Thursday, 18 October 2012

Cornwall in Autumn

Once more I am doing an amalgamation of my various posts on Pendeen Birding from my recent week down in Cornwall.

Saturday 6th October: Davidstow, Hayle & Land's End
Well, finally I'm back in my beloved Cornwall. Earlier this year my VLW had come down sans moi with some of her family to the cottage for a week whilst I held the fort back home and looked after the children. This massive earning of brownie points resulted in me having dibs on a week down in the cottage myself whilst she did the family duties back home. After careful consideration (see previous posting) I decided on the second week in October for my visit and so here I am. In the run up to coming down I've been following the birding news here even more keenly than usual though it seems so far to have been a very quiet autumn. I can usually tell how good things are by how gripped off from afar I am and so far I have remained remarkably unperturbed back in Oxford. Sure, there have been a few Pecs & Buff-breasts, the Marazion Spotted Crakes would have been a Cornish tick for me, the Newquay Alpine Swift would have been very tickable though I wouldn't have seen the Elenora's Falcon even had I been here but there'd not been anything really crippling to give me pangs of grippage in Oxford. In fact in the week leading up to my visit I was starting to realise that it might end up being a very quiet time down there so mentally I've been reducing  my expectations somewhat. Nevertheless, anything could turn up and things suddenly picked up with the arrival of 7 Red-rumped Swallows at Marazion the day before my arrival (why not one day later?) so there is everything to play for.

I intended to set off from Oxford at my usual time of around 9am though last minute helping of my daughters with their physics and maths homework meant that I departed a little later than intended. There'd not been anything really exciting to catch my eye on the way down and with the Red-rumps having been reported still first thing this morning I was toying with the idea of headed straight down in order to try and catch up with them. However by late morning they were "no further sign" so I decided to stop of at Davidstow to pay my respects to the long-staying Buff-breasted Sandpiper there. I was half way along the A395 when David Parker called to say that a couple of Red-rumped Swallows had been seen at Swingates at Land's End. I hummed and harred about this but in the end decided to carry on as I was more than an hour from there still and twitching swallows is rather haphazard at the best of times.

I arrived at the airfield and decided, based on past experience, to start by seeing if anyone else had found the bird before embarking on the Davidstow curb-crawl of despair myself. It didn't take long to find a group of birders staked out in front of one of the many pools and sure enough there was the Sandpiper close by, looking completely unperturbed by its admirers. In this situation, with a relatively static bird at close quarters with good light behind me, I opted for the digiscoping option for my photographic efforts. They're never going to be as good as a proper SLR but they're not too bad. As well as the Sandpiper there was another small wader nearby though it was hunkered down with it's head tucked under its wing the whole time so it was very difficult to see what it was though I would have guessed Dunlin if pushed rather than Curlew Sandpiper (which had been reported with the Buff-breast for while now).

After spending a while with the lovely Sandpiper and after a flying visit to Crowdy Reservoir to see if I could luck in on a fly-over Crossbill in the plantation (no I couldn't), I headed back to the A30 and continued on my journey to the Penwith Peninsula, arriving mid afternoon. A quick stop-off at the Hayle estuary first found the Saltings to be remarkably devoid of waders with just a couple of Barwits and a single Redshank on show. There were the usual Wigeon, Teal, Gulls and Curlew around and someone who seemed to be taking a few people on a birding tour mentioned that he thought that he'd seen a Garganey there as well swimming in the river but to my eyes they were all Teal. 

After that I decided to head straight over to Land's End just on the off-chance that the Red-rumps were still about. I wasn't really holding out much hope but the only other birds of note on RBA were a couple of flocks of highly mobile Glossy Ibises which were being reported from various locations so I thought that I might as well check out Land's End as anywhere else. There I met up with Paul St. Pierre but there was very little of note there apart from an Emperor Dragonfly, a few Swallows, a Grey Heron and a Sparrowhawk. I also nipped into Treave Moor but again there was nothing of note apart from lots of Mipits.

I was starting to get tired now so I headed back to Penzance to buy some food and then made my way over to the cottage to get settled in. I wonder what this week will bring.

Sunday 7th October: Nanquidno & Sennen
I woke up annoyingly early this morning: my mind was clearly geared up for an early start and some dawn till dusk birding but the truth was that with nothing else having been reported yesterday evening there weren't any immediate birding targets for me to tear after. Instead I opted for a walk around Pendeen to start with to see if I could turn up anything decent. There were quite a few mipits in the fields and at one stage a flock of about 50 went up together but I couldn't find any wheatears. Down by the Old Count House and the Lighthouse all was quiet and with an easterly breeze blowing the sea looked quiet too. There was a crest (presumably gold) and a chiffy in my garden and four Ravens flew over cronking loudly.

The next task du jour was to inspect the moth trap which I'd left out last night. Now, regular readers of this blog will have noticed my increasing interest in moths over the time that I've been posting to it and during the summer I took the plunge and started trapping in my garden back in Oxford. Therefore for my trip down here this week I decided to bring my homemade "Heath-Robinson" Actinic trap with me to see what I could catch. The truth was that in Oxford, my urban garden isn't that great for moths and so far in the few months that I've been running it, I have a garden list of only a little over 100 and that's including micros which I've had to resort to in order to maintain my interest. I was therefore keenly looking forward to seeing what I could catch down here in a much more rural setting.  The result was (apart from a huge number of crane flies) a healthy 50 or so moths of 13 species with Lunary Underwing, Feathered Ranunculus, Black Rustic and Square-spot Rustic making up the bulk of the numbers.

 Autumnal Rustic
 Feathered Ranunculus
 Frosted Orange
Lunar Underwing
Pearly Underwing - this is a (reasonably common) migrant species

After this I had breakfast and then decided that I'd better head out somewhere to see what was about. I first stopped off at the Calartha Farm copse and at Pendeen church to see if anything was there but there was nothing of note. With nothing on RBA to tempt me I decided on my favourite valley, namely Nanquidno to see what was about. At the car park area I met up with Colin Moore who lives at the top of the valley- he'd already had a look around and not found anything noteworthy. Another regular visiting birder, Roger Carrington, had arrived at the same time and so the two of us went round together. Half way down Roger thought that he heard a Yellow-browed by the line of Sycamores though annoyingly it wouldn't call again. At this point John Chapple (see his blog here) and Kate (her blog here) turned up and we had a good natter. They'd found a couple of Firecrests and a Redstart further down by the last house. After a while we pressed on though despite careful looking we couldn't turn up anything special apart from a flock of half a dozen Siskins that were flying over occasionally. On the way back we met up with a few other birders who were just coming down. They'd stopped at the same line of Sycamores where they too had heard a Yellow-browed. Despite four or five of us all standing there staring at these tree it remained remarkably elusive giving only the briefest of views though it did at least call clearly once or twice. In the end it started to rain and I was getting cold, wet and hungry so I decided to call it a day and headed back to the car. 

I had been intending to head back home for lunch but when I got to the top of the valley I pulled into the large layby next to the airfield in order to catch up with any texts etc that I might have missed whilst in the phone blackout of the valley. It was clear that there were a number of Yellow-brows, Redstarts and Pied Flies fresh in today and Colin Moore had even found a Wryneck round towards Gurland Farm. One intriguing RBA message was of three Glossy Ibises and a Hooded Crow "in a field near Brew East of Sennen". I wasn't so interested in the Ibises - they would be a Cornish year tick only for me. The Hoodie on the other hand would be a Cornish life tick so I thought that this was worth investigating further. I called up Dave Parker to see if he knew anything. He'd not heard anything other than the RBA message but guessed that the "field" might be the one on the track up to Brew pool. This sounded as good a place to start as anywhere so off I headed, stopping off in Sennen to buy some lunch. I arrived at the track to find half a dozen or so birders, including Alex Mackechnie. The three Ibises were about 75 yards away in a field though partially obscured behind some vegetation so were only on view for some of the time. Apparently the Hoodie had been in the fields behind us on the other side of the road. After about 10 minutes the three Ibises suddenly took off and flew low right over our heads behind us and over the road, looking very much like there were going to land in the field just the other side of the road. 

 I managed precisely one digiscoped shot of the birds before they flew. 
Fortunately it was of at least record shot quality

At this point John Swann turned up and so did Phil and Hilary (more regular visitors who are now actually moving down permanently in March next year). We all trooped off to see if we could find the birds from the other side of the road but after a while I was getting hungry and headed back to the car for my sandwich. Phil & Hilary then turned up to say that the Ibises had been seen again as well as the crow and they were heading off to see if they could get closer so I revved up the Gnome-mobile and tagged along. We all re-convened over by Trevear Farm where apparently the Ibises were on view from the track leading up to Trevorian Farm though they soon moved on. Alex, Phil & Hiliary and I were more interested in the Hooded Crow and eventually it was tracked down in the middle of a field just to the south west of Trevear Farm. What's more it looked from what we could tell to be the genuine article rather than a hybrid so a nice Cornish tick for me. I watched it long enough to take a few record shots in the pouring rain before heading back to the car.

Strictly record shot only of the Hooded Crow

By now it was raining rather heavily and the wind was starting to get up so I decided to head home for a nice cup of tea & some cake. After that I did some work on identifying some of the more difficult moths from last night and then had a brief power nap. It had been a surprisingly productive day's birding with clearly some new stuff fresh in today. With these Easterlies due to continue for a few more days yet let's hope that some more good stuff is brought in.

Monday 8th October: Kenidjack, Cot & Church Cove

Once again I awoke earlier than I would have liked but this time to a fog-enveloped world. Now Pendeen is a real fog magnet and if anywhere is going to be fog-bound it's here. However a check on some local webcams soon revealed that actually this was more widespread than just the local area. Despite this, I decided  on a quick stroll down to the lighthouse to see what I could find but apart from the usual mipit flock and a couple of kestrels there wasn't anything of note apart from a rather bedraggled Fox Moth caterpillar. 

Fox Moth Caterpillar  

It then started to look like the fog might be lifting so after breakfast I decided to head over to Kenidjack to see what I could find. There I met up with a regular visiting birder called Lewis and we birded the valley together. There were quite a few more birds about than of late and there was plenty to look through though of course they were mostly the usual stuff. Down at the bottom by the donkey paddock we found a Redstart, a brief view of what might well have been a Pied Fly and a little way back up the valley, in the company of John Swann, we had good long views of a Yellow-browed Warbler working its way through a Sycamore tree. In the other valleys news was coming through of loads of Yellow-browed as well as a Wryneck and a Lapland and a Snow Bunting at PG. There must be getting on for a dozen Yellow-broweds on the Penwith peninsula at present.

At this point we met a bloke called Tim who'd been told by someone else of a White's thrush in Cot valley that had been found by one of the local Cot regulars. Without further ado we all piled into the Gnome-mobile (to minimise parking problems) and headed off to find out what the situation was. It turned out that Nigel Wheatley (if I've remembered correctly) had found the bird: it had flown over his head across the road and then low down off into the undergrowth so a single-observer sighting. By this time there must have been getting on for fifty birders all assembled there. In fact all the locals and visitors were probably there with the exception of Dave Parker who presumably was stuck at work. After a while a couple of locals went in to the nearest garden to have a look around but nothing was found and nothing flew out. People then started to spread out to look for it but Cot is such a jungle that it was a near impossible task. I later learnt that White's thrushes are masters at hiding and when they're motionless in a tree their markings render them almost perfectly camouflaged. I tagged along with John and Lewis and we started to search the surrounding fields but eventually we admitted defeat and I offered them a lift back to Kenidjack to their respective cars.

Some of the Assembled Twitchers for the White's Thrush

Whilst we'd been wandering around Cot word had come out on RBA of a Paddyfield Warbler over at Church Cove on the Lizard. After dropping off the others I had intended to go for it but by the time I neared Pendeen common sense and the lure of a nice cup of tea and some cake started to influence me so instead I headed for the cottage. My brother-in-law, David, was coming down this afternoon, it had only been reported once on RBA and it was an hour's drive away: all good reasons not to head off. I called David and found out that he was about an hour away so perhaps a quick nap was called for. Just as I put the phone down a second report came through on RBA and that was enough for all sense to go out the window and I got my gear together and headed for the car. I sent a quick text to David saying that I was probably going to be out and telling him how to get in the cottage in my absence and then off I went, arriving an hour later at Church Cove. 

Just as I was walking down the road towards the site I met up with John Foster and his two children (who'd grown a lot since I'd last seen them). He informed me of exactly where to go and that the bird was showing well and at regular intervals. Buoyed with this information off I trotted and I soon found the site with a couple of birders in attendence. True to John's description, the bird soon showed at a distance of some twenty yards where it was working its way through some bracken and ivy in a nice sheltered spot and showing nicely. It was paler than I would have expected but the long tail and dark area above the long supercilium were clearly visible. Phil and Hilary turned up and we all enjoyed good views of this great little bird at close quarters. After about an hour I decided that I ought to head back home to my house guest though I did stop off in Penzance to pick up some provisions and a nice celebratory bottle of champagne. After all it's not every day you see such a good bird so nicely and at such short range.

The Church Cove Paddyfield Warbler, taken with my super-zoom camera
 - never an easy task with a mobile warbler

Tuesday 9th October: Pendeen & Marazion

Once more I woke up earlier than I would have liked to a fog-bound world. After a cup of tea and a catch-up of yesterday's Cornish birding news on Dave Parker's site, I decided to do my morning rounds of Pendeen. Once outside I met up with Ian Kendall, a regular visitor to Cornwall who often come to check out Pendeen first thing in the morning. We chatted for a while before I decided to head up the road to check out Calartha copse and he decided to head south down the coast path. I gone about 50 yards up the road and was busily trying to photograph a Whinchat in the bracken when I heard Ian yelling my name out. When that happens you know that you need to run and this I did, arriving a breathless minute later where Ian was by the boggy pool about 75 yards down the coast path. It turned out that he'd found what he was pretty sure was an Olive-backed Pipit on the far side of the pool though I saw it just as it hopped down into the field behind the hedge. After a while of waiting we decided that Ian should head over to take a look which he did, duly putting up the bird which called loudly, flew low over my head and then off down the valley. Having now heard the call as well we were confident in the ID and so I put the word out to some of the locals as well as to RBA. After a while John Swann and then Dave Parker and Tony Mills arrived though we hadn't seen it again despite my having had a wander up to the fields above the coast path. We hung around by the pool for a while and then Ian had to get back and I decided that I was getting hungry so we left the others to it. I was of course elated at having got such a good bird even before breakfast and went back to the cottage on cloud nine to check up on whether David was up yet and to discuss our plans for the day.

I didn't get a photo of the pipit so here's the Whinchat instead

After some breakfast and with conditions looking rather foggy and nothing tempting on the pager, David and I decided that we'd try Cape Cornwall though when we got there it was so foggy that we immediately turned round and left again. When it's really foggy down the west coast I usually end up going over to Marazion and this is what we decided to do, parking along the beach front and then having a wander along the beach towards Marazion itself where we went into a café for a hot drink and a pasty. Whilst there I got a call from Ian saying that he'd gone back to Pendeen and had managed to re-find the pipit in the fields above the coast path a bit further down. I put out the word for him and David and I strolled back along the beach towards the car. before heading back home to the cottage.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Marazion was looking very atmospheric today

I noticed that they'd added a lot of new hardcore to the banks of the Red River where it flows out into the sea - it's a shame because I've always like the open mini-estuary feel of the river mouth

The St Michael's Mount amphibious vehicle was out in the sea this morning

Back at base we caught up with Ian and John Swann who'd both had good views of the pipit in various locations along the coast path and surrounding fields so David and I thought that we'd have a wander over to have a look for ourselves. There were about thirty birders in total, including Phil & Hilary, John Chapple and also Lee Evans (who'd come down especially for this bird) all wandering around the fields and clearly in "searching mode". This went on for quite some time and it was all starting to look a bit hopeless with such a large area to search and I was nattering away with John Chapple, just thankful that I'd already seen it, when Lee Evans stumbled across it, putting it up. I find that Lee always seems to be intensely driven when he hasn't seen a bird and will continue searching long after others have given up. Once he's seen it, he morphs into a much more relaxed persona, being very helpful at twitches and calling out directions etc.

There then followed a series of episodes of the bird going down in rough grass or bracken where it was unviewable, before being put up again until eventually it was tracked down to a piece of ground where it showed briefly but well at a range of about 30 yards for the assembled entourage. After that it flew off down into a more inaccessible area and the majority of the crowd, including myself, decided that we'd seen it as well as we were going to and headed back up the path towards the cars or in our case home. As we were leaving some of the locals, who were clearly more laid back about seeing this species, starting arriving to take a look including Mark Wallace and Martin Elliot.

Hunting the Olive-backed Pipit

Back at the cottage and with the weather now much improved, I was finally  able to check out my moth  trap from last night. It was mostly the same stuff as before with about 70 moths of at least 15 species (at the time of writing I've still to identify some of them). As I was sorting out the trap a large flock of mipits came over and I thought (though I'm not certain) that I heard the OBP in amongst them - not bad for my garden!

I had this lovely Angled Shades in amongst the moths today

Last night whilst setting up the moth trap I found this little creature out side. 
To me it looks like a Gecko but I didn't think that you got them in this country. 
Edit: John Swann has pointed out that it's a Palmate Newt

To round things off, as it had been another day with a new bird for me this meant that we were rewarded with another bottle of champagne. If this week continues in this form it could end up being a rather drunken (and expensive) one!

 OBP - certainly worth a bottle of champagne. Some video courtsey of John Chapple (c) - see his excellent blog

Wednesday 10th October: Kenidjack & Lizard

My mind has come to associate coming down to the cottage with getting up early in order to go birding: normally when I'm here with the family my only chance of birding is to get up before them all and to nip out. However, for some reason it seems to be carrying on this association even though I'm down here sans famille and free to bird all day if I want. Thus it was that for some annoying reason I woke up at around 4:30 this morning and struggled to do more than doze thereafter. This wasn't going to stop me going out and birding of course but I knew that at some stage I was probably going to have to schedule a nap.

Anyway, at around 8 a.m. I decided to go out and to do the local rounds. Outside the cottage I met up with Ian Kendall again, this time avec femme, though he'd little to report apart from a Goldcrest in the Old Count House garden. I wandered down to the lighthouse, heard the crest for myself, and on the way back managed to find a lovely male Wheater hanging out with the numerous pipits and linnets by the back entrance to the cottage. Up the road there were two more Goldcrests in the sallows on the track to Manor Farm though Calartha copse was birdless. As I was wandering up the road I met John Swann and a couple of other birders coming down in a car - they were going to see if the Olive-backed pipit was still around. Later the news went out that it was still about so they obviously found it. In fact there was a steady stream of birders coming and going all day for the pipit who were clearly neither locals nor long-stayers such as myself but day-twitchers. Interestingly, Martin Elliot later flushed a probable OBP up at Nanquidno so that's two of them now.

One of the numerous Pendeen Mipits

Back at the cottage, David (my brother-in-law) and I decided on a walk down to Kenidjack and over to Cape Cornwall, just for something a bit different. We parked half way down and I didn't bother trying to check all the bushes in detail (that would have been a bit tedious for David). Down at the paddock whilst David had a go messing about with my super-zoom camera, I spent about half an hour checking things out - the Redstart still and a few crests, at least one of which was a Firecrest. From news that was coming in on RBA it seems that everywhere down here the YB Warblers have moved out to be replaced by loads of Firecrests. Next we took the path over to Cape Cornwall before coming back down via Boscean. Nothing of particular note but it was a pleasant enough walk. As we were driving back up the road we met John Swann coming down - he told us of a male Redstart and a Firecrest in Tregeseal. As I wasn't familiar with this spot we stopped in to check it out. It turned out to be a lovely small copse of a couple of Sycamore, a confier and a few Holly trees by a stone bridge next to a stream. Very pretty and what's more within this small area we soon found the birds John had mentioned as well as a chiffy. We spent some time trying to photograph them though without much success but at least I got good views of the Firecrest. David is a good photographer with a proper DSLR though he tends to photograph people rather than wildlife and he found it hard to track the birds as they "moved about so much".

Cape Cornwall

The best I could come up with on the Tregeseal Redstart: 
at least you can see the lovely red tail well

On the way back home we stopped in for provisions at Boscaswell store. Whilst David did the shopping I checked out the copse and managed a Pied Flycatcher for my efforts. We had lunch back at the cottage and were just contemplating what to do when an Ortoland Bunting came in on the pager over on the Lizard near the Housel bay footpath (the Bufflehead pond area). It's always a tricky call when it's that far away and it's just a single report so I decided to wait on it for further news. Whilst David went off for a walk I had my nap to catch up with sleep. Later "no further sign" came through and I congratulated myself on a saved journey. Then "showing again" came up - I cursed roundly and we scrambled the Gnome-mobile. It was getting rather late by now and as we headed towards Helston the weather seemed suddenly to start closing in. By the time we were going down the Lizard there was thick fog and we knew that it was a lost cause but having come so far we'd thought that we'd at least have a wander round to stretch our legs. On arrival we met up with Tim (from the White's thrush fiasco a couple of days ago) who told us that he'd seen it (though some time ago) along with LGRE and showed us the large complex of stubble fields where it might be. Tim wandered off but David, myself and another birder who'd turned up thought that we'd have a walk through the various fields in a vain attempt to find it. We managed to flush a Skylark for our efforts but it was a hopeless task. Buntings are known for hunkering down and being approachable so we could easily have walked right past it in the gloom. After about an hour we admitted defeat and headed back home where David cooked a lovely meal ( he's a dab hand in the kitchen) and with no champagne birds to celebrate we had to be content with beer this evening. Looking back, had we gone on the first news we would have connected but then that's birding for you - if it was all predictable then it wouldn't be so fascinating.

Spot the bunting - a hopeless task

It was too wet to set up the moth trap tonight but I put on the "moth light" where the only moth foolish enough to be out in rather damp conditions was this chap which I think is migrant Dark Sword Grass (correct me if I'm wrong).

Thursday 11th October: Lizard & Pendeen

I managed to sleep much better last night and woke at a more reasonable time shortly after 7am. From the comfort of my bed I could hear the rain lashing down and knew that there was no point in hurrying out of the cottage. Instead I spent some time pottering around until shortly after 9 a.m. when the wretched Lizard Ortoland Bunting came up on the pager as present again. With the weather still looking very shaky for the morning here on the Penwith peninsula, another trip over to the Lizard seemed like a reasonable idea though this time David elected to pass. He was due to head off back home early afternoon anyway and he had to some PAT testing for the cottage (his one task in "payment" for the free holiday). I probably wasn't going to get back in time before he left so we said our goodbyes and I headed back on the familiar road towards the Lizard.

I arrived at around 10am to find it rather foggy and no one around at all. Before I steeled myself for yet more slogging around the numerous stubble fields I decided that a quick stroll over to the Red-backed Shrike spot would lift the spirits. No sooner had I got to the end of the footpath when up it popped not 15 yards from where I was standing. I slowly reached for my camera but before I could get it out of the case off the bird shot. I wasn't going to get better views than that so bouyed by my close encounter I headed back to the Stubble Fields of Despair to start tramping. There I met Phil & Hiliary and also the same birder from last night who was also back for more. It turned out that he was on his 400th bird and needed Ortoland still so he was keen to give it another go. A few other people joined us so we marshalled ourselves into a line and started systematically working our way across the various fields. After a while we met up with the guy who had refound the bird that morning - apparently on the western edge of the field complex along Penmenner Road though he was a bit vague about the details. After more field-bashing some of our party started to drift off and we more or less admitted defeat. A few off us went along the footpath to Pistil Meadow to look for a probable Tawny Pipit from yesterday but there was no luck. At the Lizard Point the others went off into the café but I chose to walk around the coast path to Housel Bay and then back up to the village where I'd parked. There I had something to eat and drink before steeling myself for one final look in some of the fields but of course it was still useless. On a second trip down to Pistil Meadow I happened to look out to sea where I spotted a Bonxie going by close in and then right behind it was a lovely Pom. skua. Back towards the Housel Bay footpath I met up with Dave Parker who'd just arrived for a Bunting search himself. By this time though I'd had enough and with news coming through of a RB Fly at Nanquidno I pointed the Gnome-mobile towards Penzance and headed off.

Pistil Meadow in the fog

After a brief stop-off for provisions I decided to head to Nanquidno to see if I could track down the Flycatcher but as I got to the ford I met up with Lewis who said that it hadn't been seen by anyone apart from the finder at 11am and that the wind (which was by now getting pretty strong) was blowing right down the valley and no one was seeing anything at all. I therefore turned the car around and headed back home for a spot of late lunch. From my window back in the cottage I could see the sea was cresting with white waves and what's more it was a north-westerly so it would be rude not to give the Watch a go for a while. I put on all the warm clothes I could find and headed off to the lighthouse where I passed a very enjoyable few hours in the company of half a dozen or so birders including LGRE. Between us we had 30+ Balearics, 10 or so Sooties, half a dozen Bonxies and 1 Arctic Skua in the session and Lee spotted a Puffin and a Sandwich Tern as well which no one else got on to. After a while it started getting cold and the wind seemed to be veering a bit more northerly so it was blowing right at us. Understandably I'd had enough at this point and headed back to the warmth of the cottage. That evening I did a spot of touching up of the decorating in the cottage - a never ending task in a location like this where the weather has a habit of sneaking in through the nooks and crannies.

In the absence of much in the way of photographs today, here are a couple of moths from the other night.

 Large Ranunculus
Small Wainscot

Friday 12th October: Pendeen, Sennen & Land's End
There's no denying that things have got quiet again. After the flurry of good birds that fortunately coincided with my arrival last Saturday, as the week has progressed there's been little of note around. Not that I was complaining in particular: I was pleased to have seen the good stuff earlier on, but it meant that it was harder to decide where to bird with no obvious targets to chase. Today when I looked out of the window first thing, there still seemed to be a good wind, just west of north-westerly so I naturally starting thinking of Pendeen again. I had some minor decorating chores to do first but once I'd done them I wandered down to the Watch to see what was about. Unfortunately, in that short time the wind had dropped significantly and I arrived to find a few birders who reported that hardly anything was going through. I put in a token half an hour during which time a Bonxie, 3 Common Scoter and a couple of Shearwaters was all that I could muster.

After that it was a question of deciding where to bird. I started with my local "patch" at Pendeen: Calartha copse held 3 Goldcrest and 1 Chiffy; the Boscaswell stores copse had the Pied Flycatcher still as well as 2 Goldcrest and 2 Chiffies and the churchyard had a single (normal) Coal Tit.

Pendeen Pied Fly

After that I decided that I didn't fancy yet more valley birding and those areas would be well covered by others anyway. Instead I elected to explore some of the areas I was less familiar with. I started off over towards Sennen with the footpath between Escalls Chapel and Trevorian Farm, walking over to Trevear Farm and back again. Plenty of Mipits, Skylarks, one Snipe and a Wheatear on the farm building were all I could muster.

Next over to Brew Pool, where there was no sign of the Glossy Ibis that had been reported earlier. I walked up to the pool and had a wander around but there was nothing of note. I picked up a sandwich in Sennen and then drove on to the Land's End area. A wander around Treave Moor found 1 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk and a few Linnets. I did spot a small rusty-brown moth fluttering around which I wondered if it might be a migrant Rusty-dot Pearl but unfortunately it never settled.

Treave Moor Robin _ I took this because of the contrast between the 
lead grey sky and the brightness of the robin

At Land's End I wandered along the cycle track seeing only 1 Kestrel and a Dunnock for my troubles and I got a good soaking to boot in a real cloud-burst though thankfully it quickly subsided. Below the car park I found 3 Chough, and a handful of Chiffies. It was all very hard work for no rewards. By now the latest rain shower was starting to look more threatening so I headed back to the car and drove to the Little Apple Café in Trevescan, gaining its shelter just before the heavens opened once more with a proper thunderstorm. I enjoyed a hot chocolate, some cake and a chat with the proprietor inside whilst the rain rattled down on the roof. Eventually, it eased enough for me to run back to the car and drive back home.

 Land's End Wildlife

 I was back at the cottage, thinking about what to have for dinner when an RBA text came through reporting some Firecrests at Penberth and St. Levan. However, tacked onto the end of it was "a Stint sp. at Marazion at the mouth of the Red-River". I called Dave Parker who knew nothing about it. As it was close to getting dark I realised that I couldn't wait for him to check it out but instead would have to drive over so off I sped. We rendez-vous'd by the estuary but the only thing we could come up with was a 1w Common Gull by the river mouth and a couple of Barwits over by the Godolphin hotel. Oh well - you've got to check these things out. I went back home, did some more decorating chores and started packing for my departure tomorrow. It had been a day of little reward on the bird front though I'd enjoyed exploring some different areas in more detail.

Marazion sunset

Saturday 13th October: Pendeen & Hayle

I woke up (at a reasonable hour - thankfully my normal sleeping pattern has been restored over the last couple of days) and had to get on with packing and leaving as the cleaners were coming to prepare for some paying guests for next week. By a little after nine I was out of the cottage and wondering what places to stop off at on the way home. Viv Stratton had found a couple of Ring Ouzels at Buttermilk Hill yesterday so I was thinking of checking in there to see if they were still about. I didn't really have time to do the full Pendeen rounds but as I had some re-cycling to drop off by the store I thought that I'd at least check out the copse to see if my Pied Flycatcher was still about. There I met up with John Swann, a visiting birder from Manchester and also Viv Stratton and a lady photographer, all with a keen interest in the copse. It turned out that the visiting birder had found an "Irish" Coal Tit there yesterday - apparently they have yellowish cheeks and there'd been a few on Scilly in the last few days. We hung around a while and I managed to re-find the Flycatcher but there was no sign of the Tit. I thought back to the Coal Tit that I'd found in the churchyard the other day but I'd checked that carefully to see if it was a continental one and it had looked absolutely bog-standard to me. Viv mentioned that the Ouzels had gone from Buttermilk Hill so that at least saved me having to check up on them.

My Pendeen Pied Flycatcher posed well in the sunlight this morning

Next item on the journey home was a brief stop-off at Hayle where there were still remarkably few waders: I could only find a single Bar-tailed Godwit and a handful of Redshank. I checked my RBA text messages to see if there was anything to keep me in Cornwall a while longer: a Corncrake at Porthgwarra was no doubt un-twitchable and there was nothing else of note so I pointed the Gnome-mobile up the A30 and headed off.

Hayle Estuary Curlew

There'd been remarkably little of interest en route to tempt me and the only thing that I could come up with was a Richards Pipit at Budleigh Salterton in Devon which was fortunately just a little way off the M5 so wouldn't be too much of a detour. It was reported as being in a field of long grass near the mouth of the River Otter. Some quarter of an hour off the motorway I duly found the field with no sign of any large pipits. A few other birders turned up and we wandered along the coast path a little way but to no avail. After a while I admitted defeat and headed back to the car with "a nice walk" the best that I could salvage from my detour. The rest of my journey was uneventful and I arrived back to my VLW and our lovely children early evening, tired but content with what had been a most enjoyable week in my favourite part of the country.

Portrait of a Twitch
My brother-in-law David is not a birder at all. He's a keen photographer but is more interested in portraiture than wildlife. I was a bit worried that he might get bored when I dragged him off on some of my birding expeditions but as long as he had his camera with him there was always something for him to do. Below are some photos that he took of the Olive-backed Pipit twitch near the cottage at Pendeen. If you look carefully you'll spot John Chapple, myself, Phil & Hiliary, Gavin Haig and Lee Evans in amongst the crowd - most of them you can click to enlarge.

All (c) David Ryan

Once I'm back home I always like to reflect back on my Cornish trips, to savour once more all the highlights and to ponder whether I might have done anything differently for the low points.

The first observation is that Cornwall seems to be having a rather quiet autumn so far. Sure, there's been the usual autumn birds turning up but, to me at least, not in the usual numbers.Talking to some of the visiting birders who'd been down there for several weeks such as Lewis Thomson, he'd said that the previous week was very quiet. It seems therefore that I did happen to jam in on a brief purple patch lasting a few days though this actually kicked off the day before I arrived with the 7 Red-rumped Swallows which annoyingly didn't hang around for me. On the Saturday a total of 15 Glossy Ibis turned up with at least a few of them staying all week. On the Monday there was of course the White's Thrush and the Paddyfield Warbler, the latter staying for a while. Tuesday saw the arrival of the Olive-backed Pipit and a Great White Egret. Wednesday brought in an Ortoland Bunting and Thursday was the first of quite a few (mostly heard-only) Red-throated Pipit records. So all in all there was quite an influx of good birds during my week. There were also long-stayers which hung around such as the Davidstow Buff-breasted Sandpiper and the Housel Bay Red-backed Shrike. 

So, let's get down to some good old-fashioned lists 

Scarce & Rare Birds Seen
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Glossy Ibis
Paddyfield Warbler *
Olive-backed Pipit *
Red-backed Shrike
Yellow-browed Warbler

Davidstow Buff-breasted Sandipiper

Supporing Cast
Common Redstart
Pied Flycatcher
Hooded Crow *
Sooty Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Pomarine Skua

* = Cornish tick

So all in all, not a huge list but I'm very pleased with my three shiny new Cornish ticks which pulls me comfortably clear of my pathetic Oxon list once more. Two of those birds (the Pipit and the Warbler) were new "champagne" birds for me - I think that I may have set a rather dangerous precedent there which could prove expensive in years to come! It was nice to get in a bit of sea watching and made me realise just how little I've done of it this year - in fact Arctic Skua was a year tick for me! I still have a love-hate relationship with sea-watching: I love doing it and gaining more experience all the time but I do still struggle with ID'ing some of these birds at great distance. After having spent a lot of time watching video's of skuas on youTube I do feel that I'm finally getting to grips with them but I still managed to mis-call some (admittedly rather distant) Kittiwakes as Terns before they came close enough for me to realise my mistake. So there's still plenty to learn.

Pendeen Pied Flycatcher

This time there was the added dimension of proper moth trapping. I had two sessions, one trapping 50 moths of 13 species and the second 70 moths of 16. These counts are far better than the paltry numbers I get in my urban Oxford garden so from that point of view it was a great success. Below is a list of the species trapped or seen with the first four being migrants:

Silver Y
Pearly Underwing
Dark Sword Grass
Rush Veneer
Lunar Underwing
Black Rustic
Feathered Ranunculus
Large Ranunculus
Setaceous Hebrew Character
Square-spot Rustic
Autumnal Rustic
Frosted Orange
Turnip Moth
Angled Shades
Large Yellow Underwing
Small Wainscot
Common Marbled Carpet
Buff Footman
Light Brown Apple Moth
Eudonia angustea
Celypha lacunana
Fox Moth (caterpillar)

Black Rustic

One additional aspect which I am starting to appreciate is getting to know the regular visitors to Cornwall. I know many of the local birders already and as always appreciated timely texts & calls from David Parker and John Swann but there are a number of people such as myself who come down frequently, often in the autumn whom I've had pleasure of birding with this time. These include Ian Kendall (who regularly does Pendeen & who found the OBP), Roger Carrington, Lewis Thomson and Phil & Hilary (though they're becoming "locals" in March next year).

Bird of the trip this time is a joint prize won by the wonderfully confiding Paddyfield Warbler and the Olive-backed Pipit on my home patch at Pendeen. Dip of the trip I think goes to the annoying Ortoland Bunting that eluded me despite hours of tramping around stubble fields.

Pendeen Olive-backed Pipit (c) B. Rankine -
this was taken towards the end of the week when most people had
 lost interest in the bird. Apparently it was sitting up beautifully
 on the gorse near the pool where it was originally found

So all in all a great success and I'm already thinking about booking a week next year at the cottage again.