It was time to come down once again to our beloved Cornwall for the annual summer family holiday. This year it was just for one week and looking at the weather forecast before coming down it didn't look that promising with showers and winds most of the week but crucially no really stormy weather that might be good for sea-watching. As is so often the case, the forecast turned out to be wrong and the weather was actually much better than anticipated, at least for the first half of the week. What's more, Friday and Saturday turned out to have a proper storm so there was sea-watching to be had after all.
These days we tend to come down on the Sunday to avoid the Saturday change-over gridlock on the M5 but this time we'd agreed to visit my VLW's sister in Ilfracombe on the way down which meant travelling on the dreaded Saturday after all. It was as stop-start as predicted but eventually we were off the M5 and wending our way along the painfully slow roads to Ilfracombe. After some tea and a catch-up with our host we went for a walk down first along the cliffs by the shore and then to the harbour which was a hive of activity because of the annual Birdman event that was on. This involves people throwing themselves off the pier in order to see who can "fly" the furthest though whilst we watched there was little actual flight and more just falling into the water.
|The first contestant getting ready to launch|
The next day after a leisurely start we said goodbye to our host and headed on down into Cornwall itself. As we couldn't get into our cottage until late afternoon since we had some guests staying there, we decided to stop off en route somewhere "up county" and elected on the Lost Gardens of Heligan which some of our party had not previously visited. I'd last been there for the Green Heron that took up residence there a few years ago but sadly there was no such rarity there presently. Still it's a lovely garden to explore and we all had fun crossing the swinging rope bridge in the Jungle and we enjoyed a nice tea there (always an important part of any visit). I always feel that given the great habitat there it ought to have some good birds but I guess it's just not fundamentally situated in a very good location.
|A Swallow in the potting shed at Heligan|
Monday 5th August, Marazion to Perranuthnoe
As the weather was good we decided to kick off our first full day with one of our favourite walks: from Marazion over to the Perranuthnoe café and back. As usual we parked up in the overflow car park at Marazion and fought our way through the vast crowds into the town centre. There we checked out a few galleries and shops before finally working our way down onto the beach at Little London where at last we were able to enjoy some peace and quiet. There were loads of Sand Martins hawking their way over the beach as we spent some time scouring the sands for sea glass to take back home. Then with the tide right out it was the usual wander along the beach towards Perranuthnoe. There were a few Whimbrel, Curlew and Med Gulls scattered along the beach as well as quite a lot of noisy Oystercatchers and a couple of Little Egrets. Every time I walk along the beach I am reminded of the numerous attempts I made to see the long-staying Hudsonian Whimbrel that graced this area a few years ago.
Tuesday 6th August: Drift Reservoir & Nanjizal
The weather forecast was a bit iffy today in the morning so once the family was finally up and ready to get on we decided that the rest of them would spend the morning wandering around PZ whilst I would do my own thing. Whilst the others were still getting ready I went for a quick wander down to the lighthouse to see what was about. There were quite a few juvenile birds bumbling about on the more sheltered side of the headland with a young Whitethroat, several young Goldfinches, a young Meadow Pipit and a juvenile Wheatear all seen. I met a semi-local birder there - like me he had a place down here and came down regularly though hadn't yet made the move permanent. He said that he far preferred sea-watching at Pendeen to PG (as do I) and he reported a Cory's that morning which wasn't too bad given the SW wind direction. As a matter of interest the two PC's reported a dozen or so Balearics and a couple of Sooties from the car park that morning as well.
|Juvenile Wheatear at Pendeen lighthouse|
Once the rest of the family were finally ready we headed off. I dropped them all off in the centre of town and then headed off to Drift. I had the place entirely to myself as I wandered around over to the hide. I was looking out for Odonata as there were supposed to be Red-veined Darters at this location though it was too overcast and nothing was on the wing. At the hide I soon found the resident Wood Sandpiper and the two juvenile Garganey as well as a Common Sandpiper and several Green Sandpipers. There were a couple of Little Grebes, a few Great Crested Grebes and a smattering of the usual loafing gulls and geese. A Green Sandpiper right in front of the hide made for a decent photographic subject though it was partially obscured by vegetation.
After a while the sun came out and with it the first Dragonfly in the form of a marauding Emperor in front of the hide. I decided to explore beyond the hide a bit but all I could find was a single Black-tailed Skimmer. At that point I got a call from the family that they were ready to be picked up so I started to head back to the car. I walked back along the shoreline and in the now bright sun it was suddenly full of Dragonflies. There were quite a few Emperors and loads of Black-tailed Skimmers but sadly no Darters. Part the bend and on the home straight towards the car park it was more windy and there were far fewer Dragons on the wing. I'd all but given up when I put up a Darter right under my feet. Fortunately it eventually settled and proved to be my sought-after Red-veined Darter at last. I only had time for a quick snap or two before I had to hurry back to the car for my rendezvous.
After I picked up the family we headed over to Trevilley where we parked up and had a quick walk over to Nanjizal beach. The tide was in and we didn't linger before retracing our steps. The only birds of note was a Stonechat family down near the beach. Back at the car we headed the short distance to Trevescan where we wanted to try out the Apple Tree Café. There we enjoyed a well-earned tea and cake before heading back to the cottage for the evening.
Wednesday 7th April: St. Just to Pendeen
Another one of our regular walks is to take the bus to St Just and then to walk back along the coast to Pendeen. As the weather was reasonable today we decided to do this. We were able to start earlier than usual and after making a packed lunch we drove up and parked in Pendeen in time to catch the bus into St. Just.
As usual we spent some time in St Just first of all, visiting the St Just Arts and Crafts Fair and also the Kurt Jackson gallery. Both my VLW and I really like the work of the latter and if it hadn't been for the very hefty price tag we both said that we'd have contemplated buying one. After having done the art and having bought our usual journey ice creams from the Co-op we headed down past Boscean and down to Kenidjack to say hello to the donkeys as usual. Along the stream we managed to see a number of Golden Ringed Dragonflies as well as the numerous Banded Demoiselles.
|Kenidjack Golden-ringed Dragonfly|
In a break from tradition and as it was rather hot we had our packed lunch down in the valley in the shade of a large Sallow. Then it was up the track to the coastal path and back towards Botallack and Geevor. There was remarkably little to see on the bird front on the journey with just the odd Stonechat, Raven and Kestrel to be seen.
|The cryptic Grayling showing how well camouflaged it is|
At Geevor whilst the others headed towards the café I lingered amongst the ruins to see what I could find. One is almost always guaranteed a Wheatear here and sure enough I soon found a juvenile bird in amongst the Linnets.
|Geevor juvenile Wheatear|
This one post is actually covering several days as there's not so much to report. Thursday was spent with my VLW's niece who lives up county a little way. She and her two daughters came down for a visit and we spent the day catching up and chatting.
Thursday 8th to Saturday 10th, Mousehole, Porthgwarra & Pendeen
As I mentioned in the introduction, a storm was forecast for Friday and Saturday so on Friday I negotiated with the rest of the family that they would go to St Ives whilst I went to PG. The wind direction was straight south and I'd been told by DP that perhaps Saturday where it was more SW might be better, especially after it had been blowing for a longer time but I thought that I'd chance my arm on the Friday. I arrived at PG car park at around 8 am on Friday morning to find it completely full. I met up with P&H there and also Oxon birder AL who'd driven down overnight to try his luck. However, I also met a number of birders coming back from the sea-watch already, saying that it was terrible up there with very little going through. Various locals there all had theories about why the sea-watching has been so poor so far this year, including why the fish were further south this year than they normally are and how the birds are following the fish. After having weighed all this up in the end I thought that I'd postpone my session until tomorrow instead so turned around and headed back towards Pendeen. The others had only just got up anyway so we arranged to do some DIY tasks in the cottage first of all and then to head over to Mousehole to visit the Rock Pool Café. Whilst the others then went on to look around the town I stayed at the café and did some sea watching but apart from a few Kitiwakes and a single Ocean Sun Fish there was nothing of note.
So on Saturday morning I tried again. Once again the PG car park was completely full by the time I arrived but once again there were people coming back off already saying it was no good. Still, this time I had no choice as this was the last stormy day so I headed up to the cliff top. There were loads of people up there, so many that a second camp had been established further east of the main one at Hella Point in the lee of some smaller rocks. I headed to Hella Point itself where I endeavoured to find a spot where I could hear the calls but wasn't too exposed. On enquiring it turned out that things had been dreadfully slow but shortly after I arrived the first Sooty of the morning went through. As things dragged on people started leaving and I got a better spot. A couple more Sooties passed through as well as a few Balearics and one Stormy but that was it. As numbers continued to dwindle people started chatting amongst themselves and I too took the opportunity to catch up with GW an Oxon birder who is almost always guaranteed to be at PG in any kind of stormy weather at this time of year. Eventually at around 1:45 pm I threw in the towel and headed back to the car. In a text exchange with the rest of the family it turned out that they'd finished at St Ives so we agreed to rendezvous at Zennor to check out the Arts and Crafts fair there. There we had our obligatory tea and a chance to check around the exhibits before heading back to the cottage.
The truth is that all week Pendeen had actually been performing as well if not better than PG. I'd occasionally done a spot of sea-watching from the downstairs cottage window and had been pleasantly surprised at how effective it was. It seemed that despite the increased range, the fact that your scope wasn't shaking in the wind meant that you could get a clearer view all the same and it was still possible to ID things. So having arrived back and with a quick glance out the window showing that plenty of birds were passing the Pendeen headland I decided to have a go at viewing from the upstairs window instead where I could sit on a comfortable chair and have a more panoramic view. This turned out to work very well and I soon had Arctic Skua and Storm Petrel on my house list. I was occasionally called away to do things by the others but I put in about a couple of hours all told during which I added Bonxie and couple more Stormies to the list as well as seeing a number of Whimbrel and Arctic Terns go past. To be honest I don't know why I'd not thought of doing this before but I shall certainly try this again - it makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.
|Sea-watching from the upstairs window|
Sunday it was time to pack up and go. With more guests arriving later on that day we were packed and out the door by 9:30 am. We stopped off first at Jordans to get some journey snacks. Then I persuaded the rest of the family to make a detour to Illogan where a Ring-necked Parakeet had been reported from the churchyard several mornings recently. The churchyard turned out to be a wonderful wilderness with signs saying that it was a "Living Churchyard" designed to promote wildlife. It was fabulous and full of insects and flowers of all kinds. All the family really enjoyed exploring it and seeing Thomas Merrit's grave (the composer who wrote 'Hark the Herald Angels' Christmas carol). Unfortunately there was neither sight nor sound of any Parakeets - let's hope that this bird takes up residence here and sticks around.
|Anyone with any interest in wildlife must be aware that this year is a Painted Lady year we saw loads of them all week|
We headed on homewards, stopping off for a break at Clevedon in north Somerset. Being only just off the motorway it apparently had a nice Victorian pier that we wanted to take a look at. Clevedon turned out to be a nice little town and the pier was pretty but expensive to go on so in the end we amused ourselves looking for more sea glass on the beach. This turned out to be a particularly productive site and we all founds loads. Then it was back to the car and on homewards to catch up with our cats who we're sure must have been missing us very much.