Monday, 2 October 2017

Annual Leave Delights

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take a week off work and try and enjoy any migration that maybe happening throughout Cornwall.

I started in one of my favourite spots, Land's End and was hopeful of something juicy to start my week off! I was with Bob and we have found that the benches to the left of the complex offer shelter from the wind and birds that are coasting often pass overhead early in the morning. It also gives you the opportunity to watch the seabirds until things gear up as the sun rises. It was evident that Meadow Pipit were on the move and that things were moving over the sea, albeit distantly. We had soon racked up a good list of seabirds and by the end of 1.5 hours had listed 6 Sootys, 1 Arctic Tern, 2 Sandwich Tern, 1 Arctic Skua, a single Ringed Plover and 4 Grey Phalorope.  We also had views of 6 Common Dolphin and another Minke Whale. What a year it has been for the Cetaceans! Whilst sat on the bench the consistent stream of Mipits continued throughout the morning and were joined by Pied and Grey Wagtails and a good number of Tree Pipits. Bob's super human hearing also kicked into play and he exclaimed "Sssshh, I have something interesting coming" cutting me short mid conversation! Sure enough a clear call materialised from a far. "That's an Ortolan" Bob called confidently. It had been awhile since I had heard one so double checked that I agreed with him by playing the call on my phone. I downloaded a track and sure enough the same call graced my ears! We spent the rest of the morning ambling around and covered the whole area as throughly as possible and ended up with a decent list consisting of: 452 Meadow Pipits, 11 Tree Pipits, 26 Pied Wagtails, 19 Grey Wagtail, 1 Ortolan Bunting, 3 Siskin, 6 Goldcrest, 1 Blackcap, 5 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 6 Whitethroat, 4 Curlew, a Peregrine, 2 GS Woodpeckers, a Water Rail and a Whinchat.

Whinchat on Passage at Land's End
From Land's End we headed to the nearby Land's End Airport in the vain hope there may be a decent wader hanging about. No such luck! However we had a kettle of Buzzards circling in a thermal that had no less than 22 birds! Certainly one of the biggest flocks of Buzzards that I have ever seen in Cornwall.

A Quick check of Hayle Estuary on our way home was a little uninspiring but by this stage we had our fill and could have checked in a little more thoroughly! Waders present consisted of: 65 Dunlin, 4 Ringed Plover, 1 Sanderling, 11 Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Greenshank.

On Monday I opted to go to Nanjizal Valley for a spot of ringing at the infamous location. I joined Kester Wilson and Nick Ward who were both anticipating a reasonably good catch as it was the first day  for some time that the weather had been calm enough to ring. The first two net rounds brought in the majority of the days birds. Blackcap was by far the common species with a total of 80, but Chiffchaff were also about in strong numbers, totalling 31. We also had a lovely support cast of 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 3 Sedge Warbler and singles of Grasshopper, Garden and Reed Warbler. A delightful Kingfisher also put in an appearance! A single Firecrest and 11 Goldcrest suggested that a more easterly arrival was immanent and surely the first Yellow-browed was due!

Kingfisher at Nanjizal
After the ringing I headed back to Helston where my in-laws live and a visit to the shops was required. I took the opportunity to pop over to the boating lake and take a look at the storm blown Grey Phalarope that had been resident for a couple of days. It must have been one of the most popular and photographed birds in Britain that week! It was showing well at arms length during my brief visit and was a pleasure to spend a bit of time with.

Grey Phalorope on Helston Boating Lake
With the weather looking changeable later in the week I thought it best to make the most of the ringing and opted for a second day at Nanjizal on the Tuesday. Again the majority of the action was early on with Blackcap still being the most numerous species however not quite as many as yesterday with a total of 67. 31 more Chiffchaff and 3 Willow Warbler were processed during the morning along with 2 Reed, 3 Sedge and a single Garden Warbler. However the prediction of some eastern promise came true and we were graced with 28 Goldcrest, 4 Firecrest and the first Yellow-browed for the site this Autumn! Well worth the effort at this magical, well managed location.   

Firecrest at Nanjizal

Yellow-browed Warbler at Nanjizal

The weather took a change for the worse on Wednesday so I decided to stay in North Cornwall and see what waders were kicking about. I started at Davidstow Airfield and was soon looking at a splendid Buff-breasted Sandpiper that had been kicking around for a week. The weather was overcast and calm and with little else to keep me entertained I headed for Maer Lake at Bude. It is a bit of a trek but in my opinion under-watched as it turns up good things regularly! On arrival the two Snow Geese that have been kicking around for 2 or 3 weeks were just dropping back into the Reserve. I know they are a bit plastic but are showing no signs of captive origin and are behaving very wild! (They have been added to my year list). A Cetti's Warbler was also in song. This species has not  always been resident at the site so I was glad to hear it again and am hopeful they have a foot hold here now. Sadly no small waders were present which was surprising as the reserve was looking cracking with lots of soft slushy mud at one end of the lake. A substantial flock of 32 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit and 19 Curlew was all I could see on the wader front. I also noted 62 Teal and a single Wigeon. 

Snow Geese of unknown origin present on Maer Lake

Buff-breasted Sandpiper on Davidstow Airfield
At this stage some heavy, consistent rain had arrived! I cursed the weather men as they only ever seem to get it correct when you don't want them too! I felt that I should go back to Davidstow as the groggy conditions often push birds down on to the airfield. I got back to the location and parked up to have a cup of tea and a bite to eat. At around 1.20 pm I noticed the Buff-breast flying about and heading straight up the runway into the distance. I fired the logical side of my brain up and surmised that anything new that might turn up was likely to join the existing flock of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and the lone Buff-breast. I tootled down the runway in the direction  the Buff-breast headed and soon caught up with the flock. I started counting; "1 Dunlin, 3 Ringed Plover, 1 Buff-breast, 2 Dunlin, 1 Buff-breast"! Hang on a minute that bird relocated quickly! A second scan with the bins and hey presto two Buff-breasts together! I was chuffed and suddenly the sullen conditions didn't matter. I headed home content, having seen a multitude of Buff-breasts in Cornwall but never actually getting it on my self found list. 

Then there were two!
Thursday was a different kettle of fish, whilst still unsettled with the odd shower and windy there was no incentive to go anywhere else, as Davidstow was producing and I enjoyed my previous day. I had also seen reports of a Spotted Sandpiper being present on Crowdy Reservoir a few days before and with the weather that we had been having, could not envisage that it was going to go from there any time soon! I arrived at the airfield and  plugged the run way again which was surprisingly busy with birders catching up with the Buff-breasts that were still present in the mixed Dunlin and Plover flock. After an hour or so I bumped into Royston Wilkins and joined him for a cuppa and chin wag. Whilst putting the birding world to rights I picked up on a call amongst a flock of Meadow Pipits that were flying overhead. It called a couple more times and this time a little closer. It was a Snow Bunting but sounded as if it had passed right through. Still despite no views it was nice to get the species on the year list. Royston and I got talking about the Sandpiper on Crowdy and now that the weather had settled and I felt I had exhausted the airfield I decided to go and take a look. I parked in the dam car park so that I could check the whole Reservoir from top to bottom. About 100 meters up I inadvertently flushed a Common Sandpiper and wondered if somebody had made a mistake. Knowing that Crowdy can harbour multitudes of sandpipers even when the water level is high I watched it and as it flew to the far end of the lake and joined another Sandpiper. Whilst distant, I could see that the profile of the later bird was different. Boy did those legs look yellow and was that tail short or was it a trick of the light? The birding gods were looking down on me as a short while later both birds flew and landed at a much better range to get some detail on the bird. I knew that it was promising as the restricted wing bar was evident on the distant bird and it was really handy to have the Common flying along side it as this feature was easy to compare. Once settled and in the scope I could see that indeed the tail was short, it had a very distinguished eye ring, the bill was two-toned and indeed those legs really were yellow! I have seen Spotted Sandpiper in Cornwall before but never one in winter plumage so it was a great opportunity to study it and get to grips with the plumage differences that I hope will stand me in good stead in the future.    

Sadly my only shot of the Spotted Sandpiper!
On Friday I joined up with Bob and we hatched a plan. A breezy start in the morning but getting a lot windier in the afternoon with a lot of southerly in the direction. We decided to take a look at Walmsley, the Camel Estuary and Davidstow and then head to Bobs new spot, Chapel Point.

We arrived at Walmsley and noticed Pete Maker was heading over to the hide and was about 5 minutes ahead. We got to the tower hide and Pete greeted us with the news "You just missed 2 Great White Egrets". Bugger, I need the species for my year list and it had been a little while since I had the species at Walmsley and it would have been nice to see! Lots of birds were present but no small waders which was a complete surprise! After a discussion about the reasons why it was concluded that the reserve had been looking perfect in the week and had numbers of Dunlin utilising the reserve. Between these few days it was apparent that the sluice gate had been raised adding more water and less slushy mud for the "smallies" to feed! Never mind lets just hope that it doesn't fill up to fast if we get some heavy rain storms. Larger waders present included 71 Curlew, 5 Bar-tailed Godwit, 20 Greenshank, 109 Redshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 15 Snipe, 2 Water rail, 1 Shoveler and 1 Wigeon.

The Camel Estuary was disappointingly quite! We watched as the tide receded and spent a good 1.5 hours hopeful of a flock of waders to scrutinise. All we could muster in this time was 1 Curlew Sandpiper (a year tick so worth the effort), 7 Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plover and a Peregrine.

Davidstow was very samey with 2 Buff-breast present amongst the flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. The wind was picking up and it was time to get to the south coast and nestled into a comfy sea-watching spot!

Bob was excited! He had been a few times as it is near his place of work and it was a great spot for sea watching as the birds swing out of St Austell Bay and can be really close when they pass. Sure enough just moments into the first hour and a pristine juvenile Arctic Skua came into view so close you felt like you could reach out and touch it! This was followed by a Bonxie and then a little further out Manx Shearwaters were trickling through. I must say this is a fantastic location and worth the effort of getting to. The wind was incredibly strong but the cubby hole that Bob had found was dry and very well sheltered. We ended the sea-watch a couple of hours later and had a fine haul consisting of 1 Arctic Skua, 4 Great Skua, 1 Long-tailed Skua, 5 Grey Phaloropes, 1 Sooty and 19 Balearic Shearwaters, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Med Gull and a stonking 1st year Yellow-legged Gull. Not to shabby for an afternoon sea watch!

Saturday arrived and I needed to catch up on a few chores around the house and I quite fancied a later start. Once I had caught up I headed to Hayle Estuary again on a bit of a wader mission! It paid off this time as there had been quite an arrival of Dunlin types. After a trek around all the main viewing areas I finally felt I had seen all that I was likely too. It was difficult at times as the waders were very flighty after a Bald Eagle decided to come in and upset everything else about! Sadly the Eagle was sporting jessies and had obviously come from nearby Paradise bird Park! Still it got the pulse racing when I first set eyes on it through the bins! The variety of waders was much better and a great little fix, certainly got me hoping that something of the American variety might be on the cards in the near future. My final count consisted of 2 Little Stint, 3 Curlew Sandpiper, 3 Knot, around 150 Dunlin, 25 Ringed Plover, 33 Bar-tailed Godwit and 4 beautiful Ruff on Ryans field. I also noted 63 Med Gulls and a White Wagtail.

Bald Eagle, sadly of captive origin!

Distant Little Stint

Splendid Ruff on Ryan's Field

Sunday was a day of rest! But I still managed to fit a couple of hours in at Colliford Lake that evening. I picked Bob up once he finished work and we headed up. It started relatively quite with very little giving itself up at Loveny or Gill house. It wasn't really until we got to the opposite end of the reservoir before we encountered some quality. Firstly a Little Stint had been flushed from the shoreline and sailed over our heads calling as it went. Bob scanned a distant shoreline and picked up a cracking Wood Sandpiper which are not particularly numerous at Colliford, in fact it was my first! We also recorded 9 Wheatear, 1 Kingfisher, a 40 strong flock of Swallow and a 3rd Cycle Yellow-legged Gull flew in to roost with the numerous Lesser Black-backs. Well worth 2 hours out of my day!

Monday, my final day before it was back to the grind! I needed a plan to keep the productive week moving forward and if possible end on a high. I knew what to do, a Red-eyed Vireo had been found by Royston Wilkins at Porthgwarra the previous day and seemed unlikely to move over night if the forecast weather stuck! I arrived shortly after first light and made my way to the trees near the toilet block. It had been seen only twice the day before so it was hard to get too enthusiastic about the prospects of seeing it again. I worked the tall mature trees on the sunny side next to the houses for around an hour with no luck! The sun was creeping ever higher so I thought it about time to work my way back to the car park and have a cuppa and a rethink of the plan. No sooner had a got to the car park and a flurry of activity had just erupted. A single observer had locked on to the Vireo and the small crowd was rushing to the area. I galloped to the far end of the car park and had a brief view as it disappeared into the sallow beneath. I need not worry as a short while later it showed again and I could enjoy the beauty of the American passerine. I hung around the area for the next hour and had brief views on and off but never long enough to attempt a photo sadly. The rest of the valley was surprisingly quite and my final list consisted of 9 Blackcap. 13 Chiffchaff, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Firecrest, 2 Chough, 2 Wheatear and a single Whinchat. A calling Grey Plover also flew over the valley whilst I was in the thick cover looking for the Vireo. Seemed like an odd place to get one!

Cattle Egret and Spoonbill on Hayle Estuary
I had my fill and headed home content with my mornings efforts. I popped into Hayle to see if anything else had joined the waders. I could find very little on the wader front of note but was delighted with close views of a lone Cattle Egret and a little further up river the first juvenile Spoonbill of the autumn put in an appearance. What a lovely way to end the week! I had an amazing time, seen some cracking birds and came to the realisation that my year list was pretty good without really trying to list. My Cornish total for 2017 stands at 229 which I was really pleased with as I had not intended to get a big local list this year. I cant wait to see what October will produce!  

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