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

No comments: