Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Not in the Least Bit Stilted at Lodmoor

My apologies firstly for another dodgy post title - I feel that there has to be a decent pun in there somewhere but that's the best I can come up with at present!

Regular readers may have noticed the paucity of birding trips that I've made this year. My Gnome sorties in general are to add birds to my UK life list though, as I've previously mentioned, I tend to constrain my trips by distance and likelihood of seeing the target so it's a rather slow process. Even so, I'm now closing in on the iconic 400 level for this list though this does mean that more and more birds have already been seen and consequently won't warrant a sortie. In the past few years I've managed a dozen or more "lifers" each year but this year I've been languishing on a paltry four so far (Black Scoter, Black-throated Thrush, Kentish Plover and Elegant Tern, since you ask) and I've been champing at the bit to try and get this number up to a more respectable level before the year end. Now that we're into autumn it is of course prime time for this sort of thing and sure enough on Monday evening a Least Sandpiper (which I still "needed") was found early evening at Lodmoor RSPB, a location that certainly falls within my twitching distance, being about two and a half hours away or so. What more, it was found just an hour or so after a juvenile Stilt Sandpiper which was a species that I'd technically seen before (see here) though my views then were so poor in the heat haze that I couldn't really tell you much about it. So, would I head off on news the next morning? Well, there was a distinct fly in that ointment as the car had been booked in for some minor repair work that day. I'd originally been intending to take it in late morning after some work and then to pick it up in the evening but with the finding of this bird I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. I tried to concentrate on work but in the end I decided instead to take the car in early and then, if it was ready by say lunch time, I would be able to do a cheeky trip down to Devon for the afternoon.

Fortunately things more or less went to plan: the car was with them by 9 a.m. and I was soon back home and indulging in a preparatory "power nap" to make up for a rather restless night. At some time after midday I got the call from the garage that all had been finished so I hurriedly got together my things, ordered a taxi (there was no time for the half an hour walk this time) and headed off to pick up the car. At around 1 pm I was re-united with the Gnome mobile and was speeding off southwards along the A34. Things rather abruptly ground to a half near Didcot however when a broken down lorry forced the two rather busy lanes down into one so twenty minutes was spent crawling along at a snail's pace for a while. After that things flowed freely and the rest of the journey passed pleasantly enough. About half way along my drive, with no further news having come through on RBA, I did start to feel that gnawing doubt about whether this wasn't in fact a really stupid idea. I was going on a five hour round trip where I'd only have three hours at best of decent light left to see the bird. What's more it was rather hard to judge how regularly it was being seen from the RBA notices: it appeared to being reported every couple of hours or so but sometimes that didn't give an idea of how often it was actually on show. Oh well, I'd committed now and I'd just have to accept what the Birding Gods were going to grant me. Still, after all this effort I would be gutted to dip.

Shortly before Dorchester the "still present" news came through and I relaxed more as I negotiated the back roads of Weymouth before turning along the coastal road and pulling in at the beach car park on the western side of Lodmoor Reserve. This is a reserve that I've visited a number of times before and on every occasion in the past I'd been successful with firsts of Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers and also my first ever Red-backed Shrike all seen at this lovely wetland site. Would this be the first time that I struck out? I was about to find out! I paid for four hours of parking just so that I wouldn't need to worry about it at all, hurriedly tooled up and headed off to the viewing shelter on the south shore that had been mentioned in the latest RBA message as the location of where the Least Sandpiper was. As I turned the corner I could see a few birders peering intently through their scopes - always a good sign and my nervous enquiry as to whether "it was still there" was met with an offer to look at it through a scope ....and relax! All the planning and stressing had been worth it, all my doubts about how stupid the trip was melted away and another lifer was in the bag! I hurriedly set up my own scope and started digiscoping away taking both video and some shots though in the strong winds of the prelude to Storm Aileen it wasn't easy.

The pick of my digiscoped stills of the Least Sandpiper


...and some video footage in the wind


I studied my first Least Sandpiper closely: it was easy to see how this bird had actually been mis-identified as a Little Stint originally at the weekend though it was easy enough to see the diagnostic greenish legs and the dark loral stripe when you knew what to look for. After about five minutes the bird, which had been feeding away actively in front of the viewing shelter, moved down to the hidden side of one of the many islands that broke up the shallow waters there and was out of sight. Having successfully connected with my target bird so easily I enquired as to where the bonus Stilt Sandpiper was, to be told that it was presently frequenting the western shore and was showing well. I headed off on the five minute walk to that end of the reserve to find a gaggle of photographers frantically papping away. Apparently it had just moved from its usual location to a really close spot and they were all trying to take advantage. I whipped out my super-zoom and joined in though after a couple of minutes the bird had had enough of the whirring shutters and flew back to its usual more distant location


The Stilt Sandpiper showing at a nice close distance

When I'd first clapped eyes on the bird, my immediate reaction was "Curlew Sandpiper" and the scaling back feathering certainly was reminiscent of this wader though on close inspection that's where the similarity ended: there was no peach blush to the breast and instead of the decurved bill, it was long and straight with the hint of a droop at the tip. The legs, instead of being black were green and very long (hence the name). It had a strong supercilium which gave it a bit of a look of a Knot about the face. All in all a very striking bird. The other photographers couldn't be bothered with any more photographs at this greater distance so I had it to myself for a while as it picked its way through the roosting Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls.


More Stilt Sand Porn

After a while I too had had my fill and I decided to head back for seconds of the Least Sandpiper if it was now showing. I wandered back towards the southern shore munching on a packet of crisps as I went. Back at the viewing shelter I discovered that it had been on show again but had been flushed and had flown off towards the eastern end so I headed off that way to see if I could find it. One of the viewing areas had a Great White Egret on show (not the rarity that it once was), I spotted a Common Sandpiper in amongst the rushes and down near "the Hump" another birder had found a Wheatear but that was about it.

Nice close views of a Great White Egret

As I was heading back towards the viewing shelter again another birder turned up who, by going somewhat "off piste" had found the Sandpiper feeding away on a hidden area. I joined him to watch it feeding away with a couple of Ringed Plover and a Dunlin for company. It was good to see it next to some standard waders for comparison where it's diminutive size was all the more obvious. The other birder had to leave and I took a few more photos.


Size comparison with a Dunlin
I looked up from checking the back of my camera to find that all the waders had suddenly disappeared. I guessed that they might be back at the viewing shelter and headed off that way to find that this was indeed the case. At this point I got a call from home asking what time I was intending to be back so that they could plan dinner. Thinking about it, I more or less decided that I'd seen everything as well as I was going to be able to and with time marching on, that I would head back home. So I wandered back to the car park and fired up the Gnome mobile. Despite it being the rush hour, fortunately all the traffic was heading in the opposite direction to me and the journey back was uneventful. I arrived back at around 7:45 in time to sit down with my family for an enjoyable meal and a chance to catch up. It had been a very successful outing indeed.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Shagging At Farmoor!

My apologies for the title of this post, but quite frankly it had to be done. After my resolve to return to birding now that autumn is upon us, the most obvious target in the county was the unprecedented number of juvenile Shags that had turned up at Farmoor reservoir last week. The highest total there was 13 at the start of the week and though numbers had been decreasing ever since, still there were quite a few on offer by Thursday when I decided to pay a visit (since my work was so slow).

I arrived mid morning and decided to take things at quite a leisurely pace. At first I could only see Cormorants on the floating pontoons on Farmoor 1 so I set off along the causeway with a single Dunlin and the obligatory Yellow-legged Gull on a buoy for my troubles. However, at the far end of the causeway by a small outlet there was a single juvenile Shag, completely unperturbed by the close proximity of myself and one other photographer.

Dunlin on the causeway

Adult Yellow-legged Gull on a buoy

Juvenile Shag looking fed up
I decided to wander over towards the "bus stop" area, as I'd read that some of the Shags liked to hang out at the pontoon there. On the way I came across a pair of Egyptian Geese and an obliging Wheatear on a fence. There were Chiffies absolutely everywhere in the hedgerows and trees, calling constantly. 
 

There's something very appealing about Egyptian Geese

Wheatear on a fence
I was about half way to the pontoon (about in the "Red-necked Grebe" area) when I spotted a gull on the shoreline. Now I'd been paying close attention to the gulls, picking out the Yellow-legged from the Herrings etc. but this one caught my eye though unfortunately it flew out about forty yard as I approached so I took some video. To my eye it looked very much like a juvenile Caspian Gull with the classic long parallel-sided beak, not at all like the relatively brutish Yellow-leggeds.

Juvenile Caspian Gull

Fortunately, when I got back home and posted it for Ian Lewington to take a look at, he agreed with me. I was most chuffed as it was my first juvenile Caspian that I'd seen. It quite made my day!

Over at the pontoon there were three more Shaglets, looking very petite compared to the hulking Cormorants though they were all rather distant.

The Shags were dwarfed by their huge Cormorant cousins
A thuggish Yellow-legged Gull (2nd winter I think)
I then retraced my steps and headed back along the causeway where there was nothing new and back towards the car par where I found one more Shag sitting on a pontoon outside the café and looking very cute.


A cute Shag
So, my first birding outing in a while and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's rather telling of course that whilst the various coastal areas are enjoying Pectoral Sandpipers and all sorts of hot drift migrant action, here in Oxon we're left with juvenile Shags to get the juices going. Still, beggars can't be choosers.


I'm going to slip in a plant photo at the end here. This is Skullcap, growing in the cracks in the causeway.







Sunday, 3 September 2017

Aston Rowant Revisited - The End of the Plant Season

In my last post, I'd mentioned that I'd been too early for the Violet Helleborines and had been looking in the wrong place on Bald Hill for some of the specialities. Added to that, it was finally time to go and look for Gentians - clearly one more visit was called for. So, having come back from our Cornish trip, when a reasonable opportunity presented itself I headed off once more to the Aston Rowant area.

First stop was to look for the Violet Helleborines though to be honest I'd left too big a gap since my last visit and they would almost certainly have gone over now. The ones that I had found last time had all been munched by deer (presumably) but fortunately my local orchid guru Wayne (see his great blog here) had told me the exactly locations of several others elsewhere in the wood. His instructions were so precise that I managed to find all four plants that he'd located. Half of them had already gone over but a couple still had some flowers of some sort on them.


Violet Helleborines flowers - just clinging on still
Then it was back to the car and a few minutes up the road to Bald Hill once more. Eschewing the first slope that had been my search location of previous visits, instead I headed further along the path and once I was past the large "scrubby" area, I started to find Gentians everywhere I looked. The vast majority were Chiltern Gentian, distinguished by the wrinkled appearance on the outside of the flower but tucked away and looking much smaller there were a few smooth-sided Autumn Gentians in amongst them.


Chiltern Gentians with their wrinkly sides


...and the smaller, smooth-sided Autumn Gentian

I also managed to find a few Frog Orchids that were very much on their last legs. At least it was nice to know the proper place to look for next year.


A couple of knackered Frog Orchids

In previous visits I've found Yellow Wort still in bud. Despite managing to miss the vast majority of them I did manage to find one or two actually in flower this time round


So, that is probably it for the flower season this year (unless I happen to get a hankering to see some Autumn Lady's Tresses) or something. So with the insect season all but finished as well, expect some post about actual birds next.





Thursday, 24 August 2017

Hunting Helleborines

This is another compilation from a few local botanising trips, this time mostly in pursuit of various Helleborine species.

Warkshire Dune Helleborines
Having recently joined the Native UK Orchids Facebook group I started seeing posts mentioning a newly-discovered colony of Dune Helleborines in the neighbouring county of Warwickshire. A bit of Googling and I learnt that this was formerly considered to be merely a sub-species of Narrow-lipped Helleborine but had recently been promoted to species status in its own right. Some more internet enquiries and I connected to SC who not only knew where they were but was also willing to show me around the site. So one rainy and overcast Saturday in July I headed north along the M40 towards Warwickshire, stopping off at Banbury to pick up Ewan (of Black Audi Birding fame) as he'd expressed an interest tagging along for any orchid excursions that I might be considering. The rain persisted all the way to our destination and for the twenty minutes that we waited in the car for SC to turn up (since we were early) but then miraculously it stopped just as he arrived. He turned out to be incredibly knowledgeable about orchids and was soon giving us a lesson in cross-pollination versus self-pollination and how to tell Dune Helleborine from the Broad-leaved Helleborines that were also present at this site. It turns out that DH are self-pollinating so all the plants are genetically identical and this is in fact quite a good pointer for ID. By looking at the surrounding plants if they all look the same then that tells you that it's a self-pollinator whereas if there is some variation (as with BLH) then that's going to be cross-pollinating. We followed around dutifully trying to keep us with the science and taking some photos. A volunteer warden at the site turned up and as SC had to leave he offered to show us around the rest of the site. It was quite a nice little reserve and far more extensive than one would think from first appearances and full off all sorts of wonderful wasteland flowers though the star attractions were of course the Helleborines.

Broad-leaved Helleborine
Broad-leaved Helleborine - showing the characteristic broad, heavily-veined leaves near the base






Dune Helleborines - note how the leaves are narrower and almost form a cowl around the stem

Warburg Helleborines
Having been swotting up on orchid locations with Oxon this year, I kept coming across Warburg NR as a top location so I thought that it was only right and proper that I paid a visit there. Therefore late morning a few days after my Warwickshire excursion I headed off on a very rainy and gloomy day down into the deepest darkest corners of the county and along some narrow windy roads until I arrived at the reserve car park. A quick enquiry at the lodge and I was given a map with where to go to see the Helleborines. I'd been told that there were a few Narrow-lipped still in flower but that it had been a very poor year for Violet Helleborines though there were a couple about. I followed the instructions and found myself deep in a Beech wood. The combination of the dense canopy and the grey clouds meant that it was so dark that I had great difficulty in seeing anything at all and it was a real wonder that anything was growing there at all. Still, the NLH were all caged up so it was merely a matter of walking from cage to cage to see what was in each one. About half the cages were empty, some only had a few stunted leaves but there were a couple that were in full flower. I tried my best to take photos but one either had to use the flash which made everything look weird or else the shutter speed was so slow that it just came out blurry. In the end I half covered the flash with my thumb and thereby obtain a passable record shot.

Narrow-lipped Helleborine in the dark

I had a wander further along to see if I could find the Violets but despite stumbling around in the darkness for some while I couldn't turn them up. So, as an antidote to the gloom I headed back to the car along the Wildflower Walk which was full of all sorts of delights that one might typically find on unimproved calciferous grassland.

Clustered Bellflower along the Wildflower Walk

On the way back I popped in at a local woodland site nearby where I'd been told by Wayne Bull (see his great blog here) a few Green-flowered Helleborines were to be found. Fortunately Wayne's instructions were very precise and I managed to find them quickly enough.

Green-flowered Helleborine

Aston Rowant/Bald Hill
After having not seen VH in my previous trip I decided to head off to Aston Rowant a couple of weeks later where I'd been told that some could be found within the Beech Wood along the approach road. After a bit of blundering around in the gloom I managed to find half a dozen or so though most of them had been munched and the rest were still tightly in bud so I return visit a few weeks later was clearly in order. Still at least I'd seen one now.

Violet Helleborine - still tightly in bud

Whilst in the neighbourhood I did pop over to Bald Hill for a quick wander around though there was little of note there. However, I later found out that I have been looking in the wrong spot for the site specialities here so armed with better info again another visit is due in the future

Hare Bell

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Cornwall in August

Once again here is a compilation of my Pendeen Birding posts from a recent two-week family holiday to Cornwall.

Sunday 30th July: Pendeen & Hayle

We're back down in our beloved Cornwall again, this time for two week for our family holiday. In order to avoid trouble with the traffic on Saturday we waited until after 4 pm before leaving Oxford and this ploy seemed to work out well with hardly any traffic at all though we did have to contend with driving rain on the way down. Fortunately it was starting to fizzle out by the time we were unpacking the car at the cottage and we hurried inside to get set up for the evening.


On Sunday we had a very lazy morning just loafing around at home. I went for a little wander around and saw the usual suspects in the usual places. As I've been trying to shake of a sore throat for quite a while now I decided to have both a morning and an afternoon nap and this seemed to help. Given that we needed to head over to PZ for some shopping we first went to Marazion only to find the Jordans car park absolutely heaving - it turned out that there was a festival on of some kind. So in the end, given that I was still rather tired, I dropped the others off so that they could walk to Marazion whilst I headed over to Hayle to do a spot of shopping for gluten-free bread. My daughter and I are both gluten intolerant now and after some experimentation we've decided on the M&S bread as the best one so I was heading over there to stock up on supplies. On the way of course I stopped off at the Hayle estuary, well it would be rude not too! The main occupants were a bunch of loafing Herring Gulls though I did pick out a single juvenile Med. Gull in amongst the BHG. On the wader front there were just four Black-tailed Godwits to be seen and right in the distance were the five Black Swans that had been reported previously. I don't think that I've ever seen that many Black Swans in one place.

Juvenile Med Gull
Distant Black Swans
Next it was on to M&S & then back to Marazion to pick up the others before we headed back to the cottage for the evening.


Monday 31st July: Pendeen & Geevor

I was woken up this morning by the sound of Chough calling outside the cottage and found four of them about the cottage with two even sitting on the wires over the garden.

Garden Chough

After our day of rest yesterday it was time to get on with things. As usual we had a list of DIY tasks and as the weather was actually quite sunny and not too breezy we decided to work on some outside stuff. Whilst my VLW worked on an exterior window (one of her pet projects) I did some long-overdue pruning in our garden that our gardener, for some reason, had decided was too much for her. I made a reasonable start on this and then it was time for lunch.

We pootled about the cottage until mid afternoon when we decided upon a walk over to Geevor for tea in the café. As usual I kept a look-out for Wheatears in amongst the mine ruins and was rewarded with a trio of birds, at least two of which were juveniles. It is possible that they have bred locally rather than being migrants, which would be nice.



Juvenile Wheatear
I had very much hoped to escape my work during my two weeks down here but there were some serious developments with one of the businesses for which I was working. There was much WhatsApp'ing going on between myself and a colleague as we worked out how best to handle what was a rather delicate situation. Accordingly our tea was punctuated by regular messages updates which I relayed to the rest of the family who were rather enjoying this real life soap opera.

We walked back through the village where I noted that Heathers was still for sale. I did half wonder if the tea shop might re-open for the summer given that they'd not yet sold it but it was rather hard to tell from what we could see.


Tuesday 1st August: Morvah (No) Pasty Day

Today was Morvah Pasty Day and we decided that once more we would walk over there for a pasty lunch. First however I had to make a Skype call to someone else involved in the business drama but as our internet was rather unrelilable in the end I went up to the Pendeen Centre to use their WiFi. The meeting went well and things were moving in the right direction as far as the drama was concerned so it was back home to get ready for the walk. All this had rather meant that we ended up leaving later than intended and by the time that we actually arrived at Morvah all the pasties had gone! We made do as best we could with the snacks that we'd brought with us and listened to the various local musicians and wandered around the small fair. There was something very Cornish about it all which I'm coming to appreciate more and more.

A musical performance ourside Morvah church
We walked back along the coastal path where the summer heather was looking wonderful along one comparatively bracken-free stretch. We got back late afternoon for a much-appreciated cup of tea and a bite of something to eat.

Heather along the coastl path between Morvah and Portheras beach


Hybrid Monkeyflower growing by the stream at the top of Portheras beach
A Ruby Tiger came to the porch light this evening

Wednesday 2nd August: Porthgwarra

Today and tomorrow were forecast to have a proper wind worthy of a sea-watching session. Now, I don't often actually have a chance to sea-watch in a decent wind so I was keen to have a go if possible. The main issue with this was that I was with the family and as the wind was almost due south it would have to be a Porthgwarra day which was a bit of a fag to get to and which would mean spending at least the whole morning away. I cautiously put the idea to the family and they didn't seem to mind too much so I decided to cash in my brownie points and made plans to get up ridiculously early in the morning.

I duly awoke at around 4:30 and was up and out the door by 5:30, heading south through the driving rain and howling wind as it slowly grew light all around me. "I must be completely mad to be doing this", I thought. I mean why would I want to go and sit on an exposed headland in the pouring rain in the teeth of a gale? Anyway, it would at least be an "experience" if nothing else and I girded my loins and pressed on southwards. I arrived just after 6 a.m. to find about a dozen cars parked up in the car park. As I got ready in umpteen layers of waterproofs I chatted with the guy next to me who had driven down overnight from Wiltshire. "We must be mad", I joked as we hurried along the coastal path towards Hellas Point where we found the birders all huddled behind the large protective rocks there. I spotted DP in the throng and installed myself next to him. A quick enquiry revealed that so far I'd only missed one large Shearwater so I got installed and tried to get my eye in. The rain fortunately had more or less stopped by this time but the visibility was rather poor and kept coming and going so that sometimes it was too poor to be worth watching. I soon found that my viewing spot was less than ideal: from where I was sat I only had a small angle of visability before the birds disappeared behind a rock and despite numerous things being called I failed to get on a single one in the brief time that they were available to me. I did manage to find a Storm Petrel of my own which I called out just before it too disappeared from view.

Porthgwarra Sea Aster

After a while, someone else vacated a standing position to return to their chair so I went to take their place. I found myself standing next to a relatively young but eagle-eyed birder whom I recognised to be one of the Punk Birders. He was pretty amazing at picking stuff out and I gradually realised that it was down to eyesight. These days my eyes aren't so great: my left eye is stronger than my right so it's my scope eye yet it's my left which has quite a lot of floaters in so it's not so easy to see. When trying to pick out a tiny distant Petrel in the murk I just couldn't see what he was finding. Still it was useful to be standing next to someone who was often "on the bird" as I could at least get a bearing from his scope. It was also useful to be able to ask what someone else had called. My hearing also isn't what it used to be and I often struggle in windy conditions to catch what's being called out but fortunately I could ask my companion in such circumstances and actually the hearing situation wasn't too bad in the prevailing conditions. 

Sea-watchers in the fog

Gradually as I tuned in I started to manage to connect with stuff so after a while I'd had what had actually been pretty good views of a Great Shear, several Cory's, a couple of Sooties, one close very dark Balearic Shear, the tail end of a Pom as it passed the Runnel Stone and a few Stormies. During the murky periods I chatted with my neighbour or wandered over to chat with DP. Time marched on and eventually I got the "when are you coming home" text from my VLW and it was time to head off. As it was pretty murky at the time and had gone rather quiet I didn't have too many qualms about leaving and it was with a fair feeling of satisfaction that I headed back northwards along what were by now pretty foggy roads towards Pendeen. This feeling of contentment lasted about an hour when news came over on RBA of a Fea's Petrel having gone through at PG. I must admit that was a bit of a kick in the n*ts though I was always going to have been able to do only the morning session so it was just a bit of bad luck with the timing. To rub salt in the wound, no less than four Wilson's were then reported on RBA over a period of no more than half an hour and I later learnt that these were relatively close and ID'able. I'd tried to be philosophical about it all as after all it had actually been a pretty enjoyable session but quite frankly it really hurt to have left just before such an amazingly productive period.

Anyway, back at base there was a certain amount of debate as to what we were going to do in the afteroon though in the poor weather conditions our options were limited and we weren't able to agree on anything. In the end I went off for a nap to make up for the lack of sleep whilst the others amused themselve in the cottage. Later on we went for a mercy dash up to Pendeen stores for chocolate and after dinner we went down to the lighthouse to stare at the sea for a bit and we even managed to spot a couple of Porpoises. Then it was back to the cottage and off to bed.


Thursday 3rd August; Pendeen & Marazion

Today was going to be another day of strong wind, good enough for a sea-watching session though the wind direction wasn't exactly ideal, being only just south of due west. Whilst this direction meant that PG was still the preferred destination (only just though), after yesterday's complaints from the rest of the family I didn't feel that I could  really head off there once again. So instead I got up at around 7:15 and wandered down to Pendeen lighthouse for a session there. I had the place to myself and it all started off quite well with a couple of Sooties and a pair of Stormies going through almost immediately. There were several Balearic Shearwaters passing through as well but it soon fizzled out with just a pair of Common Scoter to add to the noteworthy column and I left after an hour and a half. Back home as I did some chores around the cottage, occasional glances at the sea seemed to show things picking up again later in the morning and late morning a Cory's was seen going through by JS.

Pendeen Painted Lady

Back at base we decided to head over to Marazion as we had to run a few errands over there. We first nipped into Sainsbury's to pick up some lunch things which we then ate at the Station Inn car park, overlooking what was a pretty stormy sea. I nipped over to the Marsh where I had 8 Canada Geese, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret and a Little Grebe for my troubles. On the beach itself all I saw were a dozen or so Sanderling and an adult Med Gull go by. 

Next it was off to the Long Rock area to explore a couple of new shops. We were partially looking for a replacement source of DIY materials since the departure of B&Q and we were quite pleased to discover a couple of places which seemed to be good alternatives. Next it was off to the railway station to pick up our younger daughter who'd be away in France with some friends earlier in the week and so had come down on the train today. After the family reunion the rest of the family wanted to go shopping in PZ so I opted for my usual alternative which was to stare at the sea from the bus station car park though there was nothing of note so I soon gave up and headed off to join the others at a café. Then it was back to Sainsbury's for some more shopping and then back to the cottage for dinner. After our meal we headed down to the lighthouse to look for Dolphins once more though this time without any sucess.

Juvenile Herring Gull at the bus station


Friday 4th August

We awoke to calm and sunny conditions today. I decided to take advantage of the fine weather and to get on with painting the top part of the outside of the the cottage, a task which required going up onto the roof and reaching down with a roller. As this would involve a fair bit of flexibility and suppleness on my part I first went for a brisk walk to warm up: after all I didn't want to be pulling a muscle up on top of the roof. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see at this time of year with the usual Ravens, a Kestrel, a Buzzard and a pair of Chough being the most noteworthy but in the sunny and calm conditions there were plenty of photo opportunities.

Pendeen Buzzard

A Common Blue by the lighthouse

A Common Darter in the vegetable garden behind the coastguard cottages

A Kestrel on the rocks

The painting task went well and by late morning I'd managed to put the first coat on all four sides. We then had a quick lunch during which we decided on the spur of the moment to do the St Just to Pendeen coastal path this afternoon. As the requisite bus was going to go in about half an hour we had to rush to get ready and then to hurry up the hill to the bus stop for the short hop into St Just. There we bought ice creams and my VLW just wanted to nip in to the arts and craft fair there before we started on our walk. This "nip" turned into more than a thirty minute browse by the end of which I (having stayed outside as I wasn't that keen to go in) was getting very impatient. Finally we were on our way and in the sunny conditions with just a moderate breeze it was all very pleasant. The main birds of note on this occasion were Wheatears with one at Botallack and a pair at Geevor (of course - there's always at least one there). The scenery was stunning as always and the sunny conditions really brought out the beautiful colours.

Botallack Wheatear

Chamomile (I think) on the coastal path

We arrived back at the cottage after a good couple of hours for a well-earned cup of tea before rustling up some dinner and then settling down to watch a movie for the evening.


Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th August

Saturday
Saturday had been forecast to be a reasonable Pendeen wind though as Friday progressed the predicted wind strength kept dropping and by Saturday morning it was a mediocre 16 mph average speed. Not really good enough to tempt any locals out of bed but as it was only a few minutes walk away I thought that I'd pop down there once I was up. So it was that at around 8 a.m. I wandered down to find about 20 people there though only one local whom I recognised so it was mostly visitors. It turned out that I'd not missed much with just one Cory's having reportedly gone through so far. Sadly the sea bird action was really slow with very little of note apart from a remarkable passage of Common Scoter. Several big flocks of 30+ and 50+ were going through and SR who was there all morning recorded a finally tally of 548 which was the new one day county record for this species. Apart from that there was a single Bonxie, as well as a few Arctic Skuas and Sooties that I didn't get on. I have to say that the directions that were called out for birds were remarkably poor and there wasn't much of a sense of a group sea-watch session at all - perhaps because they were mostly visitors. Given how slow it was I only gave it until 9:15 before giving up and heading back to the cottage.
 
Today we decided to visit the Pendeen Farmer's Market, which we've been meaning to do for years but which hitherto we'd never actually managed to do. As I was feeling rather tired and given that I wasn't so keen to see the market, I decided to stay at home and have a nap whilst the rest of the family walked up the road to check it out. After my rest I drove up to Pendeen to pick the others up from what had been a successful visit, judging by their purchases. Our next stop was to head over to Zennor where apparently there was a local art's and craft fair. The fair was the usual stuff and for me the highlight was a pair of Swallows that seemed to have taken a wrong turning somewhere and had ended up in the main hall itself. One of the locals was trying to open the windows so they could get out but they all seemed to be locked. I hope that they eventually managed to free them. 

The two Swallows, admiring the art
After the fair we had a little wander about Zennor: there were loads of Swallows on the roof of the small terraced cottages at the end of the village and in the bright sunshine it all looked very picturesque.

Calamint growing on a Zennor wall

Then it was back home to the cottage for a late lunch and an afternoon of pootling around doing not very much. Late in the afternoon we headed down to Boat Cove to stare at the sea for a while before heading back home for dinner.

Sunday
On Sunday the weather was forecast to be reasonable so I decided to crack on with the second coat on the top of the cottage and headed once more onto the roof. Fortunately this task didn't take too long and my VLW made good progress with her windows and also the front door which also needed her attentions. 

Wall Brown, sitting on a Pendeen wall, appropriately enough
Then after lunch we headed over the hill, first to PZ where our son wanted to nip into a local shop to buy some computer game. Then we decided to visit Tremenheere garden, one that we hadn't been to before. It turned out to be wonderfully jungly and overgrown and one could just image Yellow-browed Warblers in the wooded section at the right time of year though the only bird that I saw there was a Buzzard. We enjoyed a good tea in the café there before nipping over the road to Sainsbury's for some shopping. Then it was back home for dinner. 

The view from Tremenheere, looking over towards the Mount

Looking out of the window after our meal I saw that there seemed to be a reasonable amount of movement in the last hour so I headed down to the lighthouse for a brief watch. The only bird of note was a single Sooty Shearwater though I did also get a brief glimpse of a Porpoise as well.


Monday 7th & Tuesday 8th August

Another quiet couple of days

Monday
The forecast for today was for rain so we planned to do some rainy-day stuff today. First off I had to make a trip to the dump at St Erth to get rid of some Tamerisk trimmings from the garden. Our younger daughter asked if she could come too and be dropped of in PZ and before I knew it the entire rest of the family wanted to do this as well. After the drop-off I went to the dump & then on to Hayle M&S to stock up on gluten-free bread. Next was the obligatory visit to the Hayle estuary though I had to endure a terrible traffic jam all the way there.  There was precious little reward for this suffering on the estuary with just the four (at least) Black Swans still about, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and a surprisingly large number (at least a couple of hundred) Canada Geese. 

One of the Black Swans was reasonably close this time


I did nip over to Ryan's Field but the only bird of note was a Common Sandpiper. Then it was back to PZ to pick up the others before heading back to the cottage.

The Ryan's Field Common Sandpiper

In the afternoon we'd arranged to go for a swim at the Bosweddan Hotel pool - one of our classic rainy-day activities though in the end the weather was nice and sunny by the afternoon. Still we had a good swim and then headed back to the cottage to loaf about for the rest of the day.


Tuesday
As the wind wasn't particularly exciting today (albeit was a north westerly so at least in the Pendeen direction) I decided to have a lie in this morning. However at around 8:30 news came through on RBA of 6 Great Shearwaters having gone past Pendeen in the first couple of hours. "I'd better go and take a look" I thought and duly got dressed and headed over there. I found just two birders installed underneath the lighthouse who, upon enquiry, confessed that they were rather bemused by the RBA report as they'd not seen any. They did say that another couple of birders had been there next to them but that they'd certainly not called anything out. Anyway, I got set-up only to find things were remarkably slow. In fact during the one hour that I gave it there were only two small passing flocks of Common Scoter to break up the Manx Shearwater monotony. I was just getting ready to leave when a birder turned up with his daughter in tow. He told me how he'd had "thousands" of Balearics go by at Porthgwarra the previous evening. The explanation for this amazing count soon followed when he called the next two Manxies as Balearics and I realised that in the bright sunshine he was mistaking the brown-looking Manx backs for Balearics.

Back at the cottage I first unpacked the moth trap. Last night had been the first time that the weather had been good enough to contemplate putting out the trap. I hadn't had room to put the full moth trap in the car but instead had managed just my actinic and a few egg boxes. Still I rustled up a Heath-Robinson affair out of a plastic box which seemed to have caught and retained a few moths overnight though there was nothing of particular note.

Rosy Minor

After that, as the weather wasn't too bad we decided on a bit of exterior DIY and I soon really got stuck in and before I knew it several hours had passed and I'd managed to paint a fair chunk of the exterior walls.

In the afternoon we were going to go for a walk but a sudden and prolonged rain shower put paid to this so in the end we headed over to Mousehole for tea at the Rock Pool café. After this L (our son) scrambled about on the rocks whilst I sat and stared at the sea in quiet contemplation, rather enjoying the sun and the sound of the waves etc. Right in the very distance I noticed some bird activity and realised that there was a shoal of fish being attacked by about 100 Manxies and 100 Gannets and just occasionally I could see some Dolphins breaking the surface. This was all extremly distant though (it was only just below the horizon) and it was very hard to make things out.

Some of the feeding flock, so far away that they're only just below the horizon
Mousehole Rock Pipit
Eventually the others returned to break my reverie and we headed back to the car. Then it was back home via Sainsbury's for a spot of shopping. We ate a hearty dinner and then pootled around the cottage for the rest of the evening.


Wednesday 9th Pendeen

Today was forecast to be a strong wind, almost exactly due north so clearly a day which favoured Pendeen over Porthgwarra. That was good because we had my VLW's niece visiting us this morning so I wasn't going to be able to head off to PG anyway. Instead I got up reasonably early and headed down to the lighthouse where I found twenty or so birders all gazing intently at the sea. The first thing I noticed was that there were no locals apart from TM there. That was a bad sign! I was guessing that actually it was too far north for their liking - Pendeen is really at its best with a north westerly wind and this was probably just too straight-on into the shore. Also, it's relatively early in the season and Pendeen only really comes into its own from September onwards apparently. I asked the birder next to me how it had been and apparently I'd just missed a single Cory's so far. I sat down to watch and it was really slow, I mean, pretty terrible to be honest. During the hour and a half that I gave it, I personally saw just two Common Scoter flocks of note. Around me a couple of Balearics were called and TM had a couple of Arctic Skuas that no one else could get on and that was it. I soon gave it up as a bad job and headed back to home and had a quick catch-up nap to compensate for my getting up earlier than I would have liked. Mid morning our visitor arrived and we duly passed a very pleasant few hours with her and her two children, including her few month old new daughter who was one of the most placid babies that I'd ever met!

After lunch we pootled around for a bit and I suggested a local walk to check out some of the speciality butterflies that can be found in the area. Just two members of the family decided to accompany me so we headed off to the "adder pit" as it's affectionately known by us though we didn't encounter any today. In a relatively quick wander around I managed to find a Grayling and some Blues that may well have been Silver-studded though they never settled for long enough and I didn't really have the time to stake them out thoroughly. I had a quick look for Heath-spotted Orchids though there was no sign and I'm guessing that if the Penwith peninsular has been anything like up country, then all the orchids have been really early this year and had probably gone over already.

A Grayling
Then it was back to the cottage for dinner and to settle down for the evening.


Thursday 10th August: Marazion to Perranuthnoe

Today, with some nice weather forecast with just a gentle breeze, we decided to spend the morning working on our DIY. I therefore spent the morning leaning out of a window and gingerly walking on the roof painting the seaward wall of the cottage whilst my VLW carried on with her windows and front door. After lunch we decided to do something a bit different and so headed over to Marazion to walk to Perranuthnoe, have tea at the café there and then head back. So this is what we did.

Marazion was predictably heaving with tourists but we got a parking space easily enough in the overflow car-park and headed eastwards. The girls wanted to looking at the shops in Marazion on the way so I took our son and we explored the rock pools around Top Tieb whilst we waited for the others to finish. There were a few birds taking advantage of the rotting sea weed just east of the Godolphin Hotel: there were half a dozen juvenile Dunlin, some Ringed Plover and a Black-tailed Godwit as well as lots of Rock Pipits. 

juvenile Dunlin

One of many Rock Pipits

Once the others arrived we headed east around Little London and Trenow Cove. The beaches on this side of Marazion are much quieter and more pleasant and our walk was very enjoyable. My previous visits to this side of the Bay had been for the unobliging Hudsonian Whimbrel which had taken a few trips to see so it was nice to visit again without the pressure of trying to find a skulking Whimbrel hiding away in amongst the rocks. There were plenty of Little Egrets, Curlews, Oystercatchers and smaller waders to be seen but little else of note. At Perranuthnoe, since it was getting on in the day there weren't the huge queues here that I'd feared and we managed to get our tea and cake without too long a wait. We then retraced our steps back along the coastal path.

Autumn Squill

Back-lit Whimbrel

Back by the Godolphin Hotel, with the tide now in, there were loads of gulls that had joined the waders at the rotting sea-weed section (with had a distinct whiff of sewage as well which may have added to the attraction). There were now a couple of Med Gulls (2s & juv), a 1w Common Gull and a Redshank in addition to the same birds as before. It's clearly a bit of a hot spot for feeding birds and is a nice spot to bird as the birds are all concentrated together there.

Lots of gulls at the rotting sea weed section

Back at the car, we nipped into Sainsbury's for the obligatory spot of shopping before heading off home to eat and then settle down with our nightly DVD.


Friday 11th August - Porthgwarra

At the start of the week the wind for today had been forecast to be a quite strong south westerly though by Thursday evening it was a much more moderate forecast, for the morning at least, though predicted to increase in the afternoon. With a bit of rain thrown into the forecast as well, we'd decided as a family that the rest of the gang would head of to St. Ives for the day for a spot of shopping whilst I would have the day free for some sea watching. A whole day of sea watching was quite a novelty for me though it a shame that the weather was distinctly mediocre on that front. Still, at around 10 a.m. I dropped the rest of the team off at the bus stop in Pendeen and headed off on the half hour journey down to PG. I parked up, bought my "all day" parking ticket from the café along with a tea "to go" and headed along the coastal path to Hella Point, wondering if there would be anyone else there. As it turned out there were about ten or so people there, including P&H, MW & TM so it was quite a sociable affair. I spent a fair bit of time nattering with P&H whom I'd not seen for a while - it was good to catch up on all the local news. 

Betony is very much the fleur du jour at the moment, with lots of it brightening
 up the coast and roadside banks all over the place
The sea watching itself was actually far better than I'd feared: visibility was good, and whilst the wind was very moderate there were enough interesting birds to keep boredom at bay. Sooties were the order of the day and we must have had a good couple of dozen during the day, with plenty of Stormies as well. Occasionally a large shear would be picked out though they all turned out to be Greats today. There was also one Bonxie, an Ocean Sun Fish and the odd Balearic in what was a very pleasant albeit rather low key session. More than once during the watch I thanked the stars for the presence of the Runnel Stone which was such a good marker that however incompetent I was at getting on other people's birds, I'd always be able to make amends when the buoy was reached. I kept hoping that one of the Stormies would turn out to be a Wilson's though sadly it was not to be. On that subject though, during our discussions some of the locals helpfully gave me pointers as to how to tell the difference between them on jizz which was very useful. I was told that "Stormies always look like they're in a great panic when they fly" (which is very true), whereas Wilson's look much more calm and in control as well as doing a lot of gliding and pattering on the water (when feeding). So at least now I know and going forward I should be able to pick it out if one should fly past me in the future.

By mid afternoon a mist started to come in and the visibility got very poor so with time marching on I took this as my cue to leave and headed back to the car. On the way back home I got a call from the St. Ives party saying that they were on the bus back but as they'd bought a large item (a small cupboard that my VLW had been looking for for a long time) could I come and pick them up. We rendezvous'd at the Pendeen stores and headed back to the cottage. By all accounts the other party had enjoyed a good time as well so it had been a successful day.

We were due to leave the next day so after dinner we started to clear up and pack up before turning in for the night.

Saturday 12th August - Pendeen & Back Home

Today we were leaving but as our cleaner wasn't able to do the change-over today we'd said that we would do it. So instead of having to leave first thing we were able to take things at a more leisurely pace. After packing up all our things I started to pack the car whilst the rest of the team worked on cleaning the house. All this cleaning took quite some time and I did have time for a brief walk along the cliffs where I came across a charming family of freshly-fledged Stonechats looking very cute atop the heather and gorse.

Young Stonechats
Mid afternoon, and finally we'd cleaned the cottage and had managed somehow to pack my VLW's new cupboard into the car along with all our other stuff though the children all had quite a few bags around their feet. We headed up to Pendeen first to drop off the last of the recycling, then to Sainsbury's to fill up with petrol before starting our journey homewards. We were hoping that this late departure time would result in a trouble-free journey as it had on the way down and fortunately this seemed to be the case with no traffic issues to blight our way northwards. We arrived back mid evening to be reunited with our two cats who were very pleased to see us.