mothing is concerned and I haven't brought my trap down but on calm evenings I do still like to put the exterior "moth light" on to see what we can attract and our son is quite keen on seeing and handling the larger ones. There have been a couple of good nights so far with some Drinkers blundering around and a large female Oak Eggar. I've taken snaps of some of the more photogenic ones but do please let me know if I've mis-identified any of them.

Drinker

Flounced Rustic

Light Knot Grass

Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing

Oak Eggar

Ruby Tiger

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Tuesday 10th April, Penzance

It was time to pack up and go. As usual it took far longer with the family of five than one might expect but finally, late morning after much faffing about we were ready to depart. 


I'd inadvertently left the outside porch light on all night and there were a few moths there the next morning including this Hebrew Character and this Red Chestnut
Whilst packing, news came through of a Hoopoe in someone's garden in Penzance. I thought nothing more of it until it was reported mid morning as still present on some playing fields. As it was only a few minutes detour from our route home I sent out a tentative text to DP to see if he knew more. He didn't but apparently TM had seen it so after I texted him, he kindly called back with directions. The rest of the family didn't seem too bothered about the detour and indeed were actually quite keen to see a Hoopoe for themselves so we headed off towards Newlyn and up one of the residential side roads there. I knew that I was at the right place when I spotted MA heading down the street though he reported that he'd not seen it himself. I thought that I'd have a quick look all the same so while the rest of the family stayed in the car to start their packed lunch I headed a few yards up a footpath where I could look out over the playing field where it had been seen. There I met ME who reported that it had been seen a few minutes ago but kept disappearing into the neighbouring gardens. He wandered off and I and another birder remained to look out for it. Sure enough within about five minutes it flew out of a garden and across the field into a tree on the opposite side. I managed a brief photo and then rang my family to tell them to come and take a look. However by the time they'd arrived it had flown off again.

Hoopoe record shot
They weren't that disappointed and I was pleased to have seen the bird. Indeed, after a very quiet week it had been the only decent thing that I'd seen at all so it was a relief to get a last gasp good bird in the bag. So it was back to the car and then off on the long slog back home. Still with Radio 4 for company the journey passed reasonably enough and late afternoon we arrived back home to say hello to our two cats again and to settle back into our home.


Monday 9th April: Pendeen & Mousehole

Yet another gorgeous day with sun and little wind to speak of. It turned out to be a rather strange morning: we were due to meet a prospective new cleaner for the cottage but in the end a whole hoard of different tradesmen descended on us. Our husband and wife builder team turned up to work on our wall, our plumber also turned up to do some work on the boiler (though he left as we decided that it would be too disruptive with the family there), the new cleaner turned up and in the middle of all this a client of mine decided to ring me to pick my brains. It was so noisy in the house that I had to seek the sanctuary of the garden to talk to him. It was all rather chaotic and in the end, what with an increasing amount of client work piling up, I never got a chance to head out on the Pendeen rounds at all. Of course, when I was outside I kept an ear out on the bird front but it was so quiet that I hardly heard a thing. Indeed the whole of the Penwith peninsular seemed particularly quiet with no news on RBA of anything in the area at all. 

Pendeen Raven on it's usual post
After lunch and a bit more work we decided to head out to Mousehole for tea at the Rock Pool Café. There, by chance, we met a couple of relatives of my VLW who, it turned out, were down here on holiday. We passed a happy hour catching up with their news and just enjoying sitting in the sunshine eating our cakes and sipping our tea. Then whilst the others went to look around the shops, our son L and I headed down to the shore to look in the rock pools and just stare at the sea.

A loafing Mousehole Great Black-backed Gull
There was almost nothing on the bird front to be seen though I did spot a Shelduck flying low over the water towards PZ - rather an incongruous sight which took me a moment to identify. Then it was back to the cottage for dinner and to start the packing process as we were leaving the next day.

Moth du jour: an Early Thorn that came to the porch light after dark