Monday, 20 December 2010

Kenidjack Siberian Chiffy Update

I've not managed to get back down to Cornwall again and probably shan't until the New Year now especially given the current weather conditions. However I do endeavour to keep up with the various Cornish blogs and I did notice on the excellent Sam and Lisa's Wildlife Photos that they'd managed to photograph the potential Siberian chiffchaff at Kenidjack that I mentioned in my entry for 6th December. I should point out that I think that someone else may have reported seeing it before I did though I'm not entirely sure on this point. It's great to have such good photos available and does confirm just what a good candidate it is though no one has apparently yet to hear it call.

I've linked directly to this photo from the blog (c) Sam & Lisa I recommend that you visit their blog for more details and photos including a nice comparison shot with a conventional chiffchaff.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tuesday 7th December: Hayle & Carbis Bay

I had another meeting with the builder this morning but it was earlier than the previous day so there wasn't time for a sea watch before hand. The meeting took longer than anticipated so it wasn't until late morning that I was free from my duties. I wanted to do a bit more birding before heading back home and was thinking of heading over to the Hayle area to see what was about. On the way I popped into Drift reservoir to see if the two geese (a Greenland white-front and a genuine wild neck-ringed greylag were about) but they appeared to have gone and there was little of note there.

Down at Hayle I first visited the Leylant Saltings platform. There was plenty of excellent light though as it was low tide the birds were widely scattered and somewhat distant. There was nothing of particular note to be seen. There was supposed to be a curlew sandpiper about but the dunlin flock (where it was probably hiding) was right on the other side of the mud flats. I did a some brief digscoping of a nearby grey plover.

A grey plover at Hayle

Next on to Carbis Bay which I'd not previously been to but which turned out to be a great spot. From a vantage point in front of the hotel one could overlook the bay and easily see a wide area. There seemed to be some sort of feeding frenzy going on with a large concentration of gulls in two spots as well as quite a few seals and I guessed there must have been a couple of fish shoals there. Over on the left-hand side close to the rocks I soon spotted the red-necked grebe and in the same general area was a female-type eider which (according to the chap I was chatting with yesterday) is not so common in Cornwall. On the diver front there were three great northerns and a single distant red-throated. There was also a flock of gadwall, a single red-head goosander near the rocks and another flock of three red-headed sawbills which I didn't have time to check before they moved on. There were loads of cormorants and shags and a single razorbill. A couple of birders turned up, armed not with a scope but what looked like a giant pair of war-time binoculars mounted on a tripod. We soon got talking so I pointed out what I'd found. After a while it was time to move on.

Carbis Bay - the white dots are all gulls indulging in a feeding frenzy

There was one final spot that I wanted to check in on, mainly because I'd not actually been there before and I wanted to suss out parking etc. so that I knew where to go should a rarity turn up there and that was Carnsew Basin. I found somewhere local to park and had a little wander along the southern end. There was not much to see apart from a reasonable dunlin flock, a few bar-tailed godwits, a single oystercatcher and a few grey plover. On the water itself there were a few distant little grebes. I did some more brief digiscoping as the light was so good and then decided that it was getting late and I should be heading back

The Hayle estuary, looking back from the south end of the Carnsew Basin

A feeding bar-tailed godwit in Carnsew

The journey back was uneventful, though after a while I hit freezing fog and rather pretty hoarfrost on the trees which lasted up until the M4. Whilst travelling back I was listening to the traffic reports and being profoundly grateful that I wasn't up in Scotland! It had been a most enjoyable return to my favourite part of the country and a great opportunity to experience winter birding there.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Monday 6th December: Around Mounts Bay

I had a meeting on site at 9:30 with the builder so I thought that I would nip down to the Lighthouse for a spot of sea watching before hand. It was a very bright sunny day and with the sun directly behind me the birds were all nicely lit and showed up well even at 1/2 and 3/4 distance. I had wondered whether there would be much about but there was always something going by even though it was just common stuff. Eight or so manxies went through and there were plenty of auks zipping past. I was looking out for little auks and did spot one which looked smaller. It even caught up with a line of slower auks so that I reasonable size comparison was possible but it was not small enough for a little and was probably therefore a puffin.

Back at the cottage there was much to discuss: some radiators had been installed in the wrong place and they were that afternoon about to install the oil storage tank on a piece of land that we didn't even own - thank heavens I'd actually come down when I had! Anyway all this took up the rest of the morning so it wasn't until early afternoon that I found myself free again for some birding.

There was not much of particular note about in the area at present so it was a case of doing the rounds of the local spots to see what I could find. As part of my local birding education I was keen to visit some spots that I'd not really visited before so first port of call was Kenidjack Valley, in particular the sewage works, where I reasoned any remaining small warblers were more likely to be hanging out. On the way down the valley I came across a tit feeding flock and I scanned around for some more exotic hangers on though all I could turn up was a goldcrest. I walked down to the hamlet near the ruined chimney before heading back up again.

Classic Cornish landscape shot in the Kenidjack Valley

On the way back there seemed to be more bird activity by the settling tank and I found a grey wagtail, two pied wagtails and a single phyllosc. which immediately had me thinking tristis. It had a very pale white underside (รก la greenish warbler), black legs, green tinted wings but paler brown upper body and head. It had a very faint single buff (not white) wingbar which I suspect only showed up because of the very bright light. Unfortunately it never called but it looked just like the comparison image of the tristis next to the greenish warbler in my Collins!

Next on to Sandy Cove at Newlyn where a slavonian grebe had been reported regularly each day. I managed to find a great northern diver but could not find the grebe though a local later told me that he'd not seen it in three visits down there which made me feel better about not finding it! A quick stop off at Jubilee Pool though it was, as I suspected, too early for any roosting sandpipers. Next on to Long Rock beach car park to scan the bay. There was another great northern diver quite close in but nothing else of note so I moved further along to Marazion beach where fortunately there were plenty of parking spaces at this time of year. There I passed a very pleasant three quarters of an hour watching the waders who were very close now that it was approaching high tide. The sun was shining a wonderful golden yellow (it was what photographers call "the golden hour") and the birds were very approachable. There was a good number (a couple of dozen) each of dunlin and sanderling, a single redshank and a single knot. with the odd ringed plover dotted along the beach. I met a local birder and we scanned the bay together for a while and he managed to pick up a distant red-throated diver over towards St. Michael's Mount. He also spotted a black redstart further along the beach hopping on and off the wooden posts.

Golden waders (taken with my point & shoot camera). You can just make out the knot in the top left hand corner.

Digiscoped sanderling - they are such lovely looking birds

Pensive dunlin

Some video footage of the sanderling

Once it started getting dark I headed back to Long Rock Industrial Estate to pick up some bathroom brochures and to chat to the people there about what we were looking for for the cottage. It was not quite fully dark when I finished so I nipped back to Long Rock pool where there were a couple of birders waiting to see whether any bitterns would come in to roost there (apparently there'd been four there the previous evening). It turned out I'd missed one by twenty minutes and no more came in. Whilst I was there I got chatting to a local birder who soon asked if I was Adam Hartley! Amazed, I said that I knew that Cornwall was a small community but that was still quite impressive. It turned out that he read the Pendeen Birding blog and had worked it out from my saying that I was renovating a cottage at Pendeen. We had a good chat and he told me about a red-necked grebe that was currently at Carbis Bay and how to get there. He also asked whether I was thinking of compiling a Cornwall county list and I confessed that it had crossed my mind. I'd found myself thinking of county ticks when spotting even common stuff such as mistle thrushes etc. He told me that some common birds such as treecreeper and nuthatch are hard to find at this end of the county so I would have to go further up to get those. Eventually it got too dark for any more bitterns to come in so I headed back to the B&B for a cup of tea, followed by a pub meal and another hot bath.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Sunday 5th December: Lodmoor (Dorset) & Jubilee Pool Rocks

It was time for me to head west once more down to Pendeen to check on what the builders had been up to since my last visit. The rest of my family had had more sense than to leave the warmth of the house so it was just going to be me. I put on my sad face when I discussed this with the family but secretly a part of me was thinking: "hoorah! more birding time!". This time I wasn't going to be doing any DIY but just to inspect the work and to meet up on site with the builder so it was going to be a flying visit: down on Sunday and back on Tuesday. As usual I took a look to see if there was anything of interest birding-wise to stop off at on the way down but the best I could come up with was the long-billed dowitcher at Lodmoor in Weymouth. Calling it "on the way" was stretching it I know, but technically going down via Weymouth would only actually add another 20 miles to the journey though probably add at least an hour in travelling on the minor roads.

Sunday 5th December
I had been thinking of heading off pretty early on Sunday morning but the forecast was for thick fog for much of the southern half of the country which would only slowly clear and I didn't want to arrive at Lodmoor too early only to be stuck in the car park waiting for the fog to lift. Eventually I hit on the brain wave of googling for Weymouth webcams and found one which showed that it was nice and clear on the coast already so I set off at around 9:30, arriving a couple of hours later to be greeted by bright sunshine and temperatures verging on balmy after the last few days. The dowitcher had been reported at the viewing shelter a couple of hundred yards from the car park over the last few days so I headed off in that direction. There I made enquiries only to be told that it was currently on show at the "hump" (the south-east corner of the reserve) and that the red-breasted goose was along the track that runs along the east side of the marsh, in the last pool on the right. I'd not bothered to switch on bird alerts for Dorset so the goose was news to me. I headed off in that direction and soon found the hump. There were plenty of birds to look at: dunlin, black-tailed godwits, lapwings, snipe, shelduck and teal being the main ones. The habitat looked really good and the birds seemed to be relishing it. I couldn't immediately see the dowitcher so I decided to go and check out the goose first.

The goose was on a half-frozen pool where it was swimming around and bathing, doing a rather strange somersault as it did so which I've not seen any bird do before. I took some video footage though one was viewing through reeds so the it's rather frustratingly obscured. No one there had any particularly strong thoughts on its provenance though it was apparently not the plastic bird that has been down in Devon and it was not reported again after that day.

Some video footage of the red-breasted goose doing somersaults as it washes

Having "lucked in" (using the UK definition where "lucked out" means to have bad luck, whereas in the US it perversely means to have good luck!) or perhaps I should say "jammed in on" the goose, it was time to go back for the dowitcher. I strolled back to the hump and worked out that there was a blind spot behind the hump itself. I therefore repositioned myself and soon found it busy feeding away. Shortly after it flew to an easier point to view and gradually worked its way closer and closer so that in the end I had excellent views. Naturally I tried digiscoping it but discovered that a dowitchers have their bills under water almost all the time so that one has to keep one's finger held down constantly on the camera shutter hoping to capture the brief moment when it pops its head up. In this respect they're even worse than godwits which also have this characteristic. Anyway I managed a few acceptable shots as well as some video footage.

The few shots that actually had it's bill out of the water!

Some video footage of the dowitcher feeding. My apologies for the loud conversation going on in the background - it wasn't anything to do with me.

Not wanting to arrive too late in Cornwall and concerned at how long the cross country section from Weymouth back to the motorway might take, I didn't hang around too long before setting off again. As it turned out the rest of the journey was fine and I arrived in Cornwall just as it was getting dark. Having consulted the tide timetable before coming down I knew that high tide was at dusk today and would be even later tomorrow. As I was keen to see the purple sandpipers on the rocks by Jubilee Pool I knew that today was going to be my best chance so I headed straight over there. They weren't there when I peered over so I had a little wander around the harbour peering down at the harbour walls for possible roosting spots. All I could find however was a few turnstones and rock pipits so I headed back to the usual spot where amazingly the birds had turned up and were all tucked up asleep. There were about 15 sandpipers and a similar number of turnstones all standing on the edges of the harbour wall. I took some photos though in the half light they are of poor quality.

A turnstone in the harbour at dusk

The roosting purple sandpipers and turnstones by Jubilee Pool

After that I headed off to the supermarket to buy provisions for the duration of the stay then it was off to the cottage to store the food in the fridge & to have a meal. The cottage was absolutely freezing as they were still installing the central heating so I did little more than nuke up a microwave curry, gulp it down and head off to the B&B in Pendeen (The Old Chapel) where I was staying. This had the most amazingly hot hot water for a reviving bath and a pub conveniently located on the opposite side of the road. After such a long day I slept well that night.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

New Cornwall Birding Reserve – Your help needed

A worthy cause which I thought that I would highlight. I've copied the text from from Cornwall Birding

As you may or may not know, Cornwall Birding is working with Sainsbury’s to secure land at Hayle which will hold a new food store and incorporate a superb new nature reserve which we will be managing. The reserve has great potential with plans for large areas of reed bed, open pools and wader scrapes with plenty of walkways, viewing areas and bird hides. It will be open to all, not a members only reserve! So we need your help in securing the planning. If you could spare just a few minutes composing a letter or e-mail to the address at the bottom of the page showing your support for the application, it would be greatly appreciated.

For a PDF version of the proposed plan click on the link here

Write or e-mail your support to:

PA10/04297: Proposed Foodstore off Marsh Lane Hayle
Jeremy Content
Development Officer
Planning and Regeneration (West)
Cornwall Council
St Clare, Penzance , TR18 3QW
Tel: 01736 336785
Fax: 01736 336566

4 possible grounds of support in no particular order:

1. A modern new foodstore serving Hayle, improving choice and competition and enabling Hayle residents to do their weekly food shop locally. The Harbourside is not an appropriate location for a foodstore in heritage and traffic terms.
2. Creation of 270 jobs and proper training for new colleagues.
3. A new nature reserve, with public access and co-ordinated management. A great local resource!
4. A green buffer between the development and Angarrack, protecting the amenity of the village for ever.

Here are a couple of photos from my recent visit to Pendeen. I'm hoping to visit again in the next few weeks though it does seem to have got rather quiet now.

My favourite view at Pendeen, looking south towards Land's End

Another point & shoot photo of the Cot Valley firecrest

Monday, 25 October 2010

Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th October: Pendeen, Treen & Hayle

Having picked up the family on Friday night it was now a case of doing DIY and family-based activites so birding would be somewhat curtailed. On Saturday, since the rest of them like to lie in whereas I like to get up early I took the opportunity to nip down to Pendeen lighthouse for a spot of sea watching. There was a good strong north-westerly wind so ideal conditions for Pendeen. There I met half a dozen or so birders already present and busy doing a one-hour count. They were all calling out the birds as they passed and each person had a click-counter for a different species. I sat down with them and duly started calling out the birds that I spotted. It was all rather quiet with nothing but auks, gannets and kittiwakes. Indeed the highlight during the short time I was there was a fulmar that I spotted (apparently the first one of the day) though there had been a sooty shearwater that went through before I arrived.

I thought that I'd take a photo of the lighthouse from a different angle for a change.

I soon had to leave to get on with more mould removal whilst the rest of the family went for a walk down to the fishing cove just to the north of the lighthouse. I would periodically peer out the window and I could see that things had definitely picked up on the seawith huge numbers of gannets streaming past and in the bright sunshine I could even make out small white dots which could only be auks with their low direct flight. It later turned out that a little shearwater went past mid morning as well as a Leach's petrel, good numbers of skuas and a few shearwaters so I missed a really good session!

There were lots of "stormlets" passing through over the weekend: very small concentrated rain showers which pass through quickly. This one had a rainbow at one end

That afternoon the girls wanted to go shopping in Penzance so I took L (our four year old boy) for a walk down to Treen cliffs where a barred warbler was supposed to be hanging out. Being on the south cost of the peninsula it was nicely sheltered from the northerly wind and L and I passed a pleasant hour or so sitting around watching the sea and failing to see any warblers. I did spot a stonechat, a kestrel and a rather late house martin. Then it was back to rendezvous with the girls for a spot of tea in Penzance and then back home for dinner.

Sunday morning I went down to the lighthouse again though the wind was much more moderate and there was just one other birder there. There were loads of kittiwakes but not much else until I spotted a distant skua which we both agreed looked like a pomarine. A couple of balearic shearwaters also went through and my companion had seen a few distant auks which might have been littles. I soon had to get back for a final bout of mould scraping. Whilst I was doing this B (our younger daughter) and L went out to look for slow worms and they managed to find one as well as a tiny newt.

Slow worm: the children enjoy finding them under stones

After packing up it was time to set off for home via the scenic route along the west coast, stopping at Zennor for lunch at the hostel and Leylant Saltings where the girls visited the sweet shop and I had a brief scan of the estuary. I found the whooper swans but not the spoonbill though as we set off on the A30 I glanced down into Ryan's field (Hayle RSPB) where there was a large white sleeping bird which could well have been the spoonbill. Our journey home was uneventful and we arrived back at Oxford mid evening. It had been another enjoyable visit to this wonderful part of the country with some more great birds to see.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Friday 22nd October: The Valleys and Sandy Cove

On Friday morning and with little wind forecast, rather than doing some sea watching first thing I decided to get over to Nanquidno and Cot valleys to see whether I could connect with any yellow-browed warblers. At Nanquidno a bird had been reported for several days in the copse by the ford so that's where I started. I met with a female photographer who was staying at the house right next to the ford. She'd seen the bird several times on previous days but not that day so far. I wandered around a bit and crossed over the stream to check out the other side. The habitat all looked great but the best I was able to come up with was a single firecrest.

Next on the Cot valley where I soon found another firecrest in the company of a goldcrest but once again no warblers. I met a fellow birder who'd found a couple more firecrests lower down the valley but he too had not had any warblers so I decided that I'd better get back to the cottage and start my DIY work. I did manage a photo of the Cot firecrest on my point & shoot camera which came out quite well.

The Cot valley firecrest

I spent the morning painting a grotty wall where a bookcase had been, the idea being to make the interior less revolting for when we come down to visit. There was also lots of black mould which was going to have to be removed later on. After lunch I had an appointment with the builder to discuss progress and after that I felt that another brief birding break was called for and duly set off for Sandy Cove in Newlyn where there was supposed to be a snow bunting hanging out. I soon found the bird which was as approachable as they usually are. Most of the area was in deep shade but there were a couple of sunlit areas and I was fortunate enough to get some photos off in this area so the bird was well lit and nice and close.

The Sandy Cove snow bunting

Whilst I was in the area I nipped down to Point Spaniard just past Mousehole where there was supposed to be a yellow-browed warbler. The copse habitat looked great though viewing was somewhat restricted. I met a fellow birder who'd been there for about an hour and a half without luck so it wasn't looking promising. We staked out the area for a while to no avail before I realised that I would have to get back for some mould scraping and departed. Back at the cottage I spent a couple of hours taking off the damp mouldy paint from the walls and after these efforts the wall looked a lot better. There's something really off-putting about seeing mould on your walls and bare plaster is infinitely preferable.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Thursday 21st October: Heligan & Sennen

As regular readers will know, we're doing up a cottage down in Pendeen and having not been down for a few weeks, it was time to return there to check up on what the builders had been doing to the exterior and to do a bit of work on the interior ourselves. The plan was that I would go down on Thursday and then the rest of the family would come down on the train on Friday night for the weekend.

I myself set off from Oxford shortly after 9am on Thursday morning as I wanted to drop in on some birds en route. Specifically there was the small matter of the first winter green heron at the Lost Gardens of Heligan that it would be rude of me not to visit and with the roads nice and clear I arrived there at around lunch time to find the weather down in Cornwall gloriously sunny and warm. I'd been prepared for cold conditions and found myself rather hot with all my layers on. At the entrance gate I enquired about the heron and was told that it was at the top pond today. This was how twitching should be: definite news of the exact location and even a map to show you exactly how to get there, well worth the £10 entrance fee! Some ten minutes later after a nice walk through some woodland and then down a little hill I arrived at what was a remarkably small pond. At the bottom end on a footbridge were a few photographers who told me that the bird was working its way around the pond and was just behind some reeds at present. After that it was just a matter of matter of waiting a few minutes while it worked its way out of the reeds and then trying to find the best angle to view from. The bird was regularly catching small fish so was obviously being well fed and I wondered whether it might actually try to over-winter there, only time will tell. This must be one of the most photographed herons in the country but here are my digiscoped efforts.

The Heligan green heron

I also took some video footage of the bird

After that it was on to the Penwith peninsula. I briefly dropped in at the Leylant Saltings platform for a scan across the Hayle estuary where there were supposed to be a spoonbill and some whooper swans hanging around. There was no sign of either though I did meet a local birder and I took the opportunity to ask him about the buff-breasted sandpiper that was at Sennen. He told me that it was hanging out with a flock of golden plover but that you can't see all the field from the official viewing point. Armed with this information I went off to Sennen and a short while later pulled up at the Trevedra farm entrance and walked down the farm track to the second field. Apart from a few loafing gulls there was nothing to be seen. What was apparent was that the field had quite a slope on it and one could only see part of it from this vantage point at the bottom end. Whilst I was there another party of people came, enquired about the bird and on hearing that it was nowhere in sight, went off again. Shortly after that a large flock of several hundred golden plover flew in, circled for a while and then landed on the hidden part of the field. Whilst they were flying I scanned the flock carefully but there was no sign of any smaller hangers-on. Having done my research (i.e. looking at Google Earth before I set off) I knew there was another farm track on the other side of the field so I duly set off there and from this vantage point I found that I could see the plover flock perfectly. There was no sign of the sandpiper initially but after a while it flew in calling loudly, landing quite close to me some thirty yards away. Although I was facing directly into the sun I adopted my usual "if I can see it I'll try to photograph it" approach and rattled off some digiscoped shots before it moved further away.

The Sennen buff-breasted sandpiper, all digiscoped into the sun so the bird is very back-lit

After having failed to connect with the Davidstow bird on a couple of occasions it was nice to see this bird comparatively easily. As I was returning to the car I met a fellow birder who said that the third winter Azorean yellow-legged gull, which had been hanging around the area for a while was also in the same field best viewed from the other track so I went back for a look. There was one gull which could have been it but before I could give it a good grilling a helicopter flew over and put up all the gulls. At this point I decided to call it a day so I drove off to Pendeen, unpacked the car and headed over to Tesco's to get some provisions for the duration of my stay. It had been a great start to my Cornwall visit.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sunday 26th September Pendeen & Davidstow

Back at Pendeen watch first thing this morning where I met a husband a wife team of birders who were sea watching from the sheltered southerly side of the lighthouse so I decided to join them. Whilst this offered respite from the wind it did mean that the birds were further away and in future I think that I'll just have to brave the wind and sit in my usual spot.

dawn coming up over the hill at Pendeen
The Gurnard's Head at first light

Finally there was some activity on the sea with some shearwaters and skuas coming through. During the two hours that I was there as well as the usual stuff I counted ten balearic shearwaters, one sooty shearwater, about 6 arctic skuas including one really close in and one bonxie. I noticed that the rate of 5 balearics per hour was the same as was achieved at Porthgwarra that day. We also had three sightings of basking sharks though whether it was the same one or three different individuals is hard to say though at Land's End ten were reported.

I spent the next hour or so back at the cottage packing up and loading stuff in the car before setting off for home. I wanted to call in at Davidstow again on the way back as the buff-breasted sandpiper had been seen again the previous day and if I had time also at Turf in Devon to see the spotted sandpiper as it was just off the motorway junction though it wasn't that high a priority.

At Davidstow the weather was much nicer than last time with warm sun and a gentle breeze. It soon became apparently however that it was a much more popular place at the weekend with model aircraft enthusiasts, people riding mountain bikes and even proper light aircraft taking off and landing on one of the runways. There were one or two birding cars about and I too set of on my birding curb-crawl to see what I could find. The answer was not a great deal. I got excited when I saw a wader fly down to land by the pools but when I managed to find it again it turned out to be a dunlin.

Not a buff-breasted sandpiper!

As it was a nice sunny day and there were no birds around I decided to have a little walk around by the control tower. Whilst doing so three birds zipped over. Two were linnets but the third gave a distinctive bunting trill and as it banked I caught sight in the bins of its chestnut wing panels and with distinctive markings on its face: a nice lapland bunting. There have been so many sightings of these down in Cornwall that it was only a matter of time before one flew over me.

The control tower and small flood pool by the runway at Davidstow

With not much bird action at the airfield and a long journey ahead of me I decided that I should head off back to home and I arrived back in Oxford late afternoon, tired but pleased with my few days birding down in Cornwall.

Saturday 25th September - If Carlsberg did Birding!

Saturday morning I went down to Pendeen watch at 7am where I met another birder though he turned out to be from Berkshire rather than locally. He said that in the half hour he'd been there there'd been nothing through at all apart from two gannets! I joined him and it was remarkably slow going with just a few kittiwakes and auks to show for an hour's watching. At that point I decided that my birding time would more profitably be spent elsewhere and wandered back to the cottage for breakfast.

I needed to hire a circular saw to help chop up a built-in bookcase that the previous cottage owners had installed so it was off to Penzance next. My intention was to pick up the saw and to take a rather circular route back to Pendeen via Treeve Common in order to look for the shrike once more. With very little wind I was thinking that if there bird were still there it would definitely be showing. However these plans were scuppered when I discovered that the hire shop closed at 12 and if I didn't return the saw by then I'd have to wait until Monday. As I was returning to Oxford on Sunday this left me with a bit of a dilemma. In the end I hired the saw, raced back to Pendeen and then spent the next hour or so sawing like a demon, making every conceivable cut that I was possibly going to need so I could actually dismantle it at my leisure. I got the saw back in good time and then decided that Treeve Common was due as a reward for all my hard work.

When I arrived I was initially there on my own. With the calm conditions there were plenty of birds to be seen with whinchat, stonechat and countless meadow pipits zipping around. However there was no sign of the shrike that I could see. Soon after that other people started arriving. First someone from Newquay who was doing a walking circuit of the whole area to check out what was around though he didn't stay long. Then two visiting birders arrived and finally three birders who from their "jizz" were clearly locals. One, who was called Mush (short for Mushtaq perhaps?) was continually on the phone and it turned out that he ran Birdline South West. Another was John Chapple who does the Cornwall birding DVD's. He was carrying a natty little HD digital camcorder on a tripod of which I was rather covetous, especially in the light of the video he subsequently took. There was a third chap whose name I didn't catch. A merlin shot through the field at great speed and was gone almost immediately. John had wandered off to the corner of the field looking for birds whilst the other two chatted so I wandered over to join him. What followed was a few minutes of pure birding magic, hence the blog title "if Carlsberg did birding".

As I approached I saw a warbler flitting through the sallows. It was low down and appeared frequently in the gaps near the bottom so that one could obtain quite good views. Seeing the strong supecilium and some kind of wing bar I suggested "is that a yellow-browed?" John who had been watching it already had been thinking arctic initially but over the next few seconds we converged on greenish warbler! We gestured to the others to come over and in a rather comic manner they dawdled and ambled until we got the message of what we had across to them when they managed to move sharpish enough. A couple of the stragglers didn't manage to see it before it disappeared but most people got at least a glimpse.

Some video that John Chapple took of the greenish warbler the next day

A minute or so after it had disappeared and whilst we were looking around to see if we could see it again John noticed something in the overgrown ditch next to us. "Is that a hippolais?" he asked. It turned out to be a melodius warbler working its way along the ditch. It then appeared in the sallows where the greenish had been. It worked its way back and forth a few time and I even managed to take a couple of digiscoped shots of it though trying to digiscope a skulking warbler in sallows is bloody hard work.

My digiscoping efforts for the melodius warbler

We hung around for a bit longer to see if the greenish would return though it didn't and was not seen again that day (though John re-found it the next day). Whilst waiting the merlin shot through again but the shrike never turned up and the melodius started to get elusive. I realised that I would have to get back to the cottage to get on with my DIY and so headed off back to Pendeen.

John Chapple's video of the melodius warbler

I spent the next few hours getting hot and dusty but managed to dismantle the bookshelf, pack it into the car and take it to the St. Erth recycling centre. Whilst there I thought that it would be rude of me not to pop in to Hayle estuary where I passed a pleasant while checking out the high tide roost though there was nothing particularly unusual about so I headed back home to Pendeen to finish clearing up all the mess I'd made from the day's work

Friday 24th - Davidstow & Treeve Common

I was due back down in Cornwall for more work on the cottage so on Friday I set off from Oxford mid morning and headed west. This time I thought that I'd stop in at Davidstow Airfield, partly as though I'd heard much about it and its ability to bring in rarities I'd never actually visited and partly as there were currently two dotterel and a buff-breasted sandpiper in residence.

When I arrived it was rather overcast and gloomy with occasional brief showers. I pulled off onto the end of the main runway and a quick scan found a flock of about 10 ringed plover with one dunlin. I wondered how one was supposed to bird this location and had naively assumed that one parked up and scanned with a scope though his did make me wonder how people got such good photos from their cars at close quarters. I then saw a car on the airfield in the distance and realised that the answer was that people just drove around in their cars until they found something. I decided to follow the other car and this turned out to be a good plan because it ended up next to another car whose occupants were watching the two dotterel at close quarters.

The two dotterel, taken with my point & shoot camera

I took a few rubbish record shots with my point & shoot camera and wondered about digiscoping. To get out of the car would risk flushing the birds so in the end I tried hand-holding the scope with my digiscoping camera attached to the end and the results came out quite well.

Hand-held digiscoped dotterel.

There were also loads of wheatears around as well as some pied and white wagtails, meadow pipits and linnets. Despite searching for some time and asking other birders there appeared to be no sign of the sandpiper so I headed on to Penzance.

When I arrived I thought that whilst it was still light I'd head straight over to Treeve Common near Sennen/Land's End to see if I could find the red-backed shrike that was there. Whilst it was nice and sunny down there there turned out to be a very strong northerly wind and all the birds were hunkered down out of sight and there was no sign of the shrike. So I headed down to Pendeen and checked in at the Watch for half an hour though nothing went through apart from a couple of manx shearwaters. Then it was off to unpack the car, "boot up" the cottage and go and get some food for the weekend.

The Wra from the watch, bathed in golden sunlight.
Shame about the lack of birds though.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Retrospective Wood Warbler & The Hayle Estuary Needs You!

Firstly I've remembered something that I meant to put in my last entry about my last visit to Porthgwarra. Whilst I was looking for the melodius warbler I did manage to see a warbler which wasn't it. It was in fact a phyllosc. type but rather large with a bright yellow breast, a fairly clean demarkation between the breast a clean white belly and with a strong yellow supercilium. It was making a down-slurred call which I should have recognised at the time but I was a bit slow on the up-take. However after the fact I've realised that it was in fact in all probability a wood warbler that I saw. Not quite in the same league as a melodius warbler but a nice bird none the less.

Secondly I'd like to draw people's attention to the following which I've copied from the Cornwall Birding web-site. It only takes a minute to send an e-mail about it and it's very a worthwhile cause that should be dear to any birder's heart.

Hayle Estuary Proposed Dog Control Order
So far there have been 12 objections to the dog control order on the Hayle Estuary and only one letter of support! We hear so many complaints from birders about disturbance caused by dogs on the estuary so this is your opportunity to do something about it!! PLEASE write showing your support for a Dog Control Order on the estuary BEFORE 27th September to the address below or send an e-mail to The area to be covered by the DCO and further details can be seen on the Council’s webpages:

We suspect the number of objections has been helped by the letter in last week’s ‘The Cornishman’ newspaper in which a local resident expressed her views on the introduction of a DCO in no uncertain terms. Unfortunately, in spite of two excellent responses (by Cornwall Council and Dave Parker) correcting the misinformation and total nonsense in that letter, the paper has declined to publish these today. We are not surprised but of course very disappointed.

Please write if you can before the 27 Sept to:
Ms Tina Beeley, Legal and Democratic Services, Room 43, Cornwall Council, St Clare, Penzance,TR18 3QW

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Sunday 12th September: Porthgwarra

Next morning at first light I was back yet again at Porthgwarra to look for the Melodious warbler once more. In addition, the wryneck had been seen again and a lapland bunting had been spotted yesterday morning on the cliffs by the coastguard look-out so there was plenty to look for. I checked out the trees where the warbler had been showing yesterday though without any luck so after I while I walked up to the Coastguard cottage for a snoop around (again no luck) and then on up to the look-out where I met a fellow birder who was also looking for buntings. Together we scoured the area, putting up all the meadow pipits in the process (there must have been at least 50). There was no sign of any buntings though we did have a calling tree pipit fly over by way of consolation.

I went back to the warbler spot and was just idly staring at the bushes again when the word went up that the wryneck had been seen again at the cottages. I nipped back to find several birders focused on a fence line from where it had flown down a couple of minutes ago. Thinking that it would probably return there I set up my scope and digiscoping gear in anticipation and sure enough a minute later it briefly showed on the fence again for a few seconds before disappearing once more. I managed to get just two shots off before it disappeared but they weren't too bad given the circumstances. I then when back to waiting for the warbler but it never showed and wasn't seen again that day.

A couple of record shots of the elusive wryneck whilst it was briefly on the fence

Back at the cottage I had to get the car loaded for a run to the recycling centre and then we had to pack and get ready for home. I did manage about ten minutes of sea watching at Pendeen Watch whilst on a break during which time, with a strong on-shore breeze, I saw hundreds of manxies and one arctic skua go through. Later it was reported that 15,000 manxies went through in five hours: an amazing 3,000 per hour!

After lunch we set off for home. As the sandpiper had disappeared from Davidstow, there was no need to persuade the rest of the family that they needed to make a detour on the way back to look at an abandoned airfield for a while: that would have been a rather hard sell anyway. Looking back on it, it had been a somewhat frustrating birding experience with many of the recent good birds having moved on before I arrived and the remaining ones proving rather elusive or at least not showing whilst I was free to go birding. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the sea watching at Gwenapp Head and no birding trip can be that bad when one gets a sighting of a wryneck. It really is such a wonderful part of the country and I can't wait to get back there again.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Saturday 11th September: Marazion

The next morning I got up early and went back to spend an hour checking 60 foot cover some more for the warbler but without any luck. Back at the cottage I finished off sorting out the bookcase and then it was a day of family activities around the cottage and later in Penzance. We had lunch by the beach at Marazion and I took the opportunity to do a bit of digiscoping of the ringed plovers and dunlin on the beach though the light wasn't that great.

A juvenile dunlin having a good probe...

...and a juvenile ringed plover foraging

That afternoon it was rather frustrating to get regular Bird Guides text messages about how well the melodious warbler was showing at Porthgwarra albeit in a different location from before. A juvenile buff-breasted sandpiper had also appeared at Davidstow airfield though that was perhaps an hour away from Penzance. Unable to get out birding at all, we had a pleasant enough family afternoon in Penzance and L and I checked out the harbour's boats and looked in the rock pools whilst the others did some shopping.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Friday 10th September: Porthgwarra

The next morning I planned to get up early to do some sea watching. With a strong south westerly wind forecast, rather than my local spot at Pendeen I was thinking that Porthgwarra would be a better bet. For a couple of years I'd been keen to visit the South-West seawatch that takes place there each autumn at Gwenapp Head so I thought that I'd have a go this morning. I met the official bird recorder for the day in the car park and we walked up together, rendezvous'ing with the mammal recorder on the Head. It was a very quiet start to the session with very few birds seen in the first hour. We had perhaps eight or so balearic shearwaters and even fewer manxies, a dozen or so kittiwakes, a few dozen auks, about three or four bonxies and an adult pale morph arctic skua.

In the strong winds a couple of ships got into difficulties
and the lifeboat went by a couple of times

After a couple of hours I decided that I had to leave to get on with some work down in the cottage so I made my way back to Pendeen. I spent the next few hours dismantling a bespoke MDF bookshelf that the previous owners had had installed. This was a rather tedious process as I only had a jigsaw to cut it up with but eventually I managed to get it all down. By now I'd had enough DIY for the day and as I was feeling rather dusty I needed some fresh air. With a melodious warbler belatedly reported in 60 foot cover as well as a wryneck at the Coastguard cottages at Porthgwarra it seemed obvious that I should head back there. I spent a brief time checking out 60 foot and the cottages but to no avail so I walked back up to the Head where I met up with the sea watch team again. The big news was the Runnel Stone, the buoy to mark the edge of the reef just of Gwenapp Head, had come adrift and was floating off. The coastguards had been informed and a boat was going to come down from Portsmouth to re-install it. On the bird front a sooty shearwater and a Sabine's gull had been the highlights whilst I had been away. I settled down with them for another hour which this time was much more active with plenty of birds coming through and we must have added at least 20 balearics during that hour alone. I then headed back to the cottage for dinner and then later that evening picked up the rest of the family at the station at Penzance.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Thursday 9th September: Nanquidno & Land's End

One of the great advantages of renovating a cottage in West Cornwall is that you have to go down there frequently to do work on it. As the children had school to attend (even L our four year old is now going!) the plan was that I'd go down on Thursday in the car and then the rest of the family would come down on the train on Friday evening. This would give me time to do some quality birding work on the cottage before they arrived.

A stonechat on a wall near the cottage, (taken with my point & shoot camera)

The start of the week on the Penwith peninsula before I went down had been full of good birds with a Wilson's phalarope, a whole flock of Ortolan buntings, a citrine wagtail and more wrynecks than you could shake a stick at all around and just waiting to be seen. However by mid week most of them had gone leaving just a few wrynecks around when I set off on Thursday morning. I'd switched my Bird Guides text settings over to just Cornwall before I left and when I arrived a mere four and a quarter hours later (no traffic at all) I looked through them to see what was around. There was a report of one Ortolan bunting in a ploughed field near where the citrine wagtail had been at Nanquidno so I thought that I'd go and take a look on the off chance. It was quite a nice afternoon as I strolled up the hill towards the track and a couple of juvenile buzzards were flapping around and calling loudly as I walked by. At the top of the hill I came across a nice immature white wagtail which I examined closely to check that it wasn't the citrine wagtail but however hard I tried I couldn't turn it into one.

A videograb of a young white wagtail

As I walked along the track to Gurland farm (where the Ortolan field was) there were several wheatears ahead of me hopping on and off the posts and wires as wheatears are wont to do. By the field I found a fellow birder who said that he and two others had been scouring the field for several hours to no avail and that he'd had enough. It clearly wasn't going to be a successful trip but I thought that I'd have a look around whilst I was there. I checked out the field from all angles and also nipped over to see the "muddy puddle" behind the farm where the citrine wagtail had been just recently. There were several white wagtails hanging around, testament to the puddle's wagtail attracting qualities if nothing else. As I strolled back I found a whinchat in the field and more wheatears. Despite the lack of good birds it was very pleasant wandering around in the Cornish countryside in the sunshine.

The famous muddy puddle that the citrine wagtail frequented.
You know it's a poor birding day when you're reduced to photographing puddles!

No ortolan buntings here!

Whilst I was in the area I thought that it would be rude not to drop in at Land's End to see if any of the three (yes three!) reported wrynecks were showing though it was by now getting rather late and it had become a bit breezy. I wandered over to Hallan Vean (the boarded-up white house) keeping a look-out for lapland buntings as one had been seen there a few days ago though all was quiet. As I started down the cycle track towards Trinity Loop I met a fellow birder and we got chatting. He came down to this area each autumn and was keen to show me around so we walked along together scouring the area for wrynecks. There were quite a few stonechats about, sitting on tops of rocks and bushes as well as a couple of whinchat, a few whitethroat and wheatears but the wryneck were all tucked up in their hiding holes for the evening. As I walked back towards the car a female sparrowhawk shot over the field, looking splendid in the evening light. By the Land's End car park there was a whole family of stonechats hopping around at close quarters. It was now getting dark so I headed back to the cottage for the evening.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Sunday 11th July: Pendeen

On Sunday morning I was back down at the lighthouse for another session. Whilst it had been very windy and rainy overnight, by morning it was calm and sunny, much more so than the previous day. I settled down in the same spot as yesterday and started watching. It was immediately obvious that things were slower than yesterday with a manxie rate of just over 60 per hour. Once again there were the usual gannets and fulmars as well as the shags that often rest on the rocks themselves. A few kittiwakes flew through and there were a few auks zipping about. A couple of rock pipits were having a squabble around the lighthouse walls and an inquisitive rabbit came quite close until I moved suddenly. About an hour into the session I picked up something much smaller fluttering along near a manxie. In size and with its white rump it looked like a house martin though the rest of its body was black. It had a very fluttery flight and would settle on the water for a moment before flying up again. I soon lost it amongst the waves but there was no doubting what it was: a storm-petrel. A little while later I had an auk zoom through the scope's field of view which was different enough for me to chase it in the scope: it was smaller than then razorbills and guillemots, seemed to fly faster and I managed to catch a flash of red-orange colour on the bill: puffin! To round of the session I also managed to pick up the huge dorsal fin, smaller tail fin and rounded snout of a basking shark. I tried to video it but it was moving around a lot in the waves and it disappeared before I was able to record it. So all in all, despite the slower activity a most productive morning's session

A meadow pipit and a linnet on the stone wall near the lighthouse,
both taken with my P&S camera.

Later that day I did have time to wander around the various coastal footpaths near the lighthouse. Whilst the really famous Penwith vallies are further south (Cot, Nanjizal etc.) it turned out that there was a very small valley near Pendeen with a little stream flowing down to the sea near what's called Boscaswell Cliff. The terrain was a wonderfully overgrown mix of gorse, ferns and heather. It was full of birds as well with a very entertaining family of stonechats present: the youngsters would buzz around all over the place calling loudly whilst the parents tried to keep them in order. There were also linnets, meadow pipits, wrens, dunnocks, blackbirds, sedge warblers and whitethroats to be found in this area. I started to wonder idly whether some exotic vagrant might turn up in this little valley this autumn. Probably wishful thinking but you never know.

The valley looking seaward by Boscaswell Cliff.

One of the juvenile stonechats taken with my P&S camera

Digiscoped whitethroat...
...and digiscoped sedge warbler

All too soon it was time to head back home and it will be far too long before I am able to return to this wonderful area. I'm looking forward to it already.