Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Norfolk December Sortie

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't often head over Norfolk way. This is largely because the distance is more than my self-imposed two hour travel limit - in fact I've only been birding there twice before. However, after a busy work period and with the prospect of a busy Christmas visiting family followed by a final trip down to Cornwall for the New Year I felt that I needed a break in the form of a bit of a birding sortie. With my rules for twitching firmly in mind the western sandpiper at Cley seemed to be well established and easy to see with only the long travel time preventing it from ticking all the twitching boxes. To get around this sticking point I decided to resort to my long distance tactic of heading up one evening, staying at a B&B and then enjoying a full days birding the next day before heading back home. This of course means that I don't have so much driving to do all in one day. I know that hardcore twitchers will think nothing of getting up in the middle of the night in order to do a long round trip in one day but, whimp that I am, it makes it a bit too much of an endurance test and consequently just not that enjoyable which after all is what it's all about.

I set off just before 6:30 pm and arrived at Cley at a small B&B (Cooke's of Cley) just before 10 pm - it's always nice travelling at this time as there is little traffic. At this point I must just mention this great new iPhone app that I've discovered called NavFree which (as it's name suggests) is a free sat nav app. I'd heard in the past that the iPhone wasn't responsive enough to be a proper sat nav so hadn't bothered to try it but a while ago I thought that I would give one a go - after all it was free. To my amazement I've found that it works really well: the only thing that you have to be careful of is at roundabouts when it says take the 2nd exit, it might count exits differently from you so you need to make a note of the road number it wants you to take and take a look at the on-screen map to check what it means. I know all this is probably very old hat to people with proper sat navs but to me it's been a real revelation and navigated me faultlessly to Cley in the dark. The only point of note en route was a glimpse of a barn owl in the headlights somewhere on the road between Fakenham and Cley. Amazingly this was actually a very late year tick for me (not that I actively year list though I do keep a note for the record). The B&B itself was fine though the room was rather cold. Once there I planned my itinerary for the next day: first stop would be the western sand at Cley follow by a brief look for the Ross's goose which was roaming around with the other geese in the neighbourhood. Next down to Cley beach for some sea watching to see if I could pick up any little auks. After that it would be Titchwell at around midday when the Coue's arctic redpoll often seemed to be reported followed by a period of no doubt fruitless waiting at Wolferton for a mythical golden pheasant and then heading back home.

The famous Cley windmill

The next day dawned sunny but with a bit of a stiff south-westerly breeze. After a full English cooked breakfast I was at Cley RSPB at about 8:20 just in time to get the RBA message that the western sandpiper was on show at Simmond's Scrape. Wasting no time I hurried over there where sure enough it was in amongst the dunlin flock working its way around the various small islands on the scape. It was pretty easy to pick out being of stint size and it's white supercilium was clearly visible. I won't bother going into the finer ID discussion of this bird as it's been done to death elsewhere (see e.g. the bird forum thread) but it was a lovely bird to see and there were only half a dozen birders in the hide at most so there was no jostling or unpleasantness. I spent some time video and photographing it on Simmond's Scrape from Dauke's hide and Whitwell Scrape (Avocet hide) before deciding to move on just before 10 am.

The star of the show - the much-debated Cley western sandpiper
(digiscoped - click to enlarge)

...and here's some digiscoped video footage of the bird

Cley was a most impressive piece of habitat which
was packed full of birds and I'd not even seen half of it -
this is Pat's Pool from Bishop's hide looking across to Avocet, Dauke's and Teal hides

Next a bit of wild goose chasing: the Ross's had apparently been on the pools with the vast dark-bellied brent flock at first light but flew inland with some of them. I drove up Old Woman's Lane a bit where I soon found a large brent flock. I got a bit excited when I found a pale goose in amongst them but it turned out to be a leucistic brent. Without any extra inside knowledge I gave up on this and headed to Cley beach for a spot of Norfolk sea watching. Here one was at the mercy of the full force of the wind but fortunately there was a lookout shelter though the shingle bank was piled up rather high in front of it so that one had to stand in order to view over the top at the sea. Having been used to sea watching at Cornwall where one is inevitably rather high up it was rather weird to be so low down with such a narrow "viewing window" on the sea. A few other people turned up and joined me but it was very quiet: there was a steady stream of divers going both ways, one common scoter and a few auks but nothing of note.

There's the usual problem of photographs for a sea watching sesion.
Here's a shot of a very friendly turnstone that was wandering about right by my feet.

At 11:30 I decided to head off towards Titchwell for the redpoll. On the way at one stage I had to pull over in amazement as thousands of pink-footed geese flew over, skein after skein stretching as far as the eye could see with more coming over constantly. Forgive me for going all "Autumn Watch" on you as I know that this is nothing unusual for Norfolk regulars but it was nonetheless a most impressive sight. There was another flock of geese in a field en route which someone was watching and so I pulled over to take a look at them. They looked rather like bean geese but unfortunately they took off before I could get a decent look.

pink-foot skeins (click to enlarge) -the photo
doesn't really do the vast numbers any kind of justice

I arrived at Titchwell some time after 1 pm where I soon found the requisite gaggle of birders right next to the Visitor Centre all staring intently at one tree. This is generally a good sign when you turn up for a twitch and it turned out to be so in this case. The redpoll flock were concentrating on a couple of alder trees so it was just a matter of working through them whilst they were coming and going. There were a couple of pale mealies in amongst the lessers and a couple of birders soon picked out what they claimed was the arctic though I couldn't get on it. A short while later it showed really well in one of the trees where it was easy to pick out from its very frosty look and small bill. Again the ID has been discussed fully elsewhere so I won't go into all the details.

I didn't even attempt to photograph it -
here are the people watching the bird...

...and here's a photo taken by someone with more skill and a bigger lens than I have. This is the best photo that I could find of the bird on the web taken by (c) Andy Thompson
(see his fabulous
Wild about Wildlife website).

Finally on towards the Wolferton triangle, well known for its golden pheasant population though they are very hard to see. Several people on Bird Forum report visiting 20 times or more without success and I'd put in a couple of fruitless hours on one of my previous Norfolk visits so I wasn't holding out a great deal of hope. I had been told about Sculthorpe where there were some goldies which were much easier to see but apparently these ones are released captive birds rather than self-sustaining "wild" ones. It's all a bit random with some people e.g. LGRE questioning the purity of the Wolverton birds but in general opinion seems to be Wolferton tickable, Sculthorpe not. I opted for the "park up and wait" tactics rather than curb crawling and positioned myself part way along the southern section with a good view in front and behind in the rear view mirror. This way I could eat my packed lunch at my leisure, sip my tea from my flask and listen to the radio quietly whilst waiting. All in all I put in about an hour and a half where the best I managed to see was a couple of small deer and a few squirrels but I wasn't really surprised at my lack of success.

This way to fruitless waiting

not a pheasant!

At a little after 3pm I "fired up the Quattro" (volvo actually), booted up the sat nav, set the coordinates for home and headed off into the rush hour traffic that was building up en route, arriving home just after 6pm tired but pleased with my December sortie to Norfolk.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Cornwall - November

Tuesday 22nd November - Going Down
I'd been champing at the bit to come back down to Cornwall for a few weeks now but unfortunately a pressing work project had prevented me from taking time off. Finally yesterday it was all finished so I hastily arranged a trip down to finish off some of the bits and bobs with the cottage decorating and of course once more to sample the delights of Cornish birding. As always I'd been keeping an eye out for what was about both in the county and en route. The sharp-tailed sandpiper at Chew Valley Lake certainly looked like it needed dropping in on and there was a smart male desert wheatear in deepest darkest Devon all the way down in Brixham. On the Cornish front there was at least one, or possibly two dusky warblers kicking around on the Lizard peninsula and yesterday there was an intriguing report of a possible female/hybrid canvasback on the Loe Pool as well as a female desert wheatear at Porthgwarra. Decisions, decisions... in the end I decided to take a crack at the two off-county birds, partly because I'd have plenty of time to try for the Cornish stuff once I was down there and partly as the Cornish birds seemed more tenuous compared to the off-county birds which were well established and had been reported every day for several days now.

I set off from Oxford at around 8:30 a.m. to find quite thick fog on the Oxfordshire roads. The lack of any immediate news on the Chew sandpiper lead me to wonder whether perhaps the lake was all fog bound though fortunately "still showing" came through about an hour into the journey. I had wondered about getting there by going through Bristol (as the AA web-site route finder had suggested) but the prospect of navigating through there without any Sat Nav proved too much in the end and I opted instead for the easier if slightly longer rounte down the M5 and off at the Weston Super Mare junction. The last bit of the journey took longer than I expect but at around eleven I suddenly found myself at Herriott's Bridge. I knew that I was at the right place because of the hoards of birders amassed at the sides peering into the distance. I joined the throng where everyone was trying to peer through a comparatively narrow viewing gap so it was rather crowded. It turned out that the bird was currently out of sight but shortly afterwards all the birds went up and when they re-settled the sandpiper was in view. It had a little preen and a wander about before taking a short flight a few minutes later to a spot where once more it was obscured. Whilst the others waited for it to re-appear I nipped over the road where the spotted sandpiper was supposed to be. It turned out that it was working its way along the dam wall on the other side of a thick hedge and you could only see it by leaning over the fence and peering at a very acute angle along the length of the wall. There was a certain amount of complaining going on when people in front would block the view of those behind and a photographer got too close at one point so the bird moved off again much to everyone's annoyance. I had brief views of the bird on a couple of occasions between checking out the sharp-tailed situation. After a while with no further sign of the sharp-tailed sandpiper I decided that as I was on a tight schedule I couldn't hang about and headed off. Not the best views that I've ever had and numbers of twitchers and the restricted viewing conditions meant that it hadn't been the most enjoyable of birding experiences but at least I'd seen the bird.

A digiscoped videograb of the sandpiper

Record shot snippet of digiscoped video of the bird -
at least you can see the salient features

Next on to Man Sands beach near Brixham in Devon. Once off the A38 I remembered how tortuous the roads around here were from my previous visit several years ago for a penduline tit and the local cirl buntings and it was a depressingly long time before I found myself at my destination. Actually at the end I got lost and ended up in the wrong NT car park. Fortunately I whipped out my iPhone, used my OS app to download the relevant map (fortunately there was a good 3G signal there) and thanks to the real-time "You Are Here" marker I was able to navigate my way to the correct car park where there were a reassuring half a dozen or so cars in the car park. A nice fifteen minute walk down the undulating Devonshire hills later I found myself on the footpath just above the coast guard cottages where the delightful male desert wheatear showed down to 10 yards on the roof top almost constantly, disappearing from view for no more than a few minutes at most. There were no crowds this time, just a couple of other birders who departed after a while to leave me with the bird all to myself in the later afternoon sunshine. It was a gorgeous little thing - standard wheatears are always lovely anyway and this one had an extra exotic frissance to it which made it all the more enjoyable. As I watched it I wondered whether it was the same Cornwall bird, slowly working its way eastwards along the coast.

The bird was by far the closest when perched on this
chimney pot, only about 10 yards away

...and here's a more distant shot when the sun actually came
out briefly. I just love the late afternoon light in this one.

As I still had quite a long journey to get to Pendeen I didn't stay too long but headed back to the car and onwards towards Cornwall. I stopped off briefly near Truro to pick up a pair of bedside tables that I'd bought yesterday on eBay for the bargain price of £36 - they turned out to look much better in the flesh than on the photos. Very pleased with this outcome I headed for the cottage, tired but very content with my journey down and looking forward to some more Cornish birding.

Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th November

My usual approach is to work on the cottage first thing in the morning then go out birding for a while and to repeat this pattern after lunch. However, given how early it's getting dark now I've changed this somewhat so the afternoon session is now bird first and then work which effectively means that I have two back to back birding sessions. With very little being reported on the Penwith peninsula I've used this double birding session to head over to the Lizard where there have been at least three dusky warblers which I was interested in seeking out: one near the Housel Bay "bufflehead" pond, one near Cadgwith and one at Kennack Sands.

I started off yesterday at the pond where I met up with local birder Tim Pinfield who was also searching for duskies and John Foster also turned up for a while also looking for them. Tim and I decided to team up and spent several hours in fruitless search of the hedge north of the pond before moving on to the sallows and woods surrounding the stream that flowed into Kennack Sands beach. The habitat here looked great and there were roving tit and crest flocks as well as good numbers of redwing but try as we might we couldn't turn up the target bird. We also tried the stubble field near Trethvas farm where the six cranes were reportedly periodically hanging out though we failed in this endeavour as well.

The Kennack Sands valley: great habitat but hard work locating stuff

Today, with no news of anything else of interest about I decided to have another try. I'd got some local information from Tony Blunden (who co-authors the fabulous Lizard Naturally blog) including the location of the Cadgwith bird. Tony also said that he reckoned the Housel Bay bird had moved on as he'd not seen it yesterday (which at least explained our lack of success there). I spent a couple of hours staking out the relatively narrow but heavily vegetated ditch at Cadgwith but still no luck despite the help of Tim and a friend who turned up there as well. I then moved on to Kennack Sands again (via the crane field - still no luck) where I passed another couple of fruitless hours before giving up. One of the issues that I was having with trying to find these elusive skulkers was that they are usually located by their call. However there are a number of other birds that can make similar "tick" calls and even trees creaking in the wind can catch you out if you're not careful. I'm also starting to find that my hearing is no longer as sharp as it once was which didn't help matters. After a couple of days of trying to pick out the right sort of tick from impenetrable vegetation I found that it was starting to do strange things to my mind and I was becoming hyper-sensitive to ticking noises! As a result I've vowed that I'm not going to go hunting for duskies again tomorrow unless someone reports one that's actually nailed down to a tree.

Kennack Sands late afternoon

Friday 25th November

As I mentioned yesterday, I was resolved not to visit the Lizard peninsula today if I could help it. Apart from anything else the long trips over there were detracting from my decorating work which I need to press on with. I spent the first half of the morning on cottage work, making some good progress. When it came time to think about heading off somewhere I noticed that there was a reasonable westerly wind and also some bright sunshine. A glance out of my window revealed that there were plenty of birds passing by on the sea so I decided to have a Pendeen session. Despite it being November there were plenty of birds to look at: there was a constant stream of auks and gannets and frequent flocks of kittiwakes going by. I also had a few juvenile skuas: 4 arctics and a pom, all passing by at close range and well lit in the bright light. A great northern diver sped by and an unidentified wader species flew past, struggling against the wind whilst on the shearwater front there were two nice balearics and a single manxie. However the highlight of the morning was when I picked up a grey phalarope just beyond the reef. Shortly after I spotted it, it landed on the sea and I could even see it swimming along before it took off again, only to land again a few moments later. It repeated this pattern quite a number of times and I was just wondering why on earth it was doing this when suddenly a peregrine swooped down and snatched the bird just as it was taking off again. As the falcon flew off a second peregrine flew after it and seemed to be pestering the first one for its prize. I felt sorry for such a sad end to the phalarope but it was amazing to witness such drama.

The Wra in sunny conditions this morning

I had to go to St. Erth to the recycling centre after lunch so I thought that for my afternoon birding sesion I would do something over there. The St. Gothian Sand drake ring-necked duck seemed like an obvious choice and I thought that I would finish off with the high tide at Hayle.

At St. Gothian, all the ducks were in one corner and I soon picked out the drake ring-neck. Unfortunately he seemed to be trying to take a nap and would float around with his head tucked in, occasionally lifting it up whilst he re-adjusted his position before putting it back down again. To try and get a photo I had to keep tracking him in the superzoom lens and wait for the brief head-up moments. After a while he woke up and started feeding so I was able to get off a few easier shots of this very handsome bird.

The very handsome St. Gothian Sands ring-necked duck

I nipped into Carnsew Basin where there was a flock of eight bar-tailed godwits and five grey plover and two knot in amongst the dunlin. I was looking out for mergansers which had been reported there a while ago but there were only three little grebes on the water itself. At the Hayle bridge I scanned through all the wigeon and teal carefully, looking for American infiltrators but to no avail though I did find a pair of pintail. There were only modest numbers of gulls to grill and nothing of note. Ryans Field held the usual curlews, godwits, redshank, oystercatchers and four knot. It was getting dark by this point and I had some errands to run so it was time to leave. It had been nice to see so many birds today - such a contrast compared to the previous two days! I noticed that there had been no reported dusky warblers yesterday and I'm thinking that perhaps the colder weather that started the day I arrived down here cleared them all out- at least that explains my complete lack of success over the previous two days.

Saturday 26th November

I had a lot to do today as I was intending to return home tomorrow. Therefore birding opportunities would be rather limited. However, a long-tailed duck (a Cornish tick for me still) reported at Drift reservoir the previous evening seemed to offer a nice prelude to a hard day's work so I went to take a quick look. There I met up with Tony Mills (see his web-site Not Just Birds), who for a long time has been a "part-timer" such as myself, though recently he finally made the move down. There was no sign of the long-tailed duck though there was a female goldeneye in amongst the tufties by the dam. Down by the hide there was no sign of the recent water pipit and I managed to scare all the bird by letting one of the hide shutters come crashing back down but there hadn't been much to see anyway. Part way round to the hide in some thick cover I heard a "tick" which made me think of dusky warbler (I told you that it had done strange things to my mind!) but it didn't call again and I didn't have the time to stake it out properly. It was probably just a robin anyway.

A hard morning's work ensued and then after lunch I had some errands to run in Penzance itself and thought that I would go via Sennen Cove for a quick look around. I checked out the golden plover flock by Whitesands Lodge though there were no vagrants in amongst them before heading on to the cove itself. I quite like Sennen Cove: back home in Oxford I'm know for my gull obesssion and it's nice to have some of them to look through in quite picturesque surroundings. Accordingly I grilled the black-headed gulls for Meds and Bony's, the common gulls for ring-billed and the herrings for yellow-legged and Caspians though all to no avail. I did spot a purple sandpiper on the harbour wall and I was rewarded with my long-tailed duck tick after all as there was one diving actively out in the bay. I couldn't hang around as I had to get on but it had been a nice birding interval.

The bird life of Sennen Cove - I didn't bother trying to
digiscope the long-tailed duck as it was only spending
a few seconds above water before diving again.

Sunday 27th November

I was due to come home today so had been thinking about what I might stop off at en route. Anything in the south-west region was fair game as far as I was concerned but the only thing that caught my eye was the Hume's warbler ("leaf" or "yellow-browed") at Wyke Regis. Warblers are hard to twitch at the best of times and involve a lot of standing around staring at sallows and the like, which I'd already done plenty of this week thank you very much. Still it seemed to be showing fairly regularly and as long as I didn't have too high expectation of actually seeing it I thought that I would take a crack at it. Several times I've gone to Cornwall via Weymouth so the route was fairly familiar to me. It's actually only about 15 miles further than going directly on the motorway though the roads are of course a lot slower. I packed the car, shut down the cottage and set off (via the St. Erth recycling centre) just before 10 a.m. and with the roads nice and empty on a Sunday morning I arrived at Wyke Regis at around 1:30. I wasn't exactly sure where to park but there were half a dozen cars down near the military camp which I assumed were all twitchers so I parked there. I soon met some birders coming back who all reported that in the windy conditions it wasn't really showing at all and they'd had achieved no more than hearing it call a few times in three hours of getting very cold in the wind. Not looking very promising then! I thought that I would go and put in a stint of starting at sallows for a while and hurried on in the breeze towards the slopes by the Littlesea Holiday Village. Just as I arrived at a small clearing I saw the twitching group coming towards me, obviously following something that was moving in the bushes. This looked more promising and I hurried over towards them where apparently the bird was somewhere in the scrub on the slope. Five minutes of scrub watching ensued and it was clear from listening to those around me that they'd spent a long time not seeing very much and so were rather disconsolate. Suddenly up flies the bird and sits in clear view in a tree not twenty yards from where we were, offering absolutely stunning views with the slope behind it as a backdrop showing off it's wonderfully muted colours. It was a beautiful looking bird with it's grey green tones, strong super and double wing-bar looking very exotic in this setting. It was tagging along with a feeding tit flock and so for the next few minutes we followed it as it worked its way through a comparatively clear area, getting brief glimpses before the flock hit an area of thick sallows once more. I knew that I wasn't going to get any better views than that, jobs a good'un!

I turned around to survey the Fleet behind me with it's vast hoards of brent geese. Someone next to me managed to pick out one of the black brants and managed to get me on it - most excellent, especially as I hadn't bothered to bring my scope (not normally required for warbler watching) and hadn't really felt like checking through the hundreds of birds myself. Having cleaned up so quickly I decided to head back home early - I'd been extremely lucky to get away with such excellent views after so short a wait - if only all twitching could be like that. The rest of the journey was uneventful and I arrived home tired but pleased to be back with the family and most satisfied with my Blitzkrieg twitch.

Just some of the brent geese on the Fleet. There
is a black brant in the picture somewhere!
Chesil Beach is very striking


I like to have a retrospective at the end of my trips down to Cornwall, a chance for me to reflect on the visit and its highs and lows. From the Cornish birding point of view this has been rather a quiet one with not much around, in fact only a bufflehead and a ring-necked duck. The RN duck was very photogenic but wasn't even a year tick for me (not that I actively year list) as I'd seen the St. Stithian's bird earlier in the year. Nevertheless it was a very handsome bird and it gave nice close views.

Another photo of the ring-necked duck

The main disappointment for me was that I missed the fall in dusky warblers. As I had suspected, the clear cold night the day I came down cleared them all off and I spent a couple of fruitless days slogging around the Lizard after birds which had actually gone. Still I learnt about some new birding sites on the Lizard and got to know a few of the Lizard local birders. As far as getting to grips with the dusky warbler calls, I have since come across this video on the fabulous ScillySpider blog which helped me with exactly what sort of "tick" noise it makes.

Two Dusky Warblers Calling on Lower Moors (c) Kris Webb

The other main local birding highlight was the sea-watching session at Pendeen where the poor grey phalarope was plucked from the sea by a peregrine. The close views of the skuas were also very enjoyable.

Of course as well as the local birding there was the small matter of the en route twitching. Now, I'm not a great twitcher as a rule but I'm finding that breaking up the long journey to and from Cornwall is a great way of seeing some nice birds and this trip excelled on this front with the sharp-tailed sandpiper, the desert wheatear and the Hume's leaf warbler all being most enjoyable interludes which I probably wouldn't have otherwise got to see. As far as the bird of the trip award is concerned I think that it will have to go to the fabulously confiding desert wheatear as much for the picturesque setting as for the gorgeous bird itself.

The Bird of the Trip: the cold weather cleared it out as
well so I was lucky to see it on it's last day there

I'll have to come down again in December to finish things off for the cottage which "goes live" for holiday lets in January. As always I can't wait to be back.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Otmoor Short-eared Owls

Just a bijou blogette to keep things ticking over, what my old professor would call a "pot-boiler". L, our five year old son, who normally doesn't take much interest in birds and whom I've stopped dragging off on birding trips, had been saying for some time that he wanted to see some owls. Accordingly on Sunday afternoon I thought that I would take him down to Otmoor where there have been at least half a dozen short-eared owls of late. This is not normal for Otmoor and some of the more seasoned county birders have been telling me that it was just like the old times - no doubt the result of the explosion in vole numbers this year.

Anyway, when I got down to Otmoor I couldn't believe how many cars there were there and I had to be rather "creative" with my parking. The place was full of people watching the owls or coming to watch the starling roost. Our tactics were to stand by the pump station overlooking Greenaways where pretty soon we were watching a pair of distant owls who seemed to be doing a circuit over Greenaways and around to Ashgrave and the Closes. We watched for a while though once L had seen one he seemed to lose interest and started splashing around in the muddy puddles instead and after a while he started asking when we were going to go back home. There was one Cetti's warbler calling from deep within the hedge which was nice to hear again after the resident birds were completely wiped out by the two harsh winters that we've had. Fieldfares were "chakking" away everywhere and the starling roost was a few thousand birds but they didn't indulge in any great acrobatics.

As L and I walked back towards the car the two owls started hunting over the Car Park field and one perched on the top of a bush long enough for me to get the scope on it and for L to have a good look though he seemed more interested in taking photographs of the pretty red lights on the TV aerial on the hill behind us.

I made a compilation of the various dodgy bits of video that I took though the birds were distant and it was getting dark and put it to some inappropriately gloomy music - Beethoven's string quartet no. 14 in C# minor which has such a wonderfully melancholy first movement and which surprisingly L said he really liked. He did say that he'd like to come back to see the owls again so I feel that I can chalk the trip up as a success.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Bird Guides vs. RBA

Astute readers of this blog may have noticed that in my last Cornwall entry I started referring to the RBA text service rather than the Bird Guides one which I have used up until now. I have indeed recently changed allegiance but having recently used both services this does mean that I am in a reasonable position to draw comparisons. Also, as I have my fingers in so many birding blog pies (Port Meadow Birding, Pendeen Birding, the Oxon Bird Log), it does mean that my blogging masterpieces are more thinly spread and I don't get to do so many entries for this blog. Lest readers think that I am some kind of blogging slacker I thought that I'd better write about something even if it's not directly related to what I've seen in the field.

It all started not on my most recent Cornwall visit but the one at the start of October. I was with Dave Parker in the Drift hide and he kept getting texts from RBA about various local birds which would inevitably arrive long before I got the corresponding Bird Guides text. Dave confessed that he'd switched from BG in the end because of this tardiness so this got me thinking that perhaps I too should at least investigate. Accordingly on my last trip down to Cornwall (the end of October one) I took up the RBA free (though you have to pay for the texts) seven day trial of their text service. On the way down to Cornwall I had both the BG and the RBA services running concurrantly so that I could compare. It immediately became apparent that the RBA texts were way ahead of the BG ones, the latter often arriving up to an hour after the RBA one hit my phone. Needless to say I switched off the BG ones that evening and signed up properly for RBA then and there.

The text service is very fast: the texts go out at the same time as the pager message so you can't really ask for more than that. What's more you can apply various filters to which text messages you receive including all the usual parameters such as Where, When and What. You can even enter a list of birds that you either want or have seen and it will use that as a filter for messages. In short it offers all the control that you might need. Why haven't I gone the whole hog and got myself a pager? Well, I carry my phone around everywhere with me, I don't want to have to lug a second gadget around as well. Also for much of the time I don't need instant messages: when I'm at home I'm not likely to twitch anything at short notice apart from local birds and fortunately I'm in the loop regarding county news. It's only really in Cornwall that I want the instant news so the text service is ideal for me. If you're happy to carry a pager around then the main consideration is cost. The pager service costs more than the text one but you then have to pay for the texts (10p + VAT per text) so if you're going to be interested in a lot of messages then the pager may be your best bet. There are also advantages with using texts in that if you are in a signal black spot your text will get through to you once you regain a signal whereas I understand that you just miss the pager message.

There is now an additional alternative which is the phone app. Both Bird Guides and RBA have now released iPhone apps and have or are about to release corresponding ones out for Android O/S phones. I've tried both the BG and the RBA ones and they basically do the same thing in allowing you access to the day's bird news as if you were on their web page but instead via your phone. In addition they give you links to site maps and will use the phones mapping services to plot a route for you if required. I find the RBA App faster in updating though this comparison might not be fair as I was using the old iPhone O/S for the BG one which did seem to cause a few other problems. The RBA one has a great search function which allows you to enter a list of species that you are interested in which you can then search against which is it's a great way of filtering the news for what I'm interested in though unfortunately it doesn't save this list when you switch off the phone. On both apps you can also browse the gallery of photos and get directions to the site etc. In short this is a great way to keep in touch with bird news which I'm sure is going to become more and more popular. RBA have gone even further in using Push technology to send out Alerts for bird news. For the less tech savvy this means that the news appears like an SMS message rather than you having to go and ask the app for news. This offers a real alternative to either a pager or the SMS service. I did a trial of it and there is a bit of a lag with the Alert messages which come between 5 and 10 minutes after the corresponding SMS message so in the end I decided to stick with the SMS but it's certainly worth considering and once you've paid the annual fee there are no per-message costs at all.

A couple of screen shots from my iPhone of the RBA app.

I've not yet mentioned the web-sites themselves. The daily news is laid out in pretty similar ways on either site but there are a few noticeable differences:

1. Bird Guides seems to be the service of choice for photographers with far more photos uploaded to their gallery than RBA which is surprisingly scarce on the photo front. They also have the Photo of the Week competition which attracts some absolutely stunning entries each week.

2. Bird Guides seems to have more weekly articles.

3. When you click on a species link in Bird Guides it gives you a little write-up of the salient identification issues as well as photos. RBA more or less assumes that you know what you're doing on the ID front and just gives the photos.

4. If I could make one change to the RBA web service, it is that it would allow one to filter news against a saveable list - you can do this for their SMS text service so it can be done. As mentioned above, you can do it for the RBA app but annoyingly it doesn't save the list and I don't want to have to type it out fresh each day so saveable lists would be much appreciated.

In conclusion if speed of news is paramount there you have to go with RBA really and with the SMS and App options in addition to the pager you're bound to find a service that suits. For photography and more general web-browsing I think I prefer the Bird Guides site on balance though not so much that I'm going to fork out for access to it in addition to the RBA fees and some of it can be accessed by non-subscribers anyway.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Quiet end of October in Cornwall


My wife and our two daughters were jetting off to Paris for a few days so I decided to take the opportunity to head back down for another visit to Cornwall with my five year old son Luke and one of my brother-in-laws in tow. There was plenty of decorating to do but as usual I was hoping to be able to get in some birding in between painting sessions though with Luke accompanying me my birding options would be much more restricted: no sea watching for example and there would be a limit on how long he would wait patiently somewhere if I were waiting on a bird to show. As usual I'd been following the bird news in Cornwall and there had been some interesting stuff about: a couple of red-breasted flycatchers, several yellow-browed warblers and to top it all a scarlet tanager at St. Levan though apart from the original finders this had only been seen once for five minutes in the morning despite a good crowd looking out for it all day. However, a day or so before I was due to come down most of these birds seemed to have cleared out and it had all gone rather quiet.

22nd & 23rd October: Kenidjack

I didn't leave Oxford until late morning after dropping off the Paris contingent at the bus station so it was late afternoon by the time we arrived in Cornwall. I decided to head straight over to Kenidjack which from the RBA texts seemed to be the only place with any birds about that day. We headed down to the end of the valley where a couple of yellow-browed warblers were supposed to be though in the windy conditions they were not very cooperative and I only got very fleeting views of one of them. As it was getting late and Luke was starting to complain I didn't stay too long but headed off to the cottage to get unpacked and to rustle up some food.

The Kenidjack mine ruins

The next morning I put in an initial painting session whilst Luke watched some DVD's. About mid-morning I felt like a break so I decided to head back to Kenidjack to see if I could get better views of the yellow-broweds. This time we took a picnic which I was hoping would keep Luke occupied for a while before he would start to complain about being bored. There were quite a few birders around this morning though once again the yellow-browed warblers offered only rather fleeting views and occasional calls. There were also a couple of firecrests in the garden of the last house which gave the occasional glimpses. One of the highlights was a lesser redpoll (a Cornish tick) which flew over us a number of times calling loudly. To round things off a couple of chough were flying around and calling as Luke and I headed back up the valley for home.

You may have noticed the distinct lack of bird photos on this posting:
this is due to their elusiveness. Instead here are some of the Kenidjack
donkeys which were much more cooperative.

Back at the cottage whilst I was hard at work painting I spotted an interesting warbler in the garden briefly: it had uniform greenish upper parts but a pale silvery underparts with faint darker smudges on the breast. It's supercilium was moderately strong, it's didn't seem to have a particularly long primary projection and I thought I caught a glimpse of a wing bar. Had I been certain of the wing bar I would have claimed it as a greenish warbler but from what I saw I can only have it down as a possible.

My brother-in-law arrived early afternoon. I'd made an agreement with Luke that each day we'd do something that he wanted to do so we walked up to the Pendeen playground and spent some time there messing about on the zip wire.

24th October: Sennen Cove

Today was a bit of a wash-out. It was only moderately windy but it poured with rain all day. With little prospect of doing much outdoors in the end we elected to partake in that great British tradition of driving somewhere to look at the sea from the comfort of our car. I chose Sennen Cove where we parked right down by the harbour and spent some time watching someone daring himself to walk out along the small harbour wall despite the waves crashing over it. In the end sense prevailed which was just as well...

I'd chosed Sennen Cove partly because a couple of first winter yellow-legged gulls had been reported there this morning but all I could find was a first winter Med. gull.

Later that afternoon when the rain finally lifted we headed over to Penzance so that Luke could choose something from the Pirate gift shop as promised. There were no purple sandpipers on the harbour walls though I did find a few turnstones on the jetty.

Penzance turnstones

25th October: Pendeen & Nanquidno

After yesterday's downpour it was pleasantly calm and sunny. First thing, before Luke was even up I nipped out for a quick tour of the garden and a walk down to the lighthouse. The usual three ravens were still about and I found a late wheatear in the field next to the road. In the garden of Old Count House there was a small tit flock working its way along the bushes and at the tail end of this gang was a lovely lesser whitethroat, looking very smart indeed as it poked about in the foliage. It didn't have the pale sandy look of a central asian but even so a lesser whitethroat is surprisingly rare for the Penwith peninsula. In fact John Swann told me a story of how once at Porthgwarra everyone was lined up by the car park sallows looking for a red-eyed vireo. After a while someone called it out and all eyes turned to the bird. Almost immediately after that someone else called out a lesser whitethroat and apparently all the Cornish birders immediately switched to looking at that instead such was its rarity value!

Pendeen rock pipit

Later that morning, after my painting session, we were just contemplating where to go when news broke about an Isabelline shrike by the airfield at Nanquidno so I quickly mobilised the troops and we set off. There, Luke and my brother-in-law waited by the car whilst I went to check things out. Dave Parker, John Swann, Richard Menari as well as plenty of visiting birders were all there but there was no sign of the shrike. It later turned out that according to the original finder it was working it's way along a hedge rather than staying put so was very much in transit which was a shame as it would have been a nice bird to see. Our party decided to nip down to Nanquidno valley itself briefly where Luke had a paddle in the stream with his wellies before we headed back to base.

Nanquidno buzzard - not really much compensation for the lack of shrike

That afternoon I did some more painting whilst the other two headed off to mess around at the local beach. Whilst I was busy painting a window that looked out into the garden I spotted the lesser whitethroat again in my own garden now - a fine Cornish garden tick. I sent a text to John Swann who lives nearby and he nipped over and managed to see the bird for himself.

26th October: Porthgwarra & Marazion

I woke up early this morning and got painting straight away before the others were up and about. Once everyone was awake we had a stroll down to the lighthouse again where today I found a fine male black redstart on the lighthouse buildings.

A record shot of the black redstart - a tricky shot of a dark
bird taken against a very bright background

My brother-in-law set off for home shortly after that and as I'd already done my morning painting session I decided to head over to Porthgwarra to look for the Pallas's warbler that had been showing in the sallows just north of the car park. Luke wanted to stay in the car for a while and I went to stake out the sallows where I found John Swann, Dave Parker and a few others staring at the impenetrable vegetation. The bird had apparently only been showing briefly and very infrequently so it looked like it might be a long wait. After a while with no sign so far Luke got bored so we went off to the shop to get a cup of tea and a flapjack for myself and an ice cream for Luke which we ate back at the sallows. Luke kept himself amused for a while by playing with my old point and shoot camera and he seems to be developing an interest in photography. We did hear the warbler call a few times though it obstinately didn't show and eventually Luke had had enough and we had to leave. I was told that the bird did finally show itself but not for another hour and a half so that would have been a long wait indeed.

After my afternoon painting session we nipped into Penzance for some shopping and for Luke to visit the playground at Marazion. Whilst there I checked out the mouth of the Red River for interesting pipits or wagtails but the best I could come up with was an adult Med. gull.

Med. gulls are always lovely to find

27th October: Lizard & Oldbury-on-Severn

Today was my last day down in Cornwall and I was due to pack up and head off home. The weather was once more pretty appalling with grey skies and constant rain though with little wind to speak of. There was of course the decision of what to do as I headed home and I had been wondering about having another crack at the Pallas's warbler. However the previous evening news had broken of a bufflehead on a small pond just south of Lizard village and I thought that this would be a better target than the troublesome warbler as it would either be there or it wouldn't so there would be no waiting around for Luke to endure. It was also of course a far rarer Cornish bird than the warbler.

I did hear from Dave Parker that it had flown off at 8:30 but that it could return. However I decided to have a go for it anyway and fortunately en route it was reported on RBA as being present. We found the spot without any problems and I took a few photos in the gloomy and rainy conditions whilst Luke messed around taking photos with my other camera. It was a pretty small pond that this bird had stumbled upon and though it was diving fairly constantly it didn't seem to be coming up with any fish at all.

The female/immature bufflehead
For some much better photos see Steve Rogers' site

After a short while we decided to head back to the car and on northwards towards home. En route I thought that it would be positively rude of me not to stop in to pay my respects to the female pied wheatear at Oldbury-on-Severn especially as I would be going right past it. We arrived mid afternoon to find the weather conditions just as grey and rainy as before. A fifteen minute walk found us at the yacht club building which was situated at a gloomy but very atmospheric location by the Severn estuary. With the tide right out there was a large expanse of mud and the dark overhanging cloud and drizzle gave it a very desolate air. Fortunately the pied wheatear was very reliable and was keeping faithful to a small circuit around various vantage points from which it would make regular flycatching sorties. It quite unconcerned by the attendant birders though there were only about half a dozen others, which was understandable given the time of day and the weather conditions. At one point the wheatear landed on a sign not two yards from where I was standing and it was a shame that the conditions were so poor as it would have made a great photographic subject. As it was the gloom and the rather bedraggled state of the bird meant that my photos were more record shots than works of art though at least one was able to get good close views.

The very confiding but rather bedraggled female pied wheatear

After a while I decided to continue home on my journey and given where we were starting off from for a change I chose to go up the M5 and back home via the A40, a route that I know well from visiting Slimbridge. I arrived back home early evening, tired but content with having seen some good birds today.

30th October: Moths & Debriefing

Readers may have noticed a distinct lack of the "moth du jour" section on the blog for my last visit. This wasn't for want of trying but I only found any moths at all on two evenings and I was a bit slow in sending the photos to John Swann who puts up with my inept moth ignorance with great patience. I have put down a moth ID book on my Christmas list so perhaps next year I'll be able to have a go myself. Anyway, there were only two moths that I found and unfortunately the photos of them are rather poor.

A black rustic

Unknown. I've had various guesses from Large Yellow Underwing,
Turnip Moth and Conformist. Feel free to offer an opinion as a comment
on this posting if you think you know what it is.

I like to reflect on my Cornish visits at the end, for my own benefit if nothing else. This time was generally rather quiet. There were the expected yellow-browed warblers and firecrests which were nice to see and I enjoyed finding the black redstart, lesser whitethroat and the possible greenish warbler locally around the cottage. On the downside I was disappointed that the Isabelline shrike didn't hang around and that the Pallas's warbler proved so elusive. On the plus side I enjoyed the en route pied wheatear and I jammed in on the bufflehead which was a great bird to see, apparently a Cornish first so an excellent county tick. Talking of which I managed four more this visit so it's moving along gently and closing in on my Oxon total. Once again the last day provided much of the action with the bufflehead and the off county pied wheatear and saved me from what would have been a very quiet visit on the rarity front. In terms of the bird of the visit award that has to be the bufflehead really which only hung around for the one full day before moving on (being briefly seen elsewhere) so I was very lucky to get it.

Bird of the trip award

Friday, 7 October 2011

Back to Cornwall Again

Thursday 29th September
Back down to Cornwall for another week of frenzied painting (this time it's all the windows) and birding. As usual I'd been keeping a keen eye on what was about in Cornwall: there were still some hangers on from the initial batch of Nearctic waders with a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs (Drift & St. Clements, near Truro) and a Long-billed Dowitcher at Stithians Reservoir. Unfortunately the long-staying Drift Semi-P had chosen to move on and with just a few days until my arrival the Drift 'legs also departed. As usual I looked about for something to stop off at on the way down and my chosen route for the journey was as follows: Lodmoor in Weymouth for the Red-backed Shrike (as far as I'm concerned Weymouth counts as "on the way"), St. Clements for the Lesser Yellowlegs and finally Stithians Reservoir for the Dowitcher.

I set off earlier a little after 8 a.m. and after negotiating the Oxford morning rush-hour traffic I was finally on the A34 at around 8:30 when after an uneventful journey I arrived at Lodmoor mid morning. Red-backed Shrikes are very hard to come by in land-locked Oxfordshire so I was happy to make a bit of an effort to go and see one. This turned out to be a very easy twitch and within five minutes of stepping out of the car I was watching the bird from a range of about 50 yards in what were rather hazy conditions because of the bright sunshine. I spent a little while taking some digiscoped record shots though the haze meant that the results weren't that great. The wader scrapes themselves seemed rather empty with just a single greenshank, one bar-tailed godwit, one grey plover and 5 dunlin around. Having seen my bird and with a lot of driving on relatively slow roads ahead to get back on to the main route, I didn't hang about but pressed on for Cornwall. En route I got a text saying that there was no sign of the Stithians Dowitcher though the St. Clements Yellowlegs was still around.

The Lodmoor shrike, digiscoped in rather hazy conditions

In good time I arrived at my next destination of St. Clements. This turned out to be a small village on the edge of the River Tresillian which was rather wide and with the tide right out consisted of a vast area of mud. There was a pool, called Tresemple where the bird sometimes hung out but I managed to find the bird on the main river almost as soon as I started looking. It was rather distant but having spent every day for a month watching "my" Lesser Yellowlegs on my home patch of Port Meadow this time last year I found that the dainty features and rapid feeding action leapt out at me even from across the river . In the scope I could make out it's lovely yellow legs though it was too far away for even me to attempt a photograph. Further up by Tresemple pool there were a total of 6 Greenshank and a Spotted Redshank as well as good numbers of Curlew and some loafing gulls.

As I didn't get any record photos of the bird here's some fantastic footage taken by (c) John Chapple

Back in the car I headed off for Stithians Reservoir and was just getting close to it when I got a call from Dave Parker saying that the Red-backed Shrike at Land's End was still about and showing well just below Swingates House. I thanked him for the message and resolved to head there straight after my reservoir visit. At the reservoir I couldn't believe at just how low the water level was with so much of what had been submerged now exposed. There I met a couple of local birders whom I'd met before who'd been there for the last two hours scouring all areas in search of the Dowitcher. I told them about the "No Sign" pager message which at least put their minds at rest regarding having missed it. By way of compensation there was a Wood Sandpiper around and a couple of Wheatears. They'd also seen a couple of Pecs and a flock of Dunlin though these all seemed to have moved off somewhere else by the time I'd arrived. Given how thoroughly they'd already searched for the bird I didn't hang around at all and within fifteen minutes I was heading off for Land's End.

I arrived at Land's End to find another birder just escorting his wife to see the shrike and he was able to show me exactly where it was hanging out so that in a few minutes I was watching it. In the evening sunshine it was bathed in a wonderful golden glow and without the haze from this morning I was able to enjoy fantastic views of this beautiful bird.

The shrike was slightly too far away for a super-zoom shot so I had to be content with digiscoping though the light was absolutely perfect.

Tired but very content with my journey down I headed off to the cottage to get unpacked and to russle up something to eat. It had been a most enjoyable start to my time back down in Cornwall.

Friday 30th September
This morning I awoke to find a reasonably thick fog enveloping Pendeen. A quick check on the Land's End webcam revealed that this wasn't just the regular local fog but something more extensive. Accordingly I was in no hurry to get out birding but first put in a decent session of painting. By mid morning things had started to brighten up somewhat so I headed over to Nanquidno to see what I could find. I was particularly interested in a Hawfinch sighting from the previous day and I also wanted to check the fields up by Little Hendra for Ortolan Buntings as this seemed to be a regular spot for them.

I'd forgotten just how many more birders there are down on the Penwith peninsula in October and whereas a month or so ago I could more or less have had the valley to myself now there were quite a few cars parked in the parking area and quite a few birders about though no one had seen anything. I gave the blackthorn a good grilling as apparently that was where the Hawfinch had been yesterday feeding on the sloe berries but to no avail. Up by Hendra House there was a huge flock of several hundred linnet with some goldfinches in amongst them and I spent some time searching through them for something rarer but again without any luck. On the way back up the valley I spotted a Peregrine sitting high on a rock surveying the surround area. Back at the ford I bumped into Dave Parker briefly who'd not seen anything of note either. I decided to round off my rather fruitless visit with a quick yomp over to Tregriffian Farm where the long-staying Pectoral Sandpiper had been remaining faithful to the small muddy pool at the back of the farm. Sure enough he was still there and I took a few photos though it was still misty and the light was poor. Then it was back home for lunch and my afternoon painting session.

It's quite remarkable how small the pool is that has kept this Pec. sand happy for several days now

With no news of anything major to hand I wasn't sure where to go for my afternoon birding expedition so when the Snow Bunting was reported as still being present at Sennen Cove I thought that to start with I would head over in that direction. I decided to have an explore along the north end of the Cycle Track that goes to Land's End and had just started out when I met a couple of birders who mentioned that not only had the Hawfinch been seen again at Nanquidno but also there'd been a Pied Flycatcher there as well. I quickly decided to head back there to see if I could catch up with either of these birds and cut short my Cycle Track walk. On the way over to Nanquidno I nipped into the upper Pay & Display car park where sure enough the Snow Bunting was hopping around in the middle of the field as confiding as this species usually is. I took a few shots from the car window and then headed back to Nanquidno.

The Sennen Cove Snow Bunting

As I pulled up in the parking area there were a couple of birders staring intently into the Sycamore trees there and it turned out that they'd just been watching the Pied Flycatcher and told me that it was appearing regularly at this spot. I settle down to wait for its reappearance but unfortunately it wouldn't cooperate and after about half an hour I decided to try my luck with the Hawfinch instead. There were quite a few birds moving around in the Blackthorn including several Chiffies and a male Blackcap but no sign of the target finch. Back to the car park: still no flycatcher. A quick walk to the ford: nothing. Back to the car park: bingo - there it was! I took some snaps and watched it for a while. I know that Cornish locals don't get too excited about Pied Fly's which are fairly regular down here but back in Oxon they are very hard to get and this was a Cornish tick for me so I enjoyed watching this dainty little flycatcher. After a while I had one more fruitless try for the Hawfinch and then headed off home for food and my evening painting session.

The Nanquidno Pied Flycatcher

Saturday 1st October
Today the weather was full-on gorgeous. There was none of the mist or fog and it was much calmer so it was great to be out and about. With nothing in particular that I wanted to chase down I was in no hurry to get out this morning so instead had an extended morning painting session and it wasn't until about 10:30 that I started to think about where I wanted to visit. With no RBA updates so far to provide any clues I decided that I would head over Polgigga way to see if I could find anything good myself. On the way I stopped in at Sennen Cove to check on the Snow Bunting but there was no sign of it. As I was driving through Sennen just near the church I spotted a Turtle Dove just by the side of the road though it flew off as I drove past.

I parked up at Trevilley and started walking over to Polgigga via the footpath that goes through Nanjizal valley. I soon came across a Clouded Yellow flitting around in one of the fields. On my journey I saw loads of Wheatears and there were plenty of Meadow Pipits buzzing around as well. I was particularly looking out for Short-toed Larks and rare pipits for which this area is a bit of a hot-spot though without any luck. I grilled all the starlings on the wires at the lane but there was no sign of the Rose-coloured Starling though it hadn't been seen yesterday either. Next I walked along the footpath that heads west from Higher Bosistow as a couple of Dotterel had been reported in the recently tilled field there. I soon found the field but the only occupants were more Wheatears and six Skylarks. There was nothing further of note on my return journey.

I got quite excited at seeing this Clouded Yellow. By the end of the day I'd seen half a dozen or so and realised that they weren't actually that unusual.

I know very little about dragonflies but I believe that this is a Common Darter

I had been thinking of heading straight back home but news had come through that the Hawfinch had been showing again at Nanquidno so I popped into a shop to buy a sandwich & drink & decided to eat them at Nanquidno whilst starting at some Blackthorn bushes in case the Hawfinch should decide to pop out of them. I arrived to find the car parking area almost full and John Chapple there staring intently into the field opposite. It turn out that he was watching a trio of Yellow Wagtails which were following the horses around the field as is their wont. Yellow Wags are hard birds to come by in Cornwall so I was pleased to get this county tick. I went over to the Hawfinch area where in the company of a couple of visting birders we waited and watched. After a while I decided to try a bit further down and left the others. Soon after they started gesticulating wildly to me so I ran back only to discover that it had shown briefly but had disappeared again. Having seen the bird the other two went off but I stayed put, being joined by John, Laurie Williams and a few others whom I didn't know. We passed a very pleasant hour or so chatting away and during this time John picked out a pair of Redstarts on the hillside opposite, again not an easy bird to see in Cornwall and yet another Cornish tick. John said that he charged half a pint per county tick and a pint for a lifer so that was already a pint I owed him, an absolute bargain as far as I'm concerned. A number of siskins flew over and I saw four more Clouded Yellows whilst waiting for the finch so it was clearly a good day for them. Back in the car park the lovely Pied Flycatcher was showing again by the car. However my afternoon painting session was long overdue so I headed for home.

The Nanquidno Pied Flycatcher, still as lovely as ever!

I'd just walked in the door when I got a text from Dave Parker saying that there was a Tawny Pipit down at Polgigga. After a couple of phone calls, one to Dave and another to Paul St. Pierre, who'd actually found the bird, I decided that I would have to have a try for it though it was getting late and I'd still not done my afternoon painting. Still you can't turn down the chance of a Tawny Pipit so I sped back off towards Polgigga, parked at Trevilley once again and yomped quickly down to Nanjizal. I soon found the exact field were Paul had found the bird and spent a good hour searching carefully down each furrow but apart from a load of Wheatears there was nothing else. There was one moment of excitment when one of the Wheatears started flying low and fast towards me. At first I couldn't work out what was going on until suddenly a Sparrowhawk appeared and took the Wheatear in a puff of feathers before flying off with his prize. A sad end to such a lovely bird but very exciting to see the hawk make its kill. As it was getting dark I eventually headed back to the car, scouring the other large earth field carefully on my way back but to no avail. Back home I had to put in a good evening painting session to compensate for such a long day out but with two county ticks I couldn't really complain.

Back by popular demand (well Badger likes it) is the "Moth du Jour" section. Today's offering is a Setaceous Hewbrew Character (ID as always courtesy of John Swann). My mothing consistes of turning on the outside light in the evening, catching what I find in the area in a glass, taking it inside to photograph and then releasing it again.

Sunday 2nd October
Today was once more sunny and warm which was great for being out and about but good birds seem to be a bit thin on the ground in Penwith. Whilst I've been getting Cornish ticks to keep me amused, the truth is there hasn't been anything really good about for a while. Sure there are a couple of Pec. Sands, some Wrynecks and a Black Kite or two but I seem already to be acquiring a rather blaisé attitude to stuff that would get me really excited back in Oxford. There was nothing in particular that I wanted to see from yesterday (I've given up on the Nanquidno Hawfinch) so in the morning I thought that I would just have a wander around locally to see what I could find and so that I could crack on with the painting. In general, if there's nothing particular to go after I want to be able to bank some extra painting time to compensate for times when I have to drop everything for something good.

During my Pendeen wander I kept hearing a distant down-slurred call which had me thinking of Red-throated Pipit. I could never see the bird but I was hearing so many that either there was a mass invasion of RT pipits or it was something else. Eventually I heard one well enough to realise that they were actually of course Siskins flying over though you wouldn't tend to associate that species with the open farmland of Pendeen. On my local wander I found a Clouded Yellow, at least half a dozen Small Coppers and a rather worn male Common Blue. There were still loads of Wheatears about and several Whinchat as well.

There were loads of wheatears about near the cottage this morning. They are such lovely photogenic birds. This one has a couple of crane fly legs sticking out of its mouth still

A couple of Small Coppers thinking about getting frisky

The combination of the heat and the fact that I hadn't slept too well meant that a post-lunch Power Nap was called for and I felt much better for it. I'd just started my afternoon painting session when I got a text from Dave Parker: the two Dotterel were back in their field between Higher Bosistow and Raftra and the Tawny Pipit had been reported as well. I hurriedly finished the window that I was on and then set off towards Polgigga once more. There I met up with Dave and another birder (whose name I've unfortunately forgotten) who were watching the two Dotterel in the field. There was also a Golden Plover and a Whinchat but no sign of the pipit which apparently was seen by friends of the couple who'd found the Dotterel but by no one else. Dave and I decided to have a trawl around the surrounding fields to see if we could turn it up but despite a thorough search of all the bare fields we couldnt find it.

Digiscoping conditions were far from ideal and I only took three shots of the Dotterel. Fortunately this one came out ok.

I drove home, stopping in at the Sennen Cove car park where the Snow Bunting had been reported again but I couldn't see it on a quick drive around the car park and also at Nanquidno where a brief wander down the valley revealed nothing at all though it was getting late by now. So it was back home for dinner and more painting.

Moth du jour: Square Spot Rustic

Monday 3rd October
This morning I awoke once more to bright sunny conditions. With nothing particular that I wanted to see having been reported I decided on having a long painting session and then to do a bit more local Pendeen birding. By the cottage itself there were far fewer Wheatears around this morning and just one Whinchat. I wandered up the road into Pendeen itself, checking out the small roadside pool and the Calartha Farm copse before having a look in at Pendeen church. The habitat here looks great for finding something and today I managed a nice Spotted Flycatcher. As I walked back to the cottage I could see a bank of fog and mist heading in off the sea and sure enough within half an hour Pendeen was enveloped in a thick fog which, judging from the Land's End webcam, seemed to stretch all along the North coast.

Who ate all the flies? I'm normally struck by how slim and long-winged Spotted Flycatchers look but this one looked distinctly portly.

After another long painting session, by mid afternoon I was ready to sally forth once again. In view of the foggy conditions I elected to head over to the other side of the peninsula to Marazion where I managed to catch up with the very confiding Pectoral Sandpiper which allowed approach down to a few yards. I also had a wander along the east side of Marazion marsh just to explore though I didn't see anything of note. Back on the beach at Marazion there were three pale-bellied Brent Geese on the shore and I had a quick rummage through the Rock Pipits and Wagtails by the mouth of the river for anything rarer but without success.

The Marazion Pectoral Sandpiper was incredibly tame & it was a shame that conditions were so gloomy as otherwise it would have been an opportunity for some great photographs

The three Pale-bellied Brent Geese

Rock Pipit

I nipped into Tesco's for some provisions and decided on the way back home to check out the two Black Kites which were apparently showing well just past Drift. I pulled into the layby to find Paul Semmens there photographing the two birds which were showing almost constantly, flying at low altitude at a distance down to 100 yards. I took some record shots but conditions were pretty gloomy. Then it was off home for something to eat and a final bout of painting.

A record shot of one of the two Black Kites

Moth du jour: Autumnal Rustic (ID as always courtesy of John Swann)

Tuesday 4th October
Once more it was a reasonably nice start to the day though the mist and fog rolled in even earlier than yesterday and Pendeen was once more fog-bound before 10am. I did a quick check of the local Pendeen spots again on the way to get some milk from the local store but there was nothing of note. After my morning painting session I decided to head over to Hayle for a change of scenery and to check out the waders and gulls. I'd timed it so that it would be high tide and indeed all the birds were conveniently located close to the Hayle bridge by the causeway when I arrived. There was nothing of particular note with the highlights being an adult winter-plumage Med. gull, 3 Sandwich Terns, 1 Grey Plover and a handful of Black and Bar-tailed Godwits. Ryans Field held just four Godwits and a quick check at Copperhouse Creek found just a few Ringed Plovers in amongst the Curlew.

Hayle birds at high tide

On the way back I popped into Marazion where the Pec. Sand was still as ridiculously tame as ever and the three Brent Geese were still there.

Up close and personal with the Pec. Please note the bird was feeding away quite happily whilst they were there and was in no way put off by their close proximity.

The three Brent geese were still around

I'd got back home and was making a sandwich when I got a text from Dave Parker saying that at Porthgwarra there was a Red-backed Shrike, 2 Snow Buntings and most interstingly a Red-throated Pipit which had been flying around for the last five minutes. This sounded as though the Pipit might actually be gettable so I went straight back out the door and arrived some half an hour later where I soon met up with Dave. Apparently only the two of us were foolish enough to go searching for the Pipit in the mist on Porthgwarra. We spent a good couple of hours tramping around the moor chasing after any Pipits, hoping that one would give the diagnostic call but to no avail. After a while the fog became so thick that all sensible birds would be hunkered down and we had to admit defeat. The highlight of the trip was when we spotted a very white moth which flew down and landed not too far from where we were standing. From my previous PG moth experience I was wondering whether it might be a Crimons Speckled moth (one of only a handful that I can actually recognise) and low and behold indeed it was. Excitedly I texted John Swann about it only to be told that Mark Wallace had actually already found it earlier in the day (along with the Shrike, Pipit and Buntings). Still, it was nice to find another Mega, albeit a mothy one. For the second time in a few days I headed home from a fruitless session searching for rare pipits with Dave. Hopefully it will be third time lucky!

Moth du Jour: my second Crimson Speckled Moth find of the month on Porthgwarra!

Wednesday 5th October
This morning the weather was much more typical for October with wind, grey skies and patches of fog. As today was my last full day here before heading off home I wanted to finish off one more window before going out for some birding. I had to be back by mid afternoon as my brother-in-law was coming down today: some friends of his and he were going to be using the cottage from tomorrow for a few days so he was coming down a day early to get things ready for them and for me to show him the cottage ropes.

As a snow bunting had been reported at Pendeen yesterday just past the lower car park I was planning on nipping out to check it out once it had got properly light. However whilst I was still thinking about this a text came through on RBA reporting it as present this morning along the track to Manor Farm. I finished off half the window and then popped out where sure enough there it was. It was more flighty than they often are and wouldn't let me get too close before flying off over the wall though it soon came back again. Just at that point I met up with a visiting birder who was staying at Calartha Farm. It turned out that he'd found the bird this morning (and yesterday) and was back for a second look.

Light conditions were so bad that in the end I resorted to a bit of video footage of the bunting

I returned home, finished off my window and contemplated my birding for the morning. I was waiting on news about a Glossy Ibis that had been seen at Stithians yesterday morning but so far I'd not heard anything. I therefore decided to nip down to PG to have another look for the elusive RT Pipit. This time I decided to walk in from Arden Sawah farm for a change which gets you onto the west side of the Moor a lot quicker and gives you some farmland fields to search through to boot. On the moor I met Dave Parker and Mark Wallace who'd just found two more Crimson Speckled moths. Honestly! These are clearly Trash Moths rather than Megas: I'd now seen four of them in the space of a few weeks! Mark was exploring some of the more obscure corners of the moor and we tagged along until I got a text saying that the Ibis was showing at Stithians so I decided to head off for it. On the way I pulled over at the Polgigga cricket pitch where there were loads of wagtails (it's well know for them). In amongst the pieds/whites I managed to find a single Yellow - not such a common bird for Cornwall.

I arrived at Stithians at just about the same time as Richard Menari (whom I met a few days earlier at the Dotterel field) so we looked around together. Far from it being a simple matter of tick & run there was no sign of it. We even had a good snoop around south of the causeway in the Southern Cutoff area but there was nothing more than a single Grey Heron. After a while we admitted defeat though Richard decided to check out the Northern Causeway on his way home and took my number in case he should find it. He had no luck and I headed back to Pendeen, stopping off at White Gate Cottage just to check that the Snow Bunting was OK (it was). I was just back in the house making a cup of tea when (you guessed it) Dave Parker rang. Apparently the Ibis was showing at the Norther Cutoff right now. Drat and Double Drat! I didn't have time (or the energy quite frankly) to head straight back out again as I had to get the cottage ship-shape. I would have to try on the way home for it tomorrow though it clearly was being elusive. I spent the rest of the time getting the cottage ready and packing for tomorrow's departure. It had been a rather frustrating day with only a nice Snow Bunting and a Yellow Wagtail to show for my efforts. Still that's birding - if it was easy all the time we'd soon get bored with it.

The bunting this afternoon when the light was at least a little better

Thursday 6th October
On my last morning down in Cornwall I awoke to the predicted strong north-westerly wind: clearly a Pendeen Day and given how close I was it would be rude of me not to at least pop in first thing for a sea watch before heading home. In the car park I met Dave Parker who was just getting out of his car and soon after we'd installed ourselves in front of the light house a couple of other birders turned up including a chap whom I'd met with and chatted to the previous day at Stithians whilst not seeing the Glossy Ibis. It turned out to be a most enjoyable sea-watching session: for a start "callable" birds were coming almost constantly with a steady stream of sooties, balearics, arctics & bonxies, with some more interesting stuff turning up occasionally to spice things up. The highlights were two Great Shearwaters going through at a reasonably close distance, a juv. Sabines that I didn't get on, a few Grey Phalaropes, plus lots of the commoner stuff. What's more it was a nice small group, we were all sitting close together so you could easily hear what people were saying (important for someone like me who finds it difficult to hear with background wind noise these days) and we all got on well. In this group I felt confident enough to make a fool of myself by calling a kittiwake as a possible Sab etc. Unfortunately all too soon I had to leave to head back to the cottage though all in all I'd say that it was probably one of the most enjoyable sea-watches I've had so far.

Back home I had to have breakfast, pack the car and get my brother-in-law up to speed on how the heating etc. worked so it wasn't until around 10:30 a.m. that I finally departed. Naturally enough, I wasn't going to head straight home without stopping off somewhere and first port of call was back to Stithians Reservoir where the finicky Glossy Ibis had been reported on RBA as showing again this morning. This time it all worked out as it was supposed to and I turned up to find plenty of other birders all watching the Ibis which was there feeding away in one of the pools by the shoreline. It was rather distant but one could get reasonable enough views so I took some digiscoped shots for the record and headed on up the A30.

The Stithians Glossy Ibis

The second port of call was Davidstow Airfield or "Mordor" as it has been christened by Badger: he'd gone there a couple of days ago for the semi-P to find Davidstow completely fog bound and a desolate birdless wasteland. I must admit I do find birding there really difficult: if the bird you're looking for isn't in one of the obvious big pools then there is a vast area to search through and I have spent several fruitless hours there in the past looking for stuff. This time I chose some different tactics: after a quick check on the main pools I decided to look at the other cars there to see if any looked like they were watching something good. I saw one near the road which had been stationary for some time so I headed over and sure enough there was the Semi-P by the side of a large puddle right next to the main road. The great thing about Mordor of course is that when you do find a bird you get cripplingly good views and I watched this delightful Nearctic vagrant down to just a few yards. At one point someone (a non-birder) turnd off the main road and drove at high speed right through the puddle where the sandpiper was. I felt sure that the bird must flush or even worse be run over but it just scuttled out of the way and seemed remarkably unperturbed. The guy who'd been watching the bird before me told me that there was also a Snow Bunting on the next cross runway and sure enough when I went to look there it was, remarkably my third one in a week down here in Cornwall. On my way back to the road I took pity on another car whose occupants were looking around forlornly and told them where the semi-P was which they much appreciated. With a long drive ahead of me I pointed the car in the direction of Oxford and headed for home.

...and a bonus Snow Bunting

Moth du Jour: Lunar Underwing

End of Visit De-briefing
So another trip to Cornwall has finished and I'm back home in the relatively birdless county of Oxon. Now, Jonathan Lethbridge does warn against providing lists within blogs as it is apt to cause over-excitment amongst birders but I shall throw caution to the wind and provide one of the main birds that I saw during my visit

2 Red-backed Shrike
1 Lesser Yellowlegs
2 Pectoral Sandpiper
2 Black Kite
1 Glossy Ibis
1 Semipalmated Sandpiper
2 Great Shearwater

Those amongst you who have been paying attention might have noticed that almost half this list was obtained on the last day which went some way to redeem what was quite frankly a rather quiet week by Cornish standards.

As far as commoner birds were concerned there were also:
3 Snow Bunting
1 Pied Flycatcher
2 Dotterel
4 Yellow Wagtails
2 Common Redstarts

As always I thoroughly enjoyed my trip. I have enjoyed getting to know the local sites better and also the local and visiting birders whom I've generally found to be a helpful and friendly bunch. It was great to see more Nearctic waders and my personal tally for this autumn is now 10 different ones, all but one (Slimbridge semi-P) being in Cornwall. As far as my Cornish county list is concerned I managed to add a surprising eight birds to this and whilst I'm rather coy about the exact total whilst it is still so small I can reveal that I have now passed the 200 mark and I am fast closing in on my Oxon county total.

As for my next visit, I'm going to be back in a couple of weeks time at the end of the month, this time with my five year old son Luke in tow as well as my other brother-in-law with perhaps the rest of the family joining us later though they're off to Paris for a few days of girly shopping at the start of the week.

Finally, the bird of the trip award goes to.... the Land's End Red-backed Shrike which was so great to see at close quarters in such lovely evening light.

The Bird of the Trip