Sunday, 15 July 2018

Summer Orchids

I've been on a couple of Orchid trips over the last few weeks which I thought I'd write up in a single post here. The first was a brief spur of the moment trip down to Warburg NR in the south of the county specifically to see Lesser Butterfly Orchid which I'd not seen before. I'd recently learnt that this species could be found here so I got in touch with the warden there via e-mail and got back a reply telling me exactly where to go. So armed with this information I made the surprisingly long trip down to the reserve - the narrow winding lane at the end seems to go on for ever! In the warden's office there was a helpful map showing where various orchid species where to be found though I noticed that they hadn't actually marked up the LBO on it. I took a photo of the map on my phone for reference and then headed off to follow my e-mail instructions. It wasn't too long before I was looking at a couple of very much past their best LBO's.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid - note the rather delicate jizz...

...the diagnostic near-parallel pollen masses...

... and the extremely long straight spur

The open paths of the reserve were a riot of colour everywhere and I could have spent a long time rummaging through the flowers there but I was on a bit of a tight schedule so it was just a quick whistle-stop tour of the rest of the area before I headed home.

Bee Orchid

Greater Butterfly Orchid - a more robust species, with angled pollen masses and shorter spurs

Pyramidal Orchids were everywhere

My next trip was a long overdue one down to Noar Hill NR in Hants. This is a well known site for butterflies such as the Duke of Burgandy but is also a top site for various orchids, including Musk Orchid - the target of my visit. It was going to be another scorching hot day so set off reasonably early in order to try to avoid the worst of the heat. The journey down was uneventful and I was soon climbing the steep path up to the reserve. I'd been studying the location on various maps beforehand but it turned out to be a completely different layout to what I was expecting. It was all so compact with lots of mini hills and ridges one after another. 

Noar Hill
It was a riot of summer flowers of all sorts there including loads of Pyramidal Orchids, plenty of Chalk Fragrant Orchids though they'd almost all gone over and just a few Common Spotteds. Fortunately I'd been given some very detailed instructions by IE and soon found the Musk area where someone with a camera pointed them out to me. This species is similar to Fen Orchid in that it's a small light green orchid that you really have to look out for carefully though there was a nice clump of them close to the path which made it a lot easier to spot.

A clump of Musk Orchids. You get a sense of just how small they are from this photo
Musk Orchid
Having  quickly found my target I had a general wander around where I managed to find a few more individual Musks tucked away in the grass as well as lots of other lovely flowers. I had been told that there were some Frog Orchids nearby but couldn't find them.

Common Spotted Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

A past it's best Chalk Fragrant Orchid
On the way back home I decided to stop off to have another crack at the Burnt Tip Orchids at Ladle Hill - long-term readers may recall that last year I'd gone there but had failed to find this species. A bit of a navigational cock-up meant that I drove around in circles for a bit before eventually arriving at the familiar layby where I was soon off and yomping as fast as I dared in the heat along the path towards the ancient hill fort. Once there I scoured in minute detail the grass along the southern edge of the fort where I'd been told they were to be found but after a good three quarters of an hour I'd not managed to find a single one. 

There were quite a few Chalk Fragrants but they'd almost all gone over apart from this single specimen
I called IE (my orchid guru guide for this site) up on my phone. He was down in a bog in Hants looking for Bog Orchids but he talked me through which areas they grew (close to the path that runs along the top of the fort on the fairly flat areas) and also what they looked like. Armed with this information I resolved to have one final look and walked slowly the entire length of the southern part without any success at all. Having got into the groove of looking I decided that I might as well push on further around the fort perimeter and finally right on the bend I found what I was looking for. 

Burnt Tip Orchid - small but very striking

Once I'd actually seen one and noted the deep dark purple of the tip then I knew what to look for and I soon found plenty more in that general area. The colour was darker than anything else growing there and they weren't as tiny as I'd been imagining. They were such a striking species that I starting to think that this might be my new favourite orchid species.

Flushed with success and now with my eye in I worked my way back along the original area that I'd been looking but still no luck -  I'd clearly just been in the wrong area to start with. I found one more clump of three or four a bit further around on the bend in the south east corner of the fort but that was it. By now I was tired and hot so I headed back to the car where I soon had the air conditioning cranked up to 11 to cool off as I headed back home. It had been a successful day out.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Kenfig Revisited

About this time last year I went to pick up Daughter Number Two from Swansea University and had decided to stop off en route at Kenfig Nature Reserve to see if I could see any Fen Orchids. This rare and diminutive orchid only grows in two places: in Norfolk and in the dune slacks of south Wales at places like Kenfig. That time I'd not seen any and had presumed that I'd been a bit too late but there had also been the nagging possibility that I'd been looking in the wrong place. This year my daughter wanted to be picked up a bit earlier, in fact right in the middle of the peak season for Fen Orchids so my thoughts naturally turned to having another go. This time, to be on the safe side I got in touch with someone in the wonderful Native Orchids of the UK Facebook group to ask for directions and he kindly said that he would meet me there to show me himself. So it was that a couple of weeks ago I found myself heading west on a gloriously sunny Sunday morning towards the Severn bridge and over the River Severn into Wales. Given the hour and the day of the week there was little traffic and I made good time, indeed arriving a little early for my rendezvous with AP, my guide for the day. He turned out to be a wonderfully amiable and extremely  knowledgeable orchid enthusiast. Together with another friend of his who was doing some reconnaissance for a field trip that he was running that afternoon, we wandered along the sandy tracks towards the main dune slack enjoying the sights and scenery on a beautifully sunny day. I was pleased to note that the slack was the same one that I'd been to the previous year so at least I'd been in the right general area last time. The slack itself was awash with orchids, mostly Southern Marsh though with several Early Marsh in amongst them, including the beautiful red coccinea subspecies.

Early Marsh Orchid - past their best now

The coccinea sub species of Early Marsh Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid - by far the commonest orchid there

We started off not looking for Fens but instead Northern Marsh Orchid. There'd been a bit of debate in the FB group about whether NMO actually occurs at Kenfig. AP was sure that it did as he'd seen some a couple of weeks ago on his last visit but he wanted to show his friend to make sure. Eventually we found several specimens as well as some Common Twayblades. We even managed to find a hyperchromic subspecies with extremely rich colouring.

Northern Marsh Orchid

Hyperchromic NMO, with the very rich colouring
Common Twayblades
Having satisfied themselves about the NMO, the companion had to leave for his field trip so AP and I went in search of the elusive Fen Orchids. I'd been keeping half an eye out for FO as we'd tramped about the slack but hadn't spotted any. AP told me that the wardens had been getting worried about the decreasing numbers of FO over the last few years so had intervened to create some new habitat. Apparently there is a natural cycle with the dunes: a fresh sand scrape is gradually colonised and as it starts to get stabilised by grasses etc the vegetation gets thicker and there's more competition so it's harded for the more diminutive plants such as Fens to survive. So they'd dug a few fresh scrapes to create a sparsely vegetated area and this was where we were headed. As soon as we got there we could see loads of Fen Orchids. Over the relatively narrow area of the scrape there must have been at least fifty. I thanked my stars (and also of course AP) that I'd thought to ask for guidance as otherwise I'd probably never have found them in this small strip.

Fen Orchids at last!

Orchid Hunters paying homage to the Fens

Dark Green Fritillary on a Meadow Thistle
Time was marching on and I had one eye on the clock, thinking that I still had to get to Swansea, load up the car and then get all the way back home again. However, AP had mentioned in passing that right by the shoreline one could find Sea Stock, a rare coastal plant that is only to be found along the southern coast of Wales so I waited patiently until he'd finished his photography and then he took me over to see them. There were loads of dragonflies buzzing around in the pools as we went (mostly Broad-bodied Chasers) and as we neared the beach suddenly there were Pyramidal Orchids everywhere. AP soon found some Sea Stock though it was far too early for it to be in flower.

Pyramidal Orchid

The elusive Sea Stock - nowhere near in flower yet
Kenfig was a wonderful place and truly one could spend all day there but as time was marching on we then turned around and headed back to the car park. I thanks my companion profusely for all the help that he'd given and we went our separate ways. I headed back onto the motorway and within half an hour I was pulling up at my daughter's student accommodation. She'd got everything already packed and ready to load in the car so it was a relatively quick turnaround and we were soon on our way back home. The return journey was uneventful and the time passed quickly enough as we caught up on each other's news. It had been a good day out and I'd finally got to see some Fen Orchids.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Catching Up

Readers may well have noticed the distinct lack of posts here over the last few months. The reason for this has largely been that I've been tied up on the work front and haven't been able to go out on many trips at all. That's not to say that I've not done any, just they've mostly been relatively minor ones or alternatively unsuccessful ones (which one always feels less inclined to blog about). So I thought that I'd do a round-up of what I've done over the intervening period, partly just as a personal reminder though of course I hope that readers also enjoy them.

Hunting Yellow Stars
Back at the end of March I went on a relatively local trip to look for the elusive Yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea) which I'd recently learnt from the very informative Hooky Natural History blog could be found locally at Whitehall Woods along the backs of the River Evenlode . It had been a very wet early spring and I arrived at the location to find that the river had burst its banks and at first it looked completely hopeless. Fortunately however, the bank on the footpath side of the river was very steep so it was still possible to work my way along it and to look out for this plant though according to the aforementioned blog source there weren't any actually in flower this spring so it was a matter of looking out for the subtle pointers that marked this species out from the similar Bluebell leaves. Fortunately I managed to find a few specimens as well as some emerging Toothwort. It would be nice actually to see some in flower so I'll try again next year.

The flooded River Evenlode
Toothwort just coming out
Yellow Star of Bethlehem, munched by deer (presumably)

That Chiffchaff and Bittern Dipping
Much has already been said about the "Iberian" Chiffchaff that turned out to be something else. The morning the news broke I was just about to leave to spend a day over in Suffolk to have a crack at the American Bittern that had appeared at Carlton Marshes and a quick detour around the ring road to get a cracking county tick was going to be a great bonus. Suffice it to say that the song (which you could hear from the car park) seemed good enough to me as well as quite a few other county birders. To his credit it was the Notorious LGRE who first cast aspersions on it's identity and gradually over the coming days as we all learnt more about what constitutes a bona fide Iberian the horrible truth dawned on us all. For me the most interesting part was the three parts to a true Iberian's song which Ian Lewington describes as ‘jip jip jip jip jip weep weep weep chitachitachita’; this bird on the other hand was going ‘jit jit jit jit jit juda juda juda juda’ without any middle "weep"-ing. I'll know what to listen out for in future. An educational bird as they say (grrrrr).

Superb video of the Chiffy from video genius Badger

Anyway, I didn't even get to see the American Bittern. Despite spending five long hours staring at the reedbed with a number of other birders (including master lensman JH) there was no sign of it that day. Lots of Marsh Harriers, a pair of Whimbrel, a heard-only Eurasion Bittern and a close Yellow Wagtail were quite frankly poor compensation for a long and ultimately fruitless day and even my consolation county tick was later snatched away from me. Gah!

Farmoor Bonxies & Terns
After the excitement of the Green-winged Teal back in January and apart from the bitter disappointment of that Chiffchaff, it has been a rather quiet spring in the county. I've been working away diligently on the patch (see Port Meadow Birding for those who don't know about it) but when a pair of Bonxies turned up at Farmoor I thought that I'd have a change from the daily patch routine and decided to go and pay a visit. They were immediately on view when I arrived albeit a long distance away and I couldn't be bothered to slog all the way up the causeway so contented myself with very distant views from the bank by the car park.

 Distant misty Bonxies

For me the highlight of the visit was the presence of both Arctic and Common Terns flying really close in just in front of me. It was a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast the two species. Despite being able to rattle off by heart the list of the field guide differences there's nothing quite like seeing them side by side in the field for getting a feel for the two species and I came away much more confident in being able to tell them apart from flight views.

A fabulous set of photos taken by camera legend Roger Wyatt who was there watching the Terns with me.
Top two Arctic and bottom two Common

Patch Mega
I mentioned my patch birding earlier, well it's been a reasonably good year there so far with decent amounts of flood water (always a critical factor) lasting all the way into June. We've had a good selection of species though it's been a quiet spring for waders. So, after having had a very busy day with work, when I decided to pay an evening visit to the floods I was pleasantly surprised to find 20 or more Ringed Plover right at the start of the floods - a record count for the year so far. Conditions were very gloomy and overcast as I worked my way northwards up the floods but I kept finding more birds with a pair of Redshank, some Oystercatchers, a couple of Greenshank and a few Sanderling to add to the total - it had been a real fall! The highlight however was to be found right at the end. I spotted someone on the north shore with a pair of bins looking at something very intently. "What could he be looking at?" I wondered as I scanned over the northern section of flood water. I soon found the answer when an adult summer plumage Red-necked Phalarope came into view! I recognised it instantly from the one at Bicester Wetlands that I'd seen a few years previously so I busied myself with taking some video footage and then putting the word out. Most of the Port Meadow locals came to see it as well as a few county birders from further afield though with this being the third record in the last four years it wasn't the draw that it used to be.

The best I could manage on the video front given the distance and the gloomy conditions

I watched it until dusk in the company of various fellow admirers and as I was leaving four out-of-county people arrived to see it so in the end more than a dozen people came to pay their respects. As to be expected for a migrating spring bird, there was no sign of it the next day.

As a matter of interest (thanks to JU for the info), past records of this species are:
Shotover (found exhausted) Winter 1884
Sandford Sewage Farm Sep 1944
Marsh Baldon June 1960
Stanton Harcourt June 1969
Farmoor May 1974
Farmoor June 1974
Dix Pit  Sep 1995
A "probable" at Balscote Quarry June 2014 Bicester Wetlands: May 2015
Farmoor: Sep 2017

It was nice finally to find something good on the patch again - it's been a while personally though thankfully we now have a good team of dedicated birders who are collectively finding stuff to keep the patch rare list ticking over.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Cornish Teaser

I've been in two minds of late as to whether to bother putting the condensed version of my Pendeen Birding exploits here on my Gnome Birding blog as well. Especially as there's often not a great deal of interest in the posts apart from very localised stuff. So this time instead I'm just going to do a few teaser photos and if you'd like to delve deeper into the birds, moths, flower and of course teas that were seen down in the far South West at the start of this month then follow the link here. Do let me know in the comments below if you prefer the full thing posted here instead.

Willow Warbler


Red Chestnut


Monday, 23 April 2018

The Spring Durham Run 2018

It was getting near to the end of an era: my eldest daughter was now in her last term of her four year Durham University course - where has all the time gone? Anyway, whilst she'd been coming and going on the train for the last couple of terms, it was decided for logistical reasons that I should take her back up and pick up some of her stuff from her flat as there was otherwise going to be no room in the car when we all came up for her graduation and then to bring her back down at the end of summer term. As usual I cast around for things to take a look at whilst up in the North East but there was nothing of note (as you'd generally expect for mid April). The only thing that caught my eye was right up over the border in Scotland where the over-wintering American White-winged Scoter was still in residence off the sea wall at Musselburgh just east of Edinburgh. It was a bit of a stretch from Durham on up there, being a further full two and a half hours driving on top of the four hours up to Durham but on the other hand, how often was I going to get the chance to see this species? In the end, the total absence of anything else to go for decided it for me and I booked a cheap Air BnB in Musselburgh itself and my daughter and I set off on a sunny and indeed almost hot morning from Oxford. 

The journey upwards was uneventful and shortly before 1 pm we had arrived at Durham and had quickly unloaded the car with her things and I'd packed the stuff that she wanted me to take back down. Then after a quick cup of tea we said our goodbyes and I was back on the road heading north up the A1. Thinking back, I'd done something similar on the January run northwards last year where I'd managed to see the Black Scoter at Goswick so this trip wasn't without precedence but this was a good hour further northwards. Still, the roads were reasonably empty and with Radio 4 for company the time and the miles slipped away. Within about fifteen minutes of my destination I had to stop at some services where I was amazed to find just how windy it was. It was a really strong wind which got me worrying about how easy it might be to see the bird in these conditions. Still there was nothing I could do now and back in the Gnome mobile I continued onwards until finally I was in the familiar town of Musselburgh, which I'd visited once before on a failed attempt to see a resident King Eider there. Indeed that particular trip had been a catalogue of dips with three of four birds that I'd lined up all not seen. Still, this was a chance for Musselburgh to make amends for that, or so I hoped. 

I parked up, and in the strong wind put on all my winter clothing. Back down in Oxford where it had been so hot, I had been wondering about whether I was going to need all these coats but right now I was glad to have them. Finally tooled up I set off along the sea wall where I soon came to the fabled "first bench" that was so frequently mentioned in the RBA reports for this target bird. Sure enough there was a birder staring out at the sea. A tentative enquiry on my part returned a negative response: the chap (a Yorkshire birder) had been there for a couple of hours without luck though he had managed to spot the drake Surf Scoter. He said that the conditions were very difficult and as I set up and started scoping for myself I could only agree: not only was there a nasty chop on the sea but the wind kept shaking the scope so it was going to be pretty hard to nail the subtle differences that distinguished the numerous Velvet Scoter there from the hoped for American visitor. 

We'd not been at it long when news came in on RBA that our target bird had been seen but much further east, in fact east of the wader scrapes a Musselburgh which was a fair old walk. So myself and my new found companion set off on the long slog along the sea wall. When we eventually got to that end there was no sign of any other birders but at least it was more sheltered over here. What's more the birds were much closer in. In fact, as I said to my companion, these were probably the best views of Velvet Scoter I'd ever had! The birds were close in and in the bright sunshine the yellow on their bills really stood out so I was hoping that the more subtle pinkish tones of the target White-winged Scoter would be relatively easy to pick out. My companion and I gradually worked our way along the wall, scoping every bird that we could. Along with at least fifty Velvet Scoter there were quite a few Eider, a few Long-tailed Duck and some Red-breasted Mergansers. There were remarkably few Common Scoter but I did pick out a couple.

A drake Eider off the sea wall
Still, try as we might we couldn't find our target bird. We stared so hard at each Velvet, looking for subtle differences and wondering just how obvious our target bird would be if we saw it. Were we missing it or was it just not there? Eventually my companion left as he was having to drive back home to Yorkshire today, having been up in the Cairngorms that morning so it was already a long day for him. Another birder arrived and he and I continued to search in vain for this elusive bird. He left and gradually the light started to fade and I had to admit defeat. It was a long and weary trudge back to the car and I was feeling very despondent having made such an effort to come all this way without any reward so far. Still, there was another try tomorrow morning and the Air BnB place was just a couple of minutes up the road so I headed over there, got unpacked and then headed out to score a Chinese takeaway which I ate in my room whilst watching TV. Then after checking in with my VLW back home in Oxford it was time to turn in for the night.

I woke a bit earlier than planned, but was up, showered and out of the door by 7 a.m. with a fly-over Redpoll greeting me as I got into the car. The contrast with yesterday could not be more complete and this morning there was hardly a breath of wind. Instead it was a beautiful sunny calm morning and the sea was mirror-like in its stillness. It was such a perfect morning but would it be a successful one?

Looking out over the mirror flat sea from the mouth of the river Esk

Roosting Waders at the river mouth

Roosting Redshank
As I wandered along the path I soon heard the reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. Now, I'd more or less come to the conclusion that I'd lost the ability to hear this species though there is always the question of if you're not hearing one is it because you can no longer do so, or is there just not one there! There certainly was one in this instance and I rejoiced in the fact that I could still hear it. 

Although it was still early, when I arrived at the first bench there were already a couple of birders there, chatting quietly to themselves. When I asked hopefully about the target Scoter they confidently answered that yes they'd seen it! Hope welled up within me as I quickly assembled my scope and asked for details. It turned out that it was more or less straight out in front of us though a quick inspection revealed that the birds were a long way out today. However, the flat calm conditions meant that you could basically pick out  every single bird on the sea that wasn't diving however far it was. I asked how easy it was to tell apart from the Velvet Scoter and my two companions seemed to think that it was pretty easy. I told them of my three hours of failure yesterday so they sympathetically tried to find the bird for me. We all had a good scan through the thirty or so Velvets that were in front of us but it was nowhere to be seen! Surely Tantalis himself had not suffered such torment! I started to scan further afield on either side and soon found the drake Surf Scoter, a pair of Mergansers and a few Long-tailed Ducks. In the other direction was more of the same and a single Red-throated Diver, immediately distinguishable despite the distance by its uptilted bill. Then one of the two next to me said that he thought that he'd had the bird but it had just dived. I looked back in the original spot and spotted a bird resurfacing between two Velvets. There was no doubting this: even at this huge distance the different "broken nose" profile and the pinkish rather than orange yellow tone on the bill were obvious. Relief flooded over me: all the efforts in getting up here had been worth it! There was little point in trying to take a photo at that distance so after watching the bird for a little while my two companions and I started to head back.

A cracking shot of the bird in similar calm conditions taken by Ian Andrews (c) (@ijandrews1 on Twitter). You can easily seen the different profile and lower bill colour from this photo, both of which were surprisingly easy to distinguish in the field
My two companions were going to try for the drake Ring-necked duck that was hopping around between different ponds within Edinburgh city itself. I too had had my eye on this bird as something to go for should I get my target bird early enough but first I messaged my landlady asking if it was OK to come back for my breakfast and she soon replied that this was fine so I headed back to the house where I enjoyed a nice fried breakfast, fuel for the long journey back today. Then it was back to the car and I headed off on the twenty minute journey towards the pond where the RND had been seen yesterday which fortunately was one of the most accessible ones without having to go too deep within the heart of the city itself.

I soon arrived and parked up. It had turned into a perfect morning now that the sun was up. It was just the right temperature and as I walked down the wooded patch towards the as yet hidden pond I could hear birds singing all around me. The pond itself was remarkably small and I soon found the RND looking very much at home.

The Ring-necked Duck
I took a few snaps with my super zoom and then wandered back to the car in a contented frame of mind. Having seen everything that I'd wanted to I just quickly checked RBA to see if anything else had turned up and as there wasn't anything obvious I headed back on the long slog home. The traffic was reasonably light, it was sunny and dry and with no particular reason to get home in a hurry I took it easy on the way down, admiring the sunlit mountainous scenery and stopping on a couple of occasions for a break and a cup of tea. So it was that at around 4 pm I was back home at Casa Gnome and catching up on news with my VLW. It had turned out to be a very successful Durham run.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Cornwall In February

Another amalgamation of my Pendeen Birding posts from a half-term trip down to the far South West.

11th February, Back Down (Finally!)

Regular readers may have noticed a distinct lack of posts for quite some time. Indeed there was no sign of my usual October visit which is normally the highlight of my Cornish birding year. The reason for this was because of the unusually poor birding autumn that we had nationally last year. I suppose that it has to balance out the fantastic autumn of 2016 where we had constant easterly winds all autumn channelling all those lovely Siberian Accentors and other eastern goodies our way and after that feast had to come some famine. Whatever the reason, it was prevailing south westerlies all autumn last year and whilst I'd blocked off the whole of the month for myself at the cottage, as I followed things from afar there was never any moment where I was at all tempted to come down. So it's not until now that we've finally made it down for our traditional February half term visit to the cottage to see how it's survived the winter so far.

Given the time of year (and the distinct lack of anything tempting on the bird front) there was no urgency to our coming down this week so we did some leisurely packing on Saturday and then on Sunday morning at some time after 10 we set off, stopping first to pick up lunch (which we'd forgotten to make before setting off) and then for petrol. Having been scouring the CBWPS web-site in the week leading up to our departure my interest had been piqued by a couple of reports of Marsh Tits at somewhere called Cardinham Wood (which I'd never heard of until then). The reason for this interest was that this was a bird that embarrassingly I still needed for my Cornish list. Actually, it's not so surprising as they're not to be found at all on the Penwith peninsular with College Reservoir probably being the closest location. It's one of those species which I knew that I would catch up with eventually but hitherto had not actually got around to it. A quick bit of research showed that Cardinham Wood was actually just a few minutes off our route along the A30 and with the promise of a cup of tea in it, my VLW didn't take much persuading. It turned out to be incredibly busy there: indeed there were so many dog walkers around that we did wonder if we'd inadvertently stumbled into some doggy convention of some kind. We eventually found somewhere to park and whilst my VLW and our son L went off to get the hot drinks in, I soon located the feeders which were right next to the café. A large number of Siskins were camped out there and Coal Tits and the occasional Blue Tit were also regularly visiting. It wasn't long before I saw my Marsh Tit though it seemed to prefer not to linger on the feeders at all but would do a "hit and run" before eating its food in a nearby tree so try as I might I wasn't able to get a decent photo at all. Apart from that there was a Grey Wagtail and some Chaffinches feeding on the dropped seed under the feeders but that was about it.

This was the best I could manage with the Marsh Tit...

...whereas the Siskins were much more obliging
The rest of the journey was uneventful and at around 4 we arrived for our customary Sainsbury's shop before heading off to boot up the cottage. It was incredibly windy on the north coast and the cottage heating system took some time to coax into life but eventually it was up and running and we settled in for the night.

12th February, Pendeen, Newlyn & Mousehole

With no particular reason to get up early we had a bit of a lie-in this morning and over a cup of tea in bed my VLW and I put the world to rights. Then it was time to take stock of what needed doing in the cottage (which thankfully wasn't too much) before I headed out for a wander down to the lighthouse. It was the usual stuff: a single Raven, a couple of Chough in amongst the Jackdaws and a flock of Linnets in the horse paddock. Down by the cliffs it was nice to see that the Fulmars were already back and investigating various rock ledges for prospective nests. I always check the garden at the Old Count House down next to the lighthouse car park: I have this dream of finding something like an Yank thrush of some kid there one day but it was just a Song Thrush today. I scoured the lighthouse building carefully for Black Redstarts but couldn't see any. On the sea it was just Gannets and Fulmars with just the occasional Auk flying through.

Not the rare thrush of my dreams today

In the afternoon we decided to head over the hill towards PZ where my VLW and our son wanted to do some shopping. So I dropped them off and headed on to Newlyn to look at the gulls. However, they seemed to be doing some building work there so it wasn't possible to walk along the quayside like I usually do and in the end I headed along the road to view from the old stone quay instead. However, I couldn't see any white-wingers and eventually I headed back to the car to pick up the others.

"You looking at me?" - a thuggish Great Black-backed

One of the cute clockwork Turnstones that are always running around the quayside at this time of year
As it was time for tea, we decided to head along the coast road to Mousehole to the Rock Pool Café. Unfortunately they didn't have their usual gluten-free cake selection so in the end I settle for a hot chocolate with added lardiness. Whilst the other two lingered I headed back out to the car par where I spotted a birder huddled under the shelter of the wall scoping St. Clements Island. It was gull guru ME who'd been there for some time watching the various white-wingers coming and going so I settled down to join him. He picked out a juvenile Glaucous Gull on the island as well as a possible Smithy though he said that you were never going to be able to see enough to nail it down at this distance.

A rubbish video-grab of the juv. Glauc
When the rest of the family came out I bade ME farewell and we headed back to the cottage via Sainsbury's to off-load some recycling that our eldest daughter had helpfully left behind last year from when she'd been down with her friends. Back at the cottage with a storm forecast for that night, we battened down the hatches and settled in for the evening, trying to keep warm as the wind whistled around the cottage.

15th February, Newlyn & Hayle

No posts for a couple of days because of stormy conditions. Strong south westerly winds, often with rain, kept us house-bound for much of the two days though we did manage a trip over to the museum café at Geevor one day. The highlight on the birding front was watching all the birds working over the waterlogged horse paddock next to us to feed on the worms as they came up to the surface to escape the water.

Today however, the wind had abated and there was even some sunshine. It was still a breezy westerly so we decided to head over the hill to PZ and to walk along the sea front from Jubilee Pool to Newlyn, a walk that we'd not done before. We were lucky enough to find a parking space right on the main road at the start of our walk and whilst it was still a bit breezy it was pleasant enough. With the tide out there was not much to see apart from the usual Little Egrets feeding on the rock pools and some loafing gulls. 

Once in Newlyn it was noticeable how much more sheltered it was. My VLW and our son popped into Warrens for some sort of pastry lunch (sausage rolls rather than pasties today) whilst I (thanks to my wheat intolerance) had to content myself with a packed sandwich that I'd brought along. We parted ways here, the other two to explore the shops whilst I searched the harbour for gulls. I soon found the juvenile Iceland Gull loafing on the shoreline. It would occasionally stir from its slumbers long enough for me to take a photo or two.

I managed to find the female type Black Redstart at the back of the harbour car park and was lucky enough to get a nice photo of it as it briefly perched on a bin.

I met up with the others from the part and we worked our way around the harbour, exploring the old stone quayside and then onwards to Sandy Cover. Here I met with PF who was taking a couple of people on a local birding tour. I managed to spot one of the resident Water Rails in the copse and out on the sea there was a Great Northern Diver. On our way back towards the car I managed to spot the juvenile Glaucous Gull flying around the harbour, thereby completing the white-winged harbour set.

Back at the car there was some debate as to what to do but in the end we decided to head over to Hayle. We parked up by the causeway and the other two then walked toward the town to do some shopping whilst I birded the Saltings and Ryan's Field. There were plenty of birds around and the tide was on the way in so they were all reasonably close but nothing of particular note in either location.

Ryan's Field Redshank
I checked in on the others who still had stuff to do so I then headed around to the Copperhouse Creek area to see what I could find but apart from a Greenshank it was the same birds.

Copperhouse waders
I then went to pick up the other party and we headed back to the cottage for the evening.

16th February, Back Home

We decided to head back home today. It was always either going to be today or Saturday and whilst the forecast was for nice sunny weather today, somehow the two days lost to poor weather had taken their toll and I just wanted to go home. As we packed (which always seems to take far longer than it should) I spotted a couple of Chough feeding in the horse paddock. One was ringed but the other appeared to be unringed, perhaps the result of successful breeding last year.

Our journey back was uneventful apart from a report from P&H of a White-billed Diver and a (the) Pacific Diver both on view at Mousehole from the Rock Pool Café car park. I was most gripped as I needed White-billed for Cornwall still. Still, there's nothing that one can do apart from to be philosophical about it all. One day!