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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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
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.