Monday, 18 August 2014

Cornish Family Holiday

We went on a family holiday down to our cottage in Pendeen this August. As previously, I've amalgamated all my posts from my Pendeen Birding blog into one monster blog posting here. Be warned, not a lot actually happens and there's a lot of detail about plants, moths and insects.

Saturday 2nd August: Golitha Falls
Finally I'm back down in my beloved Cornwall. It's been far too long but we're back down in the cottage for a family holiday for a week.As it's the first week of August I'm not expecting very much on the bird front. In fact I did some research on RBA, looking back over the last dozen years or so to see what one might expect and the answer is precious little apart from some large Shearwater sightings should the winds be in the right direction. So this is very much going to be a low key family holiday but there's always stuff to see and I'm just starting to get into plants as well so there will be plenty of new coastal species for me to mis-identify!

Going down to the west country on a Saturday during the school holidays is always a bit of a nightmare because of the traffic. We tried to mitigate this to some extent by leaving early which for the family turned out to be around 8:30 a.m. This was certainly the earliest that we've managed by some margin though I couldn't help but feel that it still wasn't going to be enough. Anyway, all our best efforts came to naught when we found that the A420 had been completely closed for road repairs just before Swindon and that we had to divert miles back the way we came to get around it. We couldn't believe that they'd not put a sign back at Farringdon in the first place rather than making us travle a good 15 minutes onwards only to send us back. Some stressful exchanges were had between myself and my VLW who was navigating as we tried to work out where to go but eventually we were back on track though at least half an hour further behind our schedule. The M5 wasn't as bad as it could have been though there was a certain amount of stopping and starting and we made steady progress southwards until we came to Exeter. Here there were signs flashing up about various jams up ahead on the A30 so we made the decision to take the less popular A38 instead and to stop off at Golitha Falls to have our picnic lunch. Fortunately there were no traffic problems at all on this route and we arrived at around 1:30 pm at the beautiful Golitha Falls.

Golitha Falls - bautiful but hard to photograph with its deep shade and patches of bright sunshine
Here we had our picnic lunch and wandered around a bit. B, our younger daughter, insisted on walking on some fallen tree trunks all the way across the river. Whilst my VLW was somewhat stressed by this, I couldn't help but be impressed - stereotypical responses no doubt! On the bird front there was little to note apart from a calling Nuthatch, a Grey Wagtail and a party of Coal Tits but there were lots of Banded Demoiselles about, looking stunning in the bright sunshine. There was also a lovely Golden-ringed Dragonfly patrolling one of the side ditches though it never settled for a photo. Whilst I was off trying to photograph them, apparently lots of Demoiselles and even the Golden-ringed came to settle on L (our eldest daughter)'s jeans which were very faded and looked very bright in the sunlight. I had severe Odonata envy when I later found out!

Banded Demoiselle
Himalayan Balsam - I thought that this was some exotic plant only to be found at Golitha until we got to Pendeen where there was loads of it down the road to the lighthouse
After a couple of hours we decided to head on down south and mercifully by now the traffic had cleared. A quick stop off for tea and cakes near Hayle and then at Sainsbury's for some shopping where I managed to see four Whimbrel fly over the car park whilst I was waiting and then it was on up to the cottage. After getting unpacked we ambled down to the lighthouse to gaze at the sea and to appreciate just how great it is to be back down here.I busied myself with taking some snaps of the coastal plants that I didn't recognise in order to try and work out what they were later on.

Rock Samphire
I was keen to bring my moth trap down here but sadly in the end there just wasn't enough space in the car so I'm going to have to be content with putting on the exterior "moth light" to see what it might attract. Tonight it was a bit breezy and a single Drinker and a couple of Flame Shoulders were the only visitors.

Moth du Jour: The Drinker

Sunday 3rd August: Penzance & Marazion
We had a lazy low key day today. After a lie in we pootled around Pendeen for a bit. I spotted a nice Peregrine sitting on the wires down by the Lighthouse though I was only able to get long distance shot of it before it flew off. I also noticed that the regular Pendeen Ravens had now gone up to five in number so I'm guessing that they've had a successful breeding season. I wandered around taking photos of the local flowers and butterflies and just enjoying the stunning scenery.

Pendeen Peregrine
male Common Blue
After a while we finally overcame the natural family inertial barrier that makes it so difficult to get a party of five people to agree to do anything and then once agreed, actually to get ready do it and we headed off to Penzance. Our first port of call was the fair at Trereife House. Here we passed a happy couple of hours wandering around looking at the various stands and listening to the music. I bought a nice leather belt that I'd been meaning to get for some time, my VLW bought a Tree Fern at the bargain price and I met up with Tony Mills who had a stand in the marquee selling some of his wonderful prints (see his web-site here). We had some venison burgers which we ate in the orchard and I saw a Clouded Yellow in the garden. L our eight year old son and I both had a go at archery which, although I've never done it before, I found strangely familar - perhaps I was an archer in a previous life or something! All in all a pleasant and chilled out time was had by all.

Local birder and photographer Tony Mills

After that we collectively decided to head over to Marazion beach for a wander about. All the car parks in Marazion were completely full of visitors so in the end we drove back to Long Rock car park (free on a Sunday!) and walked all the way to Marazion along the beach, which turned out to be quite a long way. We enjoyed a well-earned tea and snack at the revamped Godolphin Arms before the long walk back to the car. L wanted to go in the playground for a while so I wandered off to phtograph some of the flowers in the sand dunes near the Red River mouth. 

Sea Holly - I managed to guess the name of this
one without knowing at all what it actually was
Sea Rocket
Given how many people there were around there was precious little to report on the bird front with just a few gulls (I couldn't even find any Med Gulls) and a couple of Oystercatchers seen. I'm guessing the waders must have been down at Chyandour as I didn't see any apart from the Oycs.

There were several juvenile Herring Gulls about
...and an Oystercatcher
Then it was back home for dinner and to chill out. The moth light only attracted two moths: a Flame Shoulder a grass moth and this rather groovy cricket.

Dark Bush Cricket
That evening the news broke of a white morph Gyr that had been seen yesterday near Cot though the consensus is that it's an escapee at this time of year.

Monday 4th August: Pendeen

If yesterday was a low key affair today was even quieter. We has a meeting with a holiday letting agent mid morning so had to tidy up the cottage to start with. This meeting went on for longer than expected so after lucnh we just had a quick local excursion along the coastal path at Pendeen where I managed to find a couple of rather ragged Grayling butterflies and a single Silver-studded Blue. In addition a Clouded Yellow flew by several times but never settled. B, L and myself did some rock scrambling down to the sea before we made our way back to the cottage.

Daughter B is an expert at finding Slow Worms

The cryptic Grayling
Late afternoon some friends from Oxford who were staying nearby came over to visit. We passed the rest of the day in their company, ending up at the Radjel Inn for a meal. There we found that the two horses who normally live in the paddock next to our cottage, clearly on a holiday visit to the pub paddock. As we were leaving the pub it started pouring with rain and didn't let up until after we were all safely tucked up in bed.

Moth du Jour: Agriphila tristella

Plant du Jour: Thrift - a lovely little coastal flower

Tueasday 5th August: Morvah Pasty Day!
Despite having been coming down to west Cornwall for a number of years, somehow we've never managed to attend the legendary celebration that is Morvah Pasty Day. Thus when we found that it coincided with our week down here this year we were champing at the bit to attend. We decided to walk there from the cottage and so it was that we set off around midday in what had turned out to be a rather warm and sunny day. I took the opportunity to admire the flaura and fauna along the way and was rewarded with a Clouded Yellow sighting as well as lots of flowers that, since my interest in this branch of nature is still in its infancy, were often new to me. 

I'm starting to appreciate the small streams that abound in this part of the country. Whereas they are largely barren when I usually seem them in the autumn, at this time of the year they are a riot of colour with all sorts of wonderful flowers and with sparkling Banded Demoiselles adding an exciting electric blue dimesion. The stream at the far end of Portheras beach played host to what I later found out was the strangely-named Hybrid Monkeyflower as well as the creeping menace that is Japanese Knotweed.

Hybrid Monkeyflower

Dor Beetle species: Anoplotrupes stercorosus...

...Dor Beetles can be recognised by their highly irrudescent undersides
Further on at another stream I came across some Water-cress as well as Fool's water-cress though they look so different one would have to be very foolish indeed to mistake one for the other.

Fool's Water-cress
Finaly we made it to Morvah and queued up patiently for our pasties and a welcome cup of tea. We then enjoyed the novelty of being able to eat our food in the pleasant coolness of the church, sitting on a pew.

Pasty on a pew

After that we explored the various stalls and listened to some of the local musical talent. Finally it was time to head back home again. Just as we neared the cottage the heavens opened and we had to hurry back to avoid a soaking. With the rain set in for the rest of the afternoon we stayed in and enjoyed a family game of Trivial Pursuit which my VLW won (as always). 

Moth du Jour: make Oak Eggar - found resting on a wall sheltering from the rain

A bonus moth: this Pebble Prominent was found by daughter B on her shoe
(ID courtesy of John Swann)

Wednesday 7th August: Nanjizal

The children had been starting to complain that we were being too local and weren't going anywhere else so today we decided to go to Nanjizal for a picnic on the beach. We drove to Trevilley and parked up before wandering at a slow pace in the heat along the path down to the beach. I spotted a couple of dragonflies en route, one was a Hawker of some sort and the other a Golden-ringed though both were only seen briefly.

The walk from Trevilley to Nanjizal
Sadly it was high tide when we arrived at the beach (we should really have checked) but we found a shady corner in which to munch our sandwiches and to stare at the sea. There were several Rock Pipits flying about, including some which looked like young birds - it's good to see that they've bred successfully. The children made pebble sculptures out of stone and I wandered off to investigate the two streams there that feed into the sea. These were once again full of colourful flowers and insects with a host of Banded Demoiselles and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly. The Hemp-Agrimony was full of butterflies and hover flies with at least ten butterflies just on one plant alone. I spent some time taking snaps for later identification and just enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. Over at the second, smaller stream I came across a male Keeled Skimmer patrolling the margins and I busied myself with taking some photos.

Daughter B's stone sculpture

male Keeled Skimmer
On the way back I found this Magpie Moth
Next stop was St Just for some tea and refreshment before we headed down to Kenidjack as the children really wanted to see the donkeys there though sadly there was no sign of them when we arrived. We wandered down the valley to the sea, with myself lingering to admire the flowers and insects once again. As before, I couldn't get over how different the valley looked at this time of year compared to my usual visits - it was just so colourful! In one spot were a couple of Golden-ringed Dragonflies as well as the usual Banded Demoiselles. I spotted a couple of young Stonechats flitting about so once again signs of successful breeding. 

The Kenidjack mining ruins
On the way back up the valley we discovered that at least two donkeys had now appeared - they seem to have a shelter they can retreat to if it's too hot. We stopped to say hello to them and they seemed happy to see us.

Kenidjack Donkey
Then it was back to the car and home to Pendeen. We noticed that there was a large flock of several hundred large gulls milling around by the lighthouse for some reason though there was no reason that we could see for them to be there. After dinner we wandered down to the lighthouse to stare at the sea for a while. B & L went down to the small sandy beach there whilst I looked out over the Wra. A few Manxies were going by and a couple of Whimbrel flew past as the light started to fade. It was all very peaceful.

That evening I put the month light on again and as there was little wind I managed to attract a few more moths than previously.

Batia lambdella -back home in Oxford I catch it's smaller cousin B lunaris
but this one is found in coastal regions near gorse.

Dark Arches

Plant du Jour: Sea Campion. This is the coastal version of Bladder Campion
and is very common around the lightouse area where we are

Thursday 8th August: Pendeen

It's always a bit of a busman's holiday coming down to the cottage. Whilst there, there's always something that needs to be done so we decided to spend today in doing all those little jobs about the cottage. Needless to say our two daughters were none to keen on helping and so decided to head off to St. Ives for the day on the bus. This left my VLW and I to get with our chores whilst L amused himself. There were some nasty bits of rust around the main doors which needed my attention and I busied myself with this whilst my VLW dealt with some of the interior work. On a break we wandered down to the lighthouse where I found three Wheatears, all hanging out in one of the fields. Once more a Clouded Yellow flew by (I've seen one virtually every day this week) and the usual Swallow family and a Pied Wagtail family were to be seen around the cottages.

One of the resident Swallows

One of the three Wheatears
Mid afternoon we decided that we needed to get out and also we needed to buy some more paint and caulking etc. so we headed off to Penzance. Whilst L and my VLW went to see if they could find a replacement bedside lamp I headed off to B&Q and then to Sainsbury's to pick up some food provisions. Then it was back home to Pendeen. On a whim I stopped at the small pond near the Boscaswell Stores in Pendeen to take a quick look. There I managed to find a Hawker dragonfly zooming about the place. Frustratingly it never settled and I couldn't quite work out what it was though I was wondering about Common Hawker. As time was marching on and my VLW was wanting her cup of tea I had to leave it unidentified and we made our way back to the cottage.

Once again we went down to the lighthouse at dusk to stare at the sea or go down to the small beach there. A heard-only Green Sandpiper flew past whilst I was gaxing at the sea though there was little else of note.

Plant du Jour: Sea Plantain - a coastal Plantain species which can be found
in abundance down by the lighthouse
Back at the cottage it was another good evening with the moth light tonight and there were several dozen moths around the door.

One of the more easily recognisable Pug's: the Lime-speck Pug

Friday 9th August: Pendeen Yet Again

Today yet again we hung around Pendeen. This was partly because we couldn't quite decide what to do and also we had to finish off our DIY tasks and do a bit of getting ready to depart first. I did manage to nip out first thing back to the Pendeen pond to have a closer look at the Hawker dragonfly. Having discussed it with John Swann, he informed me that Common Hawker was pretty rare around here and it was much more likely to be a Migrant or a Southern Hawker. After looking at it some more I've come to the conclusion that it's a Migrant. I say "it" but actually there were two of them this morning as well as an Emperor and a Common Darter, all fighting over the same small bit of pond.

Only the Common Darter settled for a photo and it was rather distant
Back home at the cottage in the end we decided on a walk over to the mine workings at Geevor. Here I managed to spot a single Wheatear and a couple of Stonechats but little else. .

One of the Stonechats had quite a lot of black on the breast and flanks -
I assume that this fluffed up underfeathers rather than a rare sub species
Then it was back along the main road into Pendeen with a stop off at Heather's for tea and cake which was most excellent. I remember that it used to be an old antique shop that never seemed to be open but now it's a great little café. 

We often play a family game of guess how many buzzards we'll see sitting on poles when driving
from Pendeen towards Penzance though this one was on a pole outside the officially designated game area

Back at the cottage I gave daughter K (who's now 18) her first driving lesson in the field behind the cottages. She never got out of first gear but it was a good safe location for her to get started on. Then it was time for a spot of packing. 

Today's Flower du Jour is Western Ramping Fumitory, a speciality of the area
which is only to be found in the west of Cornwall. This one was growing close to the cottage.
I'd looked at the weather forecast and frustratingly I saw that some decent sea watching weather was forecast for the weekend just as we were leaving. The vanguard of this weather system was supposed to arrive on Friday afternoon and finally by about 7pm it did start to get a bit more windy so I decided on an evening sea watch at the lighthouse. I realised that this was the first time that I'd actually got my scope out all week. I couldn't believe it - a week in Cornwall in the August and this was my first sea watch on the evening before departing. It didn't start out too promising with barely anything passing but gradually some Manxies started to move through and then I managed to pick up on a distant large Shearwater, which to my eyes looked like a Cory's. Apart from that it was all rather quiet with 140 odd Manx Shearwaters, 1 Guillemot, 2 Kittiwakes, 6 Fulmars and the usual Gannets passing through. A calling Curlew flew past and a mixed flock of waders flew over my head, comprising of two Turnstones and what looked like 6 Sanderling though it was hard to ID them. Then it was back home to finish off the packing. I did try the moth light but it was far too windy for anything to appear and I soon gave up.

In the absence of any moths tonight, here's a micro from yesterday which gave me a bit of an ID headache.
Eventually someone on BirdForum ID'd it as a brightly marked Pyrausta despicata.

Saturday 10th August: Homeward Bound

So it's our departure day here already. We had to be out by 10 a.m. as we had some holiday guests booked in for the following week so it was a mad scramble to get everything ready though somehow we managed it. It was very frustrating to see a decent wind at last and first thing at least it was in the perfect direction for Pendeen though it later veered around to more of a PG direction. I could only take glances out of the window in frustration as we packed and would take a periodic sneaky peek through my bins to watch the birds flying past at close quarters.

A Crescent Dart from the previous day
My VLW's niece and her partner who now live down in Cornwall had just had their first baby so we wanted to stop off to see them on the way home. They were rather tied up to start with so we went down to Marazion to kill some time until she was free. We had a hot drink and a snack at Jordans and I went to the marsh to see what was about though basically all I could see were lots of Moorhens and a single Grey Heron that flew over. Over by the standing stone it was little better though I did have brief glimpses of what looked like a Reed Bunting and a Chiffchaff.

Tree Mallow, found near Trevilley, a coastal Mallow species

We rendezvous'ed with the new baby and parents at the Heartlands complex near Pool where in the café we had a chance to catch up. Then it was back on the A30 and the long slog home. There were the predictable traffic jams so we tried our A38 alternative again which was trouble free. This only delayed the inevitable though as there was a certain amount of stopping and starting on the M5 itself. Thus it wasn't until around 7pm that we finally made it back home to Oxford, very tired after our long journey.

Mopping Up and Looking Back

This is my usual end of trip retrospective on what I saw and what I liked etc.

Regular readers will have noticed a new theme with plants now being added to the repertoire of things that I'm taking an interest in. Whilst I'm just getting started with flowers, it's been great to come down to an area where there are some local specialities that aren't to be found elsewhere in the country. Since coming back I've been working through the many photos that I took whilst down in Cornwall, particularly of the plants and flowers which I'm a complete beginner at. I usually end up posting them on iSpot for ID where often one can get a very quick response from some real experts. I'm particularly interested in finding local specialities, whether they're just coastal specialists or even better west Cornwall specialists. The two below, which I found at Marazion by the Red River mouth are only found in sandy coastal areas I believe.

Sea Radish
Sea Beet
With the help of the Bird Forum moth ID thread I've managed to identify all the moths from my trip that came to the "moth light" now. In the end I added a few moths to my (pathetically small) moth life list so that was good. I've already posted all the interesting ones on this blog apart from this Agonopterix nervosa

Agonopterix nervosa
 Looking back, from a birding point of view there was sadly not much to report but as I said at the beginning, that was to be expected. It was unfortunate that for the sea-watching we managed to miss all the stormy weather though obviously from the point of view of a family holiday it was actually a good thing that we caught the last week of nice warm settled weather. The family all say that they enjoyed themselves and I always love being down in Cornwall so all in all, a successful albeit rather low key trip.

I'm intending to come back down in October for my usual week of birding and in addition we've booked the end of October half term holiday down here as well so there could be a lot more blogging in that month. Personally I can't wait to return.

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