Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Early June Visit

Over half term we had a family trip down to Cornwall again. With two out of three children in tow we headed off on Tuesday for the rest of the week.

The birding down there seemed to have peaked on the Sunday before we arrived with loads of goodies (Golden Oriel, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike and Black Stork) all being seen on the same day. However, since then it was more like a typical June with not much at all on offer. The first couple of days I spent some time failing to track down the lingering but elusive Black Stork that was being seen occasionally at Rosewall Hill (Buttermilk Hill as the locals know it). Despite putting in a quite a few hours in the end, I never got to see it.

A distant Cuckoo on Rosewall Hill was scant compensation for not seeing the Black Stork

Hill top Painted Lady

This Grey Gorse Piercer (Cydia ulicetana) was actually a moth lifer. It was plentiful on the gorse flowers on the summit.

Our stay at Pendeen followed the usual pattern of DIY in the morning and then doing something in the afternoon. We had a family trip to Trewidden gardens and a walk down Kenidjack, around Cape Cornwall and back via Carn Gloose which was nice but offered nothing out of the ordinary in terms of sightings. Still, May and early June are beautiful times of the year down in Cornwall and it was enough just to enjoy the wonderful scenery and what had turned out to be a great week of weather.


Pendeen Whitethroat

Garden Goldfinch

Beautiful Demoiselle at Kenidjack

Towards the end of the week it turned very foggy at Pendeen and putting the outside porch ("moth light") on brought in quite a few species.

Cream Spot Tiger

Fox Moth


On Saturday some of the family wanted to head into Mousehole for a while to explore the shops and have some tea. After dropping them off I elected instead first to head to Newlyn to see if the long-staying American Herring Gull was around. However despite searching all the usual spots I could not find it at all. At this point I got confirmation from P&H that a Rose-coloured Starling was still present at St Buryan after having first been reported the previous night so I cut short my gull search and sped over there instead. It was very misty at St Buryan when I arrived and parked up in the side road where it had been seen. Still after less than ten minutes of wandering around it turned up, stting first on a telegraph pole and then on a roof-top - classic views! Despite the mist I managed some photos.

Rose-coloured Starling at St Buryan

That afternoon we were due to visit my VLW's niece up county a bit but the weather turned rather bad and I started to feel unwell (I was fighting off a nasty cold that our son has had all week) so we headed back to the cottage to start packing up instead.

On Sunday we decided to head back home via Glastonbury (which we'd been meaning to visit for many years) which just happened to be close to Ham Wall RSPB where a certain River Warbler was by coincidence currently on territory. The traffic was heavy all the way up on the A30 and also on the M5 up to our turn off. With a sign warning of hour long delays up ahead we were grateful finally to turn off and head for Glastonbury. I dropped the others off in the city centre and then hurried back to Ham Wall. I was very much aware that I had limited amount of time and as it was now afternoon and getting rather hot, it was possible that the bird (which is known to sing in the night) might well take a siesta. So I hurried along the familiar track towards the twitch spot. 

Ham Wall is one of my favourite reserves. This was my fifth visit but each previous time it had delivered in the form of a new personal UK tick. I had this site to thank for Pied-billed Grebe, Hudsonian Godwit, Little Bittern and Collard Pratincole - could I add River Warbler to this list? After a brisk 10 minute walk I crossed the first footbridge over the drain and hurried to join about a dozen or so other birders. The twitch arena turned out to be a length of about 30 yards long, facing towards a reedbed across an area of srub and reeds. I asked about when it was last seen and was told about half an hour ago. I set up my gear and settled down to wait.

Fellow Twitchers waiting for the bird to show

The reedbed in which the River Warbler was hiding

There was plenty of other birds to see and hear. With several Cetti's Warblers singing within earshot, a hawking Hobby and regular sightings of Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets it was a lovely place to be waiting. The only issue was that I knew I was on a tight schedule. After three quarters of waiting with no sighting I was starting to get worried. I knew that the patience of the rest of the family was distinctly finite and I started to contemplate the nightmare scenario of getting "that phone call" from them saying they were fed up and wanted to be picked up, before I'd seen the bird. I had just started to think about when I could come back again when the shout went up that it was flying low down in front of us. I managed to see a large dark brown blob fly towards a clump of reeds with some bare twigs in and a short time later it popped up briefly and started to sing it's weird pulsating whirring song. Just at that moment I got the phone call enquiring how I was getting on. I explained that the bird had just started to show and I would be another three quarters of an hour if that was OK. They agreed and I set about trying to get some photos. The bird was more or less on show constantly at this point, preening in a Hawthorn bush for a while before having another burst of song. The trouble was my auto-focus was really struggling to pick it out in amonst all the reeds and I got shot after shot of blurriness. After a while it moved even closer and sat on an exposed stem, in fact so close the autofocus was registering the reeds behind it. Eventually I zoomed all the way in and managed to fluke a couple of shots that turned out OK.

Showing well at last

When it disappeared again I decided to head off back to the family. Having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat it was in an elated mood that I retraced my steps back to the car and then drove back for the rendezvous. The others had very much felt that they'd "done" Glastonbury which turned out to be very alternative with all the shops being New Agey of some description. All very well as far as it goes but after wandering around for a bit the others felt that it was rather samey.

With a couple of hours on the road still ahead of us, we chose a scenic route back home that avoided the rest of the M5 and the rest of the journey passed uneventfully. It has been a nice change of scenery down in Cornwall and whilst the birding had been quiet I'd managed to get a nice bird on the way back home which more than made up for it.

Friday, 30 April 2021

April Visit

Because of Covid restrictions we had not been able to get down to Cornwall at all since last summer. We were presently in two minds about whether to let it out again for what would no doubt be a summer of high demand or in fact to sell the place given the extremely buoyant property market in the South West. In either case I needed to get down to sort the place out from its winter storm battering. There just so happened to be some good birds down in the South West, namely the Norther Mockingbird at Exmouth and the American Herring Gull as Newlyn. So it was, after rather a restless night in anticipation of finally getting out and seeing some birds again, that I was on the road shortly after 8 a.m. along the familiar route to the South West. News of the Mockingbird had already dropped on RBA so I was in a relaxed frame of mind as I steered the Gnome-mobile on her course. The traffic was light and I made excellent time down to the Exmouth turn-off when some ten minutes later I was parking up in Iona Avenue and getting tooled up. I had done a fair bit of pre trip research in order fully to acquaint myself with the location - for this particular site, knowing all the viewing angles from the different sides was more important than usual due to social distancing considerations and also due to rather strained relationship with some of the neighbours who had got fed up with birders climbing their walls and breaking their fences. So I had carefully read up all the gen on the BirdForum thread on the bird. 

To start with I went to the main road where I found a couple of birders peering through a gap in someone's fence into the neighbouring gardens where the favoured Holly bush and Palm trees could be seen. A quick enquiry revealed that they had not yet seen the bird in the twenty minutes that they had been there. I decided to do a quick tour and found the infamous alleyway which was very narrow indeed and no place for any social distancing so I decided to steer clear of there. Down Cauleston Close there was a narrow gap between the houses where the Holly tree could be viewed but it was hardly ideal and felt rather intrusive on the locals. Back on the main road the two birders told me that the neighbour whose fence gap they were looking through was getting very cross and kept putting up barriers to try to block the view. In the end it was obvious to me that the best viewing point was on the opposite side of the road where you had perfectly good scope views of relevant trees without having to intrude on any of the neighbours' privacy. Having duly set up it wasn't long before the Mockingbird appeared in it's favoured tree again. In colouring it very much reminded me of a Thrush sized Barred Warbler though with it's long tail and bill that was as far as the comparison went. It would sit still for long periods of time so there was no issue with tracking it or taking photos. It seemed relaxed and content and indeed during the entire time I was there I only saw it fly into the neighbouring Palm trees in order to feed on two occasions so I guess that it had already done much of its feeding for the day. I spent some time digiscoping it and some of them came out OK.

There were not many birders on site: during my time there I saw a total of six others. With the "stay local" restrictions having been eased at the end of last month most people who were going to come to see this bird had already done so. Most of the time the bird was on view, sitting in the tree and doing not very much. The original pair had gone down the alleyway to try their luck but the rest of us stuck to the far side of the road. After about an hour I decided that I had had my fill and headed back to the car. Having now got my head around the geography of the place I realised that, near where I'd parked, there was a narrow gap between the houses on Iona Avenue where one of the Palms could be seen. Just as I took a look the Mockingbird flew up into it and gave me what were the closest views of the entire time while it fed briefly before heading back to the Holly Tree (which was hidden from this vantage point).


This was a great finale for my visit and well satisfied but with much still to do ahead of my I fired up the Gnome Mobile and headed back onto the road. There had been no news on the American Herring Gull so far that day but an hour from Penzance the reassurring "still present" message came on my RBA app and I could relax for the rest of the trip. Arriving in Penzance I navigated my way straight around to Newlyn Harbour. I had intended to park at Sandy Cove, an area of hard-standing near the shore just as you leave Newlyn but there were loads of "Private Land" message showing everywhere so I guess that this was no longer possible. As I headed back I noticed a parked car on a single yellow line just above the beach where the gull was located. Remembering that it was a bank holiday I realised that I could park right on site and duly did so.

I got out of the car, to be greeted by a stiff northerly breeze. From my vantage point I could look right down on the beach which I recognised from various on-line photos of the bird and which I knew well from many past visits. There were only half a dozen gulls loafing on the beach and none was the bird I was after. Somewhat deflated I suddenly realised how tired I was. Was I going to have to come back later to see it? I stared disconsolately out at the harbour. A few gulls had noticed me lingering and flew closer to investigate - on the off-chance that I might feed them, I guess. One of them immediately stood out in flight as having very dark tail coverts. Even in flight I could also pick out the paler head and the "Glauc" like pink bill with a dark tip. Bingo - I had my bird! Rejuvenated by my success I decided to take my packed lunch and flask of tea down to the beach and to enjoy the company of the bird.

My first view of the American Herring Gull, looking down from where I had parked the car

Down on the beach near the tiny memorial chapel there were a couple walking their dog and throwing sticks for the dog all along the beach. I went over towards the gulls and decided to chuck in a few pieces of bread, as much to try and disuade the dog walkers from encroaching in this area as attracting the gulls. Fortunately, the dog people got the message and kept their activities to the far end and with my bread throwing I had got the attention of all the local gulls, numbering some three dozen or so gulls in total. Most were first winter birds, mostly Herring with a few Great Black-backed in amongst them and of course our Neartic interloper as well. From the numerous photos on the internet of this bird, I already knew how striking it was but it did really stand out from the crowd. To my mind it had almost a Glauc feel to it, with it's pale coffee wash to it, it's chunky size and of course the pink bill with the dark tip. The head was pale and it had a nice milky-coffee wash to the breast. The upper and lower tail coverts were strikingly dark and it had the pale bases to the greater coverts, at least on the outer edge of the wing. One thing that really struck me what the head shape which was noticeably different from the other Herring gulls, with a more rounded shape to it. All in all a pretty classic "smithy". I say all this with all the assurance of someone with only text book knowledge of them and who'd never actually seen one in the field before. It was great though that my first should be such a classic bird and one that was showing so well. 

I particularly like this photo which nicely shows just how
stand-out the AHG was compared to the local birds

The obligatory UTC shot


I sat and munched my lunch, sharing bits of it with the assembled throng. The AHG actually hung back from trying to fight for scraps and merely watched from a distance. Still it was close enough that I could shoot some video by balancing my superzoom camera on my knees.

Between myself and the gulls we soon managed to polish off my lunch and after a couple of reviving cups of tea from my flask it was time to get on. 

My first stop was just down the road a Jubilee Pool in order to see if there were any roosting Purple Sandpipers. Sadly the tide was too far out but I did manage to see a few on the small rocky island opposite the monument next to the pool. Then it was on to Sainsbury's in order to pick up some food for my stay before heading over to open up the cottage. With lots to do in a short space of time I cracked on with making a start on the preparations until I was too tired to work any more and so I turned in, dreaming of Mockingbirds and Gulls.

I woke up early the next day with much to do. I won't bore readers with a blow by blow account of all my DIY preparatations - after all this is a birding blog rather than anything else. I did manage to get out briefly in the morning with one of the Pendeen locals who showed me an aberrant Chiffchaff singing in a nearby plantation. So most chiffchaffs go: "jit ja ja jit..." etc. Iberian chiffies go: "jit ja ja jit, weet weet, cha cha cha cha" (as we all learnt to our cost in Oxon with a weird aberrant bird a few years ago). Well, this bird was going "weet, weet, jit ja ja jit" - a sort of backward half Iberian. It also never once dipped its tail which was most unusual. Not sure exactly what it was then but it seemed to have some Iberian influences. You can listen to a recording here.

Later that afternoon I went up the carn behind Pendeen village to look for a female Ring Ouzel that had been seen there but in the strong wind I could not find it. Once again I worked until I was too tired before turning in for the night.

Pendeen Stonechat

The obligatory Chough photo

I had intended to leave promptly the next morning but in the end I had things to finish off so it wasn't until midday that I finally left. I decided that after such an intense DIY-filled visit I would take a rather leisurely approach to the return journey as a reward for all my efforts. My first stop was at Drozmary Pool near Bolventor on Bodmin Moor where I soon had distant views of the long-staying female Ring-necked Duck and the adult male Scaup. The only other birds there were a female Tufted Duck and a Gadwall.

I also stopped at a service station to eat my lunch and to have a cup of tea before heading on for my third stop at Frampton-upon-Severn Sailing Lake for the long-staying 1w Bonaparte's Gull. This turned out to be a lovely site. After the harshness of the Cornish landscape everything was "soft" and more spring-like. There were hirundines everywhere hawking over the lake with singing Willow Warblers in the bushes. Unfortunately the gulls were all right in the far corner and despite grilling them all very carefully a number of times there was no sign of the Bonaparte's. In the end I gave up and headed on for home, arriving back feeling very tired after an intense few days away. Still I'd managed to see a couple of new birds and things were ready to move ahead with the cottage. 


The Mockingbird did its credentials no harm by leaving a few days after I saw it. Amazingly, it was picked up in Pulborough, Sussex where it spent one day before moving on. My sketchy understanding is that the eastern subspecies is largely resident whereas the western ones do undergo a migration of some sorts so this could be one of those that has somehow (perhaps with the aid of a ship) made it to our shores. In any event it was a great bird to see.