Thursday, 17 October 2019

Cornwall Day 2 & 3: 7th and 8th October 2019

7th October

Tawny Owl found its way onto my year list during the night but it dawned wet and dreary and a lazy morning slothing around the house was in order before venturing down into Penzance, ostensibly to visit the poundshop and get something for lunch.  It was foul out there with blowing clinging drizzle and so a return to the sofa and therapy Food Channel was required.

Penzance - looking towards Newlyn

Things improved at about half one so I made a dash for Porthgwarra where the pesky Red-eyed Vireo that was found after I left yesterday, was still prancing around.

A couple of pleasant but very frustrating hours ensued where I wondered up and down the valley not seeing anything vaguely Vireo-esque.  A smart silvery ‘acredula’ type Willow Warbler had me going when it popped out in front of me tail pumping and two Firecrests wre gleaning lazy flies from the ivy (amongst which were several much too big to tackle Mesembrina meridiana and a stripy Helophilus trivittatus!  

A delightfully insipid Great Black Slug

Mesembrina meridiana
Helophilus trivittatus

A single Chough headed up valley and a glance behind saw a White Stork standing forlornly on one leg on a rock overlooking the sea.  It looked rather incongruous and I presume it was one of the Knepp birds. 

White Stork

Suddenly there was a little flurry of activity and we joined others up at the Doctors Garden where the Vireo had shown for three seconds.  I waited and watched, altered angles and elevations but to no avail and had to be happy with a wing flicking Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Chiffchaffs before throwing in the towel for the evening. 

A pop into Tesco in Penzance added another two Firecrests as they moved through the car park with some Long-tailed Tits before I returned to camp for dinner and a beer.

8th October

The plan was to visit Newquay but as with all the best ideas, it not did not quite go accordingly and I ended up heading up the coast from there a little to the little hidden village of St Mawgan with the lure of the Japanese Garden there.

Watermouth Bay

Watermouth Bay

There were only a couple of other people inside and the gardens were still verdant and secluded and provided some interesting photo opps as well as adding Nuthatch to the list.


Giant Pond Skaters

Fly on coins left on the temple shrine and dogs

Eristalis tenax sheltering in the shop on a wind chime

Lunch was taken in Padstow or Crufts-on-Camel as I have renamed it. Everyone has at least one dog. There were packs on leads roaming the streets, dragging owners from pasty shop to Stein emporium. There shop owners here have no choice but to be dog friendly or they would simply have no customers at all stepping over the threshold.

From here I swept around to the A30 and back towards Penzance before diverting down to the Hayle. The tide was most of the way in and most of the birds were closer than yesterday. I counted 22 Med Gulls of various ages and picked up a couple of Common Gulls too. Three Grey Plover and 14 Sandwich Terns were new and there were now 21 Bar-tailed Godwits but I could not find the Osprey.  

2nd winter Med Gull

1st winter Med Gull and two Black-heads and a chunky 1st winter Common Gull

ad Med Gull
A Pink-footed Goose was with the Canada Geese on Ryan's Field but with little else to see I for some baffling reason  headed once again to Porthgwarra and where once again I failed dismally to see the Vireo! 

Pink-footed Goose and friend

My recompense this time was a last minute look out to sea which at long last added Fulmar and Manx Shearwater (the only one of each I saw all week), a pale Arctic Skua chasing a Kittiwake and the most delightful sight of 55 Grey Phalaropes strung out across the turquoise sea in three groups. They were a fair way out but looked superb in the low evening light as they bobbed and twirled and then took off in a snaky line to climb the crest of a wave before landing in succession and starting all over again.  Sometimes it is not about seeing things at point blank range where the minutia of detail can be discerned but the experience of seeing something absolutely in its element.  It actually made me smile and I ambled off to find the Heatherlea group to share them with.

Phalarope watching with Heatherlea - pic by Richard Moorhead 

With the sun still lurking I decided to end the day at deserted Pendeen with the intent of watching Sol dip behind the distant horizon. A Sooty Shearwater and seven Balearics were seen and a windblown Wheatear clung to the rock. 

However, after allowing me to take some arty shots with the lighthouse and some crashing wave action Sol went all shy again and hid behind a distant cloud bank with just five minutes to go! Pesky celestial body!


Sunday, 13 October 2019

'Toot toot!' 14th October 1989

Like many birders of a certain age, the 14th October 1989 sticks in the memory.  The fact is that 30 years have now past since that fateful telephone call to Birdline in Westleton that sent us rushing (at Dad’s speed) to Holkham in the vain hope that we would manage to see Britain’s one and only Red-breasted Nuthatch.

I will let me notebook take up the story:

Paul Hawkins had joined my family and I for a day out birding in Suffolk and Minsmere was our first stop. We made our way around to the Island Mere Hide to look for a Great White Egret (I saw my first one here back in August 1984) but it was not there although there were quite a few Teal, six Pintail, and many Gadwall. The Kingfishers were performing well as usual, hovering motionaless for quite a long time before taking the plunge. Beardies were calling just outside while the highlight was certainly a Bittern which rose from the reeds, legs dangling before flying towards us and over the hide.

We didn’t  bother with the rest of the reserve as we wanted to move on quickly to Lowestoft (Eds: I presume for Purple Sands) but after phoning Birdline of course. Our plans slightly changed after this course of action... ‘Red-breasted Nuthatch – Holkham!!’ I nearly peeed myself in the telephone box after  hearing the news. 

A quick bit of parental persuading sent us heading in that direction. About an hour and a half later we were trotting down Lady Anne’s Drive with the dismal news that it hadn’t been seen for nearly two hours but no sooner had we arrived at its usual spot than it reappeared, albeit badly in a tree top where only the reddy brown underparts were glimpsed along with the dark through the eye.  The usual tense wait followed before it was refound.

Eventually after several better views, he came right out in the open on the top of a pine affording superb views for maybe five minutes. Everyone was ecstatic with clapping, cheering and laughing – such curious behaviour for a twitch.

The Nuthatch itself was a beautiful little bird. Nice sooty black cap, very long prominent supercillium, black eyestripe, grey bill, blue-grey back, darker flight feathers. Very short tail – blue-grey with black then white edges, white throat becoming buffier on the upperbreast then orangey especially on the belly and flanks then rich, bright reddy chestnut on the vent and undertail. The high piping call was not unlike – as the books say – a toy trumpet. It was a small bird, being only a fraction bigger than a Blue Tit. It was associating with a tit and warbler flock which also included a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Red-breasted Nuthatch was predicted yonks ago and I am glad they were right – what a cute little bird!

I have this image in with my photos and can't for the life of me remember if I took it that day or not - it is suitably bad enough to be one of mine but I suspect I am not crediting someone else so please do let me know!

We dawdled back towards the car enjoying  telling all the new arrivals tat he was still showing well. Back at the car we had lunch and watched a flock of 58 beautiful Egyptian Geese, hundreds of Canadas and Greylags and six White-fronts. Cley was to be our next stop and we spent the next few hours Seawatching where in between squalls we saw five Sandwich Terns, adult Little Gull, two Little Auks, 15 Guillemots, Red-throated Diver, three Long-tailed Ducks and many Kittiwakes and Gannets. Not bad I thought! Meanwhile ‘George’ the adult Glaucous Gull patrolled the beach and on one occasion came within two feet of us. What an evil looking bird. This wonderful day was rounded up nicely by seeing a Tawny owl at Fakenham as it passed ten feet over our heads.

Postscript: I returned four times after that fateful first day before last seeing it on the 18th March 1990.  I never missed it once and seemed to be able to pick it up on call as it quietly foraged with its chosen tit flock. Others with me were not so lucky and I am pretty sure one of them never connected at all. Will there be another one? Who knows but after 30 years it would certainly draw a crowd.

Cornwall: Day 1: 6th October 2019

After a relatively easy drive down yesterday it was nice to wake up with a blue sky bathing the view down over Penzance from our ‘houselet’ in the grounds on Kenegie Manor in Gulval.  The weather forecast suggested that this would be the only properly good day this week so we set out for the valleys and the prospect of finding something good.  I have not been down the end of Cornwall for several years and it was good to be back amongst the winding lanes, tall hedges and sudden sea views.

Porthgwarra was my first stop and I spent a pleasant two hours checking the willow, elms and gardens in the valley before looping up to Black Carn and the moor on top. The bushes were quiet with just a couple of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests but the moor held over a hundred Meadow Pipits that I searched through for the Red-throated and four smart Wheatears bounding around the heather hillocks. 


Northern Wheatear

The sea was quiet with a handful of Balearic Shearwaters drifting west close in shore with the Gannets but I could not find a single Fulmar. Buzzards, Kestrels, Ravens and Jackdaws tumbled in the updrafts and a pair of Chough found me on the cliff top and proceeded to aeiriate the sward with vigour while a young male Merlin gave the pipits a work out in a series of switchback manoeuvres.  


The Longships Lighthouse was visible off Land’s End and further out the one on Wolf Rock was taking a pounding but I suspect it is seldom otherwise.


Wolf Rock

Down in the little rocky cover a bull Grey Seal bobbed and napped with only his mobile nostrils suggesting that he was even alive and a Shag fished unconcerned around him.

The Ivy and Sea Aster was alive with Eristalis tenax hoverflies with a few Honey Bees, Buff-tailed Bumbles and Red Admirals in attendance.

Atlantic Grey Seal

Red Admiral

On to my favourite little valley, Nanquidno, that runs down the side of the airfield at St Just. It is the site of my first Cornish twitch (with Charlie Wilkins and Nik Borrow) where on the 17th October 1987, just a day after the terror of the hurricane, I saw my first American Wood-warbler – a Parula, as it fed in front of just ten people in the sycamores that still stand over the babbling stream. 

I look up at them every time I visit and reply that video in my head as I stared in awe at this little multi-hued gem that had just crossed the Atlantic.  

There were almost no small birds at all to be seen but the 11 Choughs feeding in the paddock with the Jackdaws were ample compensation. It would have been unthinkable 32 years ago.  One pair had found a cowpat of epic proportions and very excitedly set to work on it but this attracted the others and a positive flickathon of digested cow dinner was spread around the field.

Poo flicking

A buddleja was attracting Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Peacocks and I was pleased to find Ivy Bees amongst the Hovers on the plants covering rocks and outbuildings.


Ivy Bee

Eristalis tenax

Nanjulian Mill

Just look at those plagioclase feldspars...
Green Woodpecker

I headed for Cot Valley next and managed to park up at the very bottom leaving Andrea with a view and me with a walk up one side and back down the other.  It felt ‘rare’ but was almost devoid of any small bird movement at all with just the usual tits and crests, a couple of Chiffchaffs and a calling Willow Warbler.  I lost myself once again in the video library for the 17th October 1987 and recalled the other American bird seen that day – a Swainson’s Thrush that obligingly (eventually) hopped around on a pristine cut lawn as we watched from a white gate. That too has also barely changed but today the garden held a Firecrest and nothing else.  

Place vagrant thrushes on the grass...

Not one of my finest artistic moments!

Another buddleja held the same species as Nanquidno but with the addition of Small and Large White, Speckled Wood and a very zippy Hummingbird Hawkmoth.  

Butterfly drinking station

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

As I headed back down the south side of the valley I discovered several large furry Fox Moth caterpillars which I was tempted to wave around to see if i could attract any passing vagrant American Cuckoos...

Fox Moth cat
Something a bit X-Files about this...
Looking down Cot to the Brisons

and south to Land's End

Pendeen next for a look at the sea which I can confirm was present before following the loop up through Morvah and Zennor to the Hayle.   

Pendeen views

As usual the tide on the Hayle was well out but I did find 19 Med Gulls and a few Bar-tailed Godwits and just two Little Egrets.  I took a picture of one of these and it triggered another memory of seeing them here in October 1989 prior to my first visit to Scilly.  1989 was year two in the inexorable colonisation on the UK by this species and even by that autumn they were becoming expected on estuaries, certainly in the south –west.  In fact the picture is so bad that I had to dig out the trigger picture from all those years ago...

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

October 2019 Little Egret

October 1989 Little Egret

And so my first day drew to a close with more memories relived than new ones made but at least I was having a break from work... oh hang on a minute wasn’t there a Humpback Whale frolicking in front of the Centre? 

'Oh and by the way Howard, there has been a Red-eyed Vireo in Porthgwarra since lunchtime...' gggrrrrrr