It's been far too long since I was last down in my beloved Cornwall. We've been rather busy en famille with our two daughters both taking important exams this summer and then we stupidly forgot to reserve the cottage for ourselves so that it ended up being booked solidly right through the summer holiday period. This was great on one level, but not very useful from the point of view of being able to come down ourselves. Anyway, we've resolved not to make the same mistake again next year. At least I did remember to book the cottage in October for the all-important peak birding season. So I'm back down for about a week and without the family. Of course I'll miss them greatly though it does leave me free for unimpeded birding so I'll be too busy to miss them much! My brother-in-law is planning on coming down for a few days at some point in the week to help with a few minor tasks around the cottage so I will have some company for some of the time.
I had been humming and hawing about when exactly to come dowm but when the wonderful Daurian Shrike turned up at Pendeen it was sufficiently tempting to push me into action. I had originally intended to come down on Saturday but I don't generally like travelling down on that day because of the traffic and I also had a couple of social events to go to that day so I decided to head down first thing on Sunday morning instead.
As usual I looked around to see if there was anything of interest en route to stop off for. A Radde's Warbler in Devon caught my eye though from reports it seemed rather elusive and I wouldn't have time to hang around staking it out so in the end I opted for a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Wyke Regis, near Weymouth which seemed to be showing really well. I set off at around 8:30am and by this time both the Pendeen Shrike and the Flycatcher had been reported as still present so it was a relatively stress-free drive down to Dorset.
I'd been to Wyke Regis once before for a Hume's Warbler on the way back from Cornwall but that had involved a bit of a walk from the main road. The Flycatcher on the other hand could be viewed from the road itself and it was literally a 20 yard stroll from where I parked to the twitch line. There were initially only about ten people present but what seemed like a whole coach-load of birders suddenly turned up. It turned out that they were on some club birding outing and their noisy chatter and enthusiastic ignorance rather changed the atmosphere of what had previously been a rather sedate and peaceful twitch. Anyway, back to the bird -it turned out it was showing periodically on its favourtie branch of some ivy be-decked tree and a bit of patience was soon rewarded with some sightings though it was a good 75 yards away in dappled shade so the views weren't exactly crippling. There was also a nice Red-backed Shrike in the neighbouring hedge which I hadn't know about - a very nice bonus bird.
Little more than record shots of the Flycatcher sitting on it's favoured branch
A Bonus Red-backed Shrike
I wanted to be in Cornwall in good time so that I could go to the supermarket before Sunday closing and my detour via Weymouth had added a good bit of extra time to my journey so having seen both birds reasonably well I didn't hang around and after a quick cup of tea from the flask I headed off on the A35 towards Honiston and Exeter where I could rejoin the M5 and get back on the main route. I made good time and managed to arrive in Penzance just after 3pm. My first priority was to get some more fuel and to buy some food before the supermarkets closed (I'd been caught out with this on previous visits). After that I was free to get down to some birding.
A Lesser Yellowlegs at Hayle had come on the pager. I wasn't so interested in that as the Osprey whcih was also mentioned and which I still need for my fledgling Cornish list. I therefore headed back the way I'd come to the Hayle estuary causeway. I parked up and immediately came across John Chapple and Kate Thornton by the causeway. They'd already done all the hard work for me and pointed out two Med Gulls, a dark-bellied Brent Goose, the long staying Black-winged Stilt though the Lesser 'legs had apparently flown over towards the far side so that one would need to view from the station. We managed to find at least one of the two Little Stints in amongst the wader flock and there was the usual supporting cast of Wigeon, Teal, Curlews, Geese and Godwits.. They hadn't seen the Osprey whilst they'd been there and I didn't really have time to go chasing after the Lesser Yellowlegs so after a short period I decided that I needed to go and pay homage to the Pendeen Shrike.
Some 20 minutes later I pulled up at Pendeen by the coastguard cottages where, judging by the number of cars parked up there, the Shrike was obviously still about. Indeed it didn't take too long before I was watching what turned out to be an absolutely stunningly beautiful adult male Daurian Shrike.It had a wonderful peachy wash over its white breast and underparts, a smart black eye mask and a strikingly rufous tail that really caught the afternoon's sunlight nicely. In fact I can honestly say that this was the most beautiful Shrikes of any species that I'd seen - it really was a special bird.
What a stunner! The Pendeen adult male Daurian Shrike
There was a supporting cast of several Stonechats, at least one Whinchat and plenty of Mipits buzzing around though there was no sign of the two Wrynecks that were supposed to be in attendance - I guess that there were too many people around. John Swann was there so we had a little chat and I caught up on some of the local news. Apparently a very confiding Snow Bunting was hanging out by Boat Cove and the long-staying Wryneck down by the lighthouse was still about. Apart from that there were a few Wrynecks and Yellow-browed Warblers in other locations. He also confirmed something that John Chapple had mentioned about a Bonelli's Warbler down towards the St Levan area which piqued my interest.
I was in two minds about going for it and had started to walk down to Boat Cover for the Bunting but when John later passed on a message saying that the Bonelli's was still about I decided to have a shot even though by now it was getting rather late. Thus I sped off in the Gnome-mobile along what were by now very familiar roads to me. I wasn't at all optimistic but at least it would be a reconaissance trip for tomorrow when I could come back if the bird was still about. At the site I met up with Ian Kendall and his partner, Tony Mills and Paul Bright Thompson. Paul was a Bershire birder who had found the Pendeen Shrike (& a Yellow-browed in Pendeen churchyard) and Ian I knew from last autumn when he'd found the Pendeen Olive-backed Pipit. I'd forgotten just how sociable birding down in Cornwall was in October - it was really nice all chatting away together. Anyway, things weren't looking good on the bird front - it hadn't been seen since about 4:30pm when it was briefly spotted by someone else - none of the people present had seen it. What's more it had got rather cloudy and it was starting to get foggy. We all started at the sallows intently but there was remarkably little movement of any kind. A water rail was squealing away in some nearby Phragmites but it was a fruitless effort. In the end it got too dark and we had to call it a day and headed off on our seperate ways.
I went back to the cottage to unpack my stuff, sort out some food and to set up my moth trap for the night. It had been a very enjoyable first day back down here with a nice tally of good birds already under my belt. Let's hope that something really stonking turns up this week (and that I get to see it of course!). It's good to be back!