Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tuesday 22nd November: Coming Back Down

I'd been champing at the bit to come back down to Cornwall for a few weeks now but unfortunately a pressing work project had prevented me from taking time off. Finally yesterday it was all finished so I hastily arranged a trip down to finish off some of the bits and bobs with the cottage decorating and of course once more to sample the delights of Cornish birding. As always I'd been keeping an eye out for what was about both in the county and en route. The sharp-tailed sandpiper at Chew Valley Lake certainly looked like it needed dropping in on and there was a smart male desert wheatear in deepest darkest Devon all the way down in Brixham. On the Cornish front there was at least one, or possibly two dusky warblers kicking around on the Lizard peninsula and yesterday there was an intriguing report of a possible female/hybrid canvasback on the Loe Pool as well as a female desert wheatear at Porthgwarra. Decisions, decisions... in the end I decided to take a crack at the two off-county birds, partly because I'd have plenty of time to try for the Cornish stuff once I was down there and partly as the Cornish birds seemed more tenuous compared to the off-county birds which were well established and had been reported every day for several days now.

I set off from Oxford at around 8:30 a.m. to find quite thick fog on the Oxfordshire roads. The lack of any immediate news on the Chew sandpiper lead me to wonder whether perhaps the lake was all fog bound though fortunately "still showing" came through about an hour into the journey. I had wondered about getting there by going through Bristol (as the AA web-site route finder had suggested) but the prospect of navigating through there without any Sat Nav proved too much in the end and I opted instead for the easier if slightly longer rounte down the M5 and off at the Weston Super Mare junction. The last bit of the journey too longer than I expect but at around eleven I suddenly found myself at Herriott's Bridge. I knew that I was at the right place because of the hoards of birders amassed at the sides peering into the distance. I joined the throng where everyone was trying to peer through a comparatively narrow viewing gap so it was rather crowded. It turned out that the bird was currently out of sight but shortly afterwards all the birds went up and when they re-settled the sandpiper was in view. It had a little preen and a wander about before taking a short flight a few minutes later to a spot where once more it was obscured. Whilst the others waited for it to re-appear I nipped over the road where the spotted sandpiper was supposed to be. It turned out that it was working its way along the dam wall on the other side of a thick hedge and you could only see it by leaning over the fence and peering at a very acute angle along the length of the wall. There was a certain amount of complaining going on when people in front would block the view of those behind and a photographer got too close at one point so the bird moved off again much to everyone's annoyance. I had brief views of the bird on a couple of occasions between checking out the sharp-tailed situation. After a while with no further sign of the sharp-tailed sandpiper I decided that as I was on a tight schedule I couldn't hang about and headed off. Not the best views that I've ever had and numbers of twitchers and the restricted viewing conditions meant that it hadn't been the most enjoyable of birding experiences but at least I'd seen the bird.

A digiscoped videograb of the sandpiper

Record shot snippet of digiscoped video of the bird -
at least you can see the salient features

Next on to Man Sands beach near Brixham in Devon. Once off the A38 I remembered how tortuous the roads around here were from my previous visit several years ago for a penduline tit and the local cirl buntings and it was a depressingly long time before I found myself at my destination. Actually at the end I got lost and ended up in the wrong NT car park. Fortunately I whipped out my iPhone, used my OS app to download the relevant map (fortunately there was a good 3G signal there) and thanks to the real-time "You Are Here" marker I was able to navigate my way to the correct car park where there were a reassuring half a dozen or so cars in the car park. A nice fifteen minute walk down the undulating Devonshire hills later I found myself on the footpath just above the coast guard cottages where the delightful male desert wheatear showed down to 10 yards on the roof top almost constantly, disappearing from view for no more than a few minutes at most. There were no crowds this time, just a couple of other birders who departed after a while to leave me with the bird all to myself in the later afternoon sunshine. It was a gorgeous little thing - standard wheatears are always lovely anyway and this one had an extra exotic frissance to it which made it all the more enjoyable. As I watched it I wondered whether it was the same Cornwall bird, slowly working its way eastwards along the coast.

The bird was by far the closest when perched on this
chimney pot, only about 10 yards away

...and here's a more distant shot when the sun actually came
out briefly. I just love the late afternoon light in this one.

As I still had quite a long journey to get to Pendeen I didn't stay too long but headed back to the car and onwards towards Cornwall. I stopped off briefly near Truro to pick up a pair of bedside tables that I'd bought yesterday on eBay for the bargain price of £36 - they turned out to look much better in the flesh than on the photos. Very pleased with this outcome I headed for the cottage, tired but very content with my journey down and looking forward to some more Cornish birding.

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