Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Friday 13th May: Rame Head

By Friday I'd had enough of decorating and decided to leave fairly early and then to stop off en route somewhere if I could find something of interest. Fortunately a couple of days ago a text had come through about an Iberian Chiffchaff up at Rame Head which was close to the Devon border. I'd not been to this area of Cornwall at all so I figured that it would be a good opportunity to explore "up county" a bit more. There had been nothing on the information services about the bird since yesterday morning but I figured that I was more or less heading that way anyway and at least it would be an interesting diversion so I decided to take my chances. Accordingly I turned off the A30 at the A38 junction and headed over towards Rame. It was rather a complicated route and I had to stop to consult the map on several occasions but I eventually found myself at the Old Rectory on Rame Head. I parked up and walked a few yards up the path where another birder was loitering. He turned out to be the original finder and the bird was still there and singing away happily. It was very faithful to a clump of three or four sycamore trees and after a few minutes it showed well on a branch very close by. I didn't bother trying to digiscope it but instead attempted a recording on my phone. The finder was a very nice chap who was more into insects but knew his birds well enough to be pretty sure what it was when he found this Iberian treat. Pleased with the success of my warbler twitch I was contemplating stopping off somewhere else on route but when I thought about it I realised that I was actually feeling quite tired by now (the week's decorating had taken its toll) and so just headed for home.

Below is a recording of the Iberian chiffchaff. In order for it to work you'll need the appropriate plug-in installed in your browser. You may be prompted to enable the appropriate ActiveX control to allow this.

The singing Iberian Chiffchaff (MP4 format - direct link), recorded on my phone
(you may have to turn your volume up a bit)

If that doesn't work then try this MP3 format instead (direct link)which should be more universally playable..

It had been another enjoyable week down in Cornwall with some nice "rares" at the beginning and end and some good solid county listing during the week - I managed another ten ticks for my Cornish list though some of those are just "heard only" at present. An interesting dilemma of course as to whether one counts "heard only" on ones various lists. My personal approach is to require a sighting for my life list but to allow them for year lists and county lists. There is an added advantage to getting a "heard only" tick in that at a future date one can convert it to a full tick when the species is actually finally seen. This way you're acknowledging that you've achieved something through hearing the bird and then you get a second "tick hit" when it's seen - so two ticks for one species.

A wind surfer enjoying the prevailing strong wind on Marazion beach

Monday 9th to Thursday 12th May

As I mentioned earlier, it was very quiet down on the Penwith peninsula and there was nothing out of the ordinary about at all. Fortunately I had my fledgling Cornish list to work on and there were plenty of the commoner warblers for example to chase down which kept me occupied. I got into the habit of doing some decorating for a few hours first and then going out to see what I could find for an hour or two. In the absence of anything particular to go for I would try to visit all the various different locations at least once on my stay. I manage to visit most of the key locations down there and winkled out the various warblers though lesser whitethroat turns out to be something of a rarity on the peninsula so I might have to go to the Lizard in order to get it.

The only rarity news of interest was the occasional report of a golden oriole in one of the valleys. I did try Kenidjack and Nanquidno to no avail. Later in the week when I'd given up on the orioles I went back to Nanquidno looking for garden warblers. As I was listening intently I heard the unmistakable flutey call of a male oriole coming from deep within the woodland near the ford. They have such a wonderfully tropical sound to their call, it wouldn't sound out of place in an Amazonian rain forest. I sent out a couple of texts to some locals and I was then just listening to the bird when another birder drove by, stopped and said that he'd been listening to it for half an hour from the other side but that it had not shown at all. Apparently it sang on and off for a while that day and one lady even caught the briefest of glimpses though there was much subsequent debate with her husband as to whether it was a tickable or not - naturally enough as he'd not seen it he thought that it was untickable!

Nanquidno Ford, where all the oriole action was

In the evening, after dinner, I got into the habit of nipping down to Hayle to check the estuary and Ryan's Field. Somehow there was a part of me that was still naturally drawn to checking the evening gull roost though there weren't that many birds to sift through. The Bonaparte's Gull was still around and I would usually see it, sometimes at reasonably close quarters. Ryan's Field never turned up more than a Common Sandpiper though the day after I left a Temminck's Stint pitched up there. After Hayle I would head over to Marazion with a quick check at the Conservation Area for the Egret (though I didn't put in more than a few minutes there if it wasn't on show) before finishing up checking out Marazion beach. One evening there was a lovely flock of whimbrel there, presumably fresh in off the sea, with a barwit, three sanderling and a couple of turnstones all showing nicely at close quarters in the half-light of dusk.

Whimbrel and turnstone, taken at dusk on Marazion beach

I managed a couple of visits to the moorland areas on the Peninsula which are always wonderfully bleak. There were whitethroats everywhere with linnets and stonechats also about and whenever one came across a patch of small scrubby trees then suddenly there would be a willow warbler singing from within the patch. Cuckoos would often be calling from across the moor and grasshopper warblers could be heard reeling in the distance. I always kept one eye on the skies in case a kite chose to fly over: back in Oxon of course a kite is so common that they warrant hardly a glance but in Cornwall they are scarcer and also much more likely to be a black kite.

Cornish moorland scenes

One lunch-time when the wind was blowing in the right direction I had a quick sea-watch at Pendeen Watch. During a three-quarter hour period I had 51 Manx shearwaters & a summer plumage black-throated diver go past. Nothing too exciting but it's always nice to get in a spot of sea-watching even if it is out of season.

The Levant Steam Engine, near Pendeen

So nothing particularly interesting to report but plenty of walking in stunning countryside which in May was looking wonderful.

Sunday 8th May: St. Gothian, Hayle & Marazion

I had to go down to Cornwall once more: the decorating was now nearing completion but with our first guests due to arrive at the beginning of June there was still plenty to finish off. On this trip down I'd set myself the task of completing the main kitchen/dining area which had had some of the worst mould and damp problems in the building so it would require a fair bit of work to make it look nice. In between of course I was hoping to get some good Cornish May bird action and without the pleasure of the company of the rest of my family I would have plenty of time to get out there though indications from the reports in the days leading up to my visit were that things were once again rather quiet in the area. Sure there was a Bonaparte's gull, an American Golden Plover and a Great White Egret but apart from that, there was very little about.

Sunday 8th May
Despite the quiet prelude Fortune chose to smile on me as on the Sunday morning I was just finishing my breakfast before setting off on the long journey down when I got a call from local Cornish birder John Swann checking that I'd heard about the four Black-winged Stilts which had turned up that morning at St. Gothian's NR. I'd not actually switched my Bird Guides text service over to Cornwall yet that morning and so had missed this snippet of news. With this avian carrot dangling before me I hot-footed it down to Cornwall arriving some four and a half hours later at St. Gothian's NR. It was sunny but incredibly windy there and I made my way over to the far side of the main pool where a few birders were gathered. Sure enough there were the four stilts only about 30 or 40 yards away, trying to shelter from the wind. One of them seemed to be limping as it tried to walk about on the edge of the pool, the others made half-hearted attempts to feed though they spent most of the time whilst I was there just resting and trying to shelter from the wind. They turned out to be one-day wonders as the next day they were gone but it had been a great stroke of luck to have them turn up on the day that I was coming down. No apologies for a large number of stilt digiscoped photos as they were wonderfully photogenic birds.

You can see why they are called stilts, their legs are unfeasibly long

With the stilts safely ticked off it was time to catch up on the other local rarities. After stopping in a the supermarket to pick up some provisions (I'd been caught out by early Sunday closing in the past and didn't want to make that mistake again) I made my way over to the Hayle estuary where I was soon watching the first summer Bonaparte's Gull. There were only half a dozen or so black-headed gulls around so it was an easy task to pick out the American vagrant from in amongst them though it was rather distant when I first saw it.

The Bonaparte's spent a fair bit of time asleep,
occasionally popping it's head up like this...

...and I eventually got a brief look at it's lovely bubblegum-pink legs

The estuary was looking rather empty at this time of year with a few Shelduck and one or two Whimbrel the only birds about apart from the usual Herring Gulls. The American Golden Plover had last been seen on Copperhouse Creek a couple of days ago but had not been reported at all yesterday so had in all probability moved on. Nevertheless I decided to check out the Creek just in case though the best that I could turn up were a few more Whimbrel.

Whimbrel on Copperhouse Creek

Next it was on to Marazion where the Egret was apparently holed up in the Conservation Area in the North West corner of the reedbed. There was a gate from which one could view the area though when I arrived there was only a Little Egret and a couple of Grey Herons to be seen. Fortunately within about ten minutes the Great White Egret made a little flight out of the reeds where it was easily distinguishable from its smaller cousin by it's long neck and long dangling legs.

Having completed my mopping up operation on all the local goodies it was off to the cottage to get unpacked and to rustle up something to eat. It had been a great first day back down in Cornwall.