Wednesday, 2 November 2016

1st November: Looking Back

Reflecting on the week, it was a reasonable enough one. However,I realise that I need to recalibrate my expectations somewhat for coming down to Cornwall in October. When I first started, I had a very modest life list and lots of the birds that I'd see down here were new for me. However, as a wise relative of mine once pointed out: "listing is a law of diminishing returns" and these days I've now seen many of the birds that in the past would have been "champagne birds" (UK lifers which I'd celebrate by buying a bottle of champagne). At least I can still get my "tick kicks" with my Cornish list, which is sufficiently small that there is still plenty of scope for getting something new. Indeed, I had three Cornish ticks this week with Cattle Egret, Barnacle Goose and Franklin's Gull all new for the county. Given these diminishing returns, I'm also starting to understand why many of the visitors who come down to Cornwall each autumn are focusing so much on finding birds for themselves and in fact this week I did concentrate far more on trying to find birds on my Pendeen patch. Indeed I had a modest amount of success on that front with a Black Redstart and a Cattle Egret both found on the patch. In between it was rather tough going however, with several days of slogging around the same bushes and fields and seeing nothing at all. That is of course patch birding for you and I'm more than used to it back on Port Meadow in Oxford. 

This week, the mothing was really at the end of the season with just Feathered Ranunculus to fill the trap. There were of course plenty of nice arable plants that I saw on this trip - there's always something of interest to see. So with three Cornish ticks and a few new plants, all in all it was a modestly successful trip down. I'm already looking forward to my next visit!

One of the resident Ravens on its usual perch. I realise that Pendeen can pretty much count on the entire set of corvids with Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Rook, Raven, Magpie and Chough all see every day. A Hooded Crow was seen within the last month or so and I'm sure I've seen a Jay at some point - so the complete set!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Saturday 29th October - Homeward Bound

So it was time to depart already. First thing I had some last minute DIY to finish off, doing a bit of re-pointing on our garden shed which is letting in water. Fortunately a bag of ready-mix mortar did the trick and it all looks weather-proof now. As usual I kept my ears and eye open whilst I was outside but apart from a single Chiffchaff and a nice flock of Linnets there was little of note. Packing up and tidying up seemed to take a really long time this time though finally we were all done and heading off. We stopped off in Penzance so my VLW could nip into the shops to buy a present for our cat-sitting neighbour back home in Oxford and whilst she did this I had a quick scan from the PZ bus station again. The drake Eider was still there as well as a couple of Grey Herons and a Little Egret but there was no sign of the Guillemot today.

The smart drake Eider

The journey back was relatively traffic free to start with. Since we were leaving so late most holiday makers would have already been long gone and even the Bodmin A30 roadworks were fine. However, on the M5 at junction 26 the traffic ground to a complete halt and was completely stationary for a good three quarters of an hour, apparently due to an accident up ahead. We listened to the radio and I took the opportunity to rest a bit and eventually things started moving again. We finally got home after a total of five and a half hours on the road, tired but pleased to be back in our Oxford home.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Friday 28th October - Pendeen, Nanquido & Penzance

With the DIY bit now firmly between our teeth, after our ritual morning cup of tea in bed it was straight on with working on the windows. With my VLW and I working as a team we made good progress and by late morning we'd done our allotted taskage for the day. Whilst my VLW rested for a bit I did a shortened version of the Pendeen rounds (basically missing out the walk up to Calartha copse and back). It was basically still the usual birds though a couple of large flocks of several hundred Chaffinch passed high overhead which was a bit different. Whilst I'd been working around the cottage I'd seen a couple of Warblers in the form of a juvenile Willow Warbler and a female Blackcap, which made a nice change from just the usual resident birds.

The Blackcap was nice and showy
After our lunch we decided on our outing for the day. The other two wanted to play tennis in Penzance so I dropped them off by the free courts at the bottom of Alexandra Road and then headed over to Nanquidno valley where I wanted to look for some Woodlark that had been reported in the fields around Boscregan Farm a couple of times this week. I still needed this delightful Lark for my Cornish list and with nothing else of particular note to tempt me I thought that I might as well take a look. Nanquidno is one of my favourite of the Cornish valleys and is often a very populate spot with birders but it was amazing just how quiet it was and indeed I didn't meet a single other birder whilst I was there. I parked up in the usual spot and headed on down the valley towards Boscregan Farm. Whilst I wasn't giving the valley the usual attention that it warrants I still saw hardly any birds at all en route

Boscregan Farm

In the "rushy" area at the bottom I flushed a couple of Snipe as I headed over to the farm itself and started to wander around the fields which were covered either with weeds or with stubble. The weedy fields turned out to be a bit of a treasure trove of arable plants and I soon got distracted from my Lark-finding task by all the great plants there. There were plenty of Viper's Bugloss, Scentless Mayweed and Corn Marigolds and I turned up lots of other interesting things as I rummaged around but sadly there were remarkably few birds to be seen at all with just 8 Linnet and a couple of Stonechats for my troubles with 1 Chough and a couple of Skylark seen flying over. 

Corn Marigold
Field Madder
Field Pansy

Viper's Bugloss
Western Ramping Fumitory (I think!)

Time was marching on and with no Woodlarks to show for my efforts I headed back up the valley and then drove over towards Penzance to rendezvous with the other two by the bus station. Whilst I waited I had a scan of the sea there and turned up a drake Eider and a Guillemot, the latter looking somewhat sorry for itself as it bobbed about close in to shore. The others two had enjoyed a good game and had also slipped in a nice café trip as well so I had a bit of tea envy to contend with there. We headed back to the cottage for our evening meal, then did some preliminary packing for tomorrow's departure before turning in for the night.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Thursday 27th October - Pendeen

I awoke far too early this morning, something  that sadly I'm rather prone to do down here for some reason. Eventually I got up though the tiredness hung over me all morning. The weather was rather cloudy once more with a moderate breeze which once again made for a chilly feel in this exposed location. I dutifully did my morning rounds though it's starting to feel more like a chore now. Once more I turned up the same resident birds with very little overhead movement and seemingly nothing fresh in. Up at Calartha even the Yellow-browed Warbler had abandoned me and given the end of the easterly winds across the country, following things on RBA it seemed like over the last few days there's been a clear-out nationally.

Having started doing some DIY yesterday we had to follow through with this so spent the whole morning renovating our exterior windows some more. Naturally I always had my bins and camera close at hand should something fly over but nothing did. The only Cornish bird news of note all morning was the Franklin's Gull at Hayle still which had been showing much better from the estuary this morning and there were some gripping photos on the CBWPS site in the evening.

Sun Spurge

The delightfully-named Weasel Snout
We had our evening meal at lunch time today with some nice lamb chops then, after a quick walk down to the lighthouse to help with my digestion I went back to bed to catch up on my sleep. Feeling better after a good long nap we followed up on the DIY before I went with our son for a long walk up to the Pendeen stores and back for some shopping. That evening we watched telly and played cards. All in all a very quiet day.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Wednesday 27th October - Pendeen & Hayle

Whereas yesterday had been sunny and calm, I awoke today to find it much more cloudy and more breezy. Whilst the wind wasn't too unmanageable, it had shifted around to a more southerly direction and it just felt a little more exposed when doing the rounds this morning. It was hard work again today with very little reward for my efforts. Sure, there were the two Raven and two Chough and I managed to get Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk today as well as a few Stonechat and Mipits but it just felt difficult and the birds weren't at all showy. Up at Calartha Copse I'd almost given up on the Yellow-browed Warbler when I spotted it flitting about in the bushes of a neighbouring garden briefly. In the end it was a relief to get back inside the cottage to warm up and have some breakfast.

There's always a Stonechat to photograph somewhere around Pendeen

Our plan for today was to do a spot of DIY first of all. Sadly, it seems impossible to come down to stay in our cottage without having to do some general maintenance of some kind and this time it was the exterior windows which were in desperate need of our attention. My VLW and I worked away at them whilst our son binge-watched some children's TV serial until around lunch time when finally some bird news came through on RBA: "adult winter Franklin's Gull at Hayle estuary from the causeway". Whilst this was defintely something interesting, it was reported a full hour and a half ago so the bird could be long gone by now. Still with nothing else to go for when it came to planning our afternoon excursion I suggested that we might do something which incorporated an attempt at seeing this bird. My VLW was quite keen to explore the shops at Hayle, which she'd not really looked at before so in the end we headed off with this as the plan. We'd just got to about half way to Penzance when "no further sign of Fanklin's Gull" came through on RBA. Hmmm, we started to think about some alternatives to our plan and had just decided to go there anyway for want of anything better to do when "still present in a field viewable from the causeway though distant" came through. Game on again!

Some fifteen minutes later we arrived at the causeway and I parked up and hurried to the small crowd of assembled birders whilst my VLW and our son headed off along the road towards Hayle. The tide was right in at the moment and the birds were all huddled up at the southern end of the estuary near where we were standing with the immature Spoonbill the pick of the bunch in a very brief scan. It turned out that the Gull had been seen right in the far distance on a hillside where there were a relatively modest number of Black-headed Gulls picking their way over a field. I later measured the distance on a map and it was a good 2 km away. Alex M, Brian D and Linton P were there - the latter had it in his scope and let me take a quick peek where the dark mantle colour and half-hood really stood out from the Black-headed's even at that distance. I tried to find it in my scope and had it briefly though it soon moved out of sight below the line of trees that were partly blocking the view.

At that moment I got a call from Dave Parker saying that some people were watching the Gull from the side of the road on the way up to Carbis Bay. I relayed this information to everyone else there and we all hurried back to our cars and set off in convoy. The traffic was painful but we eventually arrived at the obvious twitch spot with cars piled up on the verge everywhere and a dozen or so birders all scoping the distant hillside. Here, the distance was a little less that 1km and the whole field could be viewed with the Franklin's relatively easy to pick out. I had an attempt at digiscoping it though at that distance and given the rather sunny conditions my results fall firmly in the record shot camp.

The photos aren't too bad given the large distance

To get an idea of the context, the bird was in the large trapezium-shaped field in the centre of the picture.

It was good to catch up with everyone else there with P&H, Dave C, Tony M all in attendance as well as Dave P and various local birders were arriving all the time. Having seen the bird decently enough (it's a good thing a Franklin's is  relatively easy to pick out even at that distance - imagine if it had been a Bonaparte's!) and with no prospect of the views getting better, I didn't linger but instead headed back to the car where I drove the short distance back to Hayle to rendezvous with the others. They apparently had had a good time and even had a couple of purchases to show off. We next headed over to M&S to make use of the café and to do a spot of shopping before returning to the cottage for the evening. After a nice evening meal courtesy of my VLW we settled down to watch the Great British Bake Off final, then to play cards for a while before turning in for the night. It had been a good day in the end with Franklin's Gull being yet another Cornish tick for me.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Tuesday 25th October - Pendeen

I awoke this morning to a typical Pendeen fog that so often accompanies calm weather in this region. No point in doing the rounds in that I thought and boiled up a cup of tea and turned the computer on in order to catch up with my blogging. I just glanced out of the window a few minutes later and miraculously the fog had completely lifted. So I gave my freshly made tea to my VLW instead who was just herself waking up, and I quickly got dressed and headed out to see what was about.

In the calmer conditions there were noticeably more birds about with plenty of Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks to be seen. What's more the actual birding was so much easier without the wind to contend with. There wasn't much in the way of overhead movement however, with just the odd Chaffinch, a couple of Skylarks and a few Mipits passing over. In the event it was pretty much a case of the usual suspects with the two resident Ravens and the two Chough still about as well as a few Stonechats and the local Buzzard. Five Snipe flew over which was quite unusual for here. Up at Calartha Copse in the calm and now sunny conditions I soon managed to find Lewis T's Yellow-browed Warbler from yesterday and I spent some time enjoying one of my favourite species even though their currency has been somewhat debased of late by the vast hoards hitting this country this autumn.

With rarer Accentors stealing the birding headlines nationally at the moment, it's worth taking a moment to appreciate the humble Dunnock
Back at the cottage we weren't really sure what to do today and with no news at all on RBA to help us in this decision we hummed and hawed for some time before eventually deciding, given how lovely the weather was, that we would take a picnic down to our local beach at Portheras Cove. There were quite a few other people there all enjoying the wonderful conditions. Our son when for a paddle whilst I enjoyed a bit of a nap on the beach. There wasn't a great deal of activity on the bird front though a Grey Heron did come "in-off", two Rock Pipits were buzzing around the cliffs and a Little Egret flew overhead towards the lighthouse.

This seal seemed to have a huge grin on its face, obviously enjoying the sunny weather

On the way back we met some of our neighbours as well as a bride and groom treading gingerly along the muddy track in all their finery in order to have a wedding ceremony on the beach itself.

You couldn't ask for a better location to get married
Back at the cottage we pootled around for the rest of the day and vegged out in front of the telly in the evening before going to sleep quite early, tired out from all the fresh air that we'd enjoyed.

Given the exciting rare Wheatears that are hitting the country natiowide at present I've been looking out for them this week, though this one is sadly just a Northern Wheatear

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Monday 24th - Pendeen & Polgigga

The weather was rather unleasant when we awoke this morning so my VLW and I stayed in bed for some time, sipping our tea and putting the world to rights. Eventually the rain passed and the wind abated and I decided to venture forth on the Pendeen rounds. Despite the improved conditions it was still hard work with not a great deal to see with 2 Raven, 2 Chough and 2 Redwing the best I could muster. Back at the cottage, given the still rather mediocre weather we decided to head over to Cape Cornwall for a swim. We'd learnt that the Boswedden Hotel has a small pool that you can hire out for an hour for a modest rate so we thought that we'd give it a try. We arrived just as the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour. Eventually it abated and we hurried inside to find a nice small pool in which we spent an enjoyable hour splashing around. We shall certainly use this facility again next time the weather isn't that great. Our plan afterwards was to go for a walk around the Polgigga area but it turned out that my VLW had left her walking boots back at the cottage so in the end we picked up a couple of pasties from St. Just and headed back home for lunch. 

When the weather is half decent I love standing outside our cottage and staring over the fields towards the lighthouse with a cup of tea in the (usually forlorn) hope of hearing or seeing something good fly over. I was doing just this whilst I waited for the other two to get ready when I spotted a white Egret flying low over the fields in front of me. Quick as a flash I put down my tea and lifted up my bins (which I always keep close by for  just such a contingency). No yellow feet and a stubby yellow bill meant Cattle Egret - get in! I ran around the back of the cottage to keep track of it as it flew out of my sight. I soon picked it up again as it headed over to Manor Farm where it landed on a wall and surveyed the scene for a while before it flew over to the few cattle which were in the field and started walking about in amongst them. 

The Cattle Egret in flight
Standing on the wall at Manor Farm...
...and settling down in amongst the cattle

A neighbour, who'd seen me running around the back came over to see what was going on and I had to try and juggle having a coversation with him whilst sending out some texts to various local and visiting birders as well as getting the news out to RBA. Whilst Cattle Egret isn't a mega rarity, apparently it's still a description bird in Cornwall and it was certainly a Cornish tick for me as well as a very nice self-found bird. All the same I did my best to contain my excitment in front of the non-birder neighbour. He eventually went back inside and I headed back into the cottage to see if the other two were ready which they now were. So we got back into the car and headed south west once more though this time going through St. Just and on down to Polgigga.

The reason for going here was because a Barnacle Goose had been reported here yesterday, the last Goose that I still needed for my as yet modest Cornish list. The other two didn't really mind where we went and as a wild Goose chase wouldn't involve standing around for ages waiting for something to show it was decided that we could conveniently combine the search with a walk around the general area. We parked up carefully in Polgigga and headed off down the lane towards Bosistow Farm. Many years ago when we were still getting to know the area we'd stayed as a family at Faraway Cottage so there was a certain nostalgia in heading down this road again. As we walked down the road a very noisy gang of young children on bikes came bombing past with the youngest and wildest child nearly hitting us in his enthusiasm. Evantually they reached the end of the road and turned around heading back past us so that finally we were left in peace.

There were some small birds flitting in amongst the Sallows as we walked down the lane but our son L was himself intent on making so much noise that in the end I gave up trying to see what they were and instead concentrated on scanning the fields. There were quite a few Skylarks flying overhead and the usual Linnets buzzing about as well as some Mipits. Down by Faraway cottage there was a large grassy field containing lots of Gulls. In amongst them I eventually found the target Goose which posed nicely for a photo.

The Barnacle Goose
Pleased at having found the bird we carried on with our walk, deciding to head out to the coast and then down to Nanjizal. On the way I spotted a lovely corner field which had loads of really interesting arable plants in. I could have spent ages rummaging about through them all though the other two were getting impatient and started to carry on so I quickly took some snaps and then hurried to catch up. 

Cultivated Flax
Corn Spurrey
Field Woundwort
Out on the moors I found a couple of Stonechat for my troubles and then we headed down the steep path to Nanjizal. There I sat on a rock and surveyed the scenery whilst the other two went down onto the beach itself though as the tide was in there wasn't much to it. A couple of Chough came down and I busied myself with taking a few snaps.

Nanjizal Chough
Eventually the other two came back and we headed back up the Nanjizal path towards Bosistow Lane, thereby going around to the other side of the Goose field. I had a good look for the Goose but couldn't see it any more so it clearly has other locations that it also goes to. My VLW picked some blackberries for a crumble as we headed back to the car. By the time we got back to the car it was 6 o'clock already - far later than we planned as I had a meeting that night with some of the admin team for the CBWPS web-site who wanted to learn about my experience with running the Oxon birding site. We arrived back at the cottage at around 6:30, I hurriedly wolfed down some dinner and was out the door again in 10 minutes. The meeting, over in Marazion, was an enjoyable and productive affair and didn't go on too long as I was starting to feel rather tired now after what had been a long day. I stopped off at Sainsbury's for a quick shop on the way back and was back at the cottage by 10 p.m. After a chat and a glass of wine I tumbled into bed and was soon fast asleep, dreaming of my two shiny new Cornish ticks.

As we headed off up the hill I thought I saw bird-finding legend Lewis Thomson photographing something. It turned out that he'd been nearby and managed to jam in on the Cattle Egret on the back of my RBA message. What's more he got a superb shot of it as you can see here - far better than my puny efforts. (c) Lewis Thomson