This autumn, I've been very much keeping a keen eye on goings on down in my beloved Cornwall. From afar it looked like it was quite a reasonable autumn with lots of good second tier rarities, certainly a lot better than last year, but somehow lacking the Killer Rare that would tempt me down. My plan was that without something special to force me down, I would come for the Half Term holiday with my VLW and our son L (with our two grown-up daughters now doing their own thing these days). Of course earlier this week we got the Mother of All Rares, in the form of the Grey Catbird, found at Treeve Moor and only the second for the country. What to do? It seemed a bit excessive to come down on Wednesday for it and return only to come down again at the weekend for the holiday so I decided to tough it out and hope that it stuck around until the weekend. Fortunately, it duly obliged, no doubt in no hurry after its epic Atlantic journey to venture forth over the sea again. So it was that this morning at around 9 a.m. myself and L (with my VLW away for the weekend and due to come down separately on Monday) set off from Oxford on a gloriously sunny and calm day for the long slog down to the South West. Fortunately the reassuring "still present" message had already come out and so it was with some optimism that I navigated the miles with Radio Four for company to help while away the time. Finally at around 1 pm we arrived at Penzance and some twenty minutes later or so we were pulling up in the car park field next to Treeve Moor where I hurriedly tooled up.
Over the last few days RBA messages for the bird all but dried up in the afternoon so I was expecting that it might well become more skulking at that time and was prepared for a bit of a wait but when I asked some departing birders they reassured me that they'd seen it about half a dozen times in an hour and a half - most encouraging! They also explained that there were two options for viewing: from the car park field side where you had the strong sunlight in your favour behind you, or the Moor side where you were looking into the sun. They said that it had moved about a bit and often perched up quite nicely so I shouldn't have any trouble. Armed with this information in view of the light I decided to try the car park field side where the majority of other birders were. I went over to join them with L reluctantly in tow and settled down to wait. This waiting went on for some time and after about an hour I started to get rather restless. There were a couple of Stonechat flitting about, a soaring Buzzard, a fly-over calling Chough and a few Mipits but that was about it. Finally there seemed to be some movement to one end of the hedge over which we were viewing. It turned out that someone had heard it call and shortly after that I got a brief glimpse of its tail as it ducked back down into a ditch. A technical tick but not very satisfactory. Back to waiting.
|Birders on the car park field side|
After a while the half a dozen birders on the far side (compared to about four times that number on our side) starting staring intently at something close by them - they were clearly on the bird which seemed to be deep in cover though. This went on for some time until eventually myself and one or two other (but still surprisingly few) birders decided to make the few minutes walk back to the road and down to the other side. Here I got the tail end of what they were watching as the bird flew out of a nearby bush and back down into the ditch. At least on this side it was much closer, being only 20 yards or so away compared to much further on the far side. So now that was two brief glimpses but still nothing better. L was starting to get restless so I had to appease him with the promise of take-away for dinner that evening. A red Darter species flew by with seemingly a lot of red on its wings though in flight it was impossible to be sure that it was a Red-veined rather than a Common. The birder next to me, who turned out to be a fellow insect enthusiast and I then got talking about odonata, butterflies and all sorts of other diversions from birding during the lean summer months. He told me that he was now into bees and wasps though I told him that I'd taken a look but when it gets to the stage where you need a microscope or a dissecting knife to ID something, then that was a step too far for me.
After another fifteen minutes or so I heard the Catbird "meow" again and suddenly there it was, out in the open on top of the scrub and calling away. At last! I whipped out the trusty super zoom and rattled off some shots - into the light of course but nice and close. After about a minute or so it dropped back down into the ditch again.
That was good enough for me and much to L's relief we finally headed back to the car. Then it was time to set off for the cottage, stopping off at St. Just first for some provisions. Then it was time to open up the cottage and for me to catch up on some well-earned tea drinking whilst admiring the scenery which was looking absolutely stunning in the amazing light. Three Wheatears were in the horse paddock field, always a pleasure to watch. There were also a dozen or so butterflies all nectaring away on some Michaelmas Daisies in the same field. As well as lots of Red Admirals there were several Peacocks, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Small Copper that came to sun itself on the wall.
After a while of chilling out in this way it was time to go and get the take-away. We headed back up the road to St. Just where in the end we just got some chips before driving down to Cape Cornwall to eat them whilst watching the sun set. All very nice! Then it was back to the cottage to settle in for the evening. I put on the moth light but in the clear conditions it had got rather cold now and I didn't hold out much hope. After a long day it was soon time to turn in for the evening.