Saturday, 31 December 2011

Saturday 31st December: Jubilee Pool

Another very misty and drizzly day today. We started off with some drama when we realised that we'd run out of heating oil for the cottage so we had to make a dash down to the local supplier at St. Just in order to buy some drums of oil to tide us over until they resumed deliveries in the New Year. We passed a very challenging hour or so trying to poor the oil from the cannisters into the tank in windy conditions without getting kerosene all over ourselves.

After some more cottage work in the morning, given the weather it was decided that the afternoon outing would be a shopping trip to Penzance for those who were interested. I dropped the shoppers off and after nipping in to pick up a travel cot for the cottage, with an hour and a half until I was due to pick them up again I made my way back to Jubilee Pool for yet another session there. I'm really starting to know this area quite well now: I know that the common scoter flock is generally right over to the right of the large black and red pole, that there's usually one female common scoter who hangs around on her own around there, that there are a couple of great northern divers dotted around the bay between the pole and the Mount and I'd more or less figured out from speaking to other birders that the surf scoter was generally on it's own in the distance over towards the Mount. Accordingly I spent most of my time scannning in the this area and after a moderate amount of time I managed to pick it out in the distance - not the best of views but it was good to get another sighting of it. I also managed to pick out an arctic skua which was chasing the gulls. The mist would periodically move in so that one could not see far enough for the surfie and when this happened I spent time looking at the birds along the shoreline: there were rock pipits, a few purple sandpipers, a dozen or so turnstones and an oystercatcher to keep me amused. Finally at around 4 pm the mist looked to have set in for the rest of the day so I made my was back to the rendez vous point to pick up the shoppers and to head off to Tescos.

Jubilee Pool birds, taken with the superzoom
with the ISO cranked right up

A couple of digiscoped purple sandpipers in the gloom

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year and lots of great birding for 2012.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Friday 30th December

Rather foul weather today with fog in Pendeen & rain for much of the day though the forecast strong winds didn't materialise. I only managed to snatch about twenty minutes birding today down at Jubilee Pool where once again I failed to see the surf scoter despite much calmer sea conditions. This bird is becoming a bit of an issue for me. I reckon I got the briefest of views of it the first day that I was down here but I've now subsequently spent so long not seeing it that I'm starting to doubt my original sighting and would really like a decent view of it. Once again not sure how much birding I'll be able to do tomorrow though I hope that I can snatch at least a brief session.

Here's a gratuitous rock pipit photo

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Thursday 29th December: Mounts Bay Once More

The wind has been consistently westerly and rather strong for a couple of days now which has meant that the only relatively sheltered place is over on the Mounts Bay side of the peninsula. Therefore, for a third day running I made my way over there. Given that the rest of the family as well as some relatives were all descending on the cottage later this afternoon, I decided that I would head out more or less first thing and have a good birding session before returning to tidy up the cottage, do a bit more renovating and await the arrival of the various guests.

I started off once more at Jubilee Pool in the company of Linton Proctor, Paul St. Pierre and another local though despite our collective efforts we weren't able to find the surf scoter this morning. There were a couple of great northern divers in the bay, the large flock of common scoter as well as an unusual great crested grebe. Next it was over to Marazion for another look for the water pipit. There I met with Dave Parker, sporting a beard which I'd not seen on him before (perhaps his winter plumage?). He'd not seen the pipit that morning by the main road so I decided to walk over to Marazion to see if I could turn it up. Over behind the Godolphin hotel there were loads of pied wagtails, a few rock pipits, some loafing gulls, a flock of twenty odd turnstone, a few oystercatchers and a single bar-tailed godwit. On the way back, by the Red River mouth I found the water pipit. When you see the genuine article there is no doubt at all as to the ID which made me wonder why I'd struggled yesterday. The very white underparts with clean streaking were very striking as was the paler, more mid-brown unstreaked back colour and strong supercilium and moustachial stripe. I suppose it's the old birders adage: if you only think you've got an ID then you haven't. There's no substitute for seeing stuff for getting it straight in your mind and I feel much more confident about water pipits now.

After that it was back to Tolcarne beach where I met Linton again and also Tony Mills though he didn't stay long. Another local turned up who'd apparently seen a little auk or two in St. Ives bay that morning. We hung around for a while to see if the ring-billed gull would turn up though it never did. There were three Med. gulls (2 adults and a 2nd winter) and a couple of common gulls knocking about, one of which was sporting a nice ring around it's bill. Whilst I'm told the original sighting is no doubt sound, one can't help but wonder whether some of the subsequent reports might have been of this bird instead.

The "ring-billed" common gull...

..and some other Tolcarne birds, snapped on the
superzoom whilst waiting for the gull to turn up.
Unfortunately I didn't turn down the exposure enough to
compensate for shooting white birds so they're somewhat
burnt out in places.

A final stop off at Jubilee Pool failed to turn up the surfie, so it was off to Tesco's for some shopping and then back to base to get ready for the arrival of the guests. Once I'd got home of course the surf scoter was reported again as showing distantly - grrrr!

I don't know what birding opportunities I'll have from now on with the guests and family around - we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Wednesday 28th December: Mounts Bay again

Today I woke up rather early so decided to get on with my renovation tasks as soon as possible in order to give me more birding time with the limited amount of daylight available. Accordingly at around 9:30 I felt that I'd earned a decent break and so set off for Mounts Bay once more where I spent more time unsuccessfully looking for the ring-billed gull in the Tolcarne/Wherry area and also the surf scoter at Jubilee Pool. The scoter flock was rather mobile this morning thanks to a couple of gigs out on the much calmer sea. With the wind a strong westerly today, the Bay was rather sheltered and calm, certainly a lot flatter than yesterday's choppy conditions. In flight one was able to get a better idea of the large scoter numbers with the flock numbering perhaps about 60 birds. Despite spending a fair bit of time looking for the surfie I wasn't able to pick it out today and so didn't improve on my brief views from yesterday. There were at least five great northern divers around the bay today and someone else reported the Slav grebe again.

I also popped over to Marazion for a while on the strength of a text from Dave Parker informing me that the water pipit was still about on the beach. I must admit that I'm not that confident with separating water and rock pipit in winter plumage and spent some time photographing what subsequently turned out to be a rather grey rock pipit (thanks to Dave Parker for putting me straight on that).

This rock pipit allowed quite close approach
so I was able to get some shots off with the Canon superzoom.

After a while I'd had enough of searching through distant sea duck flocks and loafing gulls and headed back to base where I passed a productive few hours sanding and painting some old tables. Eventually as the light was starting to fade I felt that I needed another break and so decided to nip over to Sennen where yesterday a near-adult Iceland gull had been reported (I'm guessing by Martin Elliot) in the field opposite the Post Office. I wasn't really holding out too much hope but I thought that I would go and take a look anyway. I arrived to find a tractor ploughing in the field in question and all the gulls flying around all over the place. I decided to wait for them to settle and watched them as they swirled around. Some of them started to head off towards Sennen Cove and as they did so they flew quite low so that I was able to get a good look at them as they passed. Suddenly there was the Iceland gull, looking very obviously pale with striking white primaries and I could make out some brown feathers in the surrounding otherwise-grey wing which marked it out as not yet fully adult. I watched it as it flew towards the Cove and then decided to head over there to see if I could relocate it. Down by the harbour there were not many gulls around: a few were trying to loaf on the Cowloe though the very strong winds were making that rather hard. I watched the waves roaring into shore for a while and managed to pick out a great northern diver quite close in over towards the beach. It soon got too dark to see so I headed back home for something to eat and the prospect of some more work this evening.

This photo doesn't really do justice to the rather
stormy conditions in the Cove.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Tuesday 27th December: Mounts Bay

I was due back down to Cornwall again for a final decorating push before the cottage was to be inspected at the start of the New Year. Having survived Christmas with the various rellies I was looking forward to getting back to my beloved Penwith peninsula to clear my head in the fresh air and to catch up with some great Cornish birding.

As usual I had a look to see if there was anything interesting to stop in on en route but the best I could come up with was a Richardson's Canada goose of unknown origin in Somerset. There were also a few birds that I wanted to see in Cornwall itself, namely a surf scoter off Jubilee Pool and a ring-billed gull at Tolcarne beach. In the event I didn't set off from Oxford until 10am, later than I intended, so given the paucity of daylight I decided not to bother with the goose but instead to head straight to Cornwall. Despite the roads being a bit busy with traffic I made it from Oxford to Penzance in a record breaking 4 hours and that's without going unduly fast. I was just parking up by Jubilee Pool to have a crack at the surf scoter when an RBA text came through that the ring-billed gull had been seen at Tolcarne early afternoon so I decided to head down there instead. There, despite scouring all the gulls the best that I could come up with were a couple of adult Med. gulls and a couple of eider (one female and what I presumed was a first winter male) along with a curlew, an oystercatcher, a little egret and the usual gull suspects.

Digiscoped shot of one of the Tolcarne Med. gulls

With not much light left I couldn't hang around too long but instead headed back to Jubilee Pool where I passed the rest of the time until dark scouring the sea. The incoming breeze seemed to have brought in quite a few sea birds with at least 20 kittiwakes, a great skua, a few gannets and what was a possible adult Sabine's gull all out in the bay. On the sea itself viewing conditions were not at all easy with the choppy sea ensuring that the birds were only visibile for brief moments at a time but I managed to find a Slavonian grebe over towards Long Rock, at least four great nothern divers dotted around the bay and about twenty common scoter and the surf scoter (a brief view) off Jubilee Pool itself.

To round things off on the way to Pendeen I caught a glimpse of a barn owl in the headlights on the road to Newbridge. It has been nice to get back to some Cornish birding and I was looking forward to getting in some more before the rest of the family joined me in a couple of days.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Trip Retrospective

I like to have a retrospective at the end of my trips down to Cornwall, a chance for me to reflect on the visit and its highs and lows. From the Cornish birding point of view this has been rather a quiet one with not much around, in fact only a bufflehead and a ring-necked duck. The RN duck was very photogenic but wasn't even a year tick for me (not that I actively year list) as I'd seen the St. Stithian's bird earlier in the year. Nevertheless it was a very handsome bird and it gave nice close views.

Another photo of the ring-necked duck

The main disappointment for me was that I missed the fall in dusky warblers. As I had suspected, the clear cold night the day I came down cleared them all off and I spent a couple of fruitless days slogging around the Lizard after birds which had actually gone. Still I learnt about some new birding sites on the Lizard and got to know a few of the Lizard local birders. As far as getting to grips with the dusky warbler calls, I have since come across this video on the fabulous ScillySpider blog which helped me with exactly what sort of "tick" noise it makes.

Two Dusky Warblers Calling on Lower Moors (c) Kris Webb

The other main local birding highlight was the sea-watching session at Pendeen where the poor grey phalarope was plucked from the sea by a peregrine. The close views of the skuas were also very enjoyable.

Of course as well as the local birding there was the small matter of the en route twitching. Now, I'm not a great twitcher as a rule but I'm finding that breaking up the long journey to and from Cornwall is a great way of seeing some nice birds and this trip excelled on this front with the sharp-tailed sandpiper, the desert wheatear and the Hume's leaf warbler all being most enjoyable interludes which I probably wouldn't have otherwise got to see. As far as the bird of the trip award is concerned I think that it will have to go to the fabulously confiding desert wheatear as much for the picturesque setting as for the gorgeous bird itself.

The Bird of the Trip: the cold weather cleared it out as
well so I was lucky to see it on it's last day there

I'll have to come down again in December to finish things off for the cottage which "goes live" for holiday lets in January. As always I can't wait to be back.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Sunday 27th Coming Home

I was due to come home today so had been thinking about what I might stop off at en route. Anything in the south-west region was fair game as far as I was concerned but the only thing that caught my eye was the Hume's warbler ("leaf" or "yellow-browed") at Wyke Regis. Warblers are hard to twitch at the best of times and involve a lot of standing around staring at sallows and the like, which I'd already done plenty of this week thank you very much. Still it seemed to be showing fairly regularly and as long as I didn't have too high expectation of actually seeing it I thought that I would take a crack at it. Several times I've gone to Cornwall via Weymouth so the route was fairly familiar to me. It's actually only about 15 miles further than going directly on the motorway though the roads are of course a lot slower. I packed the car, shut down the cottage and set off (via the St. Erth recycling centre) just before 10 a.m. and with the roads nice and empty on a Sunday morning I arrived at Wyke Regis at around 1:30. I wasn't exactly sure where to park but there were half a dozen cars down near the military camp which I assumed were all twitchers so I parked there. I soon met some birders coming back who all reported that in the windy conditions it wasn't really showing at all and they'd had achieved no more than hearing it call a few times in three hours of getting very cold in the wind. Not looking very promising then! I thought that I would go and put in a stint of starting at sallows for a while and hurried on in the breeze towards the slopes by the Littlesea Holiday Village. Just as I arrived at a small clearing I saw the twitching group coming towards me, obviously following something that was moving in the bushes. This looked more promising and I hurried over towards them where apparently the bird was somewhere in the scrub on the slope. Five minutes of scrub watching ensued and it was clear from listening to those around me that they'd spent a long time not seeing very much and so were rather disconsolate. Suddenly up flies the bird and sits in clear view in a tree not twenty yards from where we were, offering absolutely stunning views with the slope behind it as a backdrop showing off it's wonderfully muted colours. It was a beautiful looking bird with it's grey green tones, strong super and double wing-bar looking very exotic in this setting. It was tagging along with a feeding tit flock and so for the next few minutes we followed it as it worked its way through a comparatively clear area, getting brief glimpses before the flock hit an area of thick sallows once more. I knew that I wasn't going to get any better views than that, jobs a good'un!

I turned around to survey the Fleet behind me with it's vast hoards of brent geese. Someone next to me managed to pick out one of the black brants and managed to get me on it - most excellent, especially as I hadn't bothered to bring my scope (not normally required for warbler watching) and hadn't really felt like checking through the hundreds of birds myself. Having cleaned up so quickly I decided to head back home early - I'd been extremely lucky to get away with such excellent views after so short a wait - if only all twitching could be like that. The rest of the journey was uneventful and I arrived home tired but pleased to be back with the family and most satisfied with my Blitzkrieg twitch.

Just some of the brent geese on the Fleet. There
is a black brant in the picture somewhere!
Chesil Beach is very striking

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Saturday 26th November: Drift & Sennen Cove

I had a lot to do today as I was intending to return home tomorrow. Therefore birding opportunities would be rather limited. However, a long-tailed duck (a Cornish tick for me still) reported at Drift reservoir the previous evening seemed to offer a nice prelude to a hard day's work so I went to take a quick look. There I met up with Tony Mills (see his web-site Not Just Birds), who for a long time has been a "part-timer" such as myself, though recently he finally made the move down. There was no sign of the long-tailed duck though there was a female goldeneye in amongst the tufties by the dam. Down by the hide there was no sign of the recent water pipit and I managed to scare all the bird by letting one of the hide shutters come crashing back down but there hadn't been much to see anyway. Part way round to the hide in some thick cover I heard a "tick" which made me think of dusky warbler (I told you that it had done strange things to my mind!) but it didn't call again and I didn't have the time to stake it out properly. It was probably just a robin anyway.

A hard morning's work ensued and then after lunch I had some errands to run in Penzance itself and thought that I would go via Sennen Cove for a quick look around. I checked out the golden plover flock by Whitesands Lodge though there were no vagrants in amongst them before heading on to the cove itself. I quite like Sennen Cove: back home in Oxford I'm know for my gull obesssion and it's nice to have some of them to look through in quite picturesque surroundings. Accordingly I grilled the black-headed gulls for Meds and Bony's, the common gulls for ring-billed and the herrings for yellow-legged and Caspians though all to no avail. I did spot a purple sandpiper on the harbour wall and I was rewarded with my long-tailed duck tick after all as there was one diving actively out in the bay. I couldn't hang around as I had to get on but it had been a nice birding interval.

The bird life of Sennen Cove - I didn't bother trying to
digiscope the long-tailed duck as it was only spending
a few seconds above water before diving again.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday 25th November: Pendeen, St. Gothian Sands & Hayle

As I mentioned yesterday, I was resolved not to visit the Lizard peninsula today if I could help it. Apart from anything else the long trips over there were detracting from my decorating work which I need to press on with. I spent the first half of the morning on cottage work, making some good progress. When it came time to think about heading off somewhere I noticed that there was a reasonable westerly wind and also some bright sunshine. A glance out of my window revealed that there were plenty of birds passing by on the sea so I decided to have a Pendeen session. Despite it being November there were plenty of birds to look at: there was a constant stream of auks and gannets and frequent flocks of kittiwakes going by. I also had a few juvenile skuas: 4 arctics and a pom, all passing by at close range and well lit in the bright light. A great northern diver sped by and an unidentified wader species flew past, struggling against the wind whilst on the shearwater front there were two nice balearics and a single manxie. However the highlight of the morning was when I picked up a grey phalarope just beyond the reef. Shortly after I spotted it, it landed on the sea and I could even see it swimming along before it took off again, only to land again a few moments later. It repeated this pattern quite a number of times and I was just wondering why on earth it was doing this when suddenly a peregrine swooped down and snatched the bird just as it was taking off again. As the falcon flew off a second peregrine flew after it and seemed to be pestering the first one for its prize. I felt sorry for such a sad end to the phalarope but it was amazing to witness such drama.

The Wra in sunny conditions this morning

I had to go to St. Erth to the recycling centre after lunch so I thought that for my afternoon birding sesion I would do something over there. The St. Gothian Sand drake ring-necked duck seemed like an obvious choice and I thought that I would finish off with the high tide at Hayle.

At St. Gothian, all the ducks were in one corner and I soon picked out the drake ring-neck. Unfortunately he seemed to be trying to take a nap and would float around with his head tucked in, occasionally lifting it up whilst he re-adjusted his position before putting it back down again. To try and get a photo I had to keep tracking him in the superzoom lens and wait for the brief head-up moments. After a while he woke up and started feeding so I was able to get off a few easier shots of this very handsome bird.

The very handsome St. Gothian Sands ring-necked duck

I nipped into Carnsew Basin where there was a flock of eight bar-tailed godwits and five grey plover and two knot in amongst the dunlin. I was looking out for mergansers which had been reported there a while ago but there were only three little grebes on the water itself. At the Hayle bridge I scanned through all the wigeon and teal carefully, looking for American infiltrators but to no avail though I did find a pair of pintail. There were only modest numbers of gulls to grill and nothing of note. Ryans Field held the usual curlews, godwits, redshank, oystercatchers and four knot. It was getting dark by this point and I had some errands to run so it was time to leave. It had been nice to see so many birds today - such a contrast compared to the previous two days! I noticed that there had been no reported dusky warblers yesterday and I'm thinking that perhaps the colder weather that started the day I arrived down here cleared them all out- at least that explains my complete lack of success over the previous two days.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th November: The Lizard Peninsula

My usual approach is to work on the cottage first thing in the morning then go out birding for a while and to repeat this pattern after lunch. However, given how early it's getting dark now I've changed this somewhat so the afternoon session is now bird first and then work which effectively means that I have two back to back birding sessions. With very little being reported on the Penwith peninsula I've used this double birding session to head over to the Lizard where there have been at least three dusky warblers which I was interested in seeking out: one near the Housel Bay "bufflehead" pond, one near Cadgwith and one at Kennack Sands.

I started off yesterday at the pond where I met up with local birder Tim Pinfield who was also searching for duskies and John Foster also turned up for a while also looking for them. Tim and I decided to team up and spent several hours in fruitless search of the hedge north of the pond before moving on to the sallows and woods surrounding the stream that flowed into Kennack Sands beach. The habitat here looked great and there were roving tit and crest flocks as well as good numbers of redwing but try as we might we couldn't turn up the target bird. We also tried the stubble field near Trethvas farm where the six cranes were reportedly periodically hanging out though we failed in this endeavour as well.

The Kennack Sands valley: great habitat but hard work locating stuff

Today, with no news of anything else of interest about I decided to have another try. I'd got some local information from Tony Blunden (who co-authors the fabulous Lizard Naturally blog) including the location of the Cadgwith bird. Tony also said that he reckoned the Housel Bay bird had moved on as he'd not seen it yesterday (which at least explained our lack of success there). I spent a couple of hours staking out the relatively narrow but heavily vegetated ditch at Cadgwith but still no luck despite the help of Tim and a friend who turned up there as well. I then moved on to Kennack Sands again (via the crane field - still no luck) where I passed another couple of fruitless hours before giving up. One of the issues that I was having with trying to find these elusive skulkers was that they are usually located by their call. However there are a number of other birds that can make similar "tick" calls and even trees creaking in the wind can catch you out if you're not careful. I'm also starting to find that my hearing is no longer as sharp as it once was which didn't help matters. After a couple of days of trying to pick out the right sort of tick from impenetrable vegetation I found that it was starting to do strange things to my mind and I was becoming hyper-sensitive to ticking noises! As a result I've vowed that I'm not going to go hunting for duskies again tomorrow unless someone reports one that's actually nailed down to a tree.

Kennack Sands late afternoon

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.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

30th October: Moths & Debriefing

Readers may have noticed a distinct lack of the "moth du jour" section on the blog for my last visit. This wasn't for want of trying but I only found any moths at all on two evenings and I was a bit slow in sending the photos to John Swann who puts up with my inept moth ignorance with great patience. I have put down a moth ID book on my Christmas list so perhaps next year I'll be able to have a go myself. Anyway, there were only two moths that I found and unfortunately the photos of them are rather poor.

A black rustic

Unknown. I've had various guesses from Large Yellow Underwing,
Turnip Moth and Conformist. Feel free to offer an opinion as a comment
on this posting if you think you know what it is.

I like to reflect on my Cornish visits at the end, for my own benefit if nothing else. This time was generally rather quiet. There were the expected yellow-browed warblers and firecrests which were nice to see and I enjoyed finding the black redstart, lesser whitethroat and the possible greenish warbler locally around the cottage. On the downside I was disappointed that the Isabelline shrike didn't hang around and that the Pallas's warbler proved so elusive. On the plus side I enjoyed the en route pied wheatear and I jammed in on the bufflehead which was a great bird to see, apparently a Cornish first so an excellent county tick. Talking of which I managed four more this visit so it's moving along gently and closing in on my Oxon total. Once again the last day provided much of the action with the bufflehead and the off county pied wheatear and saved me from what would have been a very quiet visit on the rarity front. In terms of the bird of the visit award that has to be the bufflehead really which only hung around for the one full day before moving on (being briefly seen elsewhere) so I was very lucky to get it.

Bird of the trip award

Thursday, 27 October 2011

27th October: Lizard & Oldbury-on-Severn

Today was my last day down in Cornwall and I was due to pack up and head off home. The weather was once more pretty appalling with grey skies and constant rain though with little wind to speak of. There was of course the decision of what to do as I headed home and I had been wondering about having another crack at the Pallas's warbler. However the previous evening news had broken of a bufflehead on a small pond just south of Lizard village and I thought that this would be a better target than the troublesome warbler as it would either be there or it wouldn't so there would be no waiting around for Luke to endure. It was also of course a far rarer Cornish bird than the warbler.

I did hear from Dave Parker that it had flown off at 8:30 but that it could return. However I decided to have a go for it anyway and fortunately en route it was reported on RBA as being present. We found the spot without any problems and I took a few photos in the gloomy and rainy conditions whilst Luke messed around taking photos with my other camera. It was a pretty small pond that this bird had stumbled upon and though it was diving fairly constantly it didn't seem to be coming up with any fish at all.

The female/immature bufflehead
For some much better photos see Steve Rogers' site

After a short while we decided to head back to the car and on northwards towards home. En route I thought that it would be positively rude of me not to stop in to pay my respects to the female pied wheatear at Oldbury-on-Severn especially as I would be going right past it. We arrived mid afternoon to find the weather conditions just as grey and rainy as before. A fifteen minute walk found us at the yacht club building which was situated at a gloomy but very atmospheric location by the Severn estuary. With the tide right out there was a large expanse of mud and the dark overhanging cloud and drizzle gave it a very desolate air. Fortunately the pied wheatear was very reliable and was keeping faithful to a small circuit around various vantage points from which it would make regular flycatching sorties. It quite unconcerned by the attendant birders though there were only about half a dozen others, which was understandable given the time of day and the weather conditions. At one point the wheatear landed on a sign not two yards from where I was standing and it was a shame that the conditions were so poor as it would have made a great photographic subject. As it was the gloom and the rather bedraggled state of the bird meant that my photos were more record shots than works of art though at least one was able to get good close views.

The very confiding but rather bedraggled female pied wheatear

After a while I decided to continue home on my journey and given where we were starting off from for a change I chose to go up the M5 and back home via the A40, a route that I know well from visiting Slimbridge. I arrived back home early evening, tired but content with having seen some good birds today.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

26th October: Porthgwarra & Marazion

I woke up early this morning and got painting straight away before the others were up and about. Once everyone was awake we had a stroll down to the lighthouse again where today I found a fine male black redstart on the lighthouse buildings.

A record shot of the black redstart - a tricky shot of a dark
bird taken against a very bright background

My brother-in-law set off for home shortly after that and as I'd already done my morning painting session I decided to head over to Porthgwarra to look for the Pallas's warbler that had been showing in the sallows just north of the car park. Luke wanted to stay in the car for a while and I went to stake out the sallows where I found John Swann, Dave Parker and a few others staring at the impenetrable vegetation. The bird had apparently only been showing briefly and very infrequently so it looked like it might be a long wait. After a while with no sign so far Luke got bored so we went off to the shop to get a cup of tea and a flapjack for myself and an ice cream for Luke which we ate back at the sallows. Luke kept himself amused for a while by playing with my old point and shoot camera and he seems to be developing an interest in photography. We did hear the warbler call a few times though it obstinately didn't show and eventually Luke had had enough and we had to leave. I was told that the bird did finally show itself but not for another hour and a half so that would have been a long wait indeed.

After my afternoon painting session we nipped into Penzance for some shopping and for Luke to visit the playground at Marazion. Whilst there I checked out the mouth of the Red River for interesting pipits or wagtails but the best I could come up with was an adult Med. gull.

Med. gulls are always lovely to find

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

25th October: Pendeen & Nanquidno

After yesterday's downpour it was pleasantly calm and sunny. First thing, before Luke was even up I nipped out for a quick tour of the garden and a walk down to the lighthouse. The usual three ravens were still about and I found a late wheatear in the field next to the road. In the garden of Old Count House there was a small tit flock working its way along the bushes and at the tail end of this gang was a lovely lesser whitethroat, looking very smart indeed as it poked about in the foliage. It didn't have the pale sandy look of a central asian but even so a lesser whitethroat is surprisingly rare for the Penwith peninsula. In fact John Swann told me a story of how once at Porthgwarra everyone was lined up by the car park sallows looking for a red-eyed vireo. After a while someone called it out and all eyes turned to the bird. Almost immediately after that someone else called out a lesser whitethroat and apparently all the Cornish birders immediately switched to looking at that instead such was its rarity value!

Pendeen rock pipit

Later that morning, after my painting session, we were just contemplating where to go when news broke about an Isabelline shrike by the airfield at Nanquidno so I quickly mobilised the troops and we set off. There, Luke and my brother-in-law waited by the car whilst I went to check things out. Dave Parker, John Swann as well as plenty of visiting birders were all there but there was no sign of the shrike. It later turned out that according to the original finder it was working it's way along a hedge rather than staying put so was very much in transit which was a shame as it would have been a nice bird to see. Our party decided to nip down to Nanquidno valley itself briefly where Luke had a paddle in the stream with his wellies before we headed back to base.

Nanquidno buzzard - not really much compensation for the lack of shrike

That afternoon I did some more painting whilst the other two headed off to mess around at the local beach. Whilst I was busy painting a window that looked out into the garden I spotted the lesser whitethroat again in my own garden now - a fine Cornish garden tick. I sent a text to John Swann who lives nearby and he nipped over and managed to see the bird for himself.

Monday, 24 October 2011

24th October: Sennen Cove

Today was a bit of a wash-out. It was only moderately windy but it poured with rain all day. With little prospect of doing much outdoors in the end we elected to partake in that great British tradition of driving somewhere to look at the sea from the comfort of our car. I chose Sennen Cove where we parked right down by the harbour and spent some time watching someone daring himself to walk out along the small harbour wall despite the waves crashing over it. In the end sense prevailed which was just as well...

I'd chosed Sennen Cove partly because a couple of first winter yellow-legged gulls had been reported there this morning but all I could find was a first winter Med. gull.

Later that afternoon when the rain finally lifted we headed over to Penzance so that Luke could choose something from the Pirate gift shop as promised. There were no purple sandpipers on the harbour walls though I did find a few turnstones on the jetty.

Penzance turnstones

Sunday, 23 October 2011

22nd & 23rd October: Kenidjack

My wife and our two daughters were jetting off to Paris for a few days so I decided to take the opportunity to head back down for another visit to Cornwall with my five year old son Luke and one of my brother-in-laws in tow. There was plenty of decorating to do but as usual I was hoping to be able to get in some birding in between painting sessions though with Luke accompanying me my birding options would be much more restricted: no sea watching for example and there would be a limit on how long he would wait patiently somewhere if I were waiting on a bird to show. As usual I'd been following the bird news in Cornwall and there had been some interesting stuff about: a couple of red-breasted flycatchers, several yellow-browed warblers and to top it all a scarlet tanager at St. Levan though apart from the original finders this had only been seen once for five minutes in the morning despite a good crowd looking out for it all day. However, a day or so before I was due to come down most of these birds seemed to have cleared out and it had all gone rather quiet.

I didn't leave Oxford until late morning after dropping off the Paris contingent at the bus station so it was late afternoon by the time we arrived in Cornwall. I decided to head straight over to Kenidjack which from the RBA texts seemed to be the only place with any birds about that day. We headed down to the end of the valley where a couple of yellow-browed warblers were supposed to be though in the windy conditions they were not very cooperative and I only got very fleeting views of one of them. As it was getting late and Luke was starting to complain I didn't stay too long but headed off to the cottage to get unpacked and to rustle up some food.

The Kenidjack mine ruins

The next morning I put in an initial painting session whilst Luke watched some DVD's. About mid-morning I felt like a break so I decided to head back to Kenidjack to see if I could get better views of the yellow-broweds. This time we took a picnic which I was hoping would keep Luke occupied for a while before he would start to complain about being bored. There were quite a few birders around this morning though once again the yellow-browed warblers offered only rather fleeting views and occasional calls. There were also a couple of firecrests in the garden of the last house which gave the occasional glimpses. One of the highlights was a lesser redpoll (a Cornish tick) which flew over us a number of times calling loudly. To round things off a couple of chough were flying around and calling as Luke and I headed back up the valley for home.

You may have noticed the distinct lack of bird photos on this posting:
this is due to their elusiveness. Instead here are some of the Kenidjack
donkeys which were much more cooperative.

Back at the cottage whilst I was hard at work painting I spotted an interesting warbler in the garden briefly: it had uniform greenish upper parts but a pale silvery underparts with faint darker smudges on the breast. It's supercilium was moderately strong, it's didn't seem to have a particularly long primary projection and I thought I caught a glimpse of a wing bar. Had I been certain of the wing bar I would have claimed it as a greenish warbler but from what I saw I can only have it down as a possible.

My brother-in-law arrived early afternoon. I'd made an agreement with Luke that each day we'd do something that he wanted to do so we walked up to the Pendeen playground and spent some time there messing about on the zip wire.

Friday, 7 October 2011

October 7th: End of Visit Debriefing

So another trip to Cornwall has finished and I'm back home in the relatively birdless county of Oxon. Now, Jonathan Lethbridge does warn against providing lists within blogs as it is apt to cause over-excitment amongst birders but I shall throw caution to the wind and provide one of the main birds that I saw during my visit

2 Red-backed Shrike
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
2 Pectoral Sandpiper
2 Black Kite
1 Glossy Ibis
1 Semipalmated Sandpiper
2 Great Shearwater

Those amongst you who have been paying attention might have noticed that almost half this list was obtained on the last day which went some way to redeem what was quite frankly a rather quiet week by Cornish standards.

As far as commoner birds were concerned there were also:
3 Snow Bunting
1 Pied Flycatcher
2 Dotterel
4 Yellow Wagtails
2 Common Redstarts

As always I thoroughly enjoyed my trip. I have enjoyed getting to know the local sites better and also the local and visiting birders whom I've generally found to be a helpful and friendly bunch. It was great to see more Nearctic waders and my personal tally for this autumn is now 10 different ones, all but one (Slimbridge semi-P) being in Cornwall. As far as my Cornish county list is concerned I managed to add a surprising eight birds to this and whilst I'm rather coy about the exact total whilst it is still so small I can reveal that I have now passed the 200 mark and I am fast closing in on my Oxon county total.

As for my next visit, I'm going to be back in a couple of weeks time at the end of the month, this time with my five year old son Luke in tow as well as my other brother-in-law with perhaps the rest of the family joining us later though they're off to Paris for a few days of girly shopping at the start of the week.

Finally, the bird of the trip award goes to.... the Land's End Red-backed Shrike which was so great to see at close quarters in such lovely evening light.

The Bird of the Trip

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Thursday 6th October: Pendeen, Stithians & Davidstow

On my last morning down in Cornwall I awoke to the predicted strong north-westerly wind: clearly a Pendeen Day and given how close I was it would be rude of me not to at least pop in first thing for a sea watch before heading home. In the car park I met Dave Parker who was just getting out of his car and soon after we'd installed ourselves in front of the light house a couple of other birders turned up including a chap whom I'd met with and chatted to the previous day at Stithians whilst not seeing the Glossy Ibis. It turned out to be a most enjoyable sea-watching session: for a start "callable" birds were coming almost constantly with a steady stream of sooties, balearics, arctics & bonxies, with some more interesting stuff turning up occasionally to spice things up. The highlights were two Great Shearwaters going through at a reasonably close distance, a juv. Sabines that I didn't get on, a few Grey Phalaropes, plus lots of the commoner stuff. What's more it was a nice small group, we were all sitting close together so you could easily hear what people were saying (important for someone like me who finds it difficult to hear with background wind noise these days) and we all got on well. In this group I felt confident enough to make a fool of myself by calling a kittiwake as a possible Sab etc. Unfortunately all too soon I had to leave to head back to the cottage though all in all I'd say that it was probably one of the most enjoyable sea-watches I've had so far.

Back home I had to have breakfast, pack the car and get my brother-in-law up to speed on how the heating etc. worked so it wasn't until around 10:30 a.m. that I finally departed. Naturally enough, I wasn't going to head straight home without stopping off somewhere and first port of call was back to Stithians Reservoir where the finicky Glossy Ibis had been reported on RBA as showing again this morning. This time it all worked out as it was supposed to and I turned up to find plenty of other birders all watching the Ibis which was there feeding away in one of the pools by the shoreline. It was rather distant but one could get reasonable enough views so I took some digiscoped shots for the record and headed on up the A30.

The Stithians Glossy Ibis

The second port of call was Davidstow Airfield or "Mordor" as it has been christened by Badger: he'd gone there a couple of days ago for the semi-P to find Davidstow completely fog bound and a desolate birdless wasteland. I must admit I do find birding there really difficult: if the bird you're looking for isn't in one of the obvious big pools then there is a vast area to search through and I have spent several fruitless hours there in the past looking for stuff. This time I chose some different tactics: after a quick check on the main pools I decided to look at the other cars there to see if any looked like they were watching something good. I saw one near the road which had been stationary for some time so I headed over and sure enough there was the Semi-P by the side of a large puddle right next to the main road. The great thing about Mordor of course is that when you do find a bird you get cripplingly good views and I watched this delightful Nearctic vagrant down to just a few yards. At one point someone (a non-birder) turnd off the main road and drove at high speed right through the puddle where the sandpiper was. I felt sure that the bird must flush or even worse be run over but it just scuttled out of the way and seemed remarkably unperturbed. The guy who'd been watching the bird before me told me that there was also a Snow Bunting on the next cross runway and sure enough when I went to look there it was, remarkably my third one in a week down here in Cornwall. On my way back to the road I took pity on another car whose occupants were looking around forlornly and told them where the semi-P was which they much appreciated. With a long drive ahead of me I pointed the car in the direction of Oxford and headed for home.

...and a bonus Snow Bunting

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Wednesday 5th October: Pendeen, Porthgwarra & Stithians

This morning the weather was much more typical for October with wind, grey skies and patches of fog. As today was my last full day here before heading off home I wanted to finish off one more window before going out for some birding. I had to be back by mid afternoon as my brother-in-law was coming down today: some friends of his and he were going to be using the cottage from tomorrow for a few days so he was coming down a day early to get things ready for them and for me to show him the cottage ropes.

As a snow bunting had been reported at Pendeen yesterday just past the lower car park I was planning on nipping out to check it out once it had got properly light. However whilst I was still thinking about this a text came through on RBA reporting it as present this morning along the track to Manor Farm. I finished off half the window and then popped out where sure enough there it was. It was more flighty than they often are and wouldn't let me get too close before flying off over the wall though it soon came back again. Just at that point I met up with a visiting birder who was staying at Calartha Farm. It turned out that he'd found the bird this morning (and yesterday) and was back for a second look.

Light conditions were so bad that in the end I resorted to a bit of video footage of the bunting

I returned home, finished off my window and contemplated my birding for the morning. I was waiting on news about a Glossy Ibis that had been seen at Stithians yesterday morning but so far I'd not heard anything. I therefore decided to nip down to PG to have another look for the elusive RT Pipit. This time I decided to walk in from Arden Sawah farm for a change which gets you onto the west side of the Moor a lot quicker and gives you some farmland fields to search through to boot. On the moor I met Dave Parker and Mark Wallace who'd just found two more Crimson Speckled moths. Honestly! These are clearly Trash Moths rather than Megas: I'd now seen four of them in the space of a few weeks! Mark was exploring some of the more obscure corners of the moor and we tagged along until I got a text saying that the Ibis was showing at Stithians so I decided to head off for it. On the way I pulled over at the Polgigga cricket pitch where there were loads of wagtails (it's well know for them). In amongst the pieds/whites I managed to find a single Yellow - not such a common bird for Cornwall.

I arrived at Stithians at just about the same time as a local birder whom I met a few days earlier at the Dotterel field so we looked around together. Far from it being a simple matter of tick & run there was no sign of it. We even had a good snoop around south of the causeway in the Southern Cutoff area but there was nothing more than a single Grey Heron. After a while we admitted defeat though my companion decided to check out the Northern Causeway on his way home and took my number in case he should find it. He had no luck and I headed back to Pendeen, stopping off at White Gate Cottage just to check that the Snow Bunting was OK (it was). I was just back in the house making a cup of tea when (you guessed it) Dave Parker rang. Apparently the Ibis was showing at the Norther Cutoff right now. Drat and Double Drat! I didn't have time (or the energy quite frankly) to head straight back out again as I had to get the cottage ship-shape. I would have to try on the way home for it tomorrow though it clearly was being elusive. I spent the rest of the time getting the cottage ready and packing for tomorrow's departure. It had been a rather frustrating day with only a nice Snow Bunting and a Yellow Wagtail to show for my efforts. Still that's birding - if it was easy all the time we'd soon get bored with it.

The bunting this afternoon when the light was at least a little better