Sunday, 30 August 2020


Part I
The last three days we've had proper stormy weather and raging southerly winds. As a birder of course this should be music to my ears in August but as I mentioned previously I've been feeling rather unwell. All this meant that I didn't feel up to getting up at the crack of dawn in order to spend all day on a windswept headland. In any event, I've never been a great fan of Porthgwarra - the light and the lack of shelter and the fact that I can't hear what people are calling out half the time all makes for a rather unenjoyable experience. Also, I'm on a family rather than birding holiday and to take off for the whole day with the car would be very much frowned upon. So instead, for the last three days I've gone down to Pendeen lighthouse at whatever time I've happened to wake up to try my luck there instead. Of course the wind direction was completely wrong for Pendeen and indeed the first two days were completely useless and I was reduced to picking out the few Mediterranean Gulls that were passing the Watch. 

On the third day, I was down at the Watch at 9 am to find one other person there. He'd been down at PG earlier but it had been such rubbish that he'd decided to try Pendeen instead. He was in two minds about whether to have a go but after seeing all the benefits of the shelter and the great light he was persuaded. He and I enjoyed a nice chat whilst we tried to winkle out some birds of interested and we even managed a couple of Sooties for our troubles. A third PG refugee turned up who turned out to be a birder all the way down from Aviemore in Scotland. He was younger and frankly more sharp-eyed than either myself or my original companion and things started to pick up with his arrival. We added quite a few more Sooties and a couple of Stormies to the tally and even an Ocean Sun Fish. The pick of morning though was an adult summer plumage Sabine's Gull that he managed to pick out well past the left hand rock. Somehow I too managed to get on it with my bins before it passed the lighthouse wall of oblivion though sadly my original companion never managed to connect.

As time passed and word seemed to spread of the comparative better pickings on offer at Pendeen more people arrived from PG and the session turned from our enjoyable trio who were able to chat amongst ourselves, instead to a large scale watch with more than a dozen hardcore sea-watchers. I tend to enjoy such sessions less, finding them rather intimidating for calling stuff out and I was getting tired anyway so called it a day at that point. Still I couldn't complain: Sabine's Gull was a personal Cornish tick.


Part II
I woke before the rest of the family to find the wind was as forecast, namely a moderate south-westerly averaging about 17 mph according to the BBC weather app. So, OK but not exactly classic sea-watching weather. Certainly in theory this should be another Porthgwarra day and as I got tooled up and wandered down to the lighthouse for a brief spell of sea-watching I expected to find myself pretty much on my own. I turned the corner to find thirty or so birders occupying the area below the lighthouse. Indeed there were so many people that I couldn't see anywhere to sit down and so had to retrace my steps back to the cottage to get my chair to sit on - I don't normally bother with it as I can sit on the concrete ledge. It seems that the recent poor PG performance had been enough to relegate it to below Pendeen for a south westerly.

As I've said previously, I'm not a great fan of the large watch but I managed to find a spot tucked right in the corner out of the wind and I was reasonably close to a couple of people who were helpful in passing on calls and all in all it was actually quite enjoyable. Looking around I recognised quite a few of the faces including my Aviemore companion from yesterday. I'd asked how things had been so far and the answer was pretty great! A Wilson's had gone past pretty early and they'd also had a couple of Great Shears and 6 (!) adult Sabine's Gulls. Pretty good stuff! Of course I could have been kicking myself over having missed the Wilson's but I have come to realise that sea-watching is such a brutal game that if you start going down that "if only..." route it can quickly "do your head in" completely. 

It's always interesting to look around at the assembled birders. It's funny how you can tell the serious battle-hardened watchers from the tentative beginners who won't call anything and rely on others to find and identify things. Myself, I suppose I fall somewhere in between the two camps. Compared to many I'm still relatively inexperienced and also I have issues with my eyesight which mean that I can't seem to see the same detail as some people. I also find that my eyes get tired easily and quickly glaze over staring at a blank seascape so I have to rest them regularly and I get tired after a couple of hours of watching. I'm a real light weight I guess! There weren't any locals on show and I've since leaned that they tend to prefer watching together from the lower car park away from the hoards.

I settled down and even managed to find and call a couple of Stormies myself. A couple more Sabs were picked up which I managed to get onto and with a couple of Bonxies and a couple of Sooties it was a pretty good sea-watch, especially for the wrong wind direction at Pendeen. 

A Rainbow over the Pendeen sea-watch

After a good couple of hours things started to go a bit quiet and as a fair portion of the other watchers started to leave, I too followed suit. With another couple of Sabine's under my belt it had been another good session.

Part III

With conditions looking  good for another Pendeen session I mentally pencilled in heading down to the lighthouse once more. However, still feeling poorly and having to do some DIY tasks meant  that it wasn't until late morning that I was finally able to get down there. I elected for the lower car park this time where I soon met up with my local friends P&H who informed me that there had been a number of Wilson's sightings that morning - Gah! Still, there was nothing to be done and in lovely sunny conditions and being pretty sheltered from the wind I had a good chat and managed to see some good birds as well. It was mostly Skuas with Arctic and Bonxies seen as well as some Sooties and Stormies but no large Shears and sadly no more Wilson's. 

After heading back to the house for lunch I elected to come back mid afternoon. Things had gone quieter but later on SR who was sitting next to me, managed to pick out a Wilson's! This was what I'd been waiting for but sadly it kept going down on the sea and he lost it before anyone else could get on it. So frustrating, but it's pretty hard picking out someone else'e Petrel at the best of times and there was nothing I could do. I eventually headed for home and tried to be philosphical about it, though it wasn't easy.


Part IV

The day before we were due to leave I had one more go on the sea. Once again from the lower car park though this time the wind was more northerly (perhaps too much so) which meant that it was much colder. It was a very difficult watch - I was feeling cold and ill, all the birds were very distant and I just couldn't seem to get on most of them though I did add a Sootie and a few more Skuas to my tally. In the end I gave it up as a bad job and headed back to the cottage

Pendeen Gannet

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