Thursday, 6 November 2014

Cornwall in October - Part II

Yet another compilation of my posts from Pendeen Birding.

Saturday 25th October: Porthgwarra & Penzance
As I foretold in my last post, I'm back down again for half term week, this time en famille (though actually our two daughters are away up north so it's just my VLW and our eight year old son). This of course does rather cramp my birding style though as I'd already had a fair crack of the whip two weeks ago I decided that I was going to try not to cause too much family tension by running off pour chercher les oiseaux all the time. Therefore I've mentally prepared myself not to push it (unless of course it's something really good!) but instead to go with the family flow.

That was the plan anyway but then of course the Yellow-billed Cuckoo turned up at Porthgwarra. This species is well know for not surviving very long (poisoned by our caterpillars apparently) so it was always going to be a long shot to try and see it. It was found on Thursday and showed really well on Friday thus dangling the carrot of hope in front of me. I persuaded the family that rather than going down on Saturday as orignally planned, perhaps we should brave the Friday night start-of-half-term traffic maelstrom to get there a day early so this is what we did. Of course it turned out to be the nightmare journey that one should expect though at least there was no actually stationary traffic on the M5. Exhausted, we finally arrived at the cottage at around midnight, unpacked and crashed into our beds.

I of course had a dawn start ahead of me so it was all too soon that I was awake again and out of the door leaving my VLW slumbering in her bed. I arrived at PG at around 8am and started walking up towards to phalanx of twitchers that I could see by the dried up pool in the half light. Whom should I meed just past the Coastguards but a selection of Oxon's finest birders down for the Cuckoo. It was good to see them and we wandered over to the twitch line hoping against hope that the Cuckoo had somehow survived another day.
Me with the Oxon Posse
The bird had been first seen yesterday at around 9am so we weren't too bothered initially and passed the time watching the various flocks of Golden Plover zoom around overhead. There were also a few Skylarks going over as well as a couple of Reed Buntings. As time marched on past 9am people started to get restless including myself. I wandered about and bumped into Lewis Thompson, back down again for a long weekend. Whilst we were nattering we watched as some birders started to get more adventurous and moving closer to the general twitch area, walking some of the closer footpaths to see if they could stir things into action. Finally LGRE entered the sallows where apparently it had gone to roost to see if he could find the body but he came up empty handed. After that the crowd soon started to disperse.

I decided to walk back to the car along the nearer footpath and as I did so I met Lee walking the other way who reported that there was a Dartford Warbler up ahead in the gorse. That was at least some consolation so I hurried over to take a look and sure enough there it was, hanging out with a couple of Stonechats. Now this is actually a pretty good bird for PG as they no longer breed there so probably just an overwintering bird. I watched it briefly but then conscious of time marching on I headed back to the car and home to the family.

You know a twitch isn't going well when the only photo is of a bare piece of moorland!
Having spent a good part of the morning out birding I decided that I couldn't really do any more for the day - even when a Red-breasted Flycatcher (which you may recall I still need for the county) was reported at Nanquidno I remained unmoved. So instead we passed the time pottering about the cottage, making an inventory of what needed to be done whilst we were down there (it's never just a holiday when we're here). Then, after a brief nap to catch up on sleep, it was off into Penzance to do a spot of food shopping and to nip into B&Q. Of course whilst we were there I had to have a quick look to see if the Rose-coloured Starling was still around and I soon picked him out from his darker cousins.

The Penzance Rose-colooured Starling on its favourite wires
Whilst out and about I was of course getting RBA text updates - there were far more than usual as all the Cuckoo twitchers started to work their way back home and all the local rarities were reported numerous times during the day. I was pleased to hear that the Oxon contingent caught up with the Flycatcher as well as the Drift Ring-neck and the Hayle Yellowlegs - some consolation at least for their long overnight journey down. For myself meanwhile it was back to the cottage with the family for dinner and a chilled evening doing nothing.

Sunday 26th October: Nanquidno & Kenidjack
You may well remember how yesterday I was saying that this was going to be a low key non-birding holiday. Well that was certainly my intention though so far it hasn't really been like that. I negotiated a small outing this morning just to see if I could catch up with one of the Nanquidno Red-breasted Flycatchers. The idea was that I'd nip out quickly in the morning and then get back to crack on with our DIY chores. I arrived at around 9am to find several locals hanging out by the horse box looking for it - apparently it had been seen about three quarters of an hour ago so it was still there. However, despite putting in a good couple of hours the best I could manage was a brief thirty second view of what was almost certainly it right at the back of one of the trees. The size, jizz and colouring was all right but my view was always partially obscured and so I'm rather loathe to tick that for the county. It was all rather frustrating.

The session was brought to an abrupt half when a Hants birder turned up showing some crippling back of the camera photos of a Radde's Warbler that he'd found over in Kenidjack. I duly hastened off in that direction, stopping only to phone my VLW to tell her that I was going to be a bit longer than anticipated due to what is a pretty rare bird in Cornwall. I was wondering why the news hadn't reached me sooner but it turned out that I'd somehow switched my phone to "in flight mode" - I don't know how that happened. Anyway, I parked up half way down the valley and ran down to the end houses to find quite a few of the locals all hanging around there though the bird apparently hadn't been seen for quite a while. I then put in a good couple of hours with the others staring at the undergrowth and listening out for "tack" noises though we decided in the end that many of the sounds that we were hearing were in fact the noise of the stream knocking stones against the rocks. Anyway, there was no sign of the bird: two Choughs, a Buzzard, a Kestrel and a couple of Chiffies were scant compensation. In the end I had to depart as I'd been away for so long that I was going to be in deep trouble for sure.

This plant reminded me of the Marsh Pennywort that I found at Porthgwarra the other day. Indeed its alternative name is Wall Pennywort though it's more usually known as Navelwort because its central dimple looks like a navel.

Back home I grovelled an apology and cracked on with some tasks though my VLW and son, who'd both been cooped up in the house all morning were keen to get out so we soon set off for an outing, first to St Just where my VLW wanted to check out some of the galleries there and then over to Marazion. Here she did more gallery checking whilst my son and I made some sandcastles by the Red River mouth. We then reconvened in Marazion for tea where we tried out a new tea shop. This proved to be a great success and it probably a candidate for the best tea shop we have tried so far in the area (and we've tried quite a few over the years).

A great tea experience to be had at Delicious
Then it was back home for a chance finally to inspect the contents of the moth trap though there was a measly sum total of just six moths: two Feathered Ranunculus, three Red-line Quakers and a Light Brown Apple Moth. After that we enjoyed a nice evening meal and watched a film together. It had been altogether a rather frustrating day: I'd spent four hours in the field with almost nothing to show for it apart from thirty seconds of obscured glimpses of a Flycatcher. To make matters worse, a twitchable Dartford Warbler was found back home in Oxon - a real county Mega that I was missing out on. Not one of my best day's birding - let's hope that things improve tomorrow.

Moth du Jour: Red-line Quaker

Monday 27th October: Pendeen & Penzance

Another low key day today. I'd resolved to crack on with some of the cottage tasks first thing this morning and then perhaps to do a spot of birding later on, especially if either the Radde's Warbler or the Red-Breasted Flycatcher were still present. That was the plan anyway. Firstly, however, I did a quick tour of Pendeen though as to be expected there was precious little apart from a couple of dozen Mipits, a single fly-over Skylark and a Buzzard. I often find that when its windy, Pendeen can be rather birdless. 

I returned to find that my VLW had arranged for her sister and husband to come and visit for the afternoon - it was something that we were intending to arrange whilst we were down but we'd not yet finalised a particular day. They were currently down in Cornwall visiting their daughter and their new granddaughter who live up-county in Porthtowan. So it looked like I wasn't going to get much birding in today. Fortunately news gradually filtered through on RBA and via Philary that neither the Radde's nor the Flycatchers were about so fortunately I wasn't actually missing anything. I busied myself clearing out our shed so that we could store away our garden furniture for the winter. Then it was off for a run to the St. Erth dump to get rid of the shed contents and to pick up some food for lunch. Lewis Thompson texted that he'd found a Siberian Stonechat down near Porthgwarra - a nice find and a bird that I would have liked to see. However, Dave Parker later texted to say that there was no sign of it when he looked so I was saved another disappointing dip. On the way back from the dump I stopped in briefly to check up on the Rose-coloured Starling which was still hanging out behind the KFC on the wires. This seems to be the only rare bird that I'm seeing at present! 

My one bird friend the Rose-coloured Starling
Then it was back home for our guests.. We passed a very pleasant afternoon chatting and catching up and then doing a little walk along the coastal path to the Geevor tin mine, then back up to Pendeen (no time for Heathers tea shop today sadly) and back to the cottage again. On the circuit I managed to spot a plant that I wasn't familiar with and thanks to iSpot I can now tell you that it is Scurvygrass, so called because sailors used to use it to cure scurvy. I presume from the location and the shape of the leaves that it's Common Scurvygrass though apparently they can be a tricky group to separate.
Common (presumably) Scurvygrass
We waved our guests off early and then settled in for another quiet night. Another enjoyable and productive day though not much birding action.

Tuesday 28th October: Hayle
With no bird news from yesterday that had me wanting to twitch anything it was yet another quiet day. First thing I went out to do the Pendeen rounds though in the continuing strong wind there was predictably little of note with four fly-over Skylarks the highlight (!). I haven't even seen the usual Pendeen Ravens of late, it's been extremely quiet. I keep hoping for a rare Pipit to turn up in amongst the Mipits though so far no luck. 

One of our main tasks whilst down here is to take some good photos of the cottage as we are in the process of changing our letting agents and so needed some new publicity material. As it was actually quite sunny this morning we decided to take advantage of this and to do some interior shots of the rooms that got the morning sunlight. Thus we had a frantic session of trying to stage everything and take loads of shots before the sun went in again. Eventually we felt that we had enough shots in the can and with our 8 year old son beginning to get restless we starting to think about what to do today by way of an outing. My VLW wanted to visit St. Ives at some point and we needed to stop off at St. Erth again to dump the remaining shed items so we hatched a plan. We'd drive to St Erth for the dump and then I would drop the two of them off at Lelant Saltings where they'd catch the train to St. Ives. I'd pootle around the Hayle estuary complex for a while, to take a look at the Lesser Yellowlegs if nothing else, before joining them later. So this is what we did.

Having done the various drop-offs I made my way over to Copperhouse Creek, choosing to park up in the dog walkers car park to the east of the creek and to walk across the grassy meadow to the Black Bridge. From here a brief scan revealed that the Lesser Yellowlegs was half way along the Creek so I made my way over there. Apart from the star bird on view there were a couple of Greenshank, half a dozen Redshank including one with only one leg, two Black-tailed Godwits and the usual Curlews, Oystercatchers, Little Egrets and assorted Large Gulls.. Whilst watching the 'legs I had the pleasure of meeting local birder Laurie Williams for the first time. It turned out that he'd found the bird from the comfort of his house which overlooks the estuary - a very nice house tick! What's more I discovered that he was a fellow gull enthusiast and loves looking for Yellow-legged Gulls on the estuary though of course these are few are far between down here. I told him how back on my patch in Oxford I normally get between one and two Yellow-legged Gulls each evening in the winter gull roost as well as a few Caspian Gulls each winter. We had a very pleasant chat before parting company.

Lesser Yellowlegs are such lovely dainty waders
Laurie was telling me about counts of 150+ Med. Gulls over on the main estuary so I decided to work my way around there. I stopped in at Carnsew Basin where I found just a few Med Gulls, a couple of Godwits of both species, four Dunlin and three Little Grebes. On the main estuary were perhaps 20 Med Gulls, a Greenshank, a few Wigeon and the usual Curlew. 

Finally it was around to the Hayle bridge causeway where there were loads of birds to look through. There were just a couple of Med Gulls here, a tight flock of about 40 Redshank, 2 Shelduck and good counts of Wigeon and Teal as well as the usual assortment of large gulls, Curlew and Geese. It was just nice to have a lot of birds to look through, after the relatively birdless outings that I'd had so far.

Med Gull

Eventually I had my fill and headed off towards St. Ives. There was a certain amount of difficulty in communicating with the rest of my family due to the poor mobile reception down in St. Ives itself but eventually we managed to rendezvous and made our way to Porthminster beach for a nice cup of tea and a muffin. The sea here was amazingly calm and we couldn't help but notice just how mild it was for the time of year as we sat outside on the beach enjoying the view whilst L made a sand castle. Then it was back to the car, stopping off to pick up some pasties for dinner, before heading for home.

Moth du Jour: I found this Herald in the car - it had been hiding in some of the rubbish in our shed and was transferred to the car when we took the stuff to the dump. It was released unharmed in St. Ives

Wednesday 29th October: Pendeen

At last a better day! In fact it actually started the previous night when the wind dropped and the mist came down. I stood outside and could hear lots of bird calls, mostly Redwing, overhead in the darkness. There was clearly some movement going on! I put on the "moth light" outside and had an interesting moth that I couldn't initially identify come to the light. Thinking that it could be a good moth night tonight I assembled the trap and went to bed.

The next morning I found that it had indeed been a good migrant night with half a dozen Rusty-dot Pearls in the trap, along with a few Feathered Ranunculus and seven more of my mystery moth. By way of a little light reading I'd taken the moth field guide with me to bed last night and had homed in on Brindled Ochre as an ID and a posting on Bird Forum confirmed this. What's more, the house experts there had never seen this species and a bit of background reading revealed that this is an autumn speciality of rocky and moorland coastal areas in the south west, which fitted my location description pretty well! So a nice new moth tick for me to start the day. 

Brindled Ochre - a new moth for me
I was keen to get out and to do the Pendeen rounds, after all given that there was no wind I might actually get to see something! I started in the cottage garden itself and worked my way down the road towards the lighthouse, scrutinising the resident Mipit flock carefully for interlopers though without success. Over by the Old Count House next to the lighthouse car park I spotted a rabbit which ran across the road ahead of me. The reason for its haste soon became apparent when a cheeky Stoat popped up chasing after it. It saw me and wasn't quite sure what to do: initially it ran towards me and then thought better of it and ducked back into the garden. A few moments later I spotted it nipping back round behind me in pursuit of the rabbit again though when it saw me it again it reluctantly gave up and went back to the garden. I tried to get a photo of it but as it was constantly on the move I only managed one blurry image in the end.

At this moment I spotted a bird flicking about in the shrubbery of the Count House garden. A look through the bins and it turned out to be a Chiffchaff. Right behind it I spotted a second bird which looked much more interesting: it was clearly a warbler though huge by comparison with the Chiffy, with a uniform grey back and a stout bill and generally hulking jizz it could only be a Barred Warbler! However, no sooner had I made the ID then both birds disappeared into the undergrowth. I hoped that they might be making a circuit so waited around; I also gave John Swann a quick call as he only lives a few minutes up the road to see if he wanted to come and check it out. As he and a birding guest arrived, the Chiffy made a second appearance though there seemed to be no sign of its rarer companion. The three of us waited around for about an hour with nothing but the Chiffy for company before we eventually gave up. So, a nice self-found Cornish tick for me (Barred Warblers aren't that easy down here) though it was a shame no one else got to see it. At last a bit of decent Pendeen birdage!

Continuing my rounds I found that there were a lot more birds on show today: a flock of a dozen or so Goldfinches, 2 Stonechats, 1 Raven, a Kestrel, a Buzzard and a Redwing in my garden which was coming to some crusts that I'd thrown out. A Reed Bunting called from the bottom of the garden though I never saw it and in the calm greyness there was a feel that something good might turn up at any moment. If nothing else it was just so nice to be able to see some birds at Pendeen for a change!

Rusty-dot Pearl - an immigrant moth

Another classic migrant, the Silver-Y
Back home my VLW and I set about our DIY tasks and so I was kept busy until mid afternoon. For an outing we decided to head out first to Pendeen playground so our son could let off some steam, and then to St Just where we bought a small shelf for the kitchen and finally we went on to Nanquidno, mainly because my VLW had never been there. It was rather late by now and we quickly walked all the way down the valley to the coast path and down towards the sea before heading back up to the car. I hardly saw a thing on the bird front but given how late and dark it was it wasn't surprising. Then it was back home to the cottage for something to eat. It was nice to have had a more productive birding day at last.

Thursday 30th October: Pendeen

Another low key day today, where we didn't even leave Pendeen. Sadly the lull in the wind yesterday proved to be short-lived and it was back to the usual relatively windy conditions. On my morning round of Pendeen I couldn't even find any Meadow Pipits in their usual field though the occasional one would zip over calling. The was nothing moving in the Old Count House garden so I decided to spend a bit of time on the lighthouse to see if I could find the Black Redstart that was reported there yesterday. After a while I managed to find it: it seemed to be sheltering in the tiny courtyard in the middle of the complex though it made a brief sortie out to the east wall where it was picking insects off the windows and sitting on the wall. I managed a couple of shots of it with my superzoom before it disappeared again.

The Black Redstart

Down on the cliffs below I spotted a raptor whizzing about which turned out to be a Merlin chasing after a Meadow Pipit though a Peregrine soon stepped in, clearly irritated by the presence of another falcon and the Pipit managed to escape.

The Peregrine

Back at the cottage we busied ourselves with our usual tasks. I did a photo session for the main kitchen & dining area which took a bit of setting up but I was pleased with the results. For our afternoon outing we decided to keep it local and to go for a walk up to Manor Farm and back along the coast path. It was lovely and calm on the eastern side of the peninsula and we spent some time pootling around in Fisherman's (or Boat) Cove or just staring at the sea. Then it was back home to the cottage for a well-earned cup of tea.

This Grey Wagtail was hanging about near Boat Cove

Friday 31st October: Pendeen, Penberth & Drift

Today was out last full day down here so it was a bit piecemeal. First of all the wind was forecast to increase dramatically overnight so that it was showing 28 mph+ on the BBC weather chart. I sent an e-mail to John Swann asking whether he thought that it might be a suitable day for Porthgwarra sea-watching but he replied that in his opinion after August it's only worth sea-watching at Pendeen. As well as an interesting nugget of knowledge to tuck away, this was also a bit of a relief as my VLW had indicated that she wouldn't be too pleased if I were to slope of sea-watching all morning so it wasn't really going to be on the cards anyway.

Despite the near gale-force winds I ran the moth trap last night and was amazed that
I actually caught this Angled Shades and a Feathered Ranunculus

In the end I did the Pendeen rounds in the strong winds with just the Merlin below the lighthouse to show for my efforts - even the Mipits had deserted their usual field. I did try a token fifteen minutes sea watching at the lighthouse though of course it was useless. Then it was back to the cottage to get cracking on finishing off our various tasks. 

After a makeshift lunch of whatever was left over in the fridge we kicked around a few idea about what to do. No one was particularly enthusiastic about anything so in the end, prompted by an RBA text reporting the continued presence of two Yellow-browed Warblers at Penberth, I suggested that I drop the two of them off at Penzance for a spot of shopping whilst I went on to do a bit of birding before rendezvousing at 4pm for afternoon tea. This plan was acceptable to all so that's what we did. After the drop-off I headed over to Penberth, a valley that I'd not been to for several years though we did stay there one year before we got our place. Actually we've stayed in most places in Cornwall over the years including Faraway Cotttage and Three Chimneys at Porthgwarra, Mowhay Barn at Trevillley, Chmoy Mill at Penberth, Cover Point at St. Buryan, somewhere at Zennor and a Landmark Trust place at Lower Porthmeor - but I digress. Back at Penberth I parked up at the turning circle and within a few minutes I'd heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. After about ten or so minutes I managed to get lovely views of it - I never tire of these gorgeous birds. Also seen were a Chiffy and a flock of 17 Redwings but I didn't linger for long to look around. Having seen what I came for and with some time on my hands before my rendezvous I decided to stop off at Drift Reservoir on the way back. The Ring-necked Duck had been reported "no sign" this morning though there had been a Long-tailed Duck reported there instead which would be nice to see.

I parked up at the reservoir car park and wandered over to the hide, stopping off to admire and scrutinise the large gull flock on the water though there was nothing out of the ordinary within it. At the hide I could see no sign of either rarer duck though I noticed that the water level was even lower than when I'd been there a couple of weeks ago and I wasn't altogether surprised that the RN Duck had moved on. As I was leaving the hide a wader flew up from the corner of the NW arm. It's size, dark back and pale squared-off rump marked it out as a Green Sandpiper though in the split second view that I got of the rump, did it look a bit "dirty"? I watched it as it flew low and appeared to land in the fields below Sancreed though I didn't get any other rump views. Sadly, it was time to head back now but as I walked I gave Dave Parker (who does Drift regularly) a call just mentioning that he might want to look out for the Sandpiper to see if he could get a better view of the rump.It was probably  just a Green Sand but on the back of Hurricane Gonzalo, it wasn't impossible that a Solitary Sand might have made its way over - worth checking out anyway.

I got back to the car and headed for Penzance where I met up with the rest of the family. We then made our way over to the supermarkets for a quick cup of tea and to buy some food for this evening's dinner. Then it was back home to the cottage to get ready to depart bright and early tomorrow morining. It had been quite a nice afternoon's birding in the end to round off the week.

On yesterday's walk I came across this flower which turns out to be Musk Storksbill,
a relatively scarce flower that is found mainly in coastal areas.

5th November: End of Trip Review

I've been back home in Oxford for a few days now and have a had a chance to go through my various photos and to work out a few ID's for some fungi and inverts. I've also had time to reflect on my trip and it's various highs and low.

Bolbitius titubans - Yellow Fieldcap Mushroom
Black Sexton Beetle - found in my moth trap

Like the "part one" trip this was a rather low key affair though thankfully there was at least more bird action this time around: it seems as though autumn came very late to the far south west. Indeed if a few things had worked out it would have been an excellent trip: had the Yellow-billed Cuckoo lasted just one more day and had the Radde's Warbler been more showy then I'd have been a very happy bunny. As it was I had to content myself with the usual long stayers, namely the Lesser Yellowlegs, the Rose-colour Starling, a poorly seen Red-breasted Flycatcher and a nice Yellow-browed Warbler. Of course the star of the week has to be my self-found Pendeen Barred Warbler, seen on a week when (according to the RBA review of the week) there was a resurgence of this species, mostly in the west of the country. It's a great shame that it didn't linger at all but I'm just pleased to have got what is a relatively difficult Cornish species under my belt and especially to have got it on my local Cornish patch of Pendeen.

Talking of Pendeen, I couldn't help but notice that my Pendeen birding chum Ian Kendall, managed to find Britain's third Eastern Crowned Warbler up north in Cleveland within the last week. Knowing just what a top birder Ian is, I'm not altogether surprised but he certainly deserves what must be the find of a lifetime. Well done Ian!

So a list of the highlights, first the Scarce+ birds:

Rose-coloured Starling
Lesser Yellowlegs
Barred Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Red-breasted Flycatcher

The Lesser Yellowlegs was the only rarer bird that I actually photographed

There was also a supporting cast of:

Dartford Warbler
Black Redstart

The Pendeen Black Redstart

On the moth front the star attraction has to be the Brindled Ochre, I hadn't realised just how hard they are to get but even Penwith mothing stalwart John Swann has never trapped one so I must have been rather lucky.

Brindled Ochre

There were also a few new plants to add to my fledgling plant list with the Musk Storksbill and the Scurvygrass the main ones.

Musk Storksbill

So in conclusion, a low key end of October visit but with a few new sightings on my various lists to keep things ticking over so I can't complain.

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