Monday, 27 September 2010

Cornwall: if Carlsberg did birding

Friday 24th
I was due back down in Cornwall for more work on the cottage so on Friday I set off from Oxford mid morning and headed west. This time I thought that I'd stop in at Davidstow Airfield, partly as though I'd heard much about it and its ability to bring in rarities I'd never actually visited and partly as there were currently two dotterel and a buff-breasted sandpiper in residence.

When I arrived it was rather overcast and gloomy with occasional brief showers. I pulled off onto the end of the main runway and a quick scan found a flock of about 10 ringed plover with one dunlin. I wondered how one was supposed to bird this location and had naively assumed that one parked up and scanned with a scope though his did make me wonder how people got such good photos from their cars at close quarters. I then saw a car on the airfield in the distance and realised that the answer was that people just drove around in their cars until they found something. I decided to follow the other car and this turned out to be a good plan because it ended up next to another car whose occupants were watching the two dotterel at close quarters.

The two dotterel, taken with my point & shoot camera

I took a few rubbish record shots with my point & shoot camera and wondered about digiscoping. To get out of the car would risk flushing the birds so in the end I tried hand-holding the scope with my digiscoping camera attached to the end and the results came out quite well.

Hand-held digiscoped dotterel.

There were also loads of wheatears around as well as some pied and white wagtails, meadow pipits and linnets. Despite searching for some time and asking other birders there appeared to be no sign of the sandpiper so I headed on to Penzance.

When I arrived I thought that whilst it was still light I'd head straight over to Treeve Common near Sennen/Land's End to see if I could find the red-backed shrike that was there. Whilst it was nice and sunny down there there turned out to be a very strong northerly wind and all the birds were hunkered down out of sight and there was no sign of the shrike. So I headed down to Pendeen and checked in at the Watch for half an hour though nothing went through apart from a couple of manx shearwaters. Then it was off to unpack the car, "boot up" the cottage and go and get some food for the weekend.

The Wra from the watch, bathed in golden sunlight.
Shame about the lack of birds though.

Saturday 25th
Saturday morning I went down to Pendeen watch at 7am where I met another birder though he turned out to be from Berkshire rather than locally. He said that in the half hour he'd been there there'd been nothing through at all apart from two gannets! I joined him and it was remarkably slow going with just a few kittiwakes and auks to show for an hour's watching. At that point I decided that my birding time would more profitably be spent elsewhere and wandered back to the cottage for breakfast.

I needed to hire a circular saw to help chop up a built-in bookcase that the previous cottage owners had installed so it was off to Penzance next. My intention was to pick up the saw and to take a rather circular route back to Pendeen via Treeve Common in order to look for the shrike once more. With very little wind I was thinking that if there bird were still there it would definitely be showing. However these plans were scuppered when I discovered that the hire shop closed at 12 and if I didn't return the saw by then I'd have to wait until Monday. As I was returning to Oxford on Sunday this left me with a bit of a dilemma. In the end I hired the saw, raced back to Pendeen and then spent the next hour or so sawing like a demon, making every conceivable cut that I was possibly going to need so I could actually dismantle it at my leisure. I got the saw back in good time and then decided that Treeve Common was due as a reward for all my hard work.

When I arrived I was initially there on my own. With the calm conditions there were plenty of birds to be seen with whinchat, stonechat and countless meadow pipits zipping around. However there was no sign of the shrike that I could see. Soon after that other people started arriving. First someone from Newquay who was doing a walking circuit of the whole area to check out what was around though he didn't stay long. Then two visiting birders arrived and finally three birders who from their "jizz" were clearly locals. One, who was called Mush (short for Mushtaq perhaps?) was continually on the phone and it turned out that he ran Birdline South West. Another was John Chapple who does the Cornwall birding DVD's. He was carrying a natty little HD digital camcorder on a tripod of which I was rather covetous, especially in the light of the video he subsequently took. There was a third chap whose name I didn't catch. A merlin shot through the field at great speed and was gone almost immediately. John had wandered off to the corner of the field looking for birds whilst the other two chatted so I wandered over to join him. What followed was a few minutes of pure birding magic, hence the blog title "if Carlsberg did birding".

As I approached I saw a warbler flitting through the sallows. It was low down and appeared frequently in the gaps near the bottom so that one could obtain quite good views. Seeing the strong supecilium and some kind of wing bar I suggested "is that a yellow-browed?" John who had been watching it already had been thinking arctic initially but over the next few seconds we converged on greenish warbler! We gestured to the others to come over and in a rather comic manner they dawdled and ambled until we got the message of what we had across to them when they managed to move sharpish enough. A couple of the stragglers didn't manage to see it before it disappeared but most people got at least a glimpse.

Some video that John Chapple took of the greenish warbler the next day

A minute or so after it had disappeared and whilst we were looking around to see if we could see it again John noticed something in the overgrown ditch next to us. "Is that a hippolais?" he asked. It turned out to be a melodius warbler working its way along the ditch. It then appeared in the sallows where the greenish had been. It worked its way back and forth a few time and I even managed to take a couple of digiscoped shots of it though trying to digiscope a skulking warbler in sallows is bloody hard work.

My digiscoping efforts for the melodius warbler

We hung around for a bit longer to see if the greenish would return though it didn't and was not seen again that day (though John re-found it the next day). Whilst waiting the merlin shot through again but the shrike never turned up and the melodius started to get elusive. I realised that I would have to get back to the cottage to get on with my DIY and so headed off back to Pendeen.

John Chapple's video of the melodius warbler

I spent the next few hours getting hot and dusty but managed to dismantle the bookshelf, pack it into the car and take it to the St. Erth recycling centre. Whilst there I thought that it would be rude of me not to pop in to Hayle estuary where I passed a pleasant while checking out the high tide roost though there was nothing particularly unusual about so I headed back home to Pendeen to finish clearing up all the mess I'd made from the day's work

Sunday 26th
Back at Pendeen watch first thing this morning where I met a husband a wife team of birders who were sea watching from the sheltered southerly side of the lighthouse so I decided to join them. Whilst this offered respite from the wind it did mean that the birds were further away and in future I think that I'll just have to brave the wind and sit in my usual spot.

dawn coming up over the hill at Pendeen
The Gurnard's Head at first light

Finally there was some activity on the sea with some shearwaters and skuas coming through. During the two hours that I was there as well as the usual stuff I counted ten balearic shearwaters, one sooty shearwater, about 6 arctic skuas including one really close in and one bonxie. I noticed that the rate of 5 balearics per hour was the same as was achieved at Porthgwarra that day. We also had three sightings of basking sharks though whether it was the same one or three different individuals is hard to say though at Land's End ten were reported.

I spent the next hour or so back at the cottage packing up and loading stuff in the car before setting off for home. I wanted to call in at Davidstow again on the way back as the buff-breasted sandpiper had been seen again the previous day and if I had time also at Turf in Devon to see the spotted sandpiper as it was just off the motorway junction though it wasn't that high a priority.

At Davidstow the weather was much nicer than last time with warm sun and a gentle breeze. It soon became apparently however that it was a much more popular place at the weekend with model aircraft enthusiasts, people riding mountain bikes and even proper light aircraft taking off and landing on one of the runways. There were one or two birding cars about and I too set of on my birding curb-crawl to see what I could find. The answer was not a great deal. I got excited when I saw a wader fly down to land by the pools but when I managed to find it again it turned out to be a dunlin.

Not a buff-breasted sandpiper!

As it was a nice sunny day and there were no birds around I decided to have a little walk around by the control tower. Whilst doing so three birds zipped over. Two were linnets but the third gave a distinctive bunting trill and as it banked I caught sight in the bins of its chestnut wing panels and markings on its face: a nice lapland bunting. There have been so many sightings of these down in Cornwall that it was only a matter of time before one flew over me.

The control tower and small flood pool by the runway at Davidstow

With not much bird action at the airfield and a long journey ahead of me I decided that I should head off back to home without bothering about the spotted sandpiper and I arrived back in Oxford late afternoon, tired but pleased with my few days birding down in Cornwall.

No comments: