Friday, 26 August 2016

Cornwall in August

Another compilation of posts from my Pendeen Birding blog for the recent family holiday to Cornwall.

Saturday 12th August - Coming Down
At last I'm back down in my beloved Cornwall. It's been far too long but a combination of work commitments and the fact that the cottage has been fully booked all summer has meant that it's only now that we are able to get back down here for a week of family holiday.

In order to beat the usual holiday traffic we made a concerted effort to leave early and actually managed to depart at 8 a.m. - not bad considering the amount of inertia there is with a family of five. There was a modest amount of stoppage around the M4/M5 junction and down to Exeter but nothing too serious until we hit the road works on the A30 where everything ground to a complete standstill. It took the best part of an hour finally to get back to a decent bit of movement again though fortunately there was a good comedy programme on Radio 4 to keep us occupied and morale in the car was remarkably good. By way of something to do en route my VLW suggested that we stopped off at Truro as we'd never actually explored the city before. This seemed like an excellent plan to me as it was only a short hop from there down to Restronguet Creek where the long-staying Dalmation Pelican has now taken up residence - a bird that I'd yet to catch up with even after all this time. So I dropped off the rest of the family in the city centre and I then headed off on the short distance to Point, finally negotiating the narrow lanes that lead up to Point Quay. The Pelican had actually been reported a couple of times already today so I was cautiously optimistic though I did know that the bird was prone to disappearing for a while so it was by no means a sure thing.

I arrived to find a number of kids splashing around in the water in their wet suits and a few people sitting around and enjoying the sunshine. It was quite a picturesque spot with a wide river, boardered on the far side by woodland and with boats moored up down-stream a little way.


The view from Point Quay

A quick scan found nothing on the main island opposite me nor was there any sign of it downstream. Eventually I picked it out sitting on a large tree stump directly opposite me on the far side of the river though I could see a couple of people in a rowing boat drawing near, clearly intent on taking a closer look. Before I could even get my scope out the Pelican decided that the rowers had got too close and took to the air and I could only watch as it flew down the river and headed off towards Feock. So I'd seen it and had got both land and flight views though it was a great shame that I didn't have a chance at least to take some digiscoped record shots. Whilst no doubt it would be back eventually there was no point in my hanging around so I headed back to the  car and was back at Truro less than fifteen minutes later. The rest of the family were just finishing off a bit of shopping and decided that they'd seen enough for now so I picked them up and we headed back off on the route for the Penwith peninsula.

A fantastic photo of the bird taken by Mike Tout (c)

The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful and we arrived at Penzance at around 3:30 pm. First stop was the Sainsbury's café for tea and cake before getting some shopping in for our stay, then it was down to the cottage to open it up and get settled in. Fortunately the weather had turned from rather cloudy into full-on sunshine and there was hardly a breath of wind - it was absolutely gorgeous! After another cup of tea sitting out in the garden we headed down to the lighthouse to wander about a bit and to stare at the sea. I spotted a few Manxies going by, heard at least one calling Chough and spent some time admiring the flowers though many of them had gone over already and everything was looking rather dry and a bit "tired". We spotted a seal briefly down by the rocks though it didn't linger. Then it was back to the cottage for some food and a chance to relax. 

It was good to see the lighthouse again
Once it got dark I set up the moth trap for the evening and we did a bit of star-gazing to see if we could see any of the Perseid metoer shower which is supposed to be particularly good this year. We spotted a few though it was too cloudy to see much - perhaps tomorrow will be better. We were all rather tired after our journey and soon settled down for the night. It was good to be back!

Knot Grass Caterpillar found by one of my daughters down by the lighthouse


Sunday 13th August St Just to Pendeen
This morning I awoke far too early - it always seems to take me a while to adjust when I come down to stay here in Cornwall. Eventually I gave up trying to go to sleep again and got up and checked the moth trap though there was nothing especially interesting in there. I'm finding that I'm currently going through a phase of being less interested in moths: the prospect of trawling through the guide book trying to ID a particular moth isn't presently very appealing. I don't know if this will change soon, perhaps I'm just trying to do too much at present what with birds, butterflies, odonata, flowers and moths too. 

It was promising to be a lovely day and I spent some time just admiring all the bird life around the cottage. The Swallows are nesting in the neighbours barn again and I counted a total of thirty birds on the roof tops this moring with a good mix of youngsters in amongst them so they've clearly had a good season.

One of the many Swallows
The two resident Ravens were still around as well as the usual Goldfinches (again with lots of youngsters) and Linnets. There were quite a few Warblers in the garden this morning: I spotted a Sedge Warbler briefly (they're not normally to be found in the area so this one was clearly passing through), a couple of Willow Warblers and three young Whitethroats.

Whitethroat
Juvenile Pied Wagtail



Buckshorn Plantain - it's rather plentiful around the cottage
Today our plan was to go on a walk along the coastal path so we made some packed lunches and then walked up the road into Pendeen. There we caught the open-topped coastal bus along the road to St. Just. It was strange seeing the familiar countryside from such a high vantage point: you could even peer into peoples upstairs windows should you be so inclined. We nipped into a shop for ice creams to fortify us  on what was turning out to be quite a nice warm day, before wandering off down the road towards Boscean. The Cornish lanes are a riot of colour at the moment with the oranges of the Montbretia's, the reds of the Red Campion and the yellows of the Hawkweeds and Ragworts all combinding to give a very summery and abundant feel. Once at Boscean we headed down to Kenidjack, partly as the children wanted to say hello to the donkeys. In the event we could only find one, which seemed to be dressed as a Zebra for some reason. There were a couple of Buzzards flying around as well as several Whitethroats and some Stonechats. Rather unusually, I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying off as we approached the bottom cottages.

The zebra donkey

Kenidjack Blackcap
We next climbed the path up to Kenidjack Castle where we had our packed lunch before heading off along the coastal path. There was nothing of particular note but it was just great to take in the vivid colours: the deep blues of the sea and the lovely purple Heather and the white Wild Carrot. At Botallack we came across a large flock of 14 Chough: apparently they've had an excellent breeding year and there are lots of new youngsters around now. Also noted were a couple of Kestrel and a Raven.

The mines at Botallack - looking very much like something out of Lord of the Rings

Sea Aster growing by the mines
Sea Spleenwort, also by the mines

Further along the path as we neared home I spotted my first Wheatear of the autumn at Geevor tin mine (where one is often to be found).

Geevor Wheatear

Juvenile Stonechat

Back in the cottage it was time for a welcome cup of tea and a chance to veg out for a bit. The weather was so nice that we had our dinner out in the garden this evening before heading down to the lighthouse to stare at the sea. As a rather chilly breeze had now sprung up we decided to shelter on the western side of the lighthouse wall and to look out for Dolphins though sadly we did't spot any this evening. Then it was back to the cottage to chill for the evening and once it was properly dark when spent some time in the garden looking out for Perseids - this time we managed to see a few. Then it was time to turn in for the night - it had been a very relaxing day.

Cliff-top Rock Samphire

Monday 14th August - Perranuthnoe
Once again I woke up too early but managed to doze for a while before getting up at around 7:30 a.m. The forecast had been for strong winds overnight so I'd not bothered with the moth trap and indeed it was blowing pretty strongly this morning. After our cup of tea in bed I decided to wander down to the Watch just to see what was going by on the sea though with the wind east of South East it was going to be completely the wrong direction for Pendeen so I wasn't expecting much.

Down by the lighthouse there was just one other person: a visiting birder who was relatively inexperienced and not aware of the relationship between wind direction and where to sea watch. We watched together for a while and there were plenty of Manxies going by but little else. The highlight was a Grey Heron which came in off the sea and a Little Egret going by, both rather unusual sightings for a sea watch! I didn't give it too long and soon wandered back to the cottage to see if the rest of the family had got up yet.

In terms of our plan for the day, regular readers will remember that earlier on in the year I tried and failed multiple times (three to be exact) to see the Hudsonian Whimbrel over at Perranuthnnoe. The tricky rocky terrain meant that there were so many hiding places that each time I'd managed to miss this bird. Amazingly, after an absence for a couple of months the Hudbrel was back again and it seemed rude not to give it one more try. I therefore suggested that we head over there again and that the rest of the family might wish to walk on the coastal path to Marazion whilst I searched for the bird before driving round to Marazion to meet up again. The rest of the family were ameanable enough as it would be something a bit different so we got our stuff together and then headed off to the east side of Mounts Bay. A "still present" RBA text came through en route which was encouraging though this had happened to me before and I'd still managed to dip so it was by no means certain.

It was very busy down in the Perranuthnoe car park with lots of people all heading down to the beach. As we were getting ready I spotted a birder coming back down the coastal path so hurried over to ask how he'd got on. He told me and another interested birder who'd turned up that he'd found the Whimbrel and that it was "by a large stone slab". Thanking him, the other birder and I headed off along the coastal path whilst the rest of the family decided to head to the café first for some fortification before their coastal walk. In the bright sunshine it was all looking really beautiful, in stark contrast to the much more muted scenery the last time I had visited earlier in the year.

Looking out from Trenow Cove over towards the Mount and Marazion

As I walked I looked out for the stone slab and eventually came across it at the start of Trenow Cove. Indeed there was already a birder there scoping what turned out to be a flock of a few dozen Curlew with which the Hudbrel apparently usually associated. This looked very encouraging! Also on view was a flock of Ringed Plover wth an attendant Common Sandpiper though they soon flew off. Of course some of the birds were obscured behind rocks but after careful grilling we decided that there were a couple of "Whimbrel" in amongst the Curlew so it was just a question of picking out the right one. The birds were mostly roosting or wandering lethargically about so that they would sometimes go out of view but eventually I spotted a Whimbrel with very strong head markings and which at certain angles looked very cinnamon-coloured - it had to be the bird! Unfortunately it went out of sight before I could get the other two birders on it. After a while we changed location in order to get a closer view and I eventually spotted it again, now some distance away from where it had been. This time it was sitting on a rock right by the shore and I was able to get the other two on it OK. We watched it for a while before suddenly and for no reason it flew off on its own to the far side of Trenow Cove. At first, to my consternation, I thought that in flight it appeared to have a white rump but when I got my scope on it a realised that it was just that in the very bright sunlight the brown feathering was looking rather pale and it was actually clearly not white. That was the ID confirmed and one more Cornish tick in the bag. 

Digiscoped record shot of the Hudbrel

I was just heading back to the car when I met the rest of the family who'd enjoyed their café experience so much that they were only now setting off. We headed off in opposite directions and I dumped my gear in the car before going over to check out the café for myself though in the end the queue was too long and I gave up. I headed off in the car the short distance towards Marazion where I soon met up with the others who had all enjoyed their walk. They went off to score some pasties though as I am wheat intolerant these days I'd brought my own gluten-free sandwich instead. We ate our food in a sheltered vantage point overlooking St Michael's Mount though we all soon decided that it was far too hot to stay there and sought some shade. The three female members wanted to do some browsing in the town so I took our son over to the Red River mouth were he splashed about in the shallows and I people-watched. I'd never seen the beach so crowded: the hot sun had brought everyone out onto the beach and I reflected that this scene was a far cry from the empty wintery beach walks that I more usually associated with this spot.


I spotted this tiny Autumn Squill growing by the side of the path at Perranuthnoe

When the other three returned we all decided that we'd had enough of the crowds so headed back for home via Sainsbury's for a bit of food shopping. Back at the cottage we had several cups of tea and a good natter before dinner. After dinner as it was still very windy we decided to forego our usual post-prandial lighthouse visit and also to skip the meteor watching so we instead stayed in for the evening doing nothing in particular.

Small Nettle growing by the side of a field at Perranuthnoe


Tuesday 15th August: Kynance Cove & Lizard Point
We've been trying to do some different things this holiday from what we usuallly do so today, driven partly by the fact that there is still a very strong prevailing East South Easterly, we decided to head over to the Lizard peninsula and explore Kynance Cove, a place a must confess that I've yet to visit despite having been coming down to Cornwall for a number of years now. The idea behind this was partly that being on the west side of the peninsula it would be sheltered from the wind. After a fairly leisurely start, late morning we set off on the hour long journey over to the Lizard peninsula. It seemed that we weren't the only ones to conclude that Kynance Cove would be a sheltered spot as there was a long queue down the entrance road and a choice of either a queue for the NT car park or parking in a farmer's field, the latter being cheaper but further to walk. As we don't mind a walk we chose the latter and were soon heading along the path over the moorland towards the cove along with hoards of other people.

Kynance Cove - lovely location, shame about the hoards of other people!

Kynance Cove turned out to be as beautiful as I'd been lead to believe though the vast numbers of people all crammed onto such a tiny stretch of sand meant that it was anything but a relaxing experience. In the end we found a small rocky spot in the shade which no one else seemed to want and had our sandwiches before electing to head up onto the cliff tops behind the Cove in order to escape the crowds. Up on top there were hardly any people though there was no shelter from the winds. I spotted an elderly couple wandering about peering closely at the ground. They had to be botanising so I wandered over for a chat. They were very happy to help a bumbling beginner such as myself and pointed out all the plants that were worth looking at in the area whilst I busily took snaps.

Cornish Heath - a speciality heather of the Lizard
Saw-wort
The Bloody Crane's-bill had all gone over apart from this one flower that I managed to find

In the wind none of us wanted to linger too much though fortunately it was very warm so it was more the constant buffeting rather than the temperature that put us off. As we were heading back down I spotted my botanising couple again and they beckoned me over. It turned out that they'd found some Autumn Ladies Tresses which they kindly showed to me.

Autumn Lady's Tresses
Chamomile

We headed back to the car and then headed the relatively short distance down to the Point where we parked up again (paying yet another chunk of money for the privilege) before strolling over to the lighthouse. Last year my VLW and here family had visited and had gone on a tour there which they had all thoroughly enjoyed so we thought that we'd do this today so that the children could get the benefit. Whilst the tour this time wasn't as thorough as the one my VLW had been on (it was after all now the height of the tourist season so they couldn't afford to go into the same level of detail apparently), nevertheless it was still very enjoyable. Afterwards, we strolled down to the the Point itself for a cup of tea and some sustenance before going down to the lifeboat launch where I admired the amazing plant life growing on the cliff. It seemed to be covered in succulents from top to bottom with Hebe, Purple Dewplant, Hottentot Fig and Rock Samphire covering almost the entire cliff face.

Purple Dewplant
We sat for a while enjoying the sun and the fact that it was sheltered from the wind before reluctantly heading back to the car and back to the Penwith peninsula. On the way back someone suggested fish and chips for dinner so we ended up going to 190o West in Sennen which was supposed to be very good. We took our food back home to Pendeen with us and ate it hungrily. Then it was time to veg out watching a movie for the evening.

Sea Spurrey



Wednesday 17th August - St Ives
We awoke to the continuation of the really strong south easterly winds so none of us was particularly in a hurry to get out today. Instead we pootled around the cottage for a while doing the odd DIY task and I did a quick tour of Pendeen but in the wind all I could find were a few Stonechats in a sheltered spot down along the coastal path.

Pendeen Stonechat
Eventually after much debate we decided to head off to visit St Ives for the day. We always end up going here every time we visit as a family though I usually opt for something else instead as I'm not a great fan of either shopping or crowds. However, with the winds all wrong for sea watching and with nothing else of interest to look at in the end I decided to tag along. We drove the scenic route along the coast to St Ives before entering the bedlam that was the Park and Ride. There were countless cars there and even with two overflow parking fields there were loads of poor souls driving around helplessly looking for a place. We were lucky in that I chanced down one section just as someone was leaving so we were able to grab their spot. Rather than endure the hoards on the park and ride bus we decided to walk down to the town which actually took far less time than we expected and left us wondering why we hadn't always been doing that. We headed off to the main harbour area to buy some pasties for lunch and I even managed to find one place that sold gluten-free pasties.

Even in an urban environment there's always something to see: Common Calamint

In the car park I found one of the Canadian Fleabane agg. - probablu Bilbao Fleabane
Lesser Swine-cress by the path down the hill

After lunch we parted company with the others heading off to do some shopping whereas I wandered over to the island to look at the wildlife and to escape the crowds. It was relatively sheltered over by the island and I spent some time rummaging through the plants and watching the birds on the sea. There were ten or so Mediterranean Gulls including one juvenile as well as 3 Sandwich Terns. As I walked along the path a Wheatear buzzed over me and headed over the hill. I sat on a bench and took it all in, rather enjoying the relative solitude and the scenery. Eventually it was time to rendezvous with the others so I started to head back only to spot a swift species hawking rather low over the brow of the island hill. I tried my hardest to make it somethinng interesting but unfortunately it was clearly just a Common Swift.

Silver Ragwort
One of the many Med Gulls

Back with the others we headed off in search of a much-needed cup of tea. The wind was dropping now and it was instead becoming rather murky as we headed back up the hill to the car. We'd been invited round to dinner by my VLW's niece who lives a bit up-county with her husband and daughter so we headed off on the half hour journey to their house. There we passed a very pleasant evening eating and catching up before heading back home to the cottage rather late. As it was at last nice and calm at the cottage I put out the moth trap before we all turned in for the night.


Thursday 18th August: Porth Kidney & Mousehole
We awoke to a thick Pendeen fog this morning, brought on by the calm conditions. As any parents of children of the right age will know, today was A-Level Results day and our younger daughter was nervously awaiting her results to see if she was going to be able to get into University or not. Her official first choice was Strathclyde but she'd actually been more inclining towards Swansea (her second choice) of late. The wind direction today was actual a moderate North West so normally I'd be down at the Watch from first thing but I felt that in the circumstances I should be around to lend moral support at this difficult and potentially holiday-spoiling time. Instead my VLW and I lay in bed listening to the sound of Daughter 2 getting up (she sleeps in the room above us) and firing up her lap top to see what had happened. Fortunately, the outcome was good as, despite not getting quite the grades that she was hoping for, Swansea still accepted her which was a great relief all round. Back to holiday mode!

The moth trap was quite full and my children and I helped to sort through it though as things were rather damp from the fog in the garden I ended up storing the moths in a cardboard box by way of a shelter for the day. 

The best of the catch (at least as far as the children were concerned) was this giant female Oak Eggar
As the others were in no particular hurry to get out, I suggested that whilst they pootled around the cottage I would go out on a birding expedition. 11 Little Terns (a species which I still needed for Cornwall) had been reported over at Carnsew Basin at Hayle yesterday evening though we'd been at our dinner party then so I'd not been able to do anything about it at the time. According to Dave Parker (who'd found them), they'd looked settled so I decided to go and take a look this morning. The fog was incredibly think up on the hill between Pendeen and Penznce with viewing down to about 30 yards so I had to take it very slowly though fortunately it was clearer over the other side. I stopped off very briefly by the causeway bridge at Lelant (where I noticed they've re-done the pavement to include a cycle track) though there was nothing of note. Similarly, Carnsew Basin held almost nothing. Dave had suggested that as it was low tide then Porth Kidney Sands might be a better bet so I went to take a look. This was not a site that I'd actually been to before but by following signs for the beach I managed to find a large car park that overlooked the Hayle river estuary. 

Porth Kidney Sands
In the distance I could see some Terns though they turned out to be 13 or so Sandwich Terns with one Med Gull in amongst them. I did spot a couple of Terns flying along the shoreline which didn't look like Sandwich and which seemed to have the long-winged look of Littles though they were too far away for me to be sure. I also spotted one Tern flying around which seemed to have a rosy breast and long streamers and pale wings so of course I was thinking of Roseate but again it was just too far away to be certain

Back at the cottage we had lunch before heading out for the afternoon. Today's location was Mousehole as the others wanted to potter about amongst the shops. I was in two minds about whether to tag along or to go and see something but in the end I couldn't think of anything that I obviously wanted to do so I came along. By way of somethinng different, we parked up in a layby along the Newlyn to Mousehole road and took a footpath down to the concrete path that borders the shoreline all the way along there. This offered a very pleasant alternative to walking along the busy road and it meant that we didn't have to endure the parking and driving nightmare along the tiny streets of Mousehole. On the way I took snaps of any interesting plants that I found and we spotted a loafing seal nearby.

White Fumitory
Marsh Woundwort

Once in Mousehole we decided to visit the Rock Pool café which I'd learnt about earlier in the year when looking for the American Herring Gull. My VLW  has a thing about small sheds or shepherd huts in gardens and we managed to secure the garden "shed" table. The great things about this café was that they had a very large selection of gluten-free cakes - I was almost overwhelmed by the choice. The tea, cakes and location were all first rate and we unanimously decided that this was our new Tea Room of Choice for Cornwall, surplanting Delicious in Marazion (which has now closed anyway).

After our tea, the three girls went off for some girly shopping whilst our son decided to do some paddling in the harbour so I sat on a bench and kept an eye on him. It was all very pleasant and I happily watched the people coming and going about Mousehole. 

Mousehole haarbour

Eventually the others came back and we headed off back towards the car and the cottage. After a hearty pasta dinner we all realised that we were rather tired so after a bit of vegging out I released the moths out of their box into the garden and we went to bed relatively early.


Friday 19th August: Pendeen & Marazion
Increasingly strong winds were forecast for today culminating in a proper storm tomorrow. The wind direction was South East veering around to South West so Porthgwarra would be the place to go but as I've mentioned previously, when I'm en famille it's rather hard to get away as it's a half hour slog down there in the first place plus the walk from the car park to the watching point all takes time as well. So, as previously, I went to Pendeen instead though in the conditions I wasn't expecting a great deal. 

It was one of those Pendeen mornings with bright sunshine behind me as I watched which meant that everything was brilliantly lit up. In these circumstances I often end up using my bins which gives a much wider field of view as you can see every bird really clearly. I soon got into the zone of watching the changing colours of the Manxies as they sheared away: brown or black above (depending on how the light caught them) and gleaming white below. One bird remained brownish below as well and turned out to be a Balearic Shearwater, which was nice. I also had a Ringed Plover and a Golden Plover go by but apart from that it was just the usual stuff. Later in the day I got various RBA reports of a good passage of Cory's at PG which made me a bit envious but then you can't see everything.

Back at the cottage there was a minor spot of DIY to do and some general pootling before we had lunch and then headed out for the afternoon. The others wanted to look around the shops at Newlyn and PZ which of course I wasn't really interested in. Instead I had a brief peer around the rocks at Tolcarne (five Turnstones and some loafing gulls) and at the bus station (a few Fulmars out in the bay) before giving up and listening to the radio whilst I waited for the others to return. Then we headed over to Marazion and parked up next to Jordans to watch a weather front come in while enjoying some take-away tea and cake. As we watched the weather went from bright sunshine to dark clouds and lashing rain before clearing again in about fifteen minutes. 

The weather front just hitting the Mount
After that I went for a stroll (if it can be called that given how strong the wind was) along the shore to find the usual Marazion beach wader flock. I caught up with them eventually: there were several hundred birds, mostly Ringed Plover and Dunlin with some Sanderling and a few Turnstone as well and I busied myself with trying to take some photos but the wind was so strong that the only way that I could do it was to lie on my belly and rest the camera on the edge of the concrete breakwater.

Ringed Plover
A mixed bag of waders

After we'd all had enough, it was back to the cottage via Sainsbury's to pick up some food. After dinner it was time to start packing the car and we were treated to the spectacle of the next weather front in the impending storm coming in. It was quite a sight to behold!

More weather - unfortunately the photo doesn't really do justice to it


Wrap-Up - Mostly About Moths
As readers will no doubt have guessed I'm back home in Oxford now after an uneventful journey on Saturday. Looking back on the week, as a family we all enjoyed the holiday and from a birding perspective I achieved my two main goals which were to see the Dalmation Pelican (by the skin of my teeth!) and the Hudsonian Whimbrel (finally!). It would have been nice to have managed a proper sea watch (one of these years!) and I'd have like to have seen the Little Terns but we can't have everything. I managed to see a few new plants and all in all it was a good trip.

I've been waiting before posting this last post because I had a bunch of moths from my two trapping sessions that I wanted to go through and ID. I think that I've more or less achieved this now but do let me know if you disagree with any of the ID's. The main moth de la semaine was Flounced Rustic - I got good numbers of this as well as some Square-spot Rustic and Small Square-spot Rustic. 

Flounced Rustic
There were also the usual migrant moths: Rusty-dot Pearl, Dark Sword Grass, Small Mottled Willow and Rush Veneer

Small Mottled Willow

The things that I were most interested in were some specialities of either coastal regions or the South West, especially things that I'd not seen before. These included Devonshire Wainscott, Agonopterix umbellana, Hoary Footman, Notocelia incarnatana and Delplanqueia dilutella.

Devonshire Wainscott

Hoary Footman

Notocelia incarnatana
Delplanqueia dilutella
Agonopterix umbellana (sorry for the poor photo quality)
All good stuff! So that was my August trip. Next stop is the highlight of my Cornish birding year when I'm back down in October for the peak of the birding season.