Friday, 14 March 2014

Thursday 13th March: Coming Down via Penally

I'm back down in my beloved Cornwall for a long weekend of intense decorating. With the persistent windy and rainy weather having finally moved on and a spell of high pressure forecast I was taking the opportunity finally to get some of the exterior rennovation done on the cottage before our first guests arrived at the start of April. The plan was that I'd go down on Thursday with my VLW and our son L coming down on the evening train the next day. We'd then stay until either Sunday or Monday depending on how the work went.

With a solo car journey ahead of me naturally, I cast around for something good to stop off for en route. The only thing of note that I could find was the Great Spotted Cuckoo near Tenby in darkest Pembrokeshire. This was quite a detour (more than two hours each way) from my route and in the past I'd have balked at such a plan but in this case there was nothing else on offer and it was very quiet down in Cornwall itself so I thought that I'd take the trouble to go out of my way for this as it was probably the only decent bird I was likely to get during the visit. Of course, there was also the added incentive that this was a Great Spotted Cuckoo after all - not something that one is able to see every day of the week.

Thus it was that having packed the car the previous night I set off shortly before 8am into what turned out to be a blanket of thick fog that was shrouding much of the country. Fortunately visibility wasn't too bad, especially once I got onto the motorway and I was able to make good time, finally arriving at Penally station car park at around 11:30 a.m. (as predicted by the RAC website). En route I'd had a couple of encouraging "still present" RBA texts come through so I was in an optimistic frame of mind. As I approached Penally itself I could see the silhouette of a group of birders standing on a mound over on the golf course - at least there wasn't going to be a problem with locating the twitch. I tooled up as quickly as possible and hurried towards them, noting a singing Cetti's Warbler in some scrub as I went.

Penally golf course with Tenby in the distance

There, in amongst the dozen or so birders there I met up with Terry Sherlock (from Oxon) who'd come down for first light though the fog then had been so bad that it had taken two hours longer than it should have done. It turned out that the bird had been seen regularly and well up until about five minutes ago before it ducked down behind a hillock out of view. I joined the group in waiting for the bird to appear. Terry showed me some gripping photos off the back of his camera whilst we waited. It's always nerve racking in such situations - everyone else had already seen the bird and was relaxed about it whereas I'd come a long way out of my way and really didn't want to go home empty handed. After about half an hour (though it seemed much longer) it flew out of its hiding place and perched in a gorse bush about 75 yards away for several minutes. Relieved, I quickly rattled off some digiscoped snaps.

After that it was a case of following what turned out to be a very mobile bird around the golf course, taking care to keep to the paths and not to disturb the golfers though they seemed very relaxed about it all and were keen to know what we were all up to. We got regular views of it as it worked its way around the place and in the hazy mist I endeavoured to take some more snaps though none of them came out particularly well. In fact it took a remarkable amount of Photoshopping to get them even looking like this. The bird would regularly be harried by the local magpies and we would be treated to great flight views as they moved the Cuckoo on.

After a couple of hours I decided that with a long journey still ahead of me I couldn't afford to linger any longer so I made my way back towards the car, again hearing and this time actually briefly seeing the Cetti's Warbler. It was supposed to take five hours from there down to Penzance and I was wondering how well I'd cope given that I'd already done three and a half hours on the road that morning but in the event it was fine and I did the whole leg in one go with the radio for company to keep my spirits up. It was remarkable how foggy it was once I got to Cornwall itself and for the entire length of the county it was fairly thick. Once in Penzance I stopped off at a supermarket for provisions and then headed over to Pendeen where of course the fog was even thicker. I unpacked the car to the accompaniment of the fog horn and hurried inside to boot up the cottage. It was good to be back down

I didn't bring my moth trap down with me but as it was foggy (which seems to be good for moths) I left the outside light on and soon attracted several Red Chestnuts (thanks to John Swann for the ID correction) and an Early Thorn.

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