Saturday, 22 February 2014

Friday 21st February - Back Home

We decided to head off home today so at a reasonable (but not too early) hour we got up and busied ourselves with packing the car and putting the cottage to rights. It was a windy but sunny morning and periodically I would scan the sea to watch the Auks, Kittiwakes, Gannets & Fulmars hurrying by. Finally by late morning we were ready to depart and headed north along the A30. Our journey home was a bit tiresome, beset as it was by various traffic incidents - it even took a good half an hour just to get into Oxford for some reason. Nevertheless we arrived back safely mid-afternoon to catch up with our two daughters who'd been guarding the fort back home.

Looking back, it had been a fairly low key few days down in Cornwall though at this time of year of course that is to be expected. I'd managed to catch up with the main birds of note whilst down there: the Surf Scoter had been nice to see at such close quarters and I'd enjoyed the Glaucous Gull and particularly the adult Kumlien's Gull. There had also been the supporting cast of the usual sea birds, Divers and Auks etc  and it was nice to get some year ticks with those. The only sore point had been the Laughing Gull though to all intents and purposes it had not been twitchable so I'd not really missed anything.

Because of the on-going damp problems I'll certainly need to be back fairly soon to sort things out - I can't wait to return.

I leave you with a great photo taken by Tony Mills (c) of what was the bird of the trip for me, namely the adult Kumlien's Gull. You can see more of Tony's great photos at: and

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Thursday 20th February, Pendeen & Penzance

With a forecast of stronger winds and more inclement weather and also a late night from yesterday, I elected to have a lie-in this morning. In the event the weather was better than originally forecast with some nice sunshine in the morning though it was rather windy and every now and then a passing squall would dump a load of rain on the cottage. We busied ourselves with various DIY tasks: I was weather-proofing the garden furniture which had taken a real battering over the winter. The previous set had lasted less than a year so I wanted to try and get a bit more life out of this one. In between painting I would occasionally cast the bins in the direction of the sea where in the bright light I could see plenty of Kittiwakes, Gannets and Auks flying past. I also spotted some Fulmars flying close in near the cliffs.

After lunch L and I went for a walk down to the local cove. En route I watched the birds passing on the sea but it was all the usual stuff. On the way back I bumped into a lady birder whom I'd met a couple of times previously. She'd been doing a sea-watch from her car but didn't have anything of particular note to report apart from a Black-throated Diver on the sea. 

Late afternoon my VLW decided that she wanted a nap so L and I decided to head over towards Mounts Bay. We started at the bus station where I found a nice big raft of small gulls quite close in. I went through it several times, hoping to turn up the Laughing Gull but the best that I could find was an adult Mediterranean Gull and a Kittiwake. Out in the bay I managed to count a total of at least five Great Northern Divers. I didn't spot the Surf Scoter but to be honest I wasn't really looking for it.

Some of the bird out in the bay this evening

We next nipped round to the Station House car park but there was no sign of any gulls so with the light fast fading we moved on to the Red River estuary which again was birdless. After that we nipped into the supermarket to pick up some shopping and then it was back home for dinner and to get ready for our departure tomorrow.

Wednesday 19th February: Marazion

From my experience yesterday I decided that checking out Marazion first thing would be best for the elusive Laughing Gull so I was up before dawn and down by the Station House car park as it got light. In stark contrast to yesterday, it was grey, gloomy, breezy and cold though at least it wasn't raining. I wasn't alone in having this idea as Brian Mellow was also there as well as a visiting Devon birder called Dave. As it was around high tide there were plenty of gulls about to look through and between us we soon managed to conjure up the adult Glaucous Gull, the adult Kumlien's Gull and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. There was also the odd Kittiwake, a Guillemot and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks feeding very close in to the shore. Needless to say there was no sign of the Laughing Gull.

Dave Parker turned up briefly and we had a chat. before he had to head off for work. Periodically the Glaucous Gull and the Kumlien's would take turns to fly along the beach in front of us and it was interesting to note the subtle differences. Even from a distance the Glaucous Gull's wing tips were a brilliant shining white which really stood out whereas the Kumlien's had a more muted paleness to its tips. At close quarters of course one could distinguish the dark grey streaks along the primaries of the Kumlien's. Apart from that there were a few Sanderling, a small flock of Oystercathers and various bits and bobs. I stuck it out, getting increasingly cold, until just before 9am when I returned to the cottage to warm up. I was pleased to have caught up with the rest of the local gull interest though this Laughing Gull was starting to annoy me. It's interesting how, after the initial finding, all the views are very brief and are often only "reported" or at least not from named locals, so one wonders how accurate some of these later sightings actually are.

A fairly rubbish bit of digiscoped video of the adult Glaucous Gull...

...and a grab from the same video

The rest of the day was spent doing various DIY tasks around the cottage. We're having a real problem with damp coming in which we can't seem to stop - it's a real pain. Needless to say, later on the Laughing Gull came up on RBA as having been "reported" again with a brief sighting that morning in Marazion. It's remarkable how elusive it is compared to the other gulls there which you can catch up with fairly easily with a bit of searching. I remain somewhat sceptical though perhaps it's just sour grapes on my part.

Late afternoon we nipped back into town for some shopping and stopped briefly by the Station House car park again though it was so dark and gloomy by then that there was nothing to be seen. Then we headed north up to Porthtowan to have dinner with my VLW's niece and her partner in their new house. We arrived back home to a real Pendeen fog, thick and impenetrable and hurried to our warm beds.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Tuesday 18th February Marazion & Penzance

I'm back again in my favourite part of the country. It's been far too long since the last visit which was in fact my October excursion. We were supposed to come down to see the New Year in but the weather forecast was so appalling that we wimped out in the end. Anyway, it's half term so I've come down with my VLW and our youngest child, that being our seven year old son L. We're not going to stay too long but just wanted to see how the cottage had survived the extreme weather. We're located in a very exposed spot that bears the full brunt of any south-westerly winds so it would have taken a real hammering. Our fingers were firmly crossed that every thing was still OK as we made our way down on Monday, stopping off en route to visit my VLW's sister and her husband who have recently moved down to North Devon. Thus it wasn't until after dark on Monday that we finally arrived in Penzance where we got in some shopping and then booted up the cottage which was at least still standing.

The next day I decided to have a lie-in rather than get up early to chase after stuff. It wasn't that there wasn't anything to see it's just that I didn't feel particularly like getting up. There were a few interesting birds that I was keen to catch up with whilst I was down her. All the action seemed to be down Penzance and Marazion with a 1st winter Surf Scoter, an adult Kumlien's and several Glaucous Gull all hanging out in Mounts Bay. The icing on this avian cake though was a 1st winter Laughing Gull that Dave Parker found on Monday morning. He'd discovered it first thing in the morning though despite what I presume was extensive searching it wasn't seen again until late afternoon when one person saw it briefly.

We started the day with an inspection of the cottage - no major problems though the damp patches in the usual places were far more severe than usual. We made up a shopping list for both food and DIY materials and after a leisurely breakfast we headed over to Penzance. After visiting B&Q we decided to try out the new Sainsbury's which unlike Tescos at least had a nice cafĂ©. As we were sitting there enjoying our coffee an RBA text came through reporting the Laughing Gull which had apparently been seen again  briefly at Marazion  before flying off. We therefore hatched a plan: after our shopping we'd go and hang out at the beach for a while, L could make sand castles, my VLW could listen to her iPod and gaze at the sea and I could scan the loafing gulls for American vagrants. Thus it was that we installed ourselve at Marazion by the Red River estuary where there was a good selection of loafing gulls for me to grill.

Loafing Marazion Gulls

Needless to say there was no sign of the Laughing Gull which as far as I can tell has only been seen on three occasions, in each case briefly, by three observers. By way of compensation there were a couple of Great Northern Divers feeding close in by the rocks, lots of Herring Gulls, 6 Common Gulls and a smattering of Black-headed Gulls. An adult Kittiwake turned up and had a vigorous preen and in the wonderful sunshine with hardly any wind it was all very pleasant. Just as I was starting to pack up who should turn up but Phil and Hiliary, out looking for the Laughing Gull as well. We caught up on news and then went our separate ways.

By now we were feeling rather hungry after all our fresh beach air so we headed over to PZ where we managed to get some lunch. My VLW wanted to check out some of the local shops for some accessories for the cottage so I took L down to the bus station where one could get a nice vantage point overlooking the sea. There we passed a very pleasant oour and a half, me scanning the sea whilst L watched some of the local lads practising jumps and flips around and off the sea wall. On the bird front the Surf Scoter was about and floating about happily nice and close in. This was in very pleasant contrast to last time I tried to see this species down here in Cornwall when I put in many hours before getting a very brief and distant view. In the bright sunshine I managed the best views I'd ever had of this normally rather distant species. There was also a lovely confiding Black-throated Diver which sailed past at close quarters, giving me a chance to grab some digiscoped photos. A birder from Falmouth managed to turn up the female Eider which was having a nap over towards Long Rock. Someone else spotted a Peregrine overhead as well as picking out the two Black Redstarts further along on the coastal path near the railway signal box. There was also a Guillemot fishing away very close in and two rather distant Great Northern Divers (perhaps the Marazion ones again). All in all a very pleasant bit of birding.

 The Black-throated Diver and the Guillemot...

...and the Surf Scoter

After that it was time to make our way back to the cottage. Though it was by now rather late we busied ourselves applying a coat of paint to our rather weathered garden furniture. We were going to bring it indoors to dry over night but we found that because of the weather the second half of the double doors were so swollen that we couldn't open them. In the end we had to leave it outside overnight but we may well end up having to re-do it all tomorrow. After that it was time for food and to relax after what had been a very enjoyable day with wonderful weather and some nice birds to boot.