Sunday, 31 July 2011

Sunday 31st July: Hayle, Porthgwarra in Fog

The calm conditions lead to the inevitable Pendeen fog today so I decided to nip over to Hayle for another check of the waders. There was not much of particular note with 4 Med Gulls (1 adult & 3 juvs), 2 Sandwich Terns and 1 Common Sandpiper being the only birds worthy of mentioning.

Hayle curlew

On the way home I stopped off at Marazion where I met up with Dave Parker. He'd just received a text to say that a black tern had been seen off Jubilee Pool so we both nipped over there. Dave thought that he could see it in the distance over towards Newlyn and I too caught a glimpse of something dark though there were lots of birds flying around by the harbour there. I had a scan with my scope and spotted a distant tern on a buoy though it looked like a sandwich tern to me. I even drove over to Newlyn to have a look for it but couldn't see any sign of it. Unfortunately, one that got away.

Later that morning we decided to go for a walk from Trevilley over to Porthgwarra. Unfortunately it was foggy even down there with the only thing that I spotted being a pair of returning wheatears.

Corn flowers at Trevilley

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Saturday 30th July: Local Stuff Around Pendeen

Today was such a wonderfully sunny day that we decided just to hang around the cottage and nip down to the local beach for a while. I got up early as usual and just wandered around the local area, putting the new camera through its paces. So far I'm really pleased with it and even at full zoom the photos come out pretty well. The only short-comings that I'm finding so far are that it's really slow between frames (I'm used to that from my previous camera though) and it's not so good for macro work (my DCM TZ7 is much better). Below are the fruits of my labours, you can click on them to enlarge them if you wish.

The wires outside the cottage are great spots for snapping the local bird life and feature in several of the shots.

I seem to be being drawn inexorably towards mothing. This chappy landed next to me by the house so I took a shot. As I know very little about moths I usually end up asking local export John Swann to ID stuff for me. This one is a Bee Moth and is actually a micro moth though it's larger than many macros you come across

This is at full zoom from at least 50 yards away so I'm very pleased with how it's come out.

I was trying to get a bit arty with the composition here.
A ridiculously back-lit stone chat. I've tried to salvage it in Photoshop.
Those wires again.

This evening the sea was flat calm and in the distance one could see some sort of disturbance. A quick scan with the scope revealed a convergence of gannets and porpoises so there must have been a shoal of fish there. There were at least a dozen of the porpoises and there could have been many more.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday 29th July: Hayle & St. Just

My usual tactic when I'm down in Cornwall en famille is to get up early and doing a couple of hour's birding before spending the rest of the day doing family stuff. As discussed in the previous entry, in the absence of good sea-watching conditions waders were going to be the order of the day. Accordingly, the first morning I was up at around 6am with the intention of checking out various potential passage wader spots. First stop was the Hayle estuary where the tide was on the way out. I was keen to see if the wood sandpiper was still about but despite careful scrutiny I couldn't find it anywhere. Apart from the usual suspects the best I was able to come up with were one adult Mediterranean gull and one common sandpiper. Next it was on to Marazion and as it was still nice and early there were quite a few waders about on the beach, namely: 7 sanderling, 3 dulin, 2 ringed plover, 1 whimbrel and a juvenile Med. gull. To round things off I stopped off at Drift reservoir which I'd not visited during the summer before and the water levels were quite a way off their highs revealing a decent muddy shoreline. Down near the hide on the opposite shore there were a couple of greenshank and at least 4 green and 4 common sandpipers. Unfortunately however, there was no sign of the juvenile little ringed plover that had been reported recently.

The juvenile Med. gull on Marazion beach first thing. It appears
to have a slightly deformed upper bill which extends beyond it's
lower bill to make a slight hook.

Our relatives, who'd been staying in the cottage the previous week, were still around in the morning so we went for a quick walk down at Zennor (a buzzard and a sparrow hawk being the pick of the sightings there) before they headed off back home and we went back to the cottage. Just as we arrived I got a text from Dave Parker saying that the Black Kite that had been around for the last couple of days was lingering near the St. Just airport. Usually in Cornwall Black Kite sightings are just single-observer fly-overs (SOFO's) so to have one lingering was a rare thing indeed. I managed to wangle a pass from my VLW and sped off in hot pursuit. I had assumed that Dave would be there with others watching it but when I pulled into the layby by the airport there was no one there. I therefore gave him a quick ring only to find out that he was stuck at work and that it had been seen at Carn Brae (a nearby hill) so I went off there where there was at least a good vantage point though given the sunny conditions it was rather hazy. Another message from Dave: it had now apparently moved off towards Kelynack so I trained my scope in that direction and spotted several soaring birds. I fancied that I could make out kite-like wings on one of them though it was hardly conclusive in the haze so I headed off in that direction to see if I could get a better view. There didn't seem to be a good vantage point there and I decided that I'd probably used up all the time that I had on my brief "twitching pass" and started to head back to the cottage. As I drove along just passing Bosavern I spotted a chap with a long lens looking intently into a field so I slowed down, wound down the window and asked if he was looking for the Black Kite. In response he pointed in the sky and blow me if it wasn't right there circling over the field! I did some "creative parking" and hurried to join him, bringing the new camera with me and during its pass over us I managed a record shot.

My effort as the kite flew over

Whilst we were watching the bird I got chatting with the other chap who turned out to be Chris Griffin, whom I'd met earlier on in the year a couple of times at Nanquidno, once when we were looking for a Melodius Warbler and another time for a Golden Oriole, and who is currently staffing the RSPB centre at Land's End for the summer. It turned out that he'd been having a very good day: that morning he'd found a couple of small swifts at Nanjizil which he reckoned were Plain Swifts which would be a first for Britain!

A fantastic photo by Chris Griffin (see his great blog).
It's interesting to note that it's missing quite a lot of flight feathers
which gives it a very distinctive notched look which you can also see in my photo

I was conscious of how long I'd been away already (I'd told my VLW that I wouldn't be long) so I didn't linger long before heading back to base, most pleased with my afternoon sortie. It had been a productive first full day back in Cornwall.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thursday 28th July: Coming Down

We were due back down to Cornwall for a combined summer holiday and also to do a bit more work on the cottage. As usual I'd been keeping an eye on what was going on down in Cornwall and had also been doing some research into sightings during this period in past years. It was still rather early in the autumn season so there were not likely to be many vagrant birds, rather it seemed that sea-watching and the odd Neartic wader would be the main things to be looking out for. I also still needed some of the commoner waders for my Cornish list so my basic strategy was going to be to go sea-watching when the conditions favoured it and otherwise to check out the local wader hot-spots on a regular basis.

To add to the anticipation, this week I'd decided to treat myself to a new camera. It's long been my attitude that I didn't want to lug an SLR around as well as my scope so up until now I'd been using a small Point and Shoot Panasonic TZ7 with 12x zoom. However, I'd been thinking of getting a super-zoom camera and after some research had decided on the Canon SX30 IS which had an incredible 35x zoom. I was looking forward to putting this new beast through it's paces on some of the Cornish bird life.

We were coming down on Thursday but had friends visiting us in the morning so we weren't going to set off until the afternoon. Before we'd even left I got a text saying that there was a wood sandpiper on the Hayle estuary though by the time we actually got that far for some reason my family weren't too inclined to hang around while I scanned the estuary so frustratingly we had to drive past it. Still, it was great to be back in Cornwall and I was looking forward to visiting all the local spots once more.

Pendeen sunset

Friday, 8 July 2011

Friday 8th July: Porthgwarra

I was up very early cleaning the cottage for the forthcoming guests and packing things in the car. I had been vaguely contemplating going back home "via" Pembrokeshire for the very smart looking lesser grey shrike there but I finally decided that this was just too circuitous a route even for me so with a good south-westerly wind forecast I decided that another PG sea-watching session was what was required and so at around 7:30 am I was back at Hella Point though when I arrived the wind was much more subdued than forecast and there was only one other person (a non-local) there. Gradually throughout the morning though more and more people arrived (Dave Parker was the only one I knew) so that by the time I left at around 10:30 there were about a dozen people there.

Things looked quite promising initially with a couple of stormies and a sooty almost as soon as I sat down but it quickly tailed off so it was very quiet with just the odd stormy for our collective efforts. After a while it started to get a little better and my final tally was 3 stormies, 6 sooties, 1 arctic skua, 1 pom and 1 bonxie. After I left it all seemed to kick off though and as well as a good number of Cory's going through at some time in the early afternoon a Wilson's petrel went through and even lingered for five minutes around the Runnel Stone. Most gripping!

I went home to pack and then headed for home, stopping off for a final look in at Hayle as I was going past. There it was similar to my previous visit with three Mediterranean gulls (1 s/p adult and 2 1st/s) and the usual waders.

Hayle common sandpiper at Ryan's Field

It had been another most enjoyable visit down to my favourite part of the country. Given that it was July I'd not been expecting much and so to get a total of seven county ticks was quite a good effort. In addition it had been great to catch up with some local butterfly specialities. My sea-watching sessions had only whetted my appetite further and I was already looking forward to my next visit down there.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Thursday 7th: Hayle & Pendeen

I was intending to head back on Friday but with stronger winds forecast for then than Thursday I thought that I would get as much done today as possible to leave me with some free time for a final session on the Friday. I did have to make a run to the dump at St. Erth and so of course it would have been rude of me not to pop in to the Hayle estuary for a quick look. I am finding that I am increasingly drawn to this spot, I think that it's because it offers waders and gulls which is of course what I specialise in on my home patch of Port Meadow. I managed to catch it just past high tide so there was plenty of water and plenty of birds as well. Across on the far side were a number of gulls including four Mediterranean gulls (2 summer plumaged adults and 2 1st summers). On the wader front there was a greenshank, 4 black-tailed godwits, numerous curlew and in Ryan's Field there were a couple of common sandpipers.

Back at Pendeen I went for a mid-afternoon walk around the local area. I nearly managed to lose my camera as it fell out of my camera pouch though fortunately I knew that I must have dropped it in the last 40 yards and so by tracking back and forth across the cliffs I was able to find it. I managed to find some more silver-studded blues and also found a grayling, which I was most pleased about. I worked late into the evening to get as much as possible done to free up time for my final day tomorrow.

A well-camouflaged grayling

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wednesday 6th July: Porthgwarra

Today was forecast to be a strong south-westerly wind so clearly a Porthgwarra day. I had some things to do first off and was intending to head down there a bit later once I'd finished my various tasks. By late morning I was ready and set off for PG, en route getting a text through from Bird Guides that there had been 90 Cory's shearwaters through from 8 to 9:30 in the morning. This looked highly encouraging and so it was with some optimism that pulled up at PG, parked in my usual location and headed off to towards the cliffs. Whilst Gwennap Head is the well known sea-watching point in actual fact the locals tend to use Hella Point and so it was to this latter location that I headed. When I arrived there were half a dozen birders including Dave Parker and Martin Elliot and they'd had over 600 Cory's go through earlier though of course it had all died down by now. Soon after my arrival most people headed off leaving just myself, Martin and one other birder whom I didn't know. I soon managed to show off my true sea-watching calibre by making the classic school-boy error of calling out a juvenile gannet as a Cory's but once I'd destroyed all my credibility it was quite useful as I could then ask lots of questions of these sea-watching experts with no reputation left to lose! Amongst the things I learnt was that early in the sea-watching season PG is generally better than Pendeen which comes into its own later on in the year. We also discussed spotting Yelkouan shearwaters and the two sub-species of little shearwater, all most educational.

It turned out to be a reasonable little session with a total of five Cory's going through, 6 sooties, 1 arctic skua and 1 storm petrel. Martin had quite a few more stormies than that but it's very difficult to pick up someone else's stormy at any distance. Martin told me that in the past on good Cory days things are often good in the morning, tail off during the day and then pick up again late afternoon so he stayed on after I left mid afternoon. He turned out to be right and a couple of hundred more Cory's went through as well as a single great shearwater later on. I'd thoroughly enjoyed my PG session and by the end I'd managed to get my eye in a bit more, learning the different lines that the difference species went through so I didn't feel like such a novice.

I found this interesting spider down by Pendeen,
I've asked on twitter what species it is and will report
back once I find out

Yet another lighthouse shot, this one is of course Pendeen

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tuesday 5th July: Croft Pascoe

Again I had lots of work to do and with no wind to speak of (it was actually quite a nice day) there was no point in any early morning sea-watching. By late afternoon I'd had enough of work and decided to take a jaunt over to the Lizard peninsula to see if I could find a hobby at the pool at Croft Pascoe. This turned out to be a shallow pool on the downs near Goonhilly which was known to be a good dragonfly spot. Indeed there were several of these beasts quartering over the water though I don't really know my dragonflies yet so couldn't tell you what they were.

Croft Pascoe Pool was full of dragonflies but unfortunately no hobbies

There were unfortunately no hobbies to be seen but I noticed a small forest area nearby and decided to pop in to take a look. This turned out to be a great piece of habitat with a mostly coniferous wood and an area of more sparsely separated trees with heather in between that looked great for species like nightjar, woodlark and tree pipit though unfortunately there wasn't very much of this area so it was probably too small. The wood itself though was alive with birds and simply by standing still and watching and listening it was possible to spot all sorts of species. There was a delightful family of young chiffchaffs working there way about the place as well as loads of blue and great tits. I heard a familiar call and soon managed to spot a male siskin on top of a neighbouring tree - this was another species that I needed for the Cornish list. By watching the canopy carefully I soon spotted a coal tit working its way through the trees which was again another Cornish tick - in my defence there aren't many suitable coal tit areas on the Penwith peninsula itself. Finally a secretive spotted flycatcher was the icing on the cake and a third Cornish tick. So despite not finding my target hobby I'd managed to come away with a handful of ticks for the list, a most productive trip.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Monday 4th July: Pendeen

I decided to start off my day with a sea-watching session at Pendeen though the wind wasn't particularly strong. There was a steady stream of manx shearwaters going by and I counted a total of 520 between 07:00 to 08:45 though there was little else of note. I had lots of work to do in the cottage so much of the day was taken up with that though by early afternoon I needed a break and fancied a wander around the local area to check out the butterflies. I gave John Swann a call and he helpfully came down to show me where to find silver-studded blues in the area though we only managed to turn up three of them with a small copper as a bonus. He also said that grayling were to be found in the area which, as a coastal butterfly, was a species I was keen to catch up with though they normally don't come out for another couple of weeks and we didn't manage to see any.

I found this lovely garden tiger month around the
back of the cottage though unfortunately it had been injured
and wasn't going to last long

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Sunday 3rd July: the North Coast

I was due to go back down to Cornwall again for a week: there was still much to do and my sister and a friend were coming down and a few things needed to be done to make things habitable for them. As always, I'd been following things down in Cornwall and knew that even down there it was remarkably quiet with nothing of note being seen at all. Given this lack of anything interesting to chase I planned to do some more work on my fledgling Cornish list and also with my new-found interest in butterflies (see Surviving June) I thought that I would take this opportunity to chase down some of the local specialities. On top of all this, July marked the start of when things begin to get interesting on the sea-watching front so I would keep a weather-eye on the charts and if there was a good wind I was planning to get in a spot of sea-watching.

With nothing of particular note to stop in on on the way down to Cornwall I thought that I would take a look at some Cornish sites along the north coast en route. The plan was to work on the Cornish list and also to take a look at some sites that I'd not yet visited. I'd been making some enquiries (thanks are due to John Swann and Colin Selway for their help with this) and had been given a few tips on where to visit for various species.

My first port of call was Walmsley Sanctuary near Wadebridge where the target bird was red-legged partridge. As I walked across the field towards the hide a flock of 5 stock doves flew up which was an unexpected bonus county tick. It turned out that they bred near there and there were even a couple of youngster sitting on some poles in front of the tower hide. All was quiet on the pools themselves with a couple of herons, a lone wigeon and a few miscellaneous ducks about. In the hide I met a nice couple from Heligan whom I'd met before at Marazion. They'd heard some partridges near the other hide so I went to take a quick look though all I could find in that area were a couple of soaring buzzards. I wandered back, scouring the fields and thought that I heard a distant calling bird but couldn't pin it down.

One of the young stock doves near the hide

Whilst there I thought that I would nip over to the other side of the road to take a look at Dinham Flats as part of my getting to know new Cornish sites. After walking through a couple of fields I found the hide though with the tide right out there was not much to see apart from a single little egret, a few shelduck and some black-headed gulls. As I returned to the car however I heard a male partridge singing from just the other side of the hedge from me. I crept forward to take a look but he heard me and I heard the whirr of wings as he sped off so I ran forward and managed to see him flying across the field. Result!

A shelduck on Dinham Flats

Next stop was Trevose Head to look for Corn Bunting. This turned out to be fairly straight-forward and I had no sooner turned off for the Head when there one was on the hedge right by the road though it flew off before I could take a photo. Despite already having achieved my goal I decided to go and take a look around anyway. It was all rather scenic though not as rugged and beautiful as the Penwith peninsula (to my eyes at least). I had a quick wander around and found a couple more corn buntings on the tamarisk hedging that lined the road. One male was singing by the road side so I got out and did some digiscoping. Job done, next stop Penhale Dunes.

Unfortunately this corn bunting remained partially
obscured by the tamarisk the whole time

I'm a sucker for a lighthouse photo so here are
a couple from Trevose Head

I wanted to visit Penhale Dunes for the butterflies, in particular the silver-studded blues which are a localised and rare small blue butterfly which you don't get in Oxon (that I know of). I'd done some research and managed to find the appropriate layby by the footpath and set off across the dunes. One aspect of nature that I particularly enjoy is exploring different types of habitat so it was nice to spend some time in amongst the dunes. At first I didn't spot very much but as I ventured further I saw the odd dark-green fritillary zip by though in the wind they weren't hanging around at all. After a while I spotted what looked like a dried up pond area which was sheltered by dunes on three sides which looked rather promising so I went over to take a look. Sure enough it was full of silver-studded blues as well as up to three dark-green fritillaries. I spent some time trying to take photos but many of the blues were past their best by now and they wouldn't easily let me get very close so I never got the classic closed-wing shot of them showing off their silver studs. Still it was great to see them all and I walked back to the car a happy bunny.

A couple of silver-studded blue shots

A very heavily-cropped record shot of a dark-green fritillary,
the only shot I was able to get though at least you can see the
dark green wash on the lower underwing which gives it its name.

It was getting rather late in the day now so I headed on down towards Penzance, just nipping in briefly to the Hayle estuary where it was high tide and a few waders were waiting it out in Ryan's Field. On to Pendeen to open up the house and to have something to eat. It had been a long but very enjoyable trip down.