Thursday, 13 January 2011

Thursday 13th January: Rainy Birding & Doing the Scaup Double

The next day dawned still foggy in Pendeen so once again there was no point in doing anything on that side of the coast. I was due to return home today but thought that it would be rude of me not to put in at least a morning's birding before my long journey back. My plans were to have a look around Drift reservoir for the elusive white-fronted goose and then head over to the Hayle area for Carbis Bay and St. Gothian Sands NR where there was supposed to be a scaup hanging around. Through chatting to Dave Parker I'd discovered that the lesser scaup at Drozmary that I'd not seen on the way down was probably a returning bird from last year and that last time it used to commute between Drozmary Pool and nearby Colliford Lake though the latter was very difficult to view. What this meant was that there was a fighting chance that it might still be at Drozmary Pool and I therefore resolved to stop off there on the way back.

My first port of call was Drift reservoir where it was still rather foggy. However the white-fronted goose had been reported the previous day despite the thick fog so it must be possible to view it. Having not ever walked around any part of it I thought that at least it would be useful as a paid up member of the CBWPS to get to know it a bit better. I made my way around to the bird hide without seeing anything particularly unusual so I took a few minutes to shelter from the sporadic rain within the hide. Whilst in there I heard some geese and saw a few birds come in to land over the brow of the hill opposite on the north side of the reservoir. This at least explained why I'd not been able to see the birds: they were clearly feeding in a field that you couldn't see from the usual viewing points. I wondered whether there might be a line of sight to them from the west corner of the reservoir so walked around there to a wooded area where I managed to see a firecrest and a green sandpiper flew over calling. Unfortunately however there was no sign of the geese so I retraced my steps back to the car. At least I'd got a bit of a walk in which would stand me in good stead given that I was due to spend some time in the car that day on the journey back.

Next it was on to Carbis Bay. Although I'd only recently discovered this spot for myself, I was already starting to appreciate it: it's very sheltered from most wind directions, one can bird from the car if the weather is too bad and the bay seems to act as a trap for bait fish so there are often lots of birds close in to view. Some balearic shearwaters had been reported in the last few days but there were none there that day. There were however at least 20 red-head goosander, 75+ kittiwakes and 30+ razorbills as well as hoards of cormorants and shags and a couple of seals. There was a concentration of gulls in one corner which were presumably getting excited over a close-in shoal of fish.

It was still pretty misty but I managed a distant videograb of some of the goosander which came out onto the beach for a while.

Next it was on to St. Gothian Sands NR which I'd not birded before though I'd been to visit the beach en famille on holiday. It was rather windy here with driving rain so conditions were far from ideal: the main problem was continually getting rain on the optics. Fortunately the scaup was hanging around quite close in and I managed some video footage of it preening. Apart from the scaup there were a couple of shelduck a few gadwall and little grebes and plenty of pochard and tufted duck. I also disturbed a flock of 4 meadow pipits which flew away calling plaintively. There was a flock of large gulls on the far side of the central island though I didn't bother giving them a grilling.

The adult female scaup at St. Gothian Sands NR, Gwithian

With the greater scaup in the bag it was time to set off along the A30 to see if I could do the scaup double and see the lesser scaup as well. This time I had Drozmary to myself though what with the wind and rain this was understandable! Down by the waterside I scanned carefully across the lake finding similar birds to last time though there was a male goldeneye present which wasn't there on my last visit. Towards the end of my scan I came to a flock of diving tufted ducks so I had to scan slowly through these least I missed anything whilst it was underwater. Fortunately I soon picked out the drake lesser scaup diving away in the distance. It was very difficult to take any video footage of the bird as it spent so much time underwater though fortunately it didn't actually swim any great distance while submerged so in the end I adopted the tactic of focusing on the area where I'd last seen it and then zooming in with the camera once it came up. With some editing to remove the long periods of empty water I managed to come up with a short period of record-shot footage but at least you can tell what it is.

Drozmary Lesser Scaup record-shot video.

With the scaup double safely in the bag it was time to head back home after a successful though rather inclement three days. I'd managed to add a few birds to my fledgling Cornish county list though my present total is too embarrassingly small to mention in public. I've also realised that I've only once been to Cornwall in the summer so there are some really common warblers that I've not yet seen down there. With any luck this year I'll be able to rectify this. With the builders nearing the end of their work it will soon be time for us to get down there to start the decorating which will mean more time birding in my favourite part of the country

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Wednesday 12th January: Foggy Birding

I awoke not to the expected torrential rain but instead to find that Pendeen was shrouded in heavy fog. This weather is of course the worst for birding in that you just can't see anything at all at a distance. I had a couple of hours to kill before my meeting with the builders but it soon became apparent that the whole of the Pendeen side of the peninsula was fog bound so the only option was to head back over to the other side around Mounts Bay again. I briefly stopped off at Drift reservoir, hoping to catch up with the over-wintering Greenland white-fronted goose there but there was so much fog that one couldn't see more than thirty yards or so. In the end I went for a walk along Marazion beach just for something to do. Whilst I was getting my waterproofs on (for it was raining a little) a confiding rock pipit hopped right up to me, looking for food behind the shelter of the sea wall. It was certainly the closest I've ever been to a rock pipit. There was not much to report on the beach apart from a couple of stonechats.

I popped in at Pendeen watch just to take a look but youcouldn't see beyond the Wra so there wasn't much point in setting up the scope.

I went back for my meeting down at the Cottage with the builder which all seemed to go well and in fact we were finished in a little over an hour which gave me plenty of time to do some more birding in the afternoon. The only plan that I had was to try for the 8 Bewick's swans that were at Stithians reservoir. I'd been told by John Swann via e-mail that if I was interested in doing a Cornish list the last twitchable Bewick's had been ten years ago so they would be good birds to catch up with. I'd read that they usually came in quite late so I had a bit of time to kill before heading off in that direction. I popped in at Drift again but it was still too foggy to see so I did some brief stops around the bay where I found 11 common scoter and an eider at Sandy Cove and the usual purple sandpipers and turnstones at Battery Rocks. I had lunch in Long Rock beach car park where the pacific diver was still showing just off shore and then set off for Stithians.

I'd not been to Stithians reservoir before and although I managed to navigate to Rame (the nearest village) easily enough, in the fog I managed to get lost in the maze of small roads that lead from there to the bird hide. I ended up driving all the way around the reservoir before finally arriving at hide at a little after 3pm. I had hoped that it would be fog free inland but on the journey but it soon became apparent that there was quite thick fog in places and the hide was densely shrouded. By now my expectations of seeing any swans had vanished but I thought that I'd at least have a look out the hide whilst I was there. Sure enough one could see only a short distance from the hide where a few wigeon and teal were feeding. One couldn't see to the far side at all which is where I assumed the swans would be. Dejectedly I scanned all the angles at the thick whiteness. Through the last set of windows at the side of the hide I suddenly realised that through the foliage I could make out some large birds. These turned out to be some canada geese and then lo and behold next to them I saw some white shapes in the white fog, the swans no less! Amazed I took some video footage but combination of the fog and foliage meant that the resulting grab is of record shot quality only.

This is the view that I had!

Given the poor quality of the viewing I didn't stay too long but headed back through the fog towards Penzance. That evening I spent some time with my niece, who had recently moved to near Truro and who drove over to Penzance so that she could see the cottage and we could catch up on news.

Given how there were no photographic opportunities today I thought that I'd post this shot taken late afternoon yesterday at Long Rock where there was a nice reflective quality to the scene.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Tuesday 11th January: Birding the Bay

Last time I was down in Cornwall I had arrived just in time to stop the builders installing our oil central-heating tank on a piece of land that we didn't own. We'd agreed a more appropriate site for the tank (on our land!) and they were going to build a little bunker for it so that it was tucked nicely out of sight. I'd assumed that this was all going according to plan but at the end of last week I got a phone call from one of our new neighbours (who was from Oxford and whom I actually already knew) complaining about the location of the new tank. It soon became obvious that I would have to go back down to Cornwall again to check up on what had been done on this front as well as to discuss general progress with the builders.

Naturally enough my thoughts had turned to birding whilst down there though the weather forecast was rather poor with just one decent day of weather predicted for Tuesday. I'd originally planned to go down on Monday, spend Tuesday morning seeing the builder and then birding like a demon for the rest of a day before going back home on a rainy Wednesday. Unfortunately a work-crisis chose that moment to rear it's ugly head which put my plans back a day. This meant that I would be travelling down on the one decent day for weather so I decided to leave nice and early in order to get as much fair-weather birding in as possible. I was particularly keen to try and see the over-wintering pacific diver which had been around for a reasonable amount of time now in Mounts Bay. In addition I'd looked to see if there was anything tempting to stop off at en route but the only thing that I could find was a drake lesser scaup at Drozmary Pool in Cornwall which was conveniently located right next to the A30 so that I would be passing right by it.

I set off at around 8:30 am and by midday I'd arrived at Drozmary Pool. Although I'd not visited this venue before, I'd done some research using Google maps so I knew where to park. Just as I arrived a couple of birders were returning to their car and it turned out that they'd spent some time looking for the bird without any luck and had even walked right round the pool in order to get on the right side of the sun so that they could check every last bird. My general policy in such situations is not to spend too much time re-checking if someone else has already looked so I just made a very quick scan of the birds present: a dozen or so pochard and tufties, a few teal and a single goldeneye. If it wasn't there then there were more pressing birds to be seen down at Penzance instead and I soon resumed my journey, arriving at my destination at around 1:30 pm. Given that it was quite sunny I thought that it would be best not to start off at Marazion or Long Rock as that would involve looking into the sun. Instead I started off at Sandy Cove in Newlyn and decided to work my way around the bay so that I would end up at Marazion at the end of the day.

There was not a great deal of wind in Mounts Bay and viewing conditions were pretty ideal. I spent some time scanning carefully as divers spend so much time underwater that it's very easy to miss them. The results of my efforts were: two great northern divers, 1 black-throated diver and a few guillemot. A local birder (C. Barnard I think from the CBWPS reports) turned up for a while and picked out a passing Med. gull. After a while I thought that I would take a brief stroll along the track just to stretch my legs after all the driving and as well as the usual resident rock pipits I managed to find a lovely firecrest working its way along the bushes at the base of the cliff for my troubles.

Next it was on to Battery Rocks by Jubilee Pool. I was just setting my scope up when I heard a familiar squeaking sound which turned out to some purple sandpipers working their way along the shoreline. There were also several turnstone working the rocks and a single great crested grebe which I later learnt is quite a rarity in this part of the country. Turning my attention to scanning the Bay I soon spotted several divers concentrated near Long Rock beach. Whilst they were a little distant, the sun was directly behind me and the sea was calm so viewing was pretty good. I soon determined that there were a couple of great northern divers and at last there was the pacific diver. I also spotted something very small diving away frantically at the edge of the surf which must surely be one of the smaller grebes though at that distance I couldn't tell which one so it was clearly time to move round there to get a closer look.

I was more interested in finding the pacific diver than doing any
real photography today but I did quickly take a digiscoped snap of this
greater black-backed gull...

...and I couldn't resist a shot of the squeaking purple sandpipers by Battery Rocks.

At Long Rock beach as well as the three divers, I found an eider duck showing well close in to the shore. I wandered along the beach and eventually managed to track down my grebe which turned out to the a Slavonian. I also had a rather confusing conversation with a passing dog walker which went along the lines of:
Dog walker: "is that the Scillonian?" (referring to the big ship out in the bay)
Me: (mis-hearing it as "Slavonian") "yes, it's a Slavonian"
Dog walker: "hang on it can't be, it's in the dock"
Me: (surprised) "there's a Slavonian in the dock as well? I'd not heard about that one"
Dog walker: "it's always there over the winter"
Me: "I must go and take a look to see if I can find it"
Dog walker: (puzzled) "it's always moored in the same place"
At that point I twigged!

I took some record-shot quality video footage of the pacific diver.
You can just make out its chin-strap and flash-free flanks.

I also shot some footage of the eider duck which was conveniently close.

My final stop was Marazion beach where, whilst waiting for the bittern to show, I chatted away to Dave Parker and another birder about Cornish birding past and present. It turned out I'd missed the only bittern flight that evening already but by the marsh I managed to see a couple of oystercatchers, a little egret, a buzzard, plenty of snipe and the ever-present rabbits. Over on the beach there were the usual sanderlings, yet another great northern diver offshore and a couple of stonechats.

Once it was dark I headed over to the B&B where I was staying again (the cottage was still a bit of a building site). After a quick cup of tea with my hosts I nipped across the road to the Radjel Inn for a very nice chicken curry and a pint before heading back for a hot bath and an early night. It had been a long but very successful day. With the forecast for solid rain for the next couple of days I was glad that I'd managed to get in a good afternoon's birding around the Bay. As I drifted off to sleep I wondered, given the forecast, what birds to go for over the remaining two days.