Wednesday, 19 April 2017

13th, 14th & 15th April: Geevor, Trengwainton & Back Home

13th April
We had a very quiet day in Pendeen today. The weather was still dry with sunny intervals but with the chilly northerly wind that meant that I sought out the sheltered side of the cottage for painting my bench outside. I did have a quick wander around the Patch in the morning and met up with JL who was scanning the area from the top of the the cliffs as is her wont. She reported a few Manxies going through and a couple of Stock Doves but little else of note. For my own part I couldn't find anything of particular interest. 

There's always a Stonechat to photograph down in Cornwall

After lunch we couldn't agree on what to do. I'd received a text from P&H that morning saying that there were several Ring Ouzels at Buttermilk Hill so I tried to persuade the rest of the family that they wanted to head over towards St Ives but I couldn't get anyone else interested. So in the end we decided to walk over to Geevor to have tea at the café there (now that Heathers has gone). By way of some variety we walked across country along the footpath towards Lower Boscaswell rather than along the coastal path. The tea and cake there was reasonably good. I even had some carrot cake, which used to be a weakness of mine before I went gluten free. I paid the price afterwards with about half an hour of indigestion but it was good cake so on balance it was worth it. We walked back via the village and popped up to the church where the churchyard was looking lovely with a sea of primroses surrounding the church. Then it was back down the road and back to the cottage where we settled in for the evening.

I found this Slender Speedwell in the playground at Pendeen. It's not a species that I've come across back in Oxon but I subsequently found it in a few other places in Cornwall
14th April
The next day was similarly low key. As it was our last full day here we pottered around the cottage, finishing off our respective DIY tasks. In a quick wander about the Patch I did manage to spot a Peregrine flying away down the valley briefly but that was about it. In the afternoon we headed over to Trengwainton gardens for their Easter Egg Hunt day which the children were keen to do. We'd not visited there before but the gardens were lovely with a wonderful overgrown and unkempt feel. I managed to hear a couple of Nuthatches piping away in the woods - quite a rare bird for the Penwith area and which I've only seen before in the county at Golitha Falls. The Trengwainton café turned out to be superb with a great range of gluten free cakes and scones so we spent quite some time there before eventually heading back to the cottage to start packing up.

I didn't bring my moth trap down with me but this Early Thorn came to the porch light this evening
15th April
On Saturday it was time the usual laborious packing up process. As usual it took far longer than we expected and things were further delayed when we were just about to leave Penzance only to realise that we'd left something behind so it was back to Pendeen once more. Finally at around midday we were properly on the way. Our journey back was uneventful and the roads were mercifully free from traffic so we made good time, arriving back in time for afternoon tea.

Friday, 14 April 2017

12th April Drift

After yesterday's glorious weather it was back to chilly northerly winds again. There were periods of sunshine which meant that in the sheltered spots it actually felt quite warm but, when exposed, the wind really took the edge off things. There was no real plan for today so we pottered about doing more DIY tasks at the cottage. I carried on sanding and painting the bench that I was working on and my VLW worked on her windows whilst our two daughters did their Uni work inside. On a break I did have a wander around Pendeen but there was nothing of note.

Come the afternoon we were ready to head out somewhere. With some of the others wanting to head over to Penzance to look at the shops I offered to drive them over and then do something myself before picking them up again. With little on offer anywhere on the Penwith peninsula in the end I opted for a walk down to the hide at Drift reservoir to see if I could find the long-staying Pink-footed Goose that was there. I arrived to find the wind barrelling down the length of the reservoir though in the sheltered spots it was rather pleasant. There were a few Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and a single Blackcap all singing away along the shoreline and I did a bit of botanising as I wandered along.

Wood Sorrel
In the sanctuary of the hide it was rather pleasant though looking out through the slots there was precious little to see with just four Gadwall, a smattering of Mallard and a few loafing gulls in the middle. A few Sand Martins started to come in and numbers gradually increased until there were about 30 hawking over the water. I'd read reports of 10 times that number having been seen the previous day so they're obvious stopping off to feed before working their way up the county.

Opposite-leaved (Golden) Saxifrage
I could have stayed in the hide for some time though with time marching on it wasn't a practical option and I started to head back to the car, disturbing a Common Sandpiper as I walked back along the shore. Then it was back over to PZ to pick up the others and then to head back over the hill to Pendeen.

Even the resident Muskovy Duck wasn't impressed with things today

Common Vetch

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

11th April: Pendeen, Kenidjack to Pendeen

Today we awoke to glorious weather. Yesterday's insidious northerly wind had subsided and there was just a gentle breeze and wonderful hazy sunshine. Indeed so inspired was I by the weather that I decided to have a wander around the Patch to see what I could find. Down by The Old Count House I found a Willow Warbler in the garden, looking rather dazed from it's recent migration efforts. Despite careful looking I could find no sign of the Black Redstart by the lighthouse though there was the usual Stonechat and lots of Linnets. Indeed Linnets were everywhere this morning and their twittering song could be heard nearly constantly. I found another Willow Warbler back in the cottage garden and down the coastal path there were more Stonechats and Linnets but nothing else of note.

Linnet - very much the bird of the moment down by the Watch
I returned to find that in my absence my VLW had been getting on with sorting out the damp in a window whilst I'd been out and about. Therefore, I dutifully got on with various tasks about the cottage and we got the garden furniture out for the summer and checked that it was OK. Whilst working I noticed that there was a steady movement of Swallows and Sand Martins overhead. They were either coming in off the sea directly or working their way up the coast but the passage was nearly constant all morning. I scanned the flocks carefully, looking out for a Red-rumped interloper in amongst them but sadly couldn't find one. Still it was heart-warming to think that these little birds had been the other side of the channel only this morning and had taken advantage of the abatement of yesterday's north wind to cross the sea to be with us once more.

The weather was so nice that we had lunch out in the garden before decided to take advantage of what was probably going to be the best day of the week to enjoy a coastal walk in the afternoon. So after lunch we headed up the hill and caught the bus to St Just. There, we nipped into the Co-op to buy some ice creams and snacks before heading off towards Kenidjack along the Boscean road. The lne was lined with Alexanders with Greater Stitchwort and Common Dog Violets hidden away like jewels in amongst the prevailing green. The sun was warm and there were Rabbits in the fields - it was all very spring-like.

Greater Stitchwort
Down in Kenidjack there were loads of Chiffchaff all singing away. There was also a soaring Buzzard overhead but little else of note. With the Gorse in full flower at the moment it all looked gorgeous. We went to say hello to the two donkeys there who were both looking very healthy, Then it was up the hill to the old rifle range where we stopped for a snack. We ambled along the coastal path back towards Pendeen, chatting and admiring the scenery and flowers. There was't the same passage of Hirundines here as there had been at Pendeen though I did see a couple of House Martins come in with a pair of Swallows. There were loads of Stonechats to be seen as we walked: I must have counted at least 6 males along the route.

One of many Stonechats
At Geevor, I scoured the unworldly landscape carefully as one can almost guarantee a Wheatear here and sure enough I found one sitting quietly on a rock and looking frankly exhausted. It allowed close approach so I took some quick photos and then left it to recuperate. I also spotted a Rock Pipit in the same area but that was about it. 

Geevor Wheatear
We were on the home stretch now and arrived back at Pendeen late afternoon for a very welcome cup of tea. 

I found this Spring Squill by the path between Geevor and Pendeen
Whilst the others put their feet up I went for a final ramble down to the lighthouse. On the way I spotted a couple of Jackdaws sitting on the back of one of the cows, plucking hair off it back and then flying over towards the cliffs, presumably to line their nests; the cow didn't seem to mind. Down at the lighthouse it was all quiet and there was once again no sign of the Black Redstart so I'm assuming that it's now gone. Back at the cottage after a meal, we were all rather tired after our walk so we settled in for a quiet evening and then an early night.

This Pheasant has been around all week though usually I only hear it rather than see it

Monday, 10 April 2017

10th April - Tregeseal, Cot & Marazion

The weather forecast for today was for cooler breezier conditions and this was indeed what we awoke to with a rather stiff northerly wind making conditions distinctly chilly despite the lovely sunshine that prevailed for much of the day. It was a bit of a shame as yesterday there'd been a few new birds in the county with a second Penwith Woodchat Shrike turning up as well as a Nanjizal Wryneck. However, sadly a northerly wind was rather going to put the kaibosh on any further drift migrant action.

Today we were going to get cracking with some of our DIY tasks but before I kunckled down to it I decided to start the day by looking for Woodchat Shrikes nearby in the St Just area. One has been gracing the hedgerows south of the Cot valley for several days now but as I mentioned above, a second bird was discovered yesterday in Tregeseal and as that was slightly easier to get to I decided to start off with this one first. This location was actually one that I wasn't familiar with so I did a bit of asking around yesterday evening before eventually learning that the bird had been seen off the long track that leads to the vicarage that lies on New Road to the south of Tregeseal itself. I didn't bother starting too early so it wasn't until around 9:30 that I arrived and parked up in a convenient layby near the start of the drive. As I was getting ready a nearby dog walker told me where the Shrike had been located yesterday which reassured me that I was at least at the right spot. I spent some twenty minutes working my way back and forth along the drive though there weren't that many hiding places for a Shrike there and there was no sign of it at all. I therefore soon gave up on this bird and decided to try for the long-staying Cot bird instead. I nipped over to the Cot valley and parked by the power sub-station before yomping across the stream, up past the Youth Hostel and up the steps that lead up to the footpath across the bulb fields. The bird was supposedly located near the junction between the first and second fields and as I approached I could see another birder working his way across the field though he was at the far end of the field by the time I arrived and he did't seem to be watching anything so I decided to try and find it for myself. A quick scan and I spotted the bird briefly in the hedges bordering the fields to the seaward side of the field that I was on. I set up my scope and fortunately it soon posed nicely on some bare branches enabling me to take some digiscoped photos of it.

This was just my third ever Woodchat Shrike, though with all three of them having been seen in Cornwall it wasn't any kind of tick other than a year one - still they're always nice birds to see. I didn't have the luxury of spending too long watching it though as I was all too aware that my VLW would already be cracking on with the DIY and it wasn't fair to have her shoulder all the burden of the work. Therefore with some photos in the can I hurried back to the car and back to the cottage where I spent the rest of the morning sanding down a wooden bench ready for painting.

By the end of the morning the bench had been sanded but I had a bit of a headache from using the power sander for such a long time so I wandered down to the  lighthouse to clear my head and to see if I could find the Black Redstart from yesterday. In the stiff breeze there wasn't much to be seen apart from a female Stonechat and a couple of Dunnocks and there was no sign of the Redstart. The two Ravens were about as usual but there were no Chough about at all -  I presume that they're off breeding somewhere else at this time of year.

Back at base, we had lunch and then planned what to do for the afternoon. As we needed to do some shopping we decided in the end to head over to Marazion and to do our usual wander along the beach for tea somewhere. There was remarkably little bird life on the beach as we walked - I'm more used to the winter months where there are good numbers of waders and gulls but the shoreline was nearly deserted. We had some tea in the Godolphin Arms overlooking the Mount and I managed to spot a passing Sandwich Tern out of the window as we sat there. Then it was back to the car and a short hop to Sainsbury's for some shopping before we headed back to the cottage for the evening.

Fortunately the forecast is for much calmer conditions tomorrow though it will still not be that warm. Let's hope that the drop in wind will be enough to encourage more drift migrant action.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Sunday 9th April - Pendeen

I'm back down in my beloved Cornwall for a family Easter holiday. We don't often get a chance to come down at this time of year because it's often booked up by holiday makers. However, this year as the cottage needs a fair bit of renovation we've decided not to let it out to the public but just to let friends and family have use of it instead. So this new regime meant that we were able to come down for the Easter period for the first time in years and with both girls back from University we were going to have the full complement of family members for this trip.

Our departure from Oxford was somewhat delayed by a last minute work crisis but finally at around midday we were on the road. Apart from heavy traffic at the start of the M5 the journey was uneventful and we arrived in Penzance mid afternoon for our customary tea and shop at Sainsbury's before heading over towards the cottage. Whilst we'd left Oxford in glorious sunshine and scorching temperatures (for spring at least) the forecast for the far South West was some ten degrees less than Oxford so we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually quite warm and sunny though with a bit of a breeze that was keeping the edge off the temperatures.

As we turned into the cottage drive a large moth flew across the road - I'm guessing that it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth though I couldn't be certain. We unpacked the car and booted up the cottage before heading out for a walk down to the lighthouse to stretch our legs. A small Chat was sitting on the wall as we walked down towards the lighthouse gate which flicked over the wall as we approached revealing the striking red tail of a Black Redstart. Whilst the others soon headed back to the cottage I lingered a bit and managed some better views (and a photo) for my troubles.

The Black Redstart eventually obliged me with a post-top photo
I also scored a bonus singing Stonechat
We had a quiet evening in at the cottage with just a quick bonus excursion down to the lighthouse again at dusk though it had got rather cold by then so we didn't linger.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

17th February - Back Home

It was time to head back home already: my VLW's mother was rather poorly so we were going to head home early so that my VLW might go to visit here on Sunday. Therefore we got up and spent a good couple of hours packing up the cottage and getting ready to depart. I kept an eye out for interesting birds during this process but the only thing of interest that I saw was one of the Ravens and there was no sign of the Black Redstart. I don't know where this bird is hanging out but it's somewhere quite well hidden as even on days when I see it, it's only very occasionally. One of the coastguard cottage gardens I suspect.

Anyway, we were on the road by about 11:30 and after the usual stop-offs to dump the recycling, to fill up with petrol and to buy some sandwiches for lunch we were finally properly off some time after midday. As I drove I reflected on the trip: it had been a nice, albeit rather low key visit but then in February that was only to be expected really. I'd got my Avocet Cornish tick and had caught up with the Green-winged Teal, the Spoonbill, the Iceland Gull and the Water Pipit all at Hayle. I'd also found a Firecrest there and a local Black Redstart at Pendeen. We'd enjoyed some remarkably good weather this week which had really helped to make for a very pleasant few days away - I think that our experience would have been very different had there been torrential rain and gales all week.

We arrived back home at Casa Gnome later afternoon after an uneventful journey where our two cats were very pleased to see us once more.

I'll leave you with some Danish Scurvy grass - just coming into flower at Pendeen

Friday, 17 February 2017

16th February - Pendeen

I don't know what it is about the cottage but for some reason I seem to struggle with sleep when I'm down here. After last night's problems, predictably I awoke in the middle of the night again. This time, however, rather than lying in bed fretting I got up immediately and went to another room where I did a good session of EFT. For those of you not familiar with this, it stands for Emotional Freedom Technique and is a weird process of self-tapping whilst saying positive things (see the web-site for more details). My VLW swears by it and used it to cure a severe bout of insomnia last year and I've now taken to using it in all sorts of situations with great affect - it really is quite amazing! After about half an hour of tapping out all aspects of my insomnia that I could think of I came back to bed and was soon fast asleep.

After our usual morning cup of tea in bed whilst putting the world to rights we decided on a local Pendeen day today as there were some DIY tasks that needed doing; we'd also arranged to meet up with our handyman at the cottage early afternoon so we couldn't stray too far today anyway. I started off doing the initial preparation for a part of our bedroom that needed re-painting and then whilst that was going off I went out for a little walk around Pendeen. There were the usual two Ravens and pair of Chough and various other bits and bobs but nothing particularly out of the ordinary and I didn't see my Black Redstart. Still it was nice to be wandering about the place re-acquainting myself with its various nooks and crannies.

The two Pendeen Chough
Back at the cottage I did a little bit of office work until lunch and then we met up with our handyman to discuss some jobs that we wanted doing. After that I did the next layer of preparation on my painting and then we decided to head out for an afternoon walk. Just as we were getting ready the Black Redstart appeared in the field next to our cottage and I did my best to take a photo though it was rather distant.

This photo doesn't really do justice to what was a great looking bird
As it was getting late we opted for the usual loop down to Geevor then up into Pendeen and back down to our cottage. We normally stop off at Heathers Tea Shop on this route but a bit of Googling seemed to indicate that it wasn't presently open so we went for the Geevor café instead, managing to get there just in time for a quick tea before it closed for the day. In Pendeen we discovered that Heathers had closed for good and was up for sale. A sad day indeed!

A sad day as Heathers was much loved by visiting birders
We wandered back to the cottage as the light started to fade and I did a bit more of my painting work before heading back into Pendeen. I'd been contacted by a reader of my blog who also was a birder with a cottage in Pendeen who'd suggested a drink in the North Inn. One aspect of birding that I always like is how you can meet with a total stranger and have loads to talk about and we passed a very pleasant time supping our beer and regaling each other with our birding tales. Then it was back home for dinner and time to put our feet up in front of the telly after what had been a low key but productive day.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

15th February - Hayle & Pendeen

Once again I managed to have a rather poor night's sleep. I was woken up by a passing rain shower in the night and somehow couldn't get back to sleep again for several hours so once more I was rather tired when I finally got up this morning. My VLW had also had a poor night and was still dead to the world when I awoke so I tip-toed about the cottage until she was awake. 

We didn't really have a plan for today except that Badger, my birding chum from Oxon and partner in crime for the running of the Oxon Birding Blog, was down in Kernow with his VLW and we'd made a tentative arrangement to meet up at the Hayle estuary. Once my VLW was awake I checked that this was OK with her and having been given the green light, I hastily got ready and set off for our 10 a.m. rendezvous at Hayle. The weather was absolutely gorgeous down by the estuary with bright sunshine and very little wind. We started off at Ryan's Field where the long-staying Spoonbill was tucked up asleep though he did lift his head once long enough for me to take his photo.

There were the usual Med Gulls, a flock of 50 or so Golden Plover, the roosting Avocet and right at the back was the Water Pipit that I'd sort of seen last time. Badger is a master of the video and spent some time taking some footage for what will no doubt be an excellent montage in due course. After we'd both had our fill we wandered over to the causeway where Badger almost immediately picked out the Green-winged Teal, in amongst his Eurasian cousins by the bank of the river.

The Green-winged Teal

We soon started grilling the gulls, looking for one of several rarer gulls that had been frequenting the estuary of late, namely a Caspian Gull, the Ring-billed Gull and an Iceland Gull. In the bright sunshine it was hard work as all the colours were bleached out and it was difficult discerning the different shades of grey. Badger and I spent some time debating a distant gull which in then end we decided was just a Common Gull rather than the RBG. Gull numbers were lower than last time I was here and it didn't take long to work through them all though with a steady coming and going of birds one had to keep re-scanning regularly. Eventually I picked up the Iceland Gull quite close in in front of us. It had a good wash and brush up before having a brief loaf on the estuary until eventually it flew off in the general direction of Helston, one of its other regular loafing spots.

The Iceland Gull - better views than yesterday at Mousehole!

There were good numbers of Dunlin on the estuary today with a flock of at least 100 birds along with a scattering of Barwits, a few Shelduck and a single Grey Plover. It was very peaceful sifting through all the birds and we whiled away the time together until I felt that I should probably be heading back. So I bade Badger farewell and headed back towards the car park. I was nearly back at the hide when I heard a Crest calling in the scrub. Expecting a Goldcrest I lifted my bins to find a lovely Firecrest in front of me. I followed it through the scrub for a short while before I lost it somewhere. I gave Badger a call to let him know but for some reason he wasn't answering his phone so I went back to tell him personally in case he was interested. Then it was back to the car and off towards PZ. I did nip into St Erth for one last try for the Cattle Egret but there was only one Little on display so I officially gave up on the bird - it is now dead to me.

Avocet and Green-winged Teal

In PZ I nipped into Sainsbury's for some provisions and then headed back over the hill to Pendeen. I was just walking back to the cottage when I put up something which flew over my head and over the rooftops behind me. In the bright sunshine I caught a good look at a bright red tail, black body with some white in the wings - it could only be a male Black Redstart. I had a quick look around the other (sheltered) side of the cottages but it was almost certainly hiding in one of the gardens there out of sight and I had to leave it.

The rest of the day was spent in pootling around the cottage doing DIY tasks  as well as having a catch-up nap. I did manage to see the Black Redstart again briefly but properly this time. It was a cracking full adult male - I'd love to get a decent photo, perhaps tomorrow if there's less wind. Apart from that there were two Chough and the usual two Raven, a flock of Linnets again and a Kestrel but that was it. As usual we vegged out in front of the telly in the evening before turning in. It had been a good day's birding: I'd managed to catch up with some more of the long-staying Hayle birds and had turned up a Firecrest and a Black Redstart of my own. Not bad for February!

14th February - Marazion, Penzance & Mousehole

I didn't sleep that well last night: for some reason I woke up at 3 a.m. and in the end it took a couple of hours and finally a quickly-downed large glass of wine to get back to sleep. Once I was finally back under I was dead to the world and I slept through our alarm this morning. The reason for the alarm was that we needed an early start as we were going  to head up-county to meet my VLW's niece who'd just had her second daughter. Finally awake, there was just time for a quick wash and breakfast before heading out. Whilst getting ready, I did grab a few moments to stare out of the window at the glorious weather to see what bird life there was this morning. There was a lovely flock of 30 or so Linnets in the field next to the cottage and the two Ravens were back on their favourite perch by the stone wall. 

Local Linnets

By 9:30 we were off and on the road only to receive a text that the niece was running a bit behind and could we make it a bit later? As it turned out this suited us well as we could then pop in to the Cambourne B&Q en route to pick up a few things that we needed for the cottage. As I have blogged about before, it's a crying shame that the PZ B&Q closed - there's now no where local to source things like this any more and we now need to grab opportunities like this at Cambourne when we can. We got most of what we were looking for there and then headed on to meet up with the new family member who seemed a bonnie wee girl and we passed a pleasant couple of hours making her acquaintence.

By the time we left it was getting on for lunch time so we decided to pick up some sandwichess on the way back and to head over to Marazion beach to eat them. We did nip into St Erth as we passed in order to have another go at the Cattle Egret but once again all I could find were its commoner cousins. Marazion was gorgeous and bathed in beautiful sunshine and we passed a pleasant hour or so munching on our food and messing about on the beach. There was a nice flock of 100 or so Sanderling, looking for all the world like little clockwork toys as they ran about on the beach. I didn't bother scanning the sea as at this timeof day I would have been staring straight into the sun from this vantage point.

Marazion Sanderling

Next my VLW wanted to pick up a few things in PZ so we parked up near the bus station and I scanned from there (as it was a better angle for the sun) whilst our son L clambered about on the rocks. There wasn't much to see and the best I could manage was the usual drake Eider, one Guillemot and a couple of Razorbills as well as a couple of Rock Pipits in amongst the rocks. My VLW returned to report that most of the shops that she wanted to visit seemed to be closed already, some sort of local early closing "dreckly" concept I  suppose.

Tolcarne Eider

Next it was on to Newlyn where she had a few more shops to visit. I did a flying stop at Jubilee Pool to check the Battery Rock beach where there was a nice little mixed flock of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone but sadly no Purple Sandpipers. At Newlyn we parked up at the Tolcarne Inn and whilst my VLW pootled about in the shops, L and I went to look at the harbour. There were almost no gulls about at all though L very much enjoyed looking at all the ships and has now decided that he's going to buy himself one when he's grown up

Newlyn Turnstones enjoying some spilt food

Finally with time marching on it was over to Mousehole for the Rock Pool Café. More precisely, the other two went to the café whilst I joined the small party of St Clement's Island gull roost watchers in the car park. There was MA, ME, MJS and RV, the latter being a young lad who told me that he read my blog (nice to meet you!). It was really slow going with the roost this evening and I was soon longing for the other two to come back from their post-café walk into the town so that I could get out of what had suddenly become rather biting cold. Just before they returned I managed salvage something from the session when I found the first winter Iceland Gull on the rock. I was just getting the others onto it when my party returned so I took a quick bit of record-shot video and then went to join them in the sanctuary of the car.

Then it was back home to the warmth of the cottage for a bite to eat and a chance to put our feet up in front of the telly. It had been a very relaxing day with remarkably little DIY at all. My VLW and I both remarked that it seems rather strange just to be down here enjoying ourselves rather than rushing about doing various tasks but I'm sure that we'll get used to it. The weather is forecast to be pretty reasonable tomorrow as well so I suspect that there might well be more time spent outdoors enjoying ourselves. Long may it continue!

Monday, 13 February 2017

13th February: Pendeen & Hayle

We all decided to have a bit of a lie in this morning after our long journey down so it wasn't until mid morning that we'd fully surfaced. There were really strong winds forecast for today though fortunately with much warmer temperatures which should just touch double figures at their peak today - such a contrast from yesterday! We started off by doing a thorough inspection of the cottage and compiling a list of all the things that needed to be done. My VLW then went about doing some general cleaning whilst I got distracted by a whole succession of work-related phone and Skype calls which kept me busy until lunch time. The only Pendeen birds that I spotted was a single Raven and a single Chough. The sea was quiet with just a few Gannets hunting in the bay just west of the Watch.

After lunch we decided to head over to Hayle. My VLW wanted to explore the antique shops there and I was keen to take a look at the estuary. So we stopped off at the causeway bridge and parted company; whilst she and our son walked onwards towards the town I set up my scope and started to grill the estuary. My main interest in this location was that an Avocet had been reported there for the last week or so. "So what?" I hear you cry but actually down in the Penwith peninsular, this is actually quite an uncommon bird and it's one that, embarassingly, I still needed for Cornwall. As additional inducement a Green-winged Teal was about and had been seen that morning as well as a Glaucous Gull that in fact had been reported less than an hour ago so there were plenty of other birds to look for.

I started from the causeway bridge and soon found a trio of Mediterranean Gulls loafing nearby though there were only half a dozen or so Teal to be seen and there was no sign of the American visitor in amongst them.

Loafing Med Gulls
Along the river there was a single drake Goosander and the usual Redshank and Curlew and a whole mass of distant large Gulls. Now, one of my  favourite winter birding activities is grilling a large gull flock -  it's what I spend most of my time doing down on my Port Meadow patch back in Oxford. So in the scope-shaking wind I carefully went through each and every one. I couldn't turn up the Glauc though I did manage a couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls which are probably actually rarer down here than the white-winger I was looking for. Over on the other side of the river there was what was almost certainly the near-resident adult Ring-billed Gull though given the distance I wasn't 100% certain. There was also a Pipit buzzing around with a rasping call that frustratingly would never actually settle for me to get a view. Later in the evening a Water Pipit was reported there and thinking about it, that would fit with what I'd seen and heard. After a while I'd satisfied myself that I'd searched the area thoroughly and decided to head over to Ryan's Field.

A distant mass of gulls, all asking for a good grilling

Here I met a couple of birders, a rather senior lady and a young lad who told me that the Avocet had been there behind the island a short while ago but unfortunately it was now nowhere to be seen. The lady then asked me to take a look at an Egret at the next pool which she was wondering about so I went to look though it turned out just to be a Little Egret. Back at the main pool there were plenty of Lapwings, a single Shelduck and a few Wigeon but little else so I decided to walk back to the main road to see if the Avocet might be out of sight behind one of the islands. Out of the shelter of the hide the wind did it's best to hinder me scanning the area with my bins but eventually I spotted the Avocet as it swam out from the island area. Relieved, I took a few record snaps of it as well as a Black-tailed Godwit that happened to be within range before crossing the road once more to see if anything new had come in on the main estuary. 

Black-tailed Godwit

On the estuary there were now 17 Dunlin within view which hadn't been there before, as well as a Bar-tailed Godwit but nothing else so I headed back to the Ryan's Field hide in order to get out of the wind. Back there the Avocet was now actually pretty close in front of the hide so I busied mysef with taken some better photo's..

Avocet photos

Given the very poor light conditions there was no point in trying too hard with the photos and I soon gave up. I felt that I'd covered the whole area well enough now and with time marching on it was time to rendezvous with the others So I gave them a call and as they'd finished as well I picked them up a short while later in the town centre before heading back towards Penzance. We made a quick detour down to St Erth to look for the long-staying Cattle Egret though whilst we could find half a dozen or so of his commoner cousins there was no sign of the star bird himself.

Back in PZ we stopped in at Sainsbury's for a welcome cup of tea as well as a chance to buy the things for the cottage that we'd decided we needed from this morning's stock-take. Then it was back to the cottage for a meal and a chance to put our feet up after a long but productive day.

12th February: Back Down via Bodmin

We're back down in Cornwall, for our usual half-term visit. Traditionally, this is a time for us to check how the cottage is surviving the onslaught of the winter weather and to start doing some interior decorating for the coming season. With our two eldest daughters now at university it was just my VLW and our ten year old son accompanying me on the journey down on Sunday. I'd initially been somewhat reluctant to come down as I have so much work on but the more I thought about it the more I realised that actually I really needed a break so it was with a sense of optimism I loaded up the car ready for the long slog south west.

We set off at around 11 a.m. and only stopped briefly at the Bodmin turn-off to look for a Waxwing that had been reported yesterday as coming to Crab Apples in a garden. Normally en famille I wouldn't bother trying to persuade the rest of them to make a detour on the way down but as this bird had been reported literally no more than a couple of minutes off the A30 they were happy enough for a bijou stopette. I'd spent no more than a few minutes peering into the gardens by the side of the road before a lady came out of a house and told me that it had been her who'd reported the bird yesterday but that there'd been no sign of it at all today. Disappointing but at least good to know so I thanked her and we continued on our journey down, arriving at some time after 3 p.m. for our traditional tea and shop in Sainsbury's before heading over to boot up the cottage. It was nearly dark by the time we arrived at Pendeen and the only bird I came across was a distantly cronking Raven. We unloaded the car and hurried inside to shelter from the freezing north easterly wind that chilled to the bone. Fortunately the forecast was for much warmer weather for the rest of the week as the cottage was unpleasantly cold in these conditions. We ate a hearty meal to warm up and then pootled about the cottage in the evening before retiring to bed early.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

3rd January - Back Home

It was time to leave already. Frustratingly the weather this morning was absolutely divine with bright sunshine and not a breath of wind. I must admit that I tarried a while as I carried stuff out to the car just in order to enjoy the weather and scenery. There was the usual Raven and I saw a couple of Chough this morning as well as a couple of Buzzards.

I usually take photos of the Raven which likes to sit on this wall but today there was a Buzzard there
My two brothers-in-law were up and off reasonably early but as usual it took our family some time to get sorted and so we didn't finally leave until after midday. Then we had some recycling to drop off, petrol to buy and sandwiches for the journey. Finally at after 1 p.m. were were properly on the way and after a long but uneventful journey were back home late afternoon to say hello two our two cats which were both very pleased to see us again.

Pendeen Song Thrush

2nd January - Trevilley to Porthgwarra

The forecast for today was for bright sunshine though still a reasonably brisk north easterly wind and this was indeed what we awoke to. In the improved conditions I did actually have a brief wander around the Pendeen area first thing and came up with a Raven, one or more heard-only Chough, a few Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Auks moving on the sea and best of all a Merlin which whizzed down the coast path and landed on a distant wall.

Singing Pendeen Great Tit

Back at base, given the sunny conditions we thought that we'd go for a decent walk today and with  the prevailing wind direction we decided to head to the south coast where we hoped that we would get some shelter. We decided in the end to head to Trevilley and from there walk down to Nanjizal beach and on to Porthgwarra where we hoped that the café might be open, before returning back to where we'd come from via a slightly different route. We stopped off in St Just for some pasties and then parked up just on the entrance road to Trevilley and headed off. With a Little Bunting and some Lapland Buntings having been reported in the stubble fields I kept my eyes open but there was so much cover that it would require many hours of tramping around to uncover anything there and just passing through as I was all I could turn up was a flock of about 100 Linnets and a few Skylarks. Out on the moor iotself there were at least six Stonechats and a few Meadow Pipits but in general it was very quiet. Sadly the café was shut, which we'd half expected anyway and on the return leg we decided to go across the moor and up past Higher Bosistow and along the footpath across the fields back towards Trevilley. Again, not much was seen on the bird front but in the sunshine it was a very pleasant walk indeed.

There were plenty of Corn Marigolds in the fields near Trevilley

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

1st January - Marazion

Firstly a Happy New Year to all my readers!

After our late night yesterday seeing the year in we were in no hurry to get up. Eventually we'd all surfaced and found that unfortunately the weather was, as forecast, drizzly and extremely windy. With no prospect of it changing all day, in the end we decided to head over to Marazion. This is often our go-to location choice in bad weather and as one member of our party had never been over to St Michael's Mount before, it seemed like a good idea. For my own part I was keen to catch up with all the gull action that I'd read about on the beach there: over the last few days at Marazion there'd been a first winter Ring-billed Gull, an adult Iceland Gull, a first winter Caspian Gull as well as a possible American Herring Gull all frequenting the beach. However, from what I'd read there were so many gulls swirling about mopping up the stranded sprats that it was rather hard work to find things in amongst the maelstrom. The Caspian Gull was the real prize for me as this is a really rare bird down in Cornwall, far more so than Ring-billed Gull for example, and what's more it would be a personal Cornish tick. It's rather strange that they're so rare in Cornwall as back in Oxford I regularly find them in amongst the gull roost on my patch and indeed found half a dozen or so just in December in what was a particularly good month for them locally.

We arrived at the Station Inn car park to find that the near gale-force north easterly wind was almost as strong on this side of the peninsula as it had been back at Pendeen. I spotted three birders scoping the gulls from the car park, doing their best to shelter in amongst the cars so whilst the others got ready to head off on their walk I headed over to enquire as to what they'd found. The trio turned out to be MA, JR and another birder whom I didn't recognise. They reported that there'd been no sign of the Ring-billed nor the Iceland Gull but fortunately one of them had the Caspian Gull in his scope and I was able to score an easy and much appreciated tick thanks to a quick peek. I headed back to the car to see the others off and to get my gear together but in that time the entire gull flock went up and once I started scanning the Caspian was no where to be found.

The other three birders had had enough of the biting wind and headed off and I was left to try and find a sheltered vantage point from which to view the birds. In the end I went down below the car park to  the bottom of the wall where it was much calmer and more sheltered. There were loads of gulls on the beach in several large flocks with hundreds if not thousands more dotted about on the various rocks in the bay. With the large numbers of people out for their New Years Day walks on the beach the gulls were continually being put up so it was a case of rapidly scanning the flocks each time they formed before they went up again.

Gulls on the beach...
...before being put up by a dog
My first Med Gull of the year
I managed to find a first winter Mediterranean Gull in amongst the Black-headed Gulls - it's always nice to see them and made for a nice year tick. Another birder came over who turned out to be a local that I didn't know and who was keen to see the Caspian though he didn't have a scope with him so he was giving himself a pretty hard task. We worked the flocks together and after a while I managed to turn up a second winter Yellow-legged Gull. Now back home in Oxford these are really common and on a typical evening grilling the patch gull roost at this time of year I would expect to find several of these but down here in Cornwall they're much rarer. In fact I've only seen this species once before today so I was pleased to turn one up. Predictably it didn't hang around too long before the flock went up again but I was able to get some video footage of it.

Some rather wind-shaken footage of the Yellow-legged Gull

After a while I had had enough of grilling the gulls and went back to the car to warm up. Shortly after I got a phone call from the other party saying that they would very much appreciate a lift back from Marazion as on the return leg they were now walking into the wind and they were all feeling cold. Having already scored my Cornish tick I was happy to oblige and headed off to pick them up. 

Our next stop, given the dodgy weather, was to be St Ives where some members of the party wanted to indulge in a spot of shopping. Now I'm not a great fan of shopping personally so after we'd arrived and got some pasties for lunch I headed over to the island to take a look at the sea. With a north easterly wind the waves were quite spectacular and I spent some time revelling in the excitement of it all. I did spot a pod of ten or so cetaceans which I think are Porpoises though I am happy to be corrected on this.

The Porpoises - you may wish to turn down your volume to avoid the wind noise

In due course I rendezvous'd back with the others and we headed back to the car and home to a hearty stew supper that we'd left cooking in our slow cooker back at the cottage - just what you need on a windy January day! Then we passed the evening watching TV and chatting before heading off to bed. Given the poor weather and the fact that I'd only had a limited time to do some birding I was more than pleased with today's results.

Winter Heliotrope in flower on the path down to the town from the leisure centre car park

Sunday, 1 January 2017

31st December - Mousehole

We decided as a family to head back down to our beloved Cornwall to see the New Year in and we'd invited my VLW's two brothers to join us as well. As the previous day we all had a family party to attend just over the border in Warwickshire it made sense for them all to come back to our place in Oxford for the night before we all headed off to the South West the next day. Our intention was to leave for Cornwall at 9 a.m. the next day but with the usual inertia that accompanies a large group it wasn't until after 9:30 that we finally left. Mercifully the traffic was light and we made good progress arriving at Penzance in just over four hours as usual. There was some quite heated debate in our car about what to do when we got there. I had pointed out that as we only had two or three hours of daylight left and that we were only down for a few days then it made sense to go and do something first and then get the shopping in once it got dark. I proposed Mousehole as an option, partly as we all like pootling around there and of course partly so that I could get to see the Eastern Black Redstart that had been lingering there the past couple of weeks. Eventually this was agreed and we headed off there, deciding to bite the bullet and park in the Rock Pool café car park to save time. The other car with my two brothers-in-law were only a few minutes behind us so whilst the others waited for them to arrive, I headed down to the shoreline beneath the café to look for the bird with L our ten year old son in tow. I explained to him what I was looking for but initially couldn't see it at all. Suddenly L exclaimed "there it is, there  it is!" and pointed on the beach though as hard as I tried I couldn't see where he was pointing until a small bird flew up and over the low cliff there into a garden. I hadn't really got anything on it as it flew so quizzed L closely as his knowledge of birds is vague to say the least but he seemed convinced. I left him scrambling around on the rocks and headed further along until I reached the boulders along the foot of the harbour car park which I scoured carefully. I knew that the bird had occasionally been seen along the southern quay instead but I didn't have time to check there now and had to hope that it was still somewhere between the north quay and the café though there'd been no report on it on RBA at all today.

Having drawn a blank on the outward journey I turned at the harbour wall and started to head back. I'd just left the car park when something small, and reddish with a quivering red tail flew down onto the path right in front of me. It was the bird of course which showed remarkably well down to a few metres though in the horribly gloomy weather it was hard to get the camera to focus at all. It soon went back to feeding on the rocks and along the strand line and I eventually managed to get some shots off. It was truly a delightful bird - one that I've been coveting from afar for some time now, what with the one at Cleveland and then the one at Tewkesbury Abbey that I would have gone for had it stayed one more day. In fact I do wonder if this is not the same bird as the Gloucestershire one which has moved as far down south as it was able to go and finding a nice sheltered beach spot has elected to stay. I showed a photo to L who assured me that that had been the bird that he'd seen so there's some hope for his birding prowess after all.

In the end the only photos that came out were when it was perching on a favoured rock

I was soon called away from my appreciation of this eastern gem by a phone call saying that the others had arrived and that they were all in the café now so I went to join them. Unfortunatley it was rather busy there today so the service was a bit slow and they never actually cleared our table of the previous occupants' stuff but we were thirsty after our long drive down and didn't really mind.

They have cute little milk bottles for your milk at the café

After our refreshment we headed back down to the footpath and walked along to the harbour. I tried to show them the bird but there was no sign of it as we walked past its favoured spot. In the town we wandered around peering in the shops and the children all bought tiny pewter mice from a little shop on the southern side. We noticed that the harbour itself was closed with a series of wooden planks along the narrow harbour entrance keeping it all clear of boats so that their Christmas light display could be installed. It all looked very impressive so as it got to dusk we hung around to see if they would light it up but in the end it got rather dark and started to get cold without any sign of the lights so we reluctantly headed back to the car. This time the bird was back on display and I showed it to the others though the light was pretty terrible by now.

Mousehole cat, asleep in a shop

Our next stop was over to Sainsburys for our shopping. Whilst the others went inside I took L over to Marazion beach for some reconnaisance work. The previous time that we'd been down we'd seen in the New Year there on the beach but I'd read that loads of spratts had been washed up on the beach (creating a bit of a gull feeding frenzy in the process) so we were a bit worried that it might be rather smelly. L and I wandered around on the beach a bit but we couldn't actually find any spratts so I guess that the gulls had cleaned it all up though there was a distinct fishy aroma which wasn't normally there. Just as I got back to the car four Grey Herons flew over us and then westwards along the beach. We headed back to Sainsburys where I filled the car up with petrol and then we picked the others up  before heading over the hill towards Pendeen to open up the cottage. It's always with some nervousness that I first approach the cottage each time as in past visits sometimes something has gone wrong, either the heating or the electrics or something. This time the only issue was our outside light which seemed to have been knocked off the wall. Thinking about it later, it was probably our neighbour who'd helpfully put up some tower scaffolding there and the blowing wind had probably done the rest. Anyway, the cottage was looking fine and we busied ourselves with unpacking and getting a meal together.

After dinner we had to plan what to do and once more there was a certain amount of inertia involved. Eventaully we agreed on driving over to Mousehole again to see the harbour lights before heading back to the cottage to see in the New Year, perhaps  with a glass of champagne down on the beach at Boat Cove if we felt adventurous enough. The Mousehole lights turned out to be pretty impressive and we wandered around admiring them for some time. The others went into the Ship Inn to sample some of the local ale though L wasn't keen to go in (there was a rather loud band playing) so in the end I stayed outside with him whilst he played on the beach. The others soon came out again suitably refreshed and we headed back to the car and home to the cottage.

The Mousehole Christmas lights

Arriving back, the wind had strengthened notably and in the end the lure of the warm cottage proved too much and our beach plans were shelved. We saw in the New Year watching Jules Holland on the TV whilst sipping champagne before heading to bed.