Saturday 21st July The Lafrowda Festival
It's been far too long since my last post and far too long since I was last down here in Cornwall. Unfortunately, this is because the cottage has been booked up since Easter for the whole summer with just a week or two free. Whilst this is of course great news from the point of view of letting it's meant that there have been no opportunities to visit my favourite part of the country. Anyway, we thought that we'd better grab at least one week in the summer for ourselves and so have come down for the last week of July.
On the birding front it appears from a distance to have been a very quiet spring in Cornwall. After all the excitment of my last visit what with chasing Night Herons etc. I've been checking on a daily basis what I've been missing down in Cornwall since then and there has been remarkably little. A Woodchat Shrike or two and a few other bits and bobs but I have remained remarkably un-gripped back in Oxford. Of course June and July are very quiet months in any location (apart from Shetland etc.) so I am not expecting much at all whilst down here. In fact what with the terrible weather that has been plaguing the country I was wondering just how much of a holiday it actually was going to be but then low and behold it the first proper summer weather arrived right on cue for our week away. Anyway, least there would be some butterflies to look at and regular readers of my Oxford blog (Gnome's Birding Diary) will know that I've recently got into mothing properly so rather than the occasional Moth du Jour I was hoping for a bit more interesting mothing action and a nice change from the usual Oxford garden moths.
I'm normally used to coming down mid week when there are no problem with the traffic but coming down at the weekend like "normal" holiday makers has proved rather trying. We decided to break the journey up and stop over near Exeter on the way down to avoid everyone else who was coming down on Saturday but nevertheless managed to hit jams both on Friday where we stopped over at Bovey Tracey in Devon and then again on Saturday on the A30 when a caravan overturned and blocked the entire route south. In the end we took a detour via Tavistock which was very picturesque and looked rather "Scottish" because of all the stone buildings before finally arriving at Penzance early afternoon.
En route in the back roads to Tavistock we came across this very striking avenue of trees
We had decided that we'd like to go to the Lafrowda festival at St Just which was reaching its climax today. We'd first heard about it from one of our builders at the cottage. He was a German chap who'd met a couple of Cornishmen over in his home country who'd told him all about this festival and persuaded him to come over and check it out. He loved it so much that he's never left and has been here on the Penwith peninsula for the last ten years. Something that good had to be checked out we thought! More traffic jams and queues into St Just though in the end we used our local knowledge and parked in the lay-by at the top of Kenidjack and walked up the hill to St Just. We weren't able to hang around for any of the bands that were scheduled today but we browsed the various stalls, I tried a Tai Chi demo (I used to practise this a few years ago) and saw the parade complete with the fabulous totems that were carried through the streets by the various local groups. These totems were pretty amazing and there was something very stirring and striking about seeing these figures paraded high through the streets to the sound of incessant drumming.
The Lafrowda parade
After a while the rest of the family had had enough (though I could have stayed for longer myself) so we headed the short distance over to Pendeen to settle in to the cottage. We went for a quick stroll down to the lighthouse where I spotted some Common Scoter flying by on an otherwise very quiet sea. After nice pub meal at the Radjel (as we couldn't be bothered to go shopping for food) we messed around at Pendeen, photographing the sun set and going for strolls. We managed to see a few very distant dolphins and cirlcling shearwaters which had found a shoal of baitfish. After dark we turned on the "moth light" and I passed a very entertaining hour with my daughters trying to catch moths in one of those little rock pool nets. I'll post more details about what we caught in my next post but it was great fun.
I should warn readers that there probably won't be too much on the birding front for this visit though the wind is forecast to increase later on in the week in which case it would be rude not to try out some sea-watching and you never know, something good could just possibly turn up. Fingers crossed!
Sunday 22nd July - Mostly Pendeen
We awoke this morning to another day of bright sunshine and little wind. Both my VLW and I have remarked on how strange it is to be down here in Pendeen in such conditions: we're normally used to strong winds and lots of "weather". It's also one of the first times that we've been down here on a family hol;iday and I haven't got up early in order to get some birding in before the rest of the family have woken - with nothing being reported in the area at all I'm very much in a "taking it easy" frame of mind.
The first task today was to head into Penzance for some food shopping and we decided to combine this with a morning coffee break on the beach at Marazion. There was nothing of note on the Marsh apart from a Little Egret and a few Moorhens and the Bay just held a few of the usual gulls. I bought a new rock pool net for the evening's mothing (the handle of the old one was rather broken) and we headed off to Tesco's for our shopping.
This afternoon we just spent time pootling around Pendeen. We went down to one of the quieter local headlands and I looked for butterflies whilst the children scrambled around the rocks and my VLW elected to stay at the cottage for a nap. I was looking for Silver-studded Blues and Graylings. I found several of the former but none of the latter. There were also several Silver-Y's kicking around. The children found a path down the rocks to the sea where we came across a lovely "secret" cove which looks great for swimming. Daughter 2 did some beach-combing and came away with various "trophies". All in all it was a very pleasant and lazy afternoon.
A couple of rather mediocre shots of a Silver-studded Blue...
...and a Silver-Y moth - it's amazing to think that these migrate across the channel
After dinner we had a stroll down to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. There were some dolphins rather close in shore and I spotted this little chap sitting on a rock.
That night the girls and I did some more Pro-active Mothing. The tactics are to put on the outdoor moth light and then to try to catch anything that flies by. The cottage is right next to a field where tons of moths seem to roost because at dusk you see them coming out and then zooming off somewhere to do their mothy business. In general the moths are far too quick to catch in flight but ones that get lured into the patio area where the "moth light" is can usually be netted and taken off for photographing. My two daughters really enjoy all this despite previously mocking my new-found interest in moths and we've been having a great time catching stuff. The highlights for them have been the huge Drinkers which come crashing into the patio area and I've enjoyed catching some different species from the ones back in Oxford.
The Drinker - a really impressive looking beast of a moth!
Monday 23rd July Pendeen & Kenidjack
Another wonderful day of sunshine and little wind today. First thing: this morning I wandered down to the lighthouse to check out the local patch. Two Chough soon made their presence known with their constant calling - I've not see Chough along this stretch of the coast before. Apart from that it was the usual stuff but it was just so lovely to be out in such nice weather.
The two Chough - from the photo you can see that they're ringed but I can't read them
This afternoon we went for a stroll en famille down the Kenidjack valley and over to Cape Cornwall and back. As expected there was little of note but we all enjoyed ice creams at the kiosk at Cape Cornwall and I found a nice Beautiful Demoiselle by the stream by the green engine shed on the way back.
In the evening we went for a stroll down to the lighthouse again where I managed to spot a Basking Shark cruising around by the Wra which I pointed out to the rest of the family. There were also a few manxies going through but little else.
Finally we finished off with some more Active Mothing. Below are some of the highlights.
Small Angle Shades
Small fan-footed Wave
Another glorious day of sunshine, the hottest day of the year. First thing this morning I went down to the Watch for a sea-watch for about an hour though the only thing I saw was Basking Shark and a steady passage of Manx Shearwaters (700+ in the hour that I was there).
I managed to digiscope this young buzzard which was
loafing around on the cliffs near the lighthouse.
Some rather vingetted digiscoped footage of the Basking Shark
As a family we seem to have slipped into a very lazy and relaxed routine, doing remarkably little which is very nice. This morning we went down to the "secret cove" to go for a swim though it turned out that the tide was too low for it to be very appealing (or safe) for swimming. Still, whilst there as well as the Silver-studded Blues I managed to find several Grayling on the hillside and a Brown Silver-line moth skulking in the bracken.
In the afternoon we needed to go to Penzance to get some food so decided to nip over the causeway to St Michael's Mount for a cream tea in the Sailloft restaurant - very nice!
There are several young Stonechats around the cottage at Pendeen
Once it got dark there was more Active Mothing. My moth ID'ing abilities are still very much in their infancy but thanks to things like BirdForum and iSpot I'm learning fast. By now I'm starting to get familiar with the species around here and many of them are ones that we've already caught before though there were a few new ones tonight.
Another huge beast - this time a Ghost Moth
With an even hotter day today and little wind, we elected to have an even more lazy day today, not even attempting to leave Pendeen. In the morning whilst the rest of the family mooched around the cottage I went for a walk to my usual butterfly spot where I found more Silver-studs, Grayling, another Brown Silver-line moth, several Six-spotted Burnets and a Common Blue. I also spotted a Sand Martin and a total of six Swifts all working their way up the coast.
Back at the cottage mid-mornig I spotted a pod of about a dozen or so Dolphins (or at least that;'s what I assume they were) working their way past the Watch at a close distance. We watched them from our garden as they went past and I took some record shots with the super-zoom camera. They're not up to much photographically I'm afraid.
We decided to spend the afternoon at Portheras beach where I even braved the water though it was rather chilly. Suddenly at around 5pm it clouded over and then the usual Pendeen fog descended, leaving the cottage fog-bound and everything deliciously quiet. That evening my VLW's niece, who lives up the coast near St. Agnes, came over for dinner and then we went to the Radjel Inn for their pub quiz. Back at the cottage I turned on the moth light though I wasn't expecting anything given the fog. It turns out though that foggy conditions are especially good for moths. I'm guessing they can't see anything else and so are drawn to the bright light. There were soon dozen of moths all fluttering around the patio area and I busied myself with identifying them and photographing the interesting ones.
Dot Moth (thanks to John Swann for the ID correction)
Thursday 26th July: Pendeen & Men an Tol
Yet another glorious day of sunshine on another lazy day today. This morning around Pendeen I first heard and then managed to track down a Lesser Redpoll that was calling away noisily not far from the cottage. They're not that common a species down on the peninsula though I have seen them before. We decided to head off to the moors today for a stroll up to the ancient stones at Men an Tol which the rest of the family had not seen before. There was not much to report apart from another heard-only flyover Lesser Redpoll and a distant calling Raven. Afterwards we stopped for tea at Morvah where we got talking to a lady on a walking tour. She turned out to be from Oxford and taught at one of the local schools with one of her colleagues being the mother of a school friend of my younger daughter - what a small world! We gave her a lift back to Pendeen to her next camp site. Back home, the two Chough were calling again by the light house and my younger daughter managed to catch a Painted Lady in the garden.
Painted Lady, caught by Daughter 2
Another Inrgrailed Clay - these seem to be rather common around the cottage
A Shaded Broad-bar was a new addition to the cottage moth list
Friday 27th July: Pendeen & St. Ives
Today was supposed to be a windier day and with the direction forecast as North-westerly I thought that I'd get up early and would give it a couple of house sea-watching down at the Watch. I arrived at about 7:30 where I was soon joined by Colin Moore (who works Nanquidno as his local patch) and then by Dave Parker. The sea-watching was frankly piss poor and in a ten minute sample I reckon that the hourly manxie rate was under 100 per hour. Still the three of us had a good natter about birding etc and I passed an enjoyable couple of hours in their company.
The family activity for the day was a trip to St Ives. Whilst I find the town very pretty indeed, personally I'm not a great fan of the huge crows though the girls all wanted to go shopping and our six-year old son L wanted to go crabbing with his new crab line that he had been given so he and I went off to the pier whilst the others hit the shops. There were a couple of very tame seals down by the harbour wall - I'd read before about them but had not actually seen them before. We managed to "catch" a couple of crabs including one really big one though they dropped off before we could actually get them up the steep and sloping pier walls. Still we were only going to put them back anyway so it didn't really matter and L enjoyed himself. Afterwards, whilst the others went off for tea I passed half an hour sea-watching on the island where there was just a light passage of manxies going by. The only other bird news of note was 4 Sandwich Terns at Lelant Saltings where we caught the Park & Ride train.
There was only some light mothing that evening as we were packing up to leave and there was also the Olympic opening ceremony to watch.
L found this Marbled Coronet in his shuttlecock in the morning
Saturday 28th July - Homeward Bound
It was a rush job to pack and leave the cottage by 10 am this morning but somehow we managed it. I did happen to notice a Greater Spotted Woodpecker working its way along the telegraph poles by the road from the lighthouse as we drove off: not such a common bird around here.
We decided to stop off at Falmouth on the way home for a look around but there was nothing of note on the wildlife front and our journey back home was largely uneventful though I was tired enough driving back to have to stop in a service station for a thirty minute "power-nap", not something that I've had to do before. It was surprisingly effective and I felt completely refreshed for the rest of the journey.
So it's been a pretty quiet week down in my beloved Cornwall as expected but then that's July for you. Fortunately, with my new-found interest in moths there was always something of interest to see and photograph and I've managed to learn about quite a few new species. Next time I hope to bring a trap down with me though the Active Mothing was rather fun! On the birding front, things will no doubt start to pick up now that August is virtually upon us and I will once more be gripped off back in Oxford. I hope to be able to pop down for a couple of impromptu visits during the next couple of months though as the cottage is more or less completely booked up I'll have to find somewhere else to stay.
Until the next time!
A Dingy Footman...
...and a ridiculously tame St. Ives seal