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

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