Sunday, 20 December 2015

Durham Again

It was time to fetch Daughter 1 back down from Durham from the end of her University term already. Looking back, this time last year I had been lucky with an en route Blythe's Pipit followed by a trip out west to the snow-covered moors for some Black Grouse. That had been a good trip - what was I going to see this time? As usual, I'd been keeping a keen eye on the birdage up in the North East for the preceding week or so but sadly there wasn't much going on there at present. There was an over-wintering Long-billed Dowitcher up in Northumberland which had caught my eye and there were one or two other bits and pieces in the neighbourhood so in the absence of anything better I decided to try for this on the way up. I say "on the way up" though of course I would have to overshoot Durham by about an hour in order to get to Northumberland. What's more with it being just about the shortest day of the year, daylight was going to be an issue and I wouldn't have more than two or three hours at most. Still I couldn't come up with anything better so this is what I decided to do. As for the next morning there were a couple of Waxwing sites in Jarrow and Gateshead which I thought I'd try for. That was the plan anyway.

The week leading up to my departure had been a very busy one at work and this excessive workload had meant that I'd not been sleeping that well so I found myself in a rather sleep-deprived state as I set off at my usual time of 8 a.m. on Friday morning, feeling that really I could do with several more hours in bed. Still, if I wanted to have any daylight left once I got to Northumberland I couldn't really hang around at all. Things progressed smoothly enough until around about junction 28 on the M1 when ominous signs warned of a 30 minute delay up ahead. I pulled into some services to plan an alternative route and in the end went off piste, detouring around Mansfield and joining up with the A1(M) further up. This plan did mean that I managed to avoid the jams though it added about 30 minutes on to my journey time anyway so I didn't actually save any time in the end. I sped onwards along the familiar route northwards which seemed to be taking for ever in my tired state. Finally at around 1:30 p.m. I arrived in the sleepy Northumbrian backwater of Cresswell and drove along the coastal road, admiring the sandy dunes and the sea on my right until I came to the turn-off for the hide that overlooks the Cresswell Pond nature reserve, the temporary home of the Dowitcher,

There was one other car parked there as I got out, stretched my legs and marvelled at just how mild it was even up here in the "frozen" north. This December weather we're having is just insane! I got my gear together and ambled the short distance up to the farm and then down the side track that lead to the hide. The locals had put up all sorts of ersatz feeders along the path, made out of old plastic bottles and there were loads of finches taking advantage of the food. Within the hide I found a couple of locals staking out the pond forlornly. It turned out that they'd not seen the Dowitcher at all themselves though someone had reported it earlier on. Humph! I thought. At least this wasn't something that I desperately wanted to see though it was still the headline bird on this northern tour that I'd cobbled together and for it to do the first no show in several weeks just on the day that I came up was a bit rude of it. 

The view from the Cresswell Pond hide

I settled down to look out of the hide window. It was a very nice looking pond, not too big so that you could see the birds on the far shore comfortably. There was a good-looking sand spit on the right on which there was a sizeable flock of Lapwing interspersed with the occasional Redshank. Over on the far side were Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and a single Goldeneye with more Lapwings and Redshank though no sign of the Dowitcher. I did a detailed scan all the way around the pond twice before satisfying myself that it wasn't on show at present. Given that I only had limited daylight left there was no point in hanging around so I hurried back up the path to the car disturbing a smart Tree Sparrow from the feeders as I went. I then drove the short distance to the other end of the Pond where there was a car park. I had a quick check from this end though there was still no sign of the Dowitcher, so it was on to part two of my tour of this area. This was a short coastal walk along the dunes to the neighbouring farm where the cattle were fed - I'd been told that this could be a good spot for Twite. It was a very pleasant ten minute stroll along the top of the dunes and I admired the sandy beach and the relatively calm seascape.

Northumbrian coastline
I found the cattle feed area though the only finches I could find were five Chaffinches. No luck there and I retraced my steps back to the car. In the car park I met a couple out birding who'd reported that they too weren't having much luck today having missed the Water Pipit at East Chevington, some nearby Iceland Gull and now the Dowitcher here at Cresswell. Sitting as I was at nought out of two so far on my birding targets I sympathised with them. I couldn't linger however as the daylight was slipping away so it was on to site number three.

This was no more than a few minutes up the road at Druridge where there was supposed to be a large flock of Pink-footed Geese. I had no trouble locating these and pulled up by the roadside to admire the vast numbers as they grazed away on the lush grass in the field. I'd been told that there'd been three Bean Geese reported in amongst them yesterday though I had neither the time nor the energy to search through several thousand Pinkies for what would be remarkably similar looking Beanies. I took a quick snap with my camera and then it was back in the car and onwards to my final birding destination of the day.

Pink-footed Geese
My final destination was East Chevington where there was a Water Pipit in residence (the one the other two birders had failed to see) and yesterday there'd also been a Lapland Bunting though there'd been no report of it today at all. This site was just ten minutes up the road which was just as well as by now the light was starting to fade. I got out of the car and hurried down the track towards the pools where I guessed the Pipit might be hanging out. There I met a couple of birders coming the other way who reported that the Pipit hadn't been seen in about an hour though there was a nice flock of thirty or so Twite at the mouth of the burn. I soon found this flock though regretted leaving my scope in the car and decided to hurry back to get it so that I could do it justice. That was another ten minutes wasted and by now it was rather dark. Still I did get some great views of these lovely understated Finches in the end and even managed to shoot some video though the wind and the darkness meant that it didn't come out as well as I'd hoped.

Twite in the darkness

By now the darkness had defeated me. I wandered back towards the car, munching on a sandwich and watching the flocks of Starlings throwing some shapes as they prepared to roost. Then it was back in the car and I decided to retrace my steps back to Cresswell on the off chance that the Dowitcher was now on show. Once more I stopped off to say hello to the Pink-foots and then it was back to the hide where the incoming tide had pushed out all the birds onto the shoreline. I scanned as best I could though it was basically dark by now and I had to admit to defeat. So I'd managed to see just two out of the four of my target species with the Water Pipit and the Dowitcher having given me the slip but I'd really enjoyed the close views of the Twite so I was content enough. I drove a short distance along the road to a café that I'd noticed along the road which thankfully was still open so I treated myself to a nice cup of tea and some Carrot Cake. It had been my first time birding up in Northumberland and I must say that I rather enjoyed the scenery and wildness of it all. It was definitely somewhere to come back to some day.

After that it was back down to Durham to rendezvous with my daughter. By now it was dark and there was some rush hour traffic, particularly around the Tyne Tunnel so in my tired state I took it nice and slow and arrived safely at her house an hour later. She and her housemates were all rather tired from a hectic week of end of term partying so they were all having a quiet night in. We ordered a takeaway curry and watched stuff on telly or on-line. By 10 p.m. I was in bed and soon fast asleep.

The next day I still woke up far too early (I was building up quite a sleep deficit by now) and contemplated what to do. As I mentioned at the start, I'd originally been intending to go and search for some Waxwings but the truth was that they'd not been reported for several days now with no mention of them at all yesterday so in the end I decided to head over towards Hartlepool to look for the first winter drake Surf Scoter that was hanging out off-shore at Seaton Carew. This was only half an hour away from Durham and should be a fairly straight-forward sortie. I set off at around 8 a.m. (after all there was no point in getting there too early) and some half an hour later I arrived outside the Staincliffe Hotel where the bird was supposed to be. There I found a birder scoping the sea from his car though he'd just started and hadn't seen it so far. I set up my scope and in the reasonably windy conditions I tried to locate the bird. A flock of Common Scoter flew in and landed close by and I soon picked out the Surfie from in amongst them though it was difficult to get a decent view as the scope was bounced around by the wind. I told the other birder where it was and decided that he had the right idea and went to get my car. From this sheltered vantage point it was much easier to make things out and I was soon enjoying some good views of the bird along with a couple of Velvet Scoter and thirty or so Common's. It was nice to see all three species there in one go.

By far the best photo of this bird that I've seen, taken by Martyn Sidwell (c)
As it was rather dark and the birds were still reasonably distant I didn't bother trying to photograph the Surfie and after about three quarters of an hour I decided to head back to Durham, stopping off to pick up some fuel on the way. My daughter, together with another house mate who it turned out also wanted a lift, were both more or less ready so it was that at around 10:30 a.m. we set off back down south. The motorway wasn't too bad and with just one stop off for sandwiches we arrived back mid afternoon safe and sound. We stopped off briefly in Summertown to drop off the friend and to pick up a bit of shopping before heading back to Casa Gnome for a very welcome cup of tea. With the family now once more at its full compliment we decided to sort out the Christmas tree which we'd been holding off on until Daughter 1 had returned, so we passed the rest of the day chatting, decorating the tree and just chilling. It had been a quiet albeit enjoyable trip up to the North East where I'd seen some nice birds and got to know more of this part of the country.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Norfolk in December

It had been several weeks since my last out-of-county sortie up to Chesterfield for my thirty seconds of Crag Martin views and I was starting to get that familiar urge again. In this case the object of my attention was a long-staying Pallid Harrier that seemed to be over-wintering at Snettisham in Norfolk. Now, it's been a good year for this once über-rare Harrier, with one at Burpham in Sussex staying for a couple of weeks as well as several other birds throughout the country this year. However, somehow or other up until now I'd never been free or they were just too far away for me to be tempted. Still, this one in Norfolk seemed pretty well nailed down with it being reported several times on a daily basis without fail so I thought that I'd give it a go. Indeed, I was originally intending to go last week but it was just too busy at work or the forecast was too windy and I never went in the end. However, this Monday (generally my preferred twitching day of the week) the forecast was for calm and mild weather so it was game-on for another Gnome outing.

As regular readers will know, I'm not a huge fan of the early morning departure so instead I opted to do my usual trick of heading up on Sunday night and staying at a B&B or hotel nearby. I managed to find a nice hotel which had been heavily discounted (apparently no one wants to stay on the outskirts of Kings Lynn on a Sunday night) and so it was that after dinner I headed off from Casa Gnome into the comparatively deserted Sunday roads along the familiar route to Norfolk. Fortunately Snettisham is on west side of the north Norfolk coast - a great relief as the A149 can be rather tortuous and it takes far longer than you think to get to places along it. I made good time and in about two hours and forty minutes I arrived at my clean and comfortable hotel and settled in for the evening.

The next morning I awoke (far earlier than required as usual) and eventually got up, showered and was out and on the road by 7:30 a.m. Judging from RBA reports, around 10 a.m. was usually the time that the Harrier was seen in the morning so I was in no particular hurry. To pass the time I stopped off at the Wolferton triangle to see if I could score a Golden Pheasant. However, it was by now lighter than I had anticipated and there were lots of cars roaring along the road - not conditions suitable for a shy and retiring pheasant and I gave up after less than ten minutes. Instead I made my way towards Snettisham, detouring into Dersingham to pick up a sandwich at the local Budgens. As I returned to the car in the car park a long skein of Pink-foots hurried over - very Norfolky! I headed on to the reserve, going (more by accident than design) the scenic route via Snettisham itself. En route I passed a small pond with a couple of resident Egyptian Geese, again something that I associate with past visits to this part of the country.

As I drove along the turn-off into the RSPB car park at Snettisham a few Partridges wandered across the road and I was very pleased to see that they were Greys rather than Red-legged. Embarrassingly, this was a personal year tick for what has sadly become far too rare a bird these days. I parked up next to three other cars and got ready. It was amazingly mild today though as it was such an exposed location I still decided to dress up warmly just in case. I set off on the familiar yomp along the path towards the shoreline where I was soon gazing out across the vast vista of the estuary mud flats. The tide was right out on the horizon but there were still birds dotted about in places with Mallard, Shelduck, Wigeon, Redshank and Curlew all to be seen and a flock of several thousand Golden Plover wheeling around acrobatically overhead and throwing shapes almost like a Starling roost. I met a couple coming back the other way who were admiring the Plovers though they didn't know what they were so I helped them out. A family of Brent Geese were loitering by the shore of the nearest creek and some straggler Pink-foot flocks were were going over periodically.

I walked on, starting to feel over-dressed in all my gear so I undid a few zips and cooled off. It was a remarkable distance down to the southern end of the last of the three pits and so it was getting on for three quarters of an hour after I'd first set off that I finally approached the viewing area. I could see a couple of birders in the distance (that accounted for the three other cars then) who seemed to be viewing something intently (always a good sign!). I quickly looked over in that direction to see a Harrier briefly appear in view from behind a hillock at quite a close distance of about 50 yards. With those long narrow Monty-like wings there was no doubting what it was - bingo, the Pallid Harrier was in play! I hurried over to where the other two were and we all watched the bird which by now had shot past us out towards the shore where it was quartering backwards and forwards more distantly. As I watched it I reflected that Pallid's (and Monty's) really do have such a distinctive wing shape - they look so different from Hen's. We watched as it then flew to the right and landed on a branch a couple of hundred yards away. Needing no further invitation we moved nearer to get a better view. One of the two others was a big lens photographer who hurried ahead whilst I chatted with the scope wielding birder who said that the Harrier had just at that moment appeared for the first time so I'd clearly timed my visit to perfection. We got down to a reasonable distance and watched as the bird preened vigorously. I shot some video (which sadly later turned out to be out of focus) and fired off a volley of digiscoped shots whilst it preened, hoping that one or two would turn out OK and luckily I caught one or two with it actually posing nicely

 After a few minutes the bird took to the wing again and flew right in front of us before dipping down over the pit, putting up all the Lapwings in the process and then disappearing down below the other side of the sea wall and out of sight. From all that I'd read on the internet, I couldn't really have asked for better views - I'd been expecting much more crappy glimpses of it quartering over the distant salt marsh whereas this had been really superb. Result!

With the Harrier already in the bag and the time just after 9 a.m. I decided to head back and the other birder came with me. We got chatting and it turned out that he lived in Coventry but had a house in Hunstanton that he and his wife liked to come down to regularly. He'd been coming to Norfolk for years and as we watched more Pink-foots going overhead, he explained how they roost on the estuary where they're safe from predators (mostly foxes) unless it's a clear night with a moon when the foxes can easily be seen in which case they'll carry on grazing on the fields.

Sea Spurge
We met various other birders coming the other way now, presumably all heading down for the 10 a.m. showing. Back at the car park we parted company and I contemplated what to do next. As part of my pre-trip research I'd compiled a list of other possible birds to see. On my list were three Shorelarks and some Twite at Thornham Harbour, a Rough-legged Buzzard at Choseley near Titchwell and an Iceland Gull on the Great Ouse in Kings Lynn. In the end I decided to start off at Thornham (partly because I'd never been there before) and then to move on to the Buzzard afterwards, before stopping in on the Iceland Gull on the way home.

Snettisham car park Egyptian Goose
I fired up the Gnome mobile and headed off along the A149 towards Thornham. Predictably I got stuck in a long line of traffic that was behind a slow moving large lorry so we made rather sedate progress. On the way I had a glimpse in a hedge of what to me really looked like a Ring Ouzel. I know that one was seen in Norfolk the previous day so it's not entirely out of the question but sadly I never saw it well enough to be sure. Eventually the Sat Nav app told me to turn off down an innocuous side road and before I knew it I was out on a small bumpy track that lead down to a flint-covered barn by the side of a tidal creek with a few moored boats in. It was all very picturesque in a rather overcast melancholy sort of way.

Thornham Harbour
There were quite a few cars parked up in the small car park so it was clearly a popular place. I got out, tooled up and wandered over to a couple who were scoping the distant estuary. It turned out that they reckoned that they could see the three Shorelarks from here so I had a go at scoping myself though at least one of the birds that they were getting excited about looked to me like a Skylark though perhaps I was looking at the wrong bird. After a while I got bored and went for a little wander along the sea wall a short distance where one had a better vantage point. To walk out to where the Shorelarks were located would have taken the best part of an hour so I decided to hang around and see if I could catch up with the Twite. There were loads of small birds buzzing around and when I managed to see them well enough they always turned out to be Linnets. Another couple turned up, wanting to see the Twite and we searched together for a while before they decided to head off along the sea wall. I mooched about a bit, enjoying the estuary sights and sounds before returning to my original vantage point by the car park where there was now a new birder looking. I joined him and eventually I managed to pick out the three Shorelarks - clearly seeing their head patterns lit up during a period of sunshine.

I carried on my Twite search and eventually spotted a few interesting birds down by the creek near the moored boats. When I finally got my brain in gear I twigged that they were in fact Twite that I was looking at though unfortunately, they flew off before I was able to get a photo of them. Instead I took some snaps of the local Curlew and Redshank that were exploring the various creeks.

In the end I spent far longer at Thorham than I had intended but it was such a nice place that I was happy to while away my time there. I had most of my packed lunch and decided not to bother with the Choseley Rough-legged Buzzard but instead to start off homewards and to pop in for the Iceland Gull en route so this is what I did.

Thornham vista
In Kings Lynn after a brief hiccup where the Sat Nat tried to direct me through a private freight yard, I managed to navigate myself down a side road past all sorts of industrial units and factories until I got to the shore of the Great Ouse. There I met up with a birder who'd been there for several hours photographing the Iceland Gull though he couldn't see it at present. I got out my scope and grilled the distant gull flock on the far side of the river but to no avail. Another pair of birders turned up and after a while they found it around the corner loafing on the bank on our side of the river. We all hurried over where we were treated to great views of it as it loafed around, unconcerned by our attention.

Iceland Gull - such lovely looking birds

After getting my fill I ambled back to the car, finished off the last of my lunch and then decided to head off home. I managed to get only a little lost in navigating myself out of Kings Lynn but after that the journey was uneventful and with Radio 4 to keep me company the time passed quickly enough. At 4 p.m. I was back home at Casa Gnome ready for a welcome cup of tea and to bask in the warm glow of another successful outing.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Farmoor Phalarope

There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging down at the concrete basin over the last couple of weeks: for the last two Sundays a decent bird has been found at Farmoor in the morning when Dai et al have been doing their morning rounds. The previous week it was a top-draw inland bird in the form of an adult Sabine's Gull. Along with the great and the good in the county I hurried down to take a look but sadly it didn't linger and in the end it was only Dai who saw it. This week it was instead a text about a Farmoor Grey Phalarope that interrupted the usual Sunday morning tea-in-bed and put-the-world-to-rights routine that my VLW and I like to indulge in. Not quite in the same league as a Sabine's but still a nice bird to see. I told my wife how confiding Phalaropes can be and how you can see them really well though she still wasn't interested in coming along so I headed off on my own with a modest post-twitch Homebase shopping list in my pocket with which to earn my trip.

I arrived to find the Phalarope was as far as way as it was possible to get, literally right out in the middle of Farmoor 1. Humph! It actually looked a bit closer to the far bank and I could see Badger and a few other birders on the far shore so in the end I got back in the car and drove around to Farmoor village in order to come in on the far side. However, my plan was rather foiled by Thames Water who have seen fit to mend the fence that used to be so easy to hop over by way of a short cut. In the end the long walk all the way around to the nearest access point meant that it hadn't been any quicker than walking from the original car park. Oh well! What's more the Phalarope seemed just as far away from this side - the old "Farmoor Paradox", I was told. It seemed to be heading back towards the causeway so after a short while I drove back to where I'd started from and viewed from there. Whilst it was easy enough to pick out in the flat calm conditions it was still a distant blob. In the end I left to do my DIY shopping and then headed back home, just thankful that my VLW hadn't come along to see it after all - she wouldn't have been impressed.

Pushing digiscoping to its limits for not much reward
On Monday morning when it was reported as still there and this time much closer I decided to have another try. I met Tezzer, Dai and Ewan close to the car park who'd all seen it right in the corner by the start of the causeway though of course they reported that it had now moved back into the middle. I wandered over to the causeway and soon picked it out, a small white blob, moving about rapidly in the centre of the reservoir. It looked a little closer to the far bank so I decided to walk over to the north shore, partly to loosen up my back which, although much better than it had been, was still taking a long time to heal and required lots of walking to alleviate the tightness. I met up with Barry Bachelor and we walked around together to find a few birders on the far side and miracle of miracles, the Phalarope now installed right on the shore line by our feet. This was more like it! I got out the superzoom and snapped away.

They're such lovely little things, I never tire of watching them. It's amazing to think of such small fragile little birds spending their time being tossed about on the ocean's waves but that's what they normally do, wintering at sea on warm tropical oceans. Whilst it's not particularly warm here in Oxfordshire compared to the Tropics, at least it was having no trouble finding food and seemed to be feeding constantly. No doubt it will soon move on but it was very nice to have one stop by in our humble land-locked county for a while.

Eventually I moved on around the rest of the reservoir in order to complete my walk, seeing a Dunlin, four Redshank, a Kingfisher, two Grey Wagtails and a couple of Mipits en route. A very nice morning's interlude and a great opportunity to re-acquaint myself with a beautiful little bird.

Farmoor Dunlin

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Martin Mania at Chesterfield

Birders with their finger on the national bird news pulse will no doubt be aware of the Crag Martin currently in residence at Chesterfield in north Derbyshire. Found last week flying around the wonderful crooked spire of St. Mary's Church by a local birder checking out the Peregrines there, it led many birders on a merry dance of unpredictability last week. It was first found on the Monday, was seen regularly on and off on Tuesday around the spire before disappearing on Wednesday. In fact I'd been on stand-by on Wednesday morning to go for it on news but never got the green light. Things got a big vague over Thursday with some possible sightings which were then proven to be an aircraft (??) but it was back on Friday for much of the morning. In general it had a pattern of turning up mid morning at the spire and hanging around until early afternoon when it would suddenly disappear again. No one knew where it went to until Saturday afternoon when someone spotted it flying around the football stadium during a game. It turned out to be roosting in the shelter of the stadium roof (sensible bird!) and on Sunday morning birders there were able to watch it from first light for a couple of hours before it headed off to the spire where it stayed for it's usual late morning/early afternoon stint before it returned to the stadium again to roost.

An amazing shot of the bird taken over the weekend by Alan Lewis (c)
With the puzzle of it's routine now seemingly solved, a Monday sortie for it seemed like a good idea to me. I pondered what the best approach was: I could just set off at around 8 a.m. to catch the main showing at the spire though this would miss out on the most reliable chance of seeing the bird leaving the roost. Alternatively I could set off in the dark in order to be there for first light at the stadium though in general I hate doing this as I never sleep well if I have to get up at stupid o'clock and the tiredness ends up detracting from the whole experience. In the end I opted to go up on Sunday night and to find a local B&B to stay in - lazy I know as it's only a two hour journey (mere bagatelle to a hard-core twitcher) but it was nice to break up the journey and I should be able to enjoy the whole experience a lot more this way. I set off at around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday evening and enjoyed the wonderful emptiness of the roads at this time of night as I sped northwards. The journey was uneventful and a couple of hours later I found myself on the bypass around Chesterfield, admiring the views of the flood-lit spire as I went past. I'd booked myself into a little pub in a residential area just a few minutes from the football stadium though sadly the place turned out to be rather run-down. The Sunday night pub quiz was going on with a loud P.A. system blasting away directly underneath my room until about 11:30 p.m. so I wasn't able to get to sleep until then. The lack of double glazing on the windows meant that the noise of the rush hour traffic which seemed to start at around 5:30 a.m. woke me and I didn't go back to sleep after that. Still, at least I could rest in my bed and in due course I showered, dressed and was out the door and heading over the to stadium some time after 7 a.m. 

I parked up in the large Tescos car park and strolled the few yards to the stadium where a few birders were already gathered. One could view into the ground in the gaps between the stands and I busied myself with looking under the rafters with another birder to see if there was any sign of it. No luck at the south east corner so I wandered over to the south west corner where a "Hello Adam" got my attention. It turned out to be Ewan Urquhart (see his great Black Audi Birding blog), who'd driven up from Oxfordshire that morning (he's more hardcore than me of course!) and we chatted away as we scanned the birds that were starting to fly around now as it got light. A few flocks of Redwings went over, there were quite a few Starlings perched up on floodlights and a Sparrowhawk went by. I was in a fairly optimistic mood about the whole situation after yesterday's showing and felt confident that any moment now the Martin would appear. It would be a UK tick for me though it turned out that Ewan had found what had been just the second for Britain down at Beachy Head many moons ago. 

Time passed and then just before 8 a.m. one of us spotted a lone birder standing at the north east corner of the stadium who was gesticulating and pointing strongly over to the west. We following his direction and there was the Crag Martin! It was hawking away near some Poplar trees on the other side of the road: unmistakably a Hirundine though much chunkier than any House Martin could be - I'd seen one before in France so knew what they looked like. We watched it for all of thirty seconds, trying to give directions to some birders next to us who'd not got on it yet. Suddenly it flew behind the Poplar trees and was gone. We fully expected it to return and so wandered over towards the west side to see if we could pick it up but there was no sign of it. I sent out a Tweet to RBA about the news so far as I knew that people would be wanting to know what was going on. We hung around for about twenty minutes just to see if it would return then Ewan suggested heading over to the spire where it had probably gone. From my journey yesterday and my pre-trip research I knew exactly where to go and so Ewan followed me into the maelstrom of the Chesterfield rush hour traffic and some fifteen minutes later we pulled up at what was by now (from the large numbers of photos that I'd seen on the net) the very familiar sight of the crooked spire.

The famous crooked spire of St. Mary's Chesterfield
There were a few birders there who reported that there was no sign of it so far so we settled down to wait, either for it to show up here or for news of its return at the stadium. Ewan went off to score some hot drinks and doughnuts and we admired the spire which was indeed very impressive. This location was much more picturesque than the stadium and would afford lovely close views of the Martin should it put in an appearance. Ewan spotted a skein of Pink-footed Geese going over in the distance and a Kestrel came and settled on a vent hole near the top of the spire.

Kestrel cubby hole
Several birders whom Ewan had met on some of his recent long-distance twitches (the Wilson's Warbler twitch and his Chestnut Bunting dip) were there, including a Scottish birder from Glasgow who'd dipped the Martin on Wednesday and who'd been unable to make first light this morning as he'd been tied up the previous evening. What's more he had to get back soon for a night shift that evening so he didn't have long and he was fretting about the absence of the bird. Ewan and I chatted away amiably, Ewan telling some great birding tales which had us both in stitches and in the sunshine the time passed pleasantly enough. 

Twitchers waiting in the car park
Ewan was thinking of heading on to catch up with a Pomarine Skua that was feeding on a gull carcass up near Morcambe Bay after this and I was originally intending to head home for lunch so, with a sighting already in the bag, we weren't going to give it too long. As we waited I messed about on Twitter posting news (or lack thereof) and a photo of the spire, reporting my Re-tweets and Likes to Ewan. He gave me a lot of good-natured stick about this accusing me of being a total Twitter Tart and promising a scathing write-up on his blog (I await with trepidation!). Ewan's Glasgow pal had to leave, totally gutted to have dipped yet again. Eventually at midday, some four hours after our brief sighting,  Ewan decided to head off for his Skua and I decided to head home. 

There was this wonderful wooden bee sculpture in the churchyard
About an hour into my journey the bird came on RBA as showing again and I did briefly contemplate turning around though I was already half way home and frankly by now I just wanted to get back so instead I continued homewards, arriving back at Casa Gnome at 2 p.m. where I had some welcome lunch, a cup of tea and then a nap to catch up on my disrupted sleep. It was just as well that I didn't turn around as I later discovered that it had shown for all of ten minutes by the spire and then that was it until last light when it put in a two minute showing at the stadium before roosting under the east stand. So it had been very uncooperative today with just a few minutes worth of views all day.

Reflecting on my day, it would of course have been fantastic to have seen the bird up close by the spire but at least I'd seen it which by all accounts was no mean feat. Chatting to other birders there, quite a few had already dipped this bird and apparently a couple of Oxon birders had dipped last week as well so I considered myself lucky to have seen it at all. My thoughts went out to the poor Glasgow birder who would have been on his way home again when he would have got the news of the bird showing at the spire. Birding can be a cruel game though fortunately the birding gods had seen fit to bestow at least a modest blessing on me today. Should the bird become more reliable then I won't rule out a second helping though for now I was content to rest easy and bask in the warm glow of my shiny new UK tick.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Otmoor Shrike

When I came back from my Cornwall trip naturally I caught up with the Oxon sightings on the Oxon Birding Blog. It turned out that the only bird that I'd missed had been a Brent Goose which had dallied at Farmoor reservoir for part of one morning. That really brought home to be the difference between Cornwall and Oxon - it's just so depressing birding in an inland county. I wouldn't mind so much if my Port Meadow patch was back on form but whilst the floods are gradually starting to re-form it's still depressingly birdless there. Still, we were due back down in Cornwall for the half term holiday so I was expecting soon to be back amongst some birds. However, the weather forecast wasn't exactly looking great and my VLW and I discussed the possibility of delaying our visit by a few days, though we still intended to go down there.

Fate however had other ideas and last weekend I manage to put my back out - too much sitting in front of the computer screen the previous week sadly. I was reduced to hobbling around the house like an old man, not able to do any work and just getting bored. I found that the only thing that alleviated my symptoms was walking so I'd hobble around the Patch at least twice a day and each time by the end of it I'd find that it had loosened up a bit, only to tighten up again when I sat down. So when news came out early afternoon last Tuesday of a Great Grey Shrike that Tezzer had managed to find down at Otmoor I decided that by way of a break from the monotony of walking around Port Meadow I'd go down to Otmoor instead. I'd get a reasonable walk in along the bridleway to July's Meadow where the Shrike was and with any luck I'd get to see a nice bird too. So this is what I did. 

It was rather gloomy when I arrived at July's Meadow mid afternoon. I'd made the mistake of bringing my tripod and scope with me which wasn't helping my back at all so it had been a rather slow progress hobbling walk along the bridleway and down to July's Meadow. There I met up with Tezzer and another birder who reported that the Shrike was favouring an Ash tree along the left-hand side of the Meadow though it hadn't been seen for about half an hour and that they were going to look for it. I'd had enough of walking so leant against a wooden post scouring the Meadow whilst they conducted their search. Time passed, they returned, Badger arrived, we all chatted but there was no sign of the Shrike. Eventually we gave up and wandered back along the footpath to the car park and I made my way home.

The next morning of course the bird was reported again in the same place and with nothing else to do and still unable to sit down and work I decided to have another go for it. This time I left my scope behind and armed just with my bins and super-zoom camera I hobbled off once more to the Meadow. There I soon spotted Pete Roby, clearly watching the Shrike which was in the top of it's Ash Tree so I went over to join him. Tezzer came to join us and we passed a very enjoyable hour or so watching the Shrike, looking at the Yellowhammers and Redpolls in the nearby plantation and generally chatting. It was a shame that I didn't have my scope and digiscoping gear with me as I wasn't able to take any decent photos but it was nice to see the bird which was nicely lit up in the morning sunshine and my back was certainly grateful for not having to lug my heavy gear around.

This was the best that my super-zoom camera could do

Having had my fill of the bird and with my back now nicely loosened up again I made my way back to the car and back home again. It's always nice to go and see Shrikes as they really are the twitcher's friend: sitting up on high vantage points for long periods and generally remaining faithful to one area. It certainly made for a nice local mid-week outing.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Cornwall October 2015

Once again a compilation of posts from my Pendeen Birding blog.

Sunday 11th October, St. Levan
It's that time of year again for me to come down for my now-annual October birding trip. After the relatively quiet start to October down here last year I decided that rather than blindly come down, instead I would play it a bit by ear, effectively being on stand-by ready to depart. I'd block-booked the whole month for the cottage so there were no issues there and I watched from the distance in Oxford to see how things progressed. To start with it seemed very slow: late September was very quiet and the first few days of October weren't much better. Suddenly, however, the winds swung round to easterly and birds started to appear in the South West. It was mostly the usual fare: lots of Yellow-browed, one or two Red-breasted Flys and a Barred Warbler so I held fire but then on Saturday an Alpine Swift was found in the morning at Land's End. What's more it seemed to hang around for the whole day, being seen at Carn Gloose in the afternoon before returning presumably to roost at Land's End again. When it was reported as still present at Land's End first thing the next morning this was enough to galvanise me into action and so it was that at around 10:30 a.m. I fired up the Quattro and set off on the familiar route down to the South West.

As I sped south westwards unfortunately there were no further Swift reports so when I got to Exeter I decided to take a small detour to pay my respects to the Cackling Canada Goose down at Exemouth which had been reported regularly over the last few days. I was no more than five minutes off the motorway when the news came of the Alpine Swift still present in the Porthgwarra area. "Never mind the Goose" I thought! I turned around, re-joined the motorway and  resumed my journey southwards.

Reports continued to come in as I progressed wth the last one being at St .Levan at 2:50 p.m.. I finally arrived there at 3:30 p.m. to find that I had the car park to myself and that there were no birders nor any Swifts to be seen. Dejected I scanned the skies in vain. Another birder arrived, also looking for the Swift though he soon left to try Roskestal instead where it had been reported several times that morning. Another couple of birders arrived and headed over towards the coast path. I was just scanning around when I noticed a gathering of four birders on the other side of the valley intently viewing something out of sight over the brow of the hill. Surely they must be on it? One of them turned and waved and I realised that it was my good birding chums Ian Kendall & Jacquie. I was just fretting as to the quickest way to cross the valley and get over to them when the Swift itself flew above the hilltop just long enough for me to see it, before it dipped back down out of sight again. Get in! Whilst I'd now at least seen it I still wanted to get over to where they were for some better views. I started to run along the footpath that leads down in front of the houses to the coast path. I was just about to join the coastal path when I looked over to the birders who were now looking towards me. I scanned to see what they were doing and realised that the Swift was now flying over to my side of the valley. I moved back to where I'd been standing originally and the bird flew right over my head. For the next hour I enjoyed some cripplingly good views as the Alpine Swift flew back and forth around the houses and up and down the valley, often flying right over my head. Despite my crappy bridge camera I tried to take some shots, adopting the "if I take enough shots some of them might come out" attitude and sure enough I came away with some record shots.

Alpine Swift

Gradually more and more people arrived to enjoy the show. DC and RM were there and my good friends P&H turned up so we had a good natter whilst we watched the Swift do its thing.

Eventually it started to get rather dark and my thoughts turned to heading back to the cottage and finding something to eat. As the Swift had taken priority I'd not stopped off to do any shopping and as it was Sunday the supermarkets would now be closed. Oh well, beans on toast it was then! P&H took pity on me at this point and kindly invited me over to enjoy a wonderful roast pork dinner at their place. Most delicious! We ate and talked birds until eventually the tiredness started to take it's toll and I headed back to the cottage, picking out in the headlights a Barn Owl by Land's End airfield and a Badger just past St. Just. Back at the cottage I set the moth trap up, unpacked the car and sorted out the cottage. Tired, shortly after 11 pm I tumbled into bed to dream of Alpine Swifts. It had been a great first day back!

Moth du Jour: it was rather clear so not many moths had appeared by the time I went to bed but this Black Rustic settled on the wall by the trap

By way of homage to the great Scilly Spider blog I thought I'd share a bit of music from one of my favourite artists Gemma Hayes. Her first album "Night on my Side" is one of my favourite albums and I was listening to it as I whiled away the hours driving down to Cornwall today. Not only is she a very original song writer and great singer but she's also very easy on the eyes as well. What more could you want?


Monday 12th October: Pendeen & Cot
Flushed with success from my Alpine Swift twitch, I'd like to say that I slept long and deeply. Sadly however, I suffered once again from my usual issue of excessive eagerness that often aflicts me when I'm down here and I woke up at around 5 a.m. I dozed fitfully until about 6:45 when I got up and had a cup of tea whilst I checked the bird news from yesterday on the CBWPS web-site. There's was nothing new on there to concern me so I had a shower and sent a text out to Ian Kendall (who always does Pendeen first thing when he's down here) suggesting that he text me when he arrives. I was just taking a first bite out of a slice of toast when his text arrived and I hurried out the door to meet him coming up from the lighthouse car park. We checked all the fields around the coastguard cottages but in a stiff north easterly wind, apart from a flock of ten or so Mipits. 3 Pied Wagtails and a few Linnets and Goldfinches there wasn't much about. 

Next we decided to head along the coast path a little way to see what we could find. With the prevailing wind direction this section of the path was nice and sheltered and as the sun started to light up the scrub the birds started to show. It was just the usual stuff: a few Tits, Dunnocks, Wrens, one Stonechat and a Blackbird. A Peregrine and a Buzzard flew low past us and a single Raven cronked distantly. As the path started to descend past the pool we noticed something flicking around in the Sallows on the right-hand side. I say Sallows but it was actually a single Sallow bush. "Is that a Yellow-browed?" mused Ian. Then it showed itself more clearly and we were able to clock the strong crown stripe and long two-toned supercilium. "Blimey, that's a Pallas's" we said (or words to that affect). The bird showed well at about 5 yards range for a minute or two before it headed back up the path behind us along the tops of the Gorse. Elated, we got the news out and then tried to keep track of it though sadly we soon lost it.

Whilst walking along the coast path I came across this Rusty Dot Pearl immigrant moth

P&H arrived shortly after that on the back of my texting and I showed them where we'd last seen it before heading back to the road to join Ian with the intention of checking out the rest of the patch. We were just standing by the coastguard cottages when we heard the distinctive call of the Pallas's - like a truncated Yellow-browed. It seemed to be coming from the gardens behind us. I ran back down the path to get P&H whilst Ian and another birder who'd joined us at this point tried to locate the bird. By this time more birders were starting to arrive and we all staked out the cottage gardens though it was really blowy back up here out of the shelter of the wind and I didn't rate anyone's chances. Ian went to get Jacquie and I decided that I needed to nip over to PZ to get some petrol and some food so I left the birders to it. Whilst I was there news came over of a Yellow-browed at the Calartha Farm copse so I guessed that people were starting to disperse back up the road and had found this as they went. When I arrived back everyone had gone except Ian and Jackie who'd had no further luck. Sadly, it looked like just Ian and myself were going to see this bird though it might re-locate to Calartha which would be much better habitat for it.

Noon Fly on the cottage wall

After all that excitement it was time to think about what to do today. Ian had been saying that if a place like Pendeen could get a Pallas's then what might PG or Land's End be getting? Sadly however reality didn't bear out this theory and the pager was rather quiet. Indeed there was nothing new of note at all apart from a Wryneck at PG. In the absence of anything else the Common Rosefinch at Cot Valley came to mind, not least because it would be a Cornish tick for me. So I set off the short distance up the road to Cot - not a valley that I bird very much normally: there's so much cover that I find it a little overwhelming. I parked up near the Pumping Station and headed over to the other side of the valley to the white cottage which the Rosefinch had been frequenting. Apparently it had been coming to some hidden feeders in the garden there though was most easily viewed when it popped up into an Ivy-covered Hawthorn tree at the side of the garden. In the company of one other birder I watched and waited though we didn't see much at all apart from a few Chaffinches with which the Rosefinch was supposed to be associating. After a while we got bored and both headed back to join a small group of birders who were grilling the copse on the corner by the Pumping Station. Here it was completely out of the wind and consequently alive with birds. There were at least three Yellow-broweds and a couple of Firecrests as well as Coal Tits, Chiffies and Goldcrests. I passed an enjoyable three quarters of an hour watching all the birds coming and going before deciding that lunch beckoned. One of the other birders there recommended a pasty from MacFaddens butchers back in St. Just so I decided to give one a try. I took my pasty back home to Pendeen with me and I must say that it was one of the best pasties that I've ever had.

Back at the cottage, having finished my pasty I emptied the moth trap though the catch was small and there was nothing out of the ordinary in it. I was just enjoying a cup of tea and doing a spot of blogging when "Ring Ouzel at Cot Valley below Furzeburrow" came through on RBA. Now regular readers will know that Rouzel is one of my (many) Cornish bogey birds so I quickly gave Ian Kendall a ring to check where this was as he was staying in Cot. It turned out that he'd found the bird though it had flushed down the hillside so might well not be there. Still with nothing better to do I decided to give it a go before having another crack at the Rosefinch. I reasoned that later in the day the birds would be coming back to the feeders to fuel up before nightfall so I'd have a better chance at it. With my plan formulated I headed back down to Cot where I first passed a pleastant enough three quarters of an hour looking down the hillside from the top of the north side of the valley before heading back down to the valley floor and checking the slopes around there. All to no avail as expected though I did come across a Painted Lady and a Golden Ringed Dragonfly and had some point-blank views of a couple of Goldcrests as well as noting two Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk and two Chough.

This young Kestrel allowed close approach

A Cot Painted Lady

Next it was time to head back to the Rosefinch location where I teamed up with another birder there. He showed me how by standing further back you could just get a sight line directly to the feeders themselves so we passed three quarters of an hour watching intently as birds came and went constantly. Sadly it was just the usual common species and given that one didn't need to wait for the birds to pop up into the tree before seeing them I was pretty confident that the Rosefinch wasn't there. Oh well, the clear night last night had clearly done the damage. I headed back to the car and with time now marching on I headed back to the cottage for a much-needed cup of tea and to do a few minor chores. With nothing further coming through on RBA I spent the rest of the afternoon pootling at the cottage until it got dark and it was time to stand down from twitching readiness.

Moth du Jour: Delicate, an immigrant moth
Despite the lack of success with the Rosefinch I couldn't really complain about today. After all it's not every day that you get to find a Pallas's Warbler!

Tuesday 13th October: Pendeen & Land's End
Despite a long and tiring day yesterday for some reason I still woke up far too early this morning. Frustratingly I find that sometimes this pattern is only really broken when I get so tired from the lack of sleep that I go back to sleep after my ridiculously early awakening. Anyway, this morning I eventually got up at around 6:30 a.m. to make a cup of tea and to take a look at the CBWPS web-site to see if there was any additional news. Sadly there wasn't and it rather confirmed my impression of things going somewhat off the boil yesterday with a lot of the birds moving on and not much new in (apart from the Pallas's of course!). Still, onwards and upwards: I was dressed and out loitering by the Old Count House by the time Ian Kendall turned up, this time with Jacquie and their dog Flint as well.. It was very blowy first thing with a stiff north easterly wind making birding very difficult down by the lighthouse. We worked our way back up to the cottage with a flock of 9 Chough in the horse paddock field the highlight before turning off down the coastal path where we'd had our triumph yesterday. The Pallas's Sallow (as it shall now ever afterwards be known) held a single Chiffchaff and Ian winkled out a skulking Blackcap that was "chakking" away in the undergrowth. Usually Ian has to go fairly promptly back to Jacquie each morning but as she was out here with him this meant that there was much more time to bird the patch and we worked it long and hard this morning though with little to show for our efforts. A Water Rail seen in flight up towards White Gate Cottage was a nice sighting and probably the highlight of the morning (apart from the Chough perhaps). Also noted were 2 Raven, 1 Sparrowhawk and 2 Kestrel.

over-exposed Chiffy in the Pallas's Sallows

Pendeen Chough

We decided to go up to Calartha Farm Copse today as someone had claimed a possible heard-only of the Pallas's yesterday later on in the day. It's possible of course but with a Yellow-browed also in the copse you'd have to hear it pretty well to be sure I would have thought. Anyway, we gave it a good grilling in difficult windy conditions and once we all thought we heard a Yellow-browed call though it only did so once and given the tricky conditions we decided not to put it out. Apart from that there were just 4 Goldcrests to show for our efforts there. On the way back down whilst scanning over towards Manor Farm, Ian thought that he saw a very distant bird in flight that just might have been a Richard's Pipit. Far too far to even claim as a possible though but it was intriguing.

One of the two Ravens seen today
Back at the cottage we parted company and I went inside to have a well-earned mid morning cup of coffee and a toasted tea cake. After all we'd been out scouring the area for about two and a half hours there. I'd not run the moth trap last night as it had been too windy so there was no trap to check. Instead I decided to head back out to scour the fields up by Manor Farm to see if I could find this possible Richard Pipit of Ian's. I checked all the fields there but all I could turn up was a Wheatear.

By the time I'd got back to the cottage the wind had started to drop quite significantly and with the sun fully out suddenly it had got really nice. "What to do with the rest of the day?" I pondered. RBA had been depressingly quiet all morning, sadly confirming my "off the boil" theory - in fact it seemed really dead. The highlight had been a message that had come through about a Corncrake at Land's End. This turned out to be P&H who had flushed it from the cycle track but despite seeing exactly where it landed couldn't find it again. Still, a fantastic Cornish tick for them - Ian and I were suitably gripped! Apart from that there'd been almost nothing of note. After some consideration, in the end I decided to go and check out the Land's End Rose-coloured Starling as I'd not yet seen it and by all accounts it showed very well. Also, now that the wind had dropped I wanted to try Calartha Farm copse again to see if I could firm up the Yellow-browed. With a plan now in place, I knocked up a quick packed lunch and headed out the door. Up by the copse I met up with Tony Mills and another birder who were already checking it out. I told him what we'd heard and as he was already there I left him to it, instead opting to try the Pendeen stores copse and the Pendeen churchyard. In the now calm conditions the birding was so much easier but even so the best I could manage was a few Goldcrests in each location.

After that it was on to Land's End. I parked up opposite the Treeve Moor entrance and ambled down in sunny and calm weather that was now bordering on hot . The Complex there is a rather unpleasant and frankly tacky place in my opinion but the Rose-colour Starling seems to have made itself very comfortable there. It was outside the bakery with a hoard of his commoner cousins all feasting off dropped pasty crumbs. There was even a dog water bowl to wash it all down afterwards and to have a wash and brush-up. With all it's needs catered for I could well imagine it hanging around for some time to come.

After that I checked out the Sallows below the car park to no avail and then decided to do a bit of the cycle loop. I wandered as far as Trinity Pool munching on my packed lunch as I went with 6 Stonechat, 1 Raven and a flock of 8 Curlew to show for my efforts. I did heard a Bunting call once as it flew over my head but never saw it and the best I can say is that it may well have been a Lapland though on a single hearing I'm not even putting it down as "possible".

Land's End Mipit

I was starting to feel rather tired now. I'd been birding more or less non-stop since first light and by now I was starting to flag. I decided on a quick check of Treeve Moor since I was there and then to go and find some refreshment. The Moor was virtually birdless so it was back to the car and then off to PZ where I had a nice pot of tea and some cake in Sainsbury café, sitting outside in the sun. I checked through RBA as I sat there - North Norfolk seemed to be where it was all happening at present and Cornwall had gone really quiet.

After my refreshment I was in two minds after that whether to visit one more spot or to head back to the cottage. In the end tiredness won out and I headed homewards to relax. At last light a text came through on RBA of two Spoonbills heading north past Sennen Cove so I popped outside on the off chance that they might continue up as far as Pendeen though it was getting rather dark by now and there was no sign of them in the good twenty minutes that I gave them.

So a long and tiring day with little reward for some hard birding out and about but some crippling Rose-coloured Starling views to compensate. Let's hope that some of those Norfolk migrants start trickling down here in the next day or two!

Spotted Medick at Land's End

Wednesday 14th October: Pendeen, Cot & Nanquidno

As usual I awoke far too early but I've decided just to go to bed earlier whilst I'm here so I'm not suffering too much from the lack of sleep. The weather seemed to be a repeat of yesterday: it started out cold, grey with a stiff north easterly wind before suddenly brightening up and becoming really sunny, calm and warm from late morning onwards. As before I rendezvoused with Ian, Jacquie and Flint in the lighthouse car park and we did some hardcore thrashing of the Pendeen Patch once again. There were noticeably more birds about this morning with lots of Chaffinches flying over first thing - Ian's main marker for whether there's going to be much movement on any given day. 

There wasn't much in the fields by the lighthouse and cottages so we went down the coastpath to take a look. Someone had reported the Pallas's again yesterday evening down in the little valley so we searched there thoroughly though today the only bird in the Sallows was a Chaffinch. Ian did manage to winkle out a Datrford Warbler in the bracken on the opposite slope though it was typically elusive and we eventually lost it. We had a total of three Snow Buntings go over north, 1 Snipe, 1 Mistle Thrush and a single heard-only Crossbill in amongst the light but steady movement overhead. Back near the cottages in the one other bit of cover (a clump of Elder in amongst the Gorse) we found a rather dull looking Yellow-browed Warbler though it called correctly and wasn't dull enough to be a Hume's. It soon slipped off so Ian and I wandered up the road to see if we could re-find it though we found almost nothing else up as far as White Gate Cottage. 

Pendeen Goldfinch

Back at the cottages after almost three hours of serious Patch thrashing we parted company and I went to chat to Jean Lawman who was watching the sea nearby. She'd seen a couple of Black Redstarts down on the cliffs beneath the lighthouse earlier though they weren't around now. She also reported seeing a Ring Ouzel fly past yesterday - I was suitably gripped! There was just a single Chough about today and two Peregrines sitting down on the Enys. I went inside to have some long overdue breakfast almost immediately followed by elevenses as it was so late. Our handyman came to fix the drains which were blocked and I spent some time helping him out, turning the water on and off as required. Fortunately he was able to unblock them and get everything working again which was a great relief. I also unpacked the moth trap though there wasn't much in it with a couple of Feathered Brindle the highlights.

Feathered Brindle
As I said earlier, it had now got wonderfully sunny and warm by this time so I needed to work out what to do for the rest of the day. The pager messages for Cornwall had got even more quiet than yesterday with our Yellow-browed about the only thing of note apart from a pair of Ring Ouzels (my Cornish bogey bird as you will no doubt recall) in Cot on the slopes beneath Ian and Jacquie's rented cottage. I decided to head over there to watch the slopes whilst I ate my packed lunch. On the way up the road I bumped into Royston Wilkins and a couple of other birders who were checking out Calartha Farm copse. As there was little wind I decided to join them to see what could be found. It soon became clear that there were lots of birds in there though as always it's a very hard place to bird. I soon spotted an interesting Phyllosc which was very white underneat and seemingly had quite a long super though I couldn't get a good view of the wings. Royston had permission to enter the copse from the owner and I went in with him though as we were looking into the strong sunshine it didn't help much. I spotted a Yellow-browed Warbler though it slipped away before Royston could get onto it and neither of us could see the mystery Phyllosc. In the end we came out again as we decided that it was actually easier outside looking in. Eventually Royston saw the Yellow-browed as well and also enough of the mystery warbler to see that there were no wing bars - a shame as I was hoping it would turn out to be something like an Arctic. There was a lovely lemony-yellowWillow Warbler in there (looking for all the world like a miniature Melodius or Icky), one Chiffy, a Blackcap and loads of Goldcrests. I don't think that I've ever seen so many birds in there before - usually I'm lucky to find anything at all. Incidentally, whilst I was there a calling mixed flock of Crossbills and Siskins flew over though frustratingly I was on the wrong side of the copse and so never saw them.

With the copse well and truly checked out I headed on my way, stopping very briefly at Pendeen churchyard though there was nothing of note at all. At Cot it was lovely and calm and hot and I whiled away three quarters of an hour looking down over the slopes of the valley seeing nothing more than a pair of Blackbirds and munching on my lunch. Then, with nothing on the pager to chase down I decided to have a wander down Nanquidno, not that I expected to see anything but it would just be a nice walk in the sunshine. There was predictably nothing at all though at the top in the fields I did spot a hybrid Crow which clearly had some Hoody blood in there somewhere.

Hybrid Crow

Finally I nipped into PZ to pick up some dinner then it was back to the cottage to unwind. I found a nice trio of Wheatear in the fields next to the cottage so I passed some time photographing them. Then it was back indoors to eat and kick back. Given how quiet it's become down here, it had been a surprisingly good day with two Yellow-broweds, a Dartford, three Snow Bunts and several Crossbills all on the Patch. In fact I must confess that the latter is a county tick for me, one of the many common birds that I've yet to see in the county. Sadly they were heard-only though I'm happy to count them for now, and no doubt I'll eventually actually get to see one fly over. Let's hope for a bit more action in the county tomorrow.

Wheatears in the evening sunshine
Thursday 15th October: Pendeen, Land's End, Treeve Moor & Cot
Today was a very full day's birding. It started in the same way as previous days with me waking up far too early and then rendezvousing with Ian Kendall in the lighthouse carpark. Today Jacquie had decided not to join us as apparently she finds Pendeen rather hard going (as do Ian and I actually!). It felt "rare" today: the wind had dropped and the visibility was good and Chaffinches were going over in reasonable numbers first thing. However as we progressed around the Patch we found that reality wasn't living up to expectation. There were 3 Ravens and 1 Chough today and a large flock of 50+ Goldfinches that were clearly new in. However, the valley and scrub area held virtually nothing at all to speak of and the bird of the morning was a Redwing! We decided to do the full Manor Farm loop today and had just got as far as the track to the farm itself when news broke of a Dusky Warbler at Land's End in the infamous Sallows south of the car park, found by bird-finding wizard Lewis Thompson. This was something that I still needed for Cornwall so I knew that several hours of probably fruitless staring at the really dense and impenetrable Sallows of Land's End were to follow. However, I decided not to rush off but instead completed the rounds with Ian though we didn't turn up anything else at all. Then it was back to the cottage to knock up a packed lunch and some snacks and then head off to Land's End.

This Chough has developed a liking for the horse paddock field at Pendeen

There had been no further reports of the Dusky Warbler since the initial one at 8:40, and when I arrived some two hours later people were starting to leave though there were still about a dozen or so birders (no locals, all visitors) standing around and staring glumly at the Sallows. I duly went and spent about and hour and a half of my life that I'm never get back doing the same before deciding that it wasn't really worth it and after a quick pop into the Complex to see the Rosy Starling once again, I headed back towards Trevescan where I'd parked the car.

You can't ask for better views of a Rose-coloured Starling

Whilst not seeing the Warbler I'd exchanged some texts with P&H about teaming up to go and search for five Woodlarks that had been found in the fields between Cot and Little Hendra yesterday. I had an hour and a half until our agreed meeting time and was just wondering what to do when I spotted Dave Chown and his partner wandering up the path from Treeve Moor. I went to chat to them to see what they'd seen and it turned out that they'd found a couple of Ring Ouzels, one of which had been in the Treeve Moor Gorse field right next to us. After getting some details I decided that this would be an excellent way to pass the time, namely grappling with my arch nemesis and Cornish Bogey Bird once again.

I entered the Gorse Field and started wandering about, fully expecting to see the Rouzel almost immediately and was somewhat disappointed when I got to the top of the field without any luck. I was just wondering what to do when I heard clearly and loudly a single call from a "rare pipit". Now my hearing as I've said previously isn't what it used to be but this was quite clear though I never saw it and it never called again. Very frustrating! Anyway, back to the Ouzel and I made another pass through the field with no luck and then tried the next field which had nice tussocky grass that looked very Pipity. I temporarily diverted from my Ouzel quest to wander the entire length of this field in case I could turn up my Pipit but a single Mipit was all I found. I tried both fields a couple more times but didn't see anything apart from a Robin, a Stonechat and a Blackbird. Time was marching on and I had to get to Cot for my rendezvous with P&H. I was heading dejectedly back towards the path when I heard a loud chacking and a Ring Ouzel flew out of the hedge towards the house, resplendent in it's silvery wings and scaley belly feathers. It landed in a bush next to the house and then a few moments later treated me to another fly-past as it went back to the hedge it had come from. At last my arch nemesis brought down! There was no time to savour it though as I was now running late. I hurried back to the car and headed off to Cot where I arrived just in time to meet up with the other two.

I was greeted by a calling Yellow-browed as I got out of the car, always a pleasure to hear! P&H were in a relaxed mood as we headed up the hill past the hostel and out onto the road towards Little Hendra. The Woodlarks had been described as being in a bulb field though it turned out that all the fields along the road were bulb fields. We wandered about and manage to unearth several Wheatears and Mipits, a Green Woodpecker and I spotted a large Thrush that was almost certainly the Mistle Thrush that had been reported there previously. We got to Little Hendra without any success and were just contemplating whether to have a stomp around there when Phil got a Tweet on his phone about a Blyth's Reed Warbler at Cape Cornwall "in the hostel garden tho elusive". Weird! The only hostel around here was at Cot, did they mean that? Anyway, we hurried back towards Cot, picking up another birder along the way. There was no sign of any birders at the hostel. We piled into P&H's car and sped off to Cape Cornwall but there was no hostel-type place there at all nor any other birders. We all started making phone calls to see if anyone else knew anything about this but no one was any the wiser so we went back to Cot again to have another look around. Still no luck there though there were now a few more people hanging around the hostel wondering what was going on. Eventually someone worked out that it was actually Cape Clear not Cornwall that had been meant as there was indeed a Blyth's Reed Warbler there. How we howled! Actually we smiled wryly and remarked that it had at least passed some time on a slow afternoon.We parted company at this point, with P&H going to head back home via Land's End to see if they could re-find the Dusky Warbler now that it was getting late and I decided to head back to Pendeen.

Viper's Bugloss up by Little Hendra

At Pendeen I decided to stop in at Calartha copse to see what was about. I soon re-found the Yellow-browed Warbler, the Willow Warbler and the Chiffchaff as well as several Goldcrests and a large number of Goldfinches (perhaps the flock from down the valley this morning). I was starting to feel tired and was just wondering about heading back to the cottage when I got a text from P&H saying that the Dusky Warbler had been re-located much further down the path at Land's End. Now I've been in this situation before when you're shattered and just about to hang up the bins for the day when news breaks and you have to pump yourself up again for another sortie. This was such an occasion and I didn't waste any time but got back into the car and sped back off towards Land's End.

Fortunately the car park attendent had gone home for the evening so I parked in the complex car park and hurried back down the path towards the bushes that back on to Swingates. There I found P&H and a few other birders all staring very intently at some bushes a few yards away. The bird had apparently been calling regularly and showing occasionally. Indeed soon after I got there I heard it "chack"' several times and had a brief view of something move in the undergrowth really low down though frustratingly not an actual sighting. I must admit it was most exciting: time was clearly running out as it was starting to get dark and here was the bird no more than a few yards away but skulking away so deeply in the undergrowth that all one got was the occasional glimpse of some vegetation moving. Thankfully there wasn't a breath of wind now so you could see every movement and hear every "chack". P&H had had reasonable views and as things started to quietened down they and a few others birders decided to leave so in the end there were just three of us left. Whilst I'd now heard the bird clearly I hadn't yet seen it and was starting to fret that I might have to come back first thing tomorrow to get a decent view as it had now gone really quiet. Then we heard it further up the path and it appeared to be on the move again. For a moment we were distracted when a Blackcap started to chack animatedly back in the other direction but one of the birders still left could tell the difference and identified it for what it was. In fact even I could tell the difference when I listened carefully: the Dusky Chack was a richer and more complex sound than the simple rather plain call of the Blackcap. Anyway, now that the Dusky was on the move suddenly it started to give some decent views, generally keeping low down but occasionally making a flycatching spurt up into the air. At one stage it came out and actually sat motionless for several seconds so I could really take it all in - it was a cracking looking bird, with really dusky underparts and a certain amount of apricot wash to the under tail covert's though it's plain facial markings clearly marked it out as a Dusky and not a Radde's. Well satisfied with my views but now very tired I made my way back to the car and drove back to Pendeen reflecting on what had turned out to be a most successful day. Despite the lack of action on the Patch I'd been led on a wild Blyth's Reed chase, had seen a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, had had a last gasp dash back to Land's End and an exciting wait before getting some cripplingly close views of a Dusky Warbler.  What's more I had managed to garner two Cornish ticks to add to my (rather modest) county tally. It had been a good day!

I took this Stonechat at Land's End in the morning when there was no sign of the Dusky Warbler
Friday 16th October: Pendeen & Exmouth
It was time to go home today. as our younger daughter was going to a University open day the next day and I had to be back home to look after our son. My early waking got ridiculous this morning (or more like the middle of the night) so in the end I got up and knocked back some alcohol which knocked me out enough to doze fitfully. I got up at around 6:30, had a quick cup of tea and check of the CBWPS site (nothing that I needed to chase after) then it was a quick shower and time to pack up the cottage. Fortunately as it was just me and as we (i.e. the family and myself) would all be coming back in a little over a week's time, there wasn't too much that I needed to do. In fact I'd done most of it by the time I saw Ian Kendall's car arrive down in the lighthouse car park, today with Jacquie and Flint as well. I hurried to meet them and we started to do the rounds. It was clear that there wasn't much movement about today: there was very little going overhead and hardly any birds on the ground either. We spent 10 minutes listening closely to a "tack" that we just couldn't locate which turned out to be the Tamerisk! A Golden Plover flew by calling and a Raven cronked overhead but that was about it. I couldn't stay for the full tour and soon left to complete the packing and to head on out. Just as I was finishing things off I spotted a Short-eared Owl flying in off the sea past the cottage, a nice Patch tick to end my stay.


The reason for my wanting a prompt departure from the cottage was that I wanted to stop off at Exmouth to try and see the Cackling Goose. You may remember that I made an abortive attempt on the way down but renewed news of the Alpine Swift had taken precedence. Ian had stopped off for it on the way down himself without success so it was by no means easy and over the last couple of days reports of it had become intermittent. Part of the issue of the timing was to do with the state of the tides. Once it goes too far out the birds are so distant that they can't be seen at all.

I wanted to get there for eleven but in the end it was midday by the time I arrived. I spotted someone in the car park scoping away and hurried over to him, hoping that he'd be able to show me the Goose but sadly neither he nor anyone else there (there were quite a few birders further up on the point) had seen it at all. I more or less knew then that I was going to dip it but I thought that I'd have a quick scan through anyway. At the very least it was breaking up the long journey home and to be honest it was nice just to see so many birds all on show. I realised that most of my birding this week had been peering through dense vegetation for brief glimpses of things so to see thousands of birds out in the open like this was a nice change! There must have been several thousand Brent Geese out there to look through along with Wigeon, Shelduck, Pintail, Oystercatcher and Curlews. I'd like to say that against the odds I managed to pull it out of the bag but the truth was that I'd arrived a bit late as it was and the birds were getting more and more distant and some were starting to fly off somewhere else. One of the locals said that in a few weeks they would finish feeding on the Eel Grass and instead go and feed on the grass by Dart Farm so it might be easier at that point should it hang around.

The vast hoards of Brent Geese on the Exmouth estuary
After a while I went back to the car to have my packed lunch and then headed off home. The rest of the journey was uneventful though as I was so tired I had to be extra vigilant. I arrived home safely back into the bosom of my family at around 4 p.m. ready for a welcome cup of tea.

Trip Round-up
Looking back on my trip it's been a good one for me. These autumn trips to Cornwall can sometimes be a bit hit and miss if the weather is wrong but there was enough around this week to keep me fully occupied and there weren't those constant south westerlies blowing that can rather kill everything off. Of course it seemed that north Norfolk really got the birds this week but still I'm happy enough.

One of the things that I most enjoyed about this week was working the Pendeen patch with Ian Kendall. It's not an easy place to bird as there's not much obvious cover and it's nice to bird it with someone who shares my obsession with the place. Also birding with someone who's such a good birder as Ian compared to my relatively modest abilities was a real privilege. Chasing down every "chack" or "tack" meant that one was always kept alert and vigilant and his hearing is phenomenal so all in all a real learning experience.

In terms of listing I managed to add five Cornish ticks which was great, especially finally catching up with my Ring Ouzel bogey bird.  This was even better than the four tick haul from my spring trip here this year. The only disappointments were not seeing the Cot Rosefinch and also missing the Cackling Goose on the way home.

Back of the Camera shot of the Land's End Dusky Warbler taken by the finder Lewis Thomson (c) (Twitter: @LT_FoD)

So onto some summary lists

Headline Birds
Alpine Swift (Cornish tick)
Pallas's Warbler (Cornish tick - jointly self-found)
Dusky Warbler (Cornish tick)
Umpteen Yellow-browed Warblers

Supporting Cast
Snow Bunting
Dartford Warbler
Ring Ouzel (Cornish tick)
Crossbills (Cornish tick)
Short-eared Owl
possible Lapland Bunting

As I've hinted, I'm due back in about a week's time for the annual autumn half term break though that will be with my family and will involve some actual work renovating the cottage so I don't know how much birding I'll get done. We shall see.

I'll leave you with an Autumnal Rustic - the mothing was rather lack lustre this time round with poor catches of just the usual suspects