Thursday, 25 April 2019

April 7th to 14th April 2019

It was time for another Easter break visit to the Far South West. We were due to come down on Sunday 14th but a minor medical eye emergency on my part which needed to be checked out (which fortunately turned out to be nothing serious) meant that in the end we didn't come down until the Monday. My VLW's sister was with us on the way down: she had been staying with us in Oxford while she was convalescing (it's a long story) so we'd agreed to take her back to her home at Ilfracombe en route. Fortunately, in the end we arranged to rendezvous with some friends of hers at some services on the M5 to avoid having to make too long a detour and they took her the rest of the way. Still it broke up the journey nicely though by the time we finally arrived in Penzance it was far later than we were normally used to. Arriving at the cottage we first had to deal with our neighbour who'd been "over enthusiastic" with pruning our garden Tamarisk trees (without our permission). This took several days finally to resolve to our satisfaction but we eventually got an undertaking from him that he'd not do this again. Still it rather soured the start of our stay.

Pendeen Raven...
...and a Pendeen Stonechat

Spring Squill
As usual our day was broken up into the pattern of doing DIY in the morning and then going on an outing in the afternoon to get tea somewhere. Both my VLW and I are getting to the point of being thoroughly fed up with the endless DIY that has to be done on every visit down here. The trouble is that the cottage is just in such an exposed spot that the weather always finds a way of causing one problem or another. Does it mean the end of our trips down here? It's too early to say but there's a limit to how many DIY "holidays" we want to have.


A pair of Wheatears at Geevor seen on our usual walk over to the mine tea shop

As you can tell by the fact that this is a single blog entry to cover the enitre trip, this was a very low key trip with precious little to report on the birding front. I re-acquainted myself with all the usual local suspects and I enjoyed seeing the first migrants coming in with Willow Warblers seen working their way north through Pendeen most days. The main highlights of the week were the Pied Crow which turned up at Land's End during the week, the Marazion Glossy Ibis which was around all week and some nasty dippage of a Red-rumped Swallow, again at Marazion. 



Some sightings from a trip to our favourite café, the Rock Pool Café at Mousehole
The Pied Crow turned up one afternoon whilst we were out visiting the Trewidden gardens for the first time. Because of various family commitments I didn't finally get down to the Land's End complex until it was getting quite late. I arrived to find SR and PW watching it fly off towards Sennen. I got good enough views to be able to pick it out in flight quite easily but it was less than satisfactory. I did try visiting the complex a few more times on subsequent days to look for it but it was never around when I was there.

During one of our usual family trips over to Marazion to sip tea from Jordan's whilst overlooking the sea I popped over the road to see the Glossy Ibis which was nice to catch up with. I've seen a few down in Cornwall so it's not a county tick but nevertheless, given how quiet it was I was pleased to see something, anything even, of interest and this bird was pretty cooperative.


The Marazion Glossy Ibis

On the day before we were due to depart news came up of Red-rumped Swallow at Marazion that DP had found. It was really windy that day with a stormy south easterly raging away, making conditions down at Pendeen pretty impossible. Unfortunately I did have some weather proofing DIY that I'd promised to do first thing so I could leave until about 30 minutes after I first got the news. Sadly those 30 minutes proved critical as when I arrived at Marazion I was told that it had last been seen about 20 minutes ago. Grrrr! I spent a bit of time in the eastern corner of the reserve where it was more sheltered, in the company of MM watching the House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows hawking over the marsh but their continental cousin never re-appeared. LL turned up to take a look - I know him from his student days when he and I birded my patch at Port Meadow together so it was nice to catch up. However, it was scant compensation for dipping what would have been a county tick and the dip somehow encapsulated what had been a somewhat frustrating week all round.

We left the "moth light" on when the weather was calm enough. Pick of the bunch were this Oak Beauty...

...and this Red Chestnut


Saturday, 27 October 2018

26th October, Pendeen Sea-watch & a Troubled Journey Home

With the weather forecast to deteriorate over the weekend, we decided to head back on the Friday. However, with a strong north westerly wind forecast it seemed rude not to pop down to the Watch first thing to try out the sea for a bit. I wasn't in a particular hurry and didn't arrive until 8:40 a.m. where to my surprise I found that I had the place to myself. Too late in the season I guess for the hardcore locals but as a visitor, I had to take my chances when I could get them. The wind turned out to be a bit more northerly than expected and it was hard to find somewhere sheltered and in the end, instead of the usual spot in the corner where everyone sits I opted for a corner further east where a small "step" in the wall offered a bit of a corner to hide behind. 

White horses on a stormy Pendeen sea

Having got myself set up, I was no more than five minutes in, noting a constant passage of Auks and Kittiwakes, when the big lumbering shape of a Bonxie hove into view. It's always nice to get the first notable bird of the session under ones belt and I watched with satisfaction as it passed by fairly close in. Some fifteen minutes later I spotted something else: it seemed to be shearing away and in the first instance I was therefore thinking Shearwater but on closer inspection turned out to be an adult pale-phase Skua. It's jizz was clearly too light for a Pom and I just managed to make out a breast band and the extended tail and concluded that it was an Arctic.

DB and her family arrived and went to settle in the more traditional viewing spot. I went over to say hello and to check out the wind there but decided that it was still winder than where I was so I returned to my spot. A little while later I picked up a dark-phase Sku. With it's wide "arm" and powerful purposeful flight it could only be a Pom. I watched it as it flew west only to discover that it was with a couple of pale-phased birds as well. Very nice! After they passed I went over to the other party who'd also seen them and we all agreed on Pom as the ID. After that it went rather quiet and I left some time after 10:15 a.m. All in all, not a bad way to end the holiday's birding.

Back at the cottage there was much to do in preparation for our departure which, as always, took far longer than you'd think so it wasn't until after midday that we were on our way. We'd just stopped off at Hayle for our sandwiches and were settling down for the long slog up the A30 when there was a loud bang under the bonnet and a warning message came on the display. After that, the car had little power and no acceleration - it had clearly gone into "lock-down" power limiter mode which it "helpfully" does when something goes wrong. We limped on in this way so that I might assess how easy it would be to get home in this state but it clearly was going to be too much so we pulled in at the services by the St. Agnes turn-off and I called our roadside rescue service. After an hour we were picked up and relayed to a Volvo dealership in Truro. After having described the problem, they reckoned that it might be the turbo charge pipe. Given that the workshop had nothing else to do that afternoon they said that they could take a look to see if they could patch it up. After a lot of waiting around (thank heavens I had my book with me) we were told that they'd manage to sort it out enough to get home. So it was that some time after 5 pm were were finally back on the road and working our way through the Truro rush hour. Fortunately once finally back on the A30 the traffic was fairly light and eventually at around 9:30 in the evening we were back home again. Not exactly the end to our holiday that we were hoping for but at least we were back safely in one piece.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

24th & 25th October, Pendeen

A very quiet day today. I did my rounds as usual with virtually nothing to show for my efforts apart from a few fly-over Skylarks. There was nothing else of note at all - my Pendeen rounds are proving depressingly unproductive. After that it was time to start some DIY activities which occupied the rest of the morning. 

In the afternoon we went out to buy a few things that we decided we needed on the back of our morning efforts and then we went off to the Tremenheere sculpture park for tea. On the way back we stopped off at Gulval church yard for a look around. It was a lovely piece of habitat with all sorts of interesting plants and trees there. I wonder if anyone checks it out regularly. Then it was shopping at Sainsbury's and back home. Whilst out, news had come out on the pager of a Black Redstart at Pendeen lighthouse so I went for a stroll down there to see if I could find it. It turned out to be right on the cliffs on the north west corner where it was feeding away on what was a nice sun trap in the company of a Wheatear.

The Black Redstart on the cliff

The Wheatear at the top of the cliff
Pleased finally to have seen something of note at Pendeen I headed back to the cottage for the evening.


The next day in view of the poor local birding I treated myself to a bit of a lie in before venturing out at around 9 a.m. Down at the lighthouse I found the Black Redstart was this time in the complex itself and that it had picked up a companion, also  a female/first-winter bird. The Wheatear was also still about within the complex but that was about it. I met PC on my rounds again who'd also seen very little.

One of two Black Redstarts this morning


..and a pair of Stonechats offered some photographic interest
After that  it was more DIY in the cottage. In the afternoon a sudden work emergency had me stuck to the computer whilst the others went to Geevor for tea. Apart from a brief birdless walk down to Boat Cove that was it.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

23rd October, Pendeen & Kenidjack

Toward we were back to relatively calm conditions again though what wind there was was still from the north, thereby knocking a few degrees off the temperature. Still it was full of optimism that I went out on my rounds today. However, that turned out to be unjustified as Pendeen was remarkably birdless. I searched quite hard in the usual places but to no avail. I even tried the Manor Farm loop where in the Sallows I had an exciting encounter with a Sparrowhawk that crashed into the the Sallow I was standing in front of, knocking out a few of  the birds, before chasing one of them hell for leather around the back and out of sight - I never got to see the outcome of this chase. Up at Calartha I met with local birder PC. I'd know for a while that he'd moved to Pendeen but had not actually had a chance to meet with him until now. He'd seen nothing either so we went our separate ways, me back to the cottage to get on with the day. We spent the rest of the morning in the cottage, taking an inventory of what DIY tasks needed doing (fighting the relentless onslaught of damp, as always). Then we had an early lunch before setting out for the afternoon. Our plan was to head over to Kenidjack, walk around to Cape Cornwall then back to St Just for tea and then back to the car. 

As we walked down the valley I couldn't help but marvel at the contrast between all the fantastic cover here compared to the sparse habitat down at Pendeen. Whilst the other two yomped on ahead I lingered, grilling all the likely spots for sprites. Sadly, it seemed as empty here as at Pendeen. 

We ended up walking right down to the end of the valley, thinking that we could walk across the beach to the Cape but the tide was in so we had to retrace our steps. Back at the last house we met JS & E and stopped for a chat. As we talked a mixed flock was moving through the Sallows and I spotted a Yellow-browed in amongst them - my first of the trip down here. We watched it flitting through the Sallows for a while but then as we were running late we bade the others farewell and hurried across the stream and up the hill. I could hear the Yellow-browed calling from across the valley as I climbed the far side. 

Pink Sorrel
As time was marching on we decided to turn left at the top and head back towards Boscean and then down to the car where we then drove the short distance to St Just for our tea. We tried out a new café today which we all rather liked. Then  it was back to the cottage for the evening.

Rusty-dot Pearl - a migrant moth

22nd October, Hayle

It was forecast to be windy today and indeed I woke up to a strong north easterly blow. In fact outside it felt stronger than forecast and I hurried around the lower part of my rounds to no avail at all with just a few Mipits being blow hither and thither for my troubles. 

Actually I was feeling a bit under the weather myself so decided to take it easy today. Also, in this  wind  there was little point in bashing the bushes - it would be impossible to see anything anyway. So whilst L stayed at the cottage and amused himself I decided to head over to Hayle where I could sit in the hide out of the wind, hopefully watching the Great White Egret and Spoonbill that had been frequenting Ryan's Field the last few days. I arrived to find that this pair were obligingly indeed doing just that and in fact they posed together quite nicely on one of the islands.

Great White Egret and Spoonbill posing together
Having so easily seen my target birds I decided to pop over to the causeway to see what was about. I always like the Hayle estuary as there are so many birds to sift through: it's the perfect antidote to staring at birdless Sallows for hours at a time, as is so often the case with Cornish birding. There were reasonable numbers of Teal and Wigeon, a few dozen Redshank, good numbers of Lapwing, the usual Curlew and a few Golden Plover. I looked through the smaller gulls for Meds but they were all Black-headed. I was starting to think about heading back when I spotted a familiar face a few yards away. It was a fellow Oxon birder who, like me, comes down to Cornwall regularly. We chatted away as we scanned the flocks. Suddenly I spotted a relatively small white Egret fly in and land. However, rather than it being the Little I was expecting it turned out to be a Cattle Egret instead. Very nice! 

A bonus Cattle Egret
However, after a quick wash and rush up, it stayed no more than a couple of minutes before flying up again and heading off low towards St Erth. I expect that it's in the same cattle fields over there where they over-wintered last year. Very pleased with my bonus find, I put the word out on RBA (not that anyone would be able to twitch it), said goodbye to my companion and then headed back to the car and then to Pendeen. A very successful trip with all three of the rarer "big white birds" in one go!

After that we had a rather quiet day pootling around at Pendeen before  heading over the hill to PZ late afternoon to rendezvous with my VLW who was coming down today on the train having been away for the weekend with friends. After her arrival we headed over to Sainsbury's for a cup of tea and then some shopping before heading back to the cottage for the evening.





21st October: Pendeen, Land's End, Carn Gloose & Marazion

I woke up far too early this morning, no doubt excited at the prospect of doing my Pendeen rounds once more. I was out shortly after first light where despite the lack of wind there was mercifully not too much of the dreaded Pendeen fog. Indeed it had been a very clear night last night and I did wonder about whether this might lead to a bit of a clear-out. As I started my rounds it did certainly seem to be very quiet. One of the Wheatears was still about first thing though it too soon departed. There was quite a bit of movement overhead with a steady passage of Chaffinch all morning interspersed with the odd Skylark. Apart from that it was pretty much just the usual stuff. There was no sign of the Black Redstart down by the lighthouse nor of the Yellow-browed Warbler up at Calartha. The only point of note was an interesting pale warbler half way up the valley by the S-bend Sallows that I never managed to get a proper look at. Perhaps one that got away. Up at Calartha I met up with a couple of birders, DH and SH who turned out to be friends of TM. We got chatting as you do and walked down the road again together. They went off to look for cetaceans for a while and later reported a couple of Blue-finned Tuna from the cliff top by the cottages.
Early morning Wheatear
Back at the cottage I had breakfast and waited to see what news came in. A Dusky Warbler found by MW at PG at the Coastguard lookout was too far and given the all the Cat Birders who'd be out and about, would probably be too crowded. Instead I opted for a report of a Rosefinch at Land's End car park though it was probably going to be a hiding to nothing. I have a rule of thumb that at least half of all initial Cornish reports turn out never to be seen again and the Land's End Sallows are very hard to bird. Still, L was happy to be left alone for a couple of hours and it wasn't too far away so off I set. There I found, as predicted. that there had been no news so I had a little wander around though apart from quite a few Siskins flyin over there was little of note. I bumped into P&H who reported a Black Redstart at the complex so I went for a look but couldn't find it. Soon it was time to head back to the cottage, stopping off at St Just to pick up provisions for lunch.


Dunnock
After lunch I'd promised L that we could do something that he wanted and he'd opted for the classic tea at Jordans café at Marazion. As this would involve very little exercise on his part at all I suggested that we first went for a little explore along the Carn Gloose road to look for Vagrant Emperors though when we got there it was rather overcast and breezy. Another birder who'd been there over an hour had reported no Emperors so we just did a quick zip round (3 Stonechats and a Kestrel) and headed off to Marazion.

After the usual tea in the car looking out at the sea (you can get more British than that!) we went for a walk along the beach towards the Red River mouth and back along the road. I had a quick scan over the Marsh as we went though there was little to report apart from a singing Cetti's Warbler. Then it was back to the car and off home to the cottage.

Marazion Buzzard


Saturday, 20 October 2018

20th October, Back Down & Treeve Moor

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. 




Catbird porn
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.

Small Copper
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.