Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Wednesday 7th September: Pendeen & Hayle

I wasn't down here just to go birding of course, I had set myself the task of painting all the doors in the cottage whilst there which was going to entail a fair bit of work. I decided that the best way to combine this work with the birding was to do a session of a couple of hours work first thing, then have a morning birding session, then back for lunch and an afternoon painting session, followed by an afternoon birding session and then after dinner I'd do a bit more painting before relaxing in front of the telly with a beer in the evening. This policy should mean that I do five or six hours solid painting each day as well as getting some good birding in.

I woke up nice and early and got my two hours painting out of the way by 9:30 which left the rest of the morning for birding. With a good stiff westerly blowing Pendeen was obviously the place to go so I walked down to the lighthouse where the large numbers of cars parked there indicated that there was going to be a good crowd the other side of the building. The fact that a Madeiran Petrel had been seen there the previous day was of course an added incentive and indeed there were a couple of dozen birders there with plenty of visitors as well as some locals. I always like to choose where I sit carefully when there are lots of people: you want to be sitting near some people who know what they are doing and I find that I can learn a lot as well as pick up some good birds by making sure that I'm within earshot (not always very far in a strong wind) of some experts. Today I found a nice spot sitting next to Brett Richards (a very well known sea-watcher at Flamborough Head who seems to spend a fair bit of time sea-watching down in Cornwall these days) with a couple of locals nearby as well. It was immediately obvious that conditions were good with something interesting coming by very frequently as well as a near constant stream of manxies. There were quite a few terns going through, mostly Arctic's and Sandwich as well as plenty of skuas and smaller shearwaters. I manage to spot a very distant (three-quarter's distance) large sea mammal leaping clear of the water and landing again with a huge splash. I asked John Swann who said that it could be a basking shark which do leap like this though in my mind this was much bigger than that and I was thinking whale of some kind though I guess I'll never know. After a while someone called out "Leach's" which lead to the usual trying-to-get-on-someone-else's-sea-bird-stress-syndrome. The other people around me seemed to manage to pick it up OK but try as I might I couldn't seem to find it though in my defence petrels are pretty damn small. Almost immediately however, someone called out "large shearwater", followed by "it's a Great" so I gave up on the Leach's and tried to get onto that instead. This seemed to take a while as well but I managed to find it and watched it shearing lazily past at a reasonably close distance (by large shearwater standards) until low and behold it caught up with and then overtook the petrel so I managed to get both birds in the scope at the same time - nice! These two proved to be the highlight of the session though apparently I'd missed another Leach's and both grey and red-necked phalaropes before I arrived and a couple of birders around the corner claimed a probable Wilson's though it was only seen briefly as it headed straight out to sea rather than going past and no one in the main party saw it. As things started to tail off at midday I decided to head back to the cottage for lunch and my afternoon painting session.

John Swann (c) took this photo of me with the latest version of my wind and light shield, created by using a spare pair of waterproof trousers. Note that it's important that my ears are left uncovered so that I can hear what other people are saying!

When things started to tail off I got my super-zoom out and messed around for a while trying to take photos of passing gannets. As I'm sure any self-respecting sea-watcher will recognise, this is the left-hand of the Wra (the three rock reef at Pendeen) - click to enlarge.

I'd been so taken with my wader and gull session at Hayle yesterday that I decided for my afternoon visit I would head back there again. I knew just how large the expanse of the estuary was at low tide so wanted to head back at high tide where the waders would be forced into a much smaller space and hence would be easier to find. This was actually a rather naive understanding of the situation because, depending on the height of the tide, the birds can be forced into all sorts of different corners including by the Old Quay House, Ryan's Field, the Tempest factory and even up by Carnsew Basin. However I was blissfully ignorant of this and by luck the height of the high water was low enough so that there was a small expanse of mud still exposed right by the Hayle bridge where I had positioned myself. To start with there were just the usual waders including the five curlew sandpipers from yesterday so I set about taking some more photos. After a while though I spotted a small wader with unfeasibly long primaries, an even scalloped pattern on it's back and a neat warm brown breast band. Crickey! it was only the juvenile Baird's sandpiper wandering around about twenty yards from where I was standing! This bird had been seen last week but hadn't been reported for several days and I had assumed (like others I expect) that it had moved on. I quickly pointed it out to the other birders present, sent out a couple of texts to some local birders and then put it out on the Information Services. I then spent a very happy time clicking away with the camera at this very obliging bird.

The Baird's sandpiper (Click to enlarge).

Other birds of note included three sanderling, 1 turnstone, 1 knot, a Med. gull and on Ryan's Field a whimbrel and a couple of common sands. All too soon it was time to head back home for a bite to eat and my evening painting session to look forward to. Not that I minded as it had been a great day's birding.

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