Thursday, 23 February 2012

Cornwall in February Again

Yet another trip down to Cornwall, once more an accumulation of the various Pendeen Birding posts that I made. Be warned, not a lot actually happens on this trip though that doesn't stop me writing about it in some detail!

Monday 13th February
As I mentioned in previous posts we were coming back down en famille for the half term break. With all the rest of the family about (bar daughter number 1 who wanted to stay at home because she had some gigs to go to and some work to do) I fear that there won't be many birding opportunities but with things rather quiet in the county at present this probably won't be too gripping. En route Beth (daughter number 2) had requested that we stopped off at Golitha Falls which she really likes. As I still need marsh tit for the county list I was only too happy to oblige and my VLW and our son, Luke, hadn't been there before and were interested to see it too. Unfortunately the weather was rather overcast and breezy though mercifully at least the very cold temperatures had finished. We had a little wander about though the breeze meant that birds were hard to see. I managed a couple of screeching jays, a distant calling greater spotted woodpecker and a couple of nuthatches but not much else.

My VLW is an artist and so I spend a fair bit of time
when out in the field taking photos of likely subjects for
her pictures. Here's the bridge by Golitha Falls

I persuaded the family that they should have their hot chocolate break from our thermos a few minutes up the A30 at Temple whilst I had a quick look around for the reported great grey shrike there. The terrain didn't didn't strike me as ideally "shrikey" and there was no sign of it in the ten minutes that I had of looking. After that it was back along the A30 to Penzance where we stopped off for provisions and then on the cottage. There we discovered that the central heating had stopped working for some reason. We called up our builder who sent out his plumber to take a look despite the late hour. He diagnosed that the oil pump had gone but that he should be able to get a replacement tomorrow. Still it meant a very chilly night in the cottage which, due to its exposed location, can get very cold inside without any heating. We all slept fully clothed and were glad of the extra blankets on top of our duvets. Fingers were strongly crossed that they would be able to sort things out the next day.

The river Fowey at Golitha - another potential picture subject

Tuesday 14th February
Without the central heating we were glad to get out of the house and into comparative warmth of the car. We decided that we needed some pampering after our cold ordeal and headed to some shops just outside Hayle where there was a warm café. I negotiated half an hour at the Hayle estuary whilst the rest of them did a spot of shopping and I arranged to meet them in the cafe for a nice hot lunch. At the estuary the location of the gull flock meant that viewing from the Lelant Saltings platform was optimal so I headed over there where I met a local birder called Jean (from St. Buryan) whom I met previously whilst hunting for cranes on the Lizard. We scanned the birds together where we found 7 common gulls (6 adults and a first winter), a flock of 7 sanderling, a rather out of place kittiwake, a few bar-tailed godwits and one very distant godwit that looked like a black-tailed godwit though I couldn't be certain. There was no sign of any white-winged gulls nor any yellow-legged gulls, both of which had been reported there recently. My time was soon up and I went off to join the rest of the family for a well-earned hot meal.

After lunch we decided to explore somewhere we'd not been before so headed off to Porthlevan. Not much to report there on the bird front apart from the usual rock pipits, herring gulls, oystercatchers and a couple of mute swans and a mongrel duck in the harbour. There was one distant diver off the harbour mouth, probably a great-northern though I only had my bins and the family wouldn't let me linger to scrutinise it for long enough to be certain.

Porthlevan harbour - not quite in the same league as
Mousehole as far as pictoresqueness is concerned.

En route to Porthlevan we'd passed the Helston boating lake and Luke had been sharp enough to spot a playground there so we'd promised him that we'd stop off there on the way back. Beth took Luke off to the playground whilst I nipped in at the sewage works and my VLW had a nap in the car. The sewage works still held plenty of chiffies (I estimate about a dozen) including the presumed tristis bird though once again it didn't call. In addition there was a meadow pipit and the grey wagtail still. Over at the boating lake I revelled in the nice close views of the gulls though there was nothing of particular note on the larid front. There appeared to be some displaced ducks though with 20 or so tufted ducks, 4 shovelers and a single drake pochard that was ridiculously tame, coming right up to anyone who looked remotely like they might have some bread.

The tame pochard. If this had been a redhead or
canvasback, it would have failed the "bread test" totally.

After that it was a spot of shopping and tea in Penzance and home to find that the heating had been fixed and the cottage was lovely and warm - horray!

Wednesday 15th February
This morning we decided to spend some time doing the few cottage chores that we needed to do whilst we were down here: hanging up some pictures, adding some more curtain rings to the curtains and things like that. Also one of the builders was here doing some of the weather-proofing jobs that had been identified from the "great storm" so we had to discuss certain details about the work.

After lunch we headed into Penzance to pick up a few bits and pieces with my VLW and B hitting the shops whilst L and I went to see if the Pirate Gift Shop at Penzance harbour was open. L always likes to visit a gift shop when he's down here so that we can buy him some piece of tat but unfortunately for him it was closed. While we waited for the others to return he amused himself with taking photos on my point and shoot camera whilst I scanned the Bay from Jubilee Pool. Whilst doing this I met with a young visting birder who it turned out was hoping to get in to Oxford University next year and wanted to know all about the best Oxford birding spots. I hope that he gets in as he was keen to visit Port Meadow (my patch) and I'm always keen to have extra pairs of eyes on the lookout for something good there. Whilst chatting we managed to turn up one Slav. grebe, one great northern diver and a couple of female eider duck but there was no sign of the surf scoter which had been reported earlier.

Once the rest of the family had arrived we headed off to Marazion to partake in that great British past time of sitting in the car looking at the sea with a hot drink from the thermos. Actually I stood outside the car scanning the sea though I couldn't turn up anything new. L said he wanted to go on the beach so I went with him for a quick look around whilst I tried to photograph the sanderling flock. Then it was back home to the cottage and some food.

This rock pipit came right up to the car at Marazion

The Marazion sanderling flock numbered
about 45 birds today (Click to enlarge)

A Marazion kestrel was hovering close by

Thursday 16th February
We're still very much in family holiday mode so birding has to be snatched whereever we happen to decide to visit. Today we chose to explore somewhere different for a change and as we know the Penwith peninsula pretty well we decided to go "up county" for this. I suggested to the rest of the family a visit to St. Clements near Truro for a walk along the river as I knew this area from previous visits. There were plenty of the usual curlew, redshank, teal and shelduck as well as 9 black-tailed godwits, at least 3 greenshank and a couple of spotted redshank. Unfortunately the recently-reported avocets were once again nowhere to be seen.

Waders on the Tresillian River at St. Clements

Next it was on to the Roseland peninsula, first to St. Mawes where there was not much to report apart from a large flock of gulls hanging around a fishing boat waiting for scraps to be tossed overboard. At Portscatho there were some waders to be found on the beach: 2 bar-tailed godwits, 2 ringed plover and a flock of about 40 dunlin. At the beach hut I got chatting to the lady there whom I'd seen on TV on "Cornwall with Caroline Quentin" - naturally I wasn't the first person to mention that I'd seen her and her husband on the telly.

Gulls at St. Mawes

Portscatho birds

To round off what had been a pleasant if somewhat low key day out, on the way back home at dusk a woodock flew low over the road between Newbridge and Pendeen.

Friday 17th February
Today once more the format was to do some light cottage chorage in the morning and then go on an outing in the afternoon. After a spot of sorting out a few damp patches I had to go on a shopping errand and I negotiated a brief scan of Mounts Bay as a reward. I chose Long Rock car park for my scan but there was little to see apart from a couple of great northern divers and a distant skua species (probably a pom or an arctic) that successfully chased after a gull until it gave up its lunch.

After a bit more work in the afternoon we decided to explore the Newlyn area a bit for our outing. As we set off from Pendeen along the North Road a snowy white gull flew low over the road in front of us and then flew along the road ahead of us for a while as we drove along before landing in a field alongside the road. From it's relatively small size and dainty proportions it was clearly an Iceland gull and without any grey in the wings it would have been a first or second winter, perhaps the Newlyn second winter bird.

Arriving at Newlyn, we parked up at the Tolcarne Inn and went in search of a cup of tea. This proved to be remarkably difficult as everywhere was closed though we eventually succeeded and took our drinks to the North Pier where we found a convenient bench. From this vantage point we surveyed the harbour looking at the boats and gulls though there was no sign of either the adult glaucous gull or the 2nd winter Iceland gull that had been frequenting the harbour for the last week or so. After a walk to the end of the pier and back we headed back to the car park where I met up with Graham Hobin and we scanned through the gulls together. Graham managed to spot what turned out to be a first winter glaucous gull on the rocks off Wherry Beach, perhaps the bird that had been around a couple of weeks ago in the harbour when I was last down. I couldn't hang around as the family was getting restless so we headed off back home but it had been good to score both white-wingers in one afternoon.

The 1st winter Glaucous Gull

I've been back in Oxford for a few days now and I realise that I've not yet done my trip retrospective. One of the main happenings during my time in Cornwall which I've not mentioned so far was the purchase of a new hat! Now, I'm not in any way, shape or form a hat person - they just don't suit me. The rest of my family can wear a hat and look good it in but I always look terrible in them - my VLW says it's because I have a small head. Nevertheless I enjoy the practical benefits of hat wearing. Especially when birding I like to have a cap which shades my eyes so I have been wearing a grubby cap for a couple of years now despite looking terrible in it. However on this holiday whilst mooching around M&S my VLW picked out a hat for me in which I look slightly less terrible than usual. What's more it's waterproof and has flaps to keep my ears warm so it's become my new birding hat. Whilst birding at Jubilee Pool I gave Luke the point & shoot camera to keep him occupied and he managed to take a photo of me sporting my new head gear which I thought I'd share with you.

Me in my new hat (taken by Luke aged 5).

Back to the birding where my trip away had been a very low key affair with not much about in the county and the fact that I was en famille meant that birding opportunities were rather limited. Looking back at my blog entries I managed a few half decent photos with the superzoom and it was nice to see both white-winged gulls in one day. I always enjoy rummaging through the chiffies at sewage works and it was nice to see the Helston tristis again. It was interesting to visit some new places and the Roseland peninsula is definitely worth another visit. I even managed a Cornish tick in the form of the woodcock that flew over the road as we were driving home at dusk. To summarise: nothing earth shattering and I'm not even going to pick a Bird of the Trip this time but it's always nice to be down in my favourite part of the country and there's always something to see.

I thought that I'd finish with this photo of a church
roof at the top of Market Jew Street by the car
park in Penzance. It's got these great fish scale
tiles which I've not come across before.

1 comment: said...

The picture of the kestrel is fabulous - really caught him/her! Can you tell whether male or female?

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