Friday, 12 August 2011

Cornwall in August - Part I

Those of you who have been following my exploits on my sister blog Pendeen Birding will already have seen all of this but for those who didn't then here's part one of my fortnight down in Cornwall.

Thursday 28th July - Coming Down
We were due back down to Cornwall for a combined summer holiday and also to do a bit more work on the cottage. As usual I'd been keeping an eye on what was going on down in Cornwall and had also been doing some research into sightings during this period in past years. It was still rather early in the autumn season so there were not likely to be many vagrant birds, rather it seemed that sea-watching and the odd Neartic wader would be the main things to be looking out for. I also still needed some of the commoner waders for my Cornish list so my basic strategy was going to be to go sea-watching when the conditions favoured it and otherwise to check out the local wader hot-spots on a regular basis.

To add to the anticipation, this week I'd decided to treat myself to a new camera. It's long been my attitude that I didn't want to lug an SLR around as well as my scope so up until now I'd been using a small Point and Shoot Panasonic TZ7 with 12x zoom. However, I'd been thinking of getting a super-zoom camera and after some research had decided on the Canon SX30 IS which had an incredible 35x zoom. I was looking forward to putting this new beast through it's paces on some of the Cornish bird life.

We were coming down on Thursday but had friends visiting us in the morning so we weren't going to set off until the afternoon. Before we'd even left I got a text saying that there was a wood sandpiper on the Hayle estuary though by the time we actually got that far for some reason my family weren't too inclined to hang around while I scanned the estuary so frustratingly we had to drive past it. Still, it was great to be back in Cornwall and I was looking forward to visiting all the local spots once more.

Pendeen sunset

Friday 29th July
My usual tactic when I'm down in Cornwall en famille is to get up early and doing a couple of hour's birding before spending the rest of the day doing family stuff. As discussed in the previous entry, in the absence of good sea-watching conditions waders were going to be the order of the day. Accordingly, the first morning I was up at around 6am with the intention of checking out various potential passage wader spots. First stop was the Hayle estuary where the tide was on the way out. I was keen to see if the wood sandpiper was still about but despite careful scrutiny I couldn't find it anywhere. Apart from the usual suspects the best I was able to come up with were one adult Mediterranean gull and one common sandpiper. Next it was on to Marazion and as it was still nice and early there were quite a few waders about on the beach, namely: 7 sanderling, 3 dulin, 2 ringed plover, 1 whimbrel and a juvenile Med. gull. To round things off I stopped off at Drift reservoir which I'd not visited during the summer before and the water levels were quite a way off their highs revealing a decent muddy shoreline. Down near the hide on the opposite shore there were a couple of greenshank and at least 4 green and 4 common sandpipers. Unfortunately however, there was no sign of the juvenile little ringed plover that had been reported recently.

The juvenile Med. gull on Marazion beach first thing. It appears
to have a slightly deformed upper bill which extends beyond it's
lower bill to make a slight hook.

Our relatives, who'd been staying in the cottage the previous week, were still around in the morning so we went for a quick walk down at Zennor (a buzzard and a sparrow hawk being the pick of the sightings there) before they headed off back home and we went back to the cottage. Just as we arrived I got a text from Dave Parker saying that the Black Kite that had been around for the last couple of days was lingering near the St. Just airport. Usually in Cornwall Black Kite sightings are just single-observer fly-overs (SOFO's) so to have one lingering was a rare thing indeed. I managed to wangle a pass from my VLW and sped off in hot pursuit. I had assumed that Dave would be there with others watching it but when I pulled into the layby by the airport there was no one there. I therefore gave him a quick ring only to find out that he was stuck at work and that it had been seen at Carn Brae (a nearby hill) so I went off there where there was at least a good vantage point though given the sunny conditions it was rather hazy. Another message from Dave: it had now apparently moved off towards Kelynack so I trained my scope in that direction and spotted several soaring birds. I fancied that I could make out kite-like wings on one of them though it was hardly conclusive in the haze so I headed off in that direction to see if I could get a better view. There didn't seem to be a good vantage point there and I decided that I'd probably used up all the time that I had on my brief "twitching pass" and started to head back to the cottage. As I drove along just passing Bosavern I spotted a chap with a long lens looking intently into a field so I slowed down, wound down the window and asked if he was looking for the Black Kite. In response he pointed in the sky and blow me if it wasn't right there circling over the field! I did some "creative parking" and hurried to join him, bringing the new camera with me and during its pass over us I managed a record shot.

My effort as the kite flew over

Whilst we were watching the bird I got chatting with the other chap who turned out to be Chris Griffin, whom I'd met earlier on in the year a couple of times at Nanquidno, once when we were looking for a Melodius Warbler and another time for a Golden Oriole, and who is currently staffing the RSPB centre at Land's End for the summer. It turned out that he'd been having a very good day: that morning he'd found a couple of small swifts at Nanjizil which he reckoned were Plain Swifts which would be a first for Britain!

A fantastic photo by Chris Griffin (see his great blog).
It's interesting to note that it's missing quite a lot of flight feathers
which gives it a very distinctive notched look which you can also see in my photo

I was conscious of how long I'd been away already (I'd told my VLW that I wouldn't be long) so I didn't linger long before heading back to base, most pleased with my afternoon sortie. It had been a productive first full day back in Cornwall.

Saturday 30th July
Today was such a wonderfully sunny day that we decided just to hang around the cottage and nip down to the local beach for a while. I got up early as usual and just wandered around the local area, putting the new camera through its paces. So far I'm really pleased with it and even at full zoom the photos come out pretty well. The only short-comings that I'm finding so far are that it's really slow between frames (I'm used to that from my previous camera though) and it's not so good for macro work (my DCM TZ7 is much better). Below are the fruits of my labours, you can click on them to enlarge them if you wish.

The wires outside the cottage are great spots for snapping the local bird life and feature in several of the shots.

I seem to be being drawn inexorably towards mothing. This chappy landed next to me by the house so I took a shot. As I know very little about moths I usually end up asking local export John Swann to ID stuff for me. This one is a Bee Moth and is actually a micro moth though it's larger than many macros you come across

This is at full zoom from at least 50 yards away so I'm very pleased with how it's come out.

I was trying to get a bit arty with the composition here.
A ridiculously back-lit stone chat. I've tried to salvage it in Photoshop.
Those wires again.

This evening the sea was flat calm and in the distance one could see some sort of disturbance. A quick scan with the scope revealed a convergence of gannets and porpoises so there must have been a shoal of fish there. There were at least a dozen of the porpoises and there could have been many more.

Sunday 31st July

The calm conditions lead to the inevitable Pendeen fog today so I decided to nip over to Hayle for another check of the waders. There was not much of particular note with 4 Med Gulls (1 adult & 3 juvs), 2 Sandwich Terns and 1 Common Sandpiper being the only birds worthy of mentioning.

Hayle curlew

On the way home I stopped off at Marazion where I met up with Dave Parker. He'd just received a text to say that a black tern had been seen off Jubilee Pool so we both nipped over there. Dave thought that he could see it in the distance over towards Newlyn and I too caught a glimpse of something dark though there were lots of birds flying around by the harbour there. I had a scan with my scope and spotted a distant tern on a buoy though it looked like a sandwich tern to me. I even drove over to Newlyn to have a look for it but couldn't see any sign of it. Unfortunately, one that got away.

Later that morning we decided to go for a walk from Trevilley over to Porthgwarra. Unfortunately it was foggy even down there with the only thing that I spotted being a pair of returning wheatears.

Corn flowers at Trevilley

Monday 1st August
With things still very quiet at present I thought that I would take the opportunity to work on my Cornish list. I'd noticed that yellowhammer had been reported at Tregilliowe farm (near Crowlas) a while back so I made some enquiries with Dave Parker who gave me all the necessary details. Accordingly today I used my early morning pass to go and check it out. It turned out to be a very nice piece of habitat with classic yellowhammer farmland and hedgerows together with areas of heather and scrub. Almost as soon I was out the car I heard the familiar "little bit of bread and no cheese" song and after a bit of searching I managed to locate the bird. In total I found at least three of them together with a delightful family of green woodpeckers. There were some nice coniferous copses and small woods which I am told can be good for crossbill during irruptive years though the best I could manage was a mixed flock of tits, chaffinches and young warblers. Over by the woodland near the pools itself I heard a distant nuthatch (not such a common bird on the Penwith peninsula) and there was a whinnying little grebe on the pools itself.

Strictly a record shot of the yellowhammer. This was a good distance away and was taken at full zoom on the new camera.

One of the young green woodpeckers

On the way back I stopped in at Marazion (well it would be rude not to) where there were 10 sanderling and the usual juv. Med. gull on the beach and I heard one of the green sandpipers on the marsh.

That afternoon we took a trip to St. Ives for a look around. On such trips I always prefer to go to the island where there were a couple of adult Med. gulls flying around. I took the opportunity to have a go at some fully zoomed-in flight shots with the new camera. Whilst they aren't masterpieces the truth is that I would have been able to get any shots at all through digiscoping and my old P&S camera zoom just wouldn't have been up to it.

Some Med. gull flight shots. The latter one is heavily cropped but I'm quite pleased with it.
There are lots of juvenile gulls around at present

The moth du jour is a Drinker, identified as always by John Swann

Tuesday 2nd August
I decided to have a lie-in this morning and so didn't make an early morning sortie today. In the afternoon we took advantage of the lovely weather and we all went for a long coastal path walk. There was nothing of particular note but the weather was perfect and there was always something to see. A returning wheatear on the cliffs and a brief chough sighting were the bird highlights of the walk.

Stonechats are always obliging photographic subjects

A female common blue

male common blue

A fresh 2nd generation small pearl-bordered fritillary

Wednesday 3rd August
This morning I decided to do another early morning wader check. Hayle was the first port of call where I arrived to find the tide fully in and the remaining birds hemmed in around the south-west corner. There were a couple of whimbrel there and a flock of six sandwich terns flew in, did a circuit and them flew off again. Ryan's Field was predictably packed out with at least 20 redshank, a similar number of oystercatchers, 3 common sandpipers and 3 Med. gulls all sitting out the high tide.

Next on to Marazion, where the complete lack of wind meant that the sea was mirror calm. This was great from the point of view of seeing what was around and I soon spotted a drake scoter though try as I might, I couldn't turn it into one of the rarer ones that that have been occurring up north and it resolutely remained a common scoter. A distant splash in the water caught my eye and I saw a strange wobbly fin flopping about on the water's surface: an ocean sun-fish! I'd heard that they were being seen around the coast but it was nice to see one of my own. To round things off, on the beach there was an adult and a juvenile Med. gull

Back in Pendeen I had a wander around the various nooks and crannies in order to look for Grayling butterflies. Last time I was down I'd been excited to find a rather early one but now they were out in good numbers and I found several with no trouble. There was also a rather late female silver-studded blue, a common blue and a small copper.

One of many Grayling. I think that this one was laying eggs

Moth du jour: either a Common or a Smokey Wainscot.
I was told afterwards that you need to check the underwing
colour to determine which one it is.

No comments: