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.