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.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Dalmation Pelican Gets Official!

So the BOURC have finally made an honest bird of the Dalmation Pelican that made Cornwall its home in 2016. Not before time and a very welcome addition to my Cornish (and UK) list that can now be inked in at last!


The Dalmation Pelican courtesy of Mike Tout

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Rounding Up

I've been going through my photos and found a few that I'd not posted which I wanted to share so I thought that I would do a round-up post on my stay. As is typical for August, it's a quiet time of year on the birding front apart from sea watching and sadly I managed to miss the two classic watches of the season so far which occurred either side of my visit. So Trindade and Fea's Petrel are both firmly not on my list! Still I enjoyed the sea watching that I did do and I like to feel that I'm crawling my way towards being a bit better at what is a difficult and dark art as far as I'm concerned.

Pendeen Buzzard

Red Admiral

The only other bird action was at Drift Reservoir which hosted a Pec Sand, a Wood Sand and a Lesser Scaup and it was pleasing enough to catch up with these species. Apart from that it was pootling around the cottage and going to numerous cafés as usual. The only fly in the otherwise clean holiday ointment was the fact that I managed to miss a stonkingly rare Roseate Tern back in Oxon during my stay down in Kernow. That one is going to take many years to get back and will sting for some time to come. Still I enjoyed my trip and am already looking forward to the next time that I'm down.

Mousehole Rock Pipit

Mousehole House Sparrow

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