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.