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.