If there is one event of the year that I look forward to the most I would have to choose my October weeks birding and ringing with Bob that we have lovingly dubbed as Chough Junior week! We have taken the same 2nd week off in October since 2013 to birdwatch and ring in our home county of Cornwall and it has produced some truly outstanding birds such as Grey Catbird, Blyth’s Pipit, Penduline Tit and Moltoni’s Warbler to name just a few. In true birder style we have also kept a list of all the species that we have seen during this period and as of 2019 that list was on an impressive 214! Not a bad effort for 6 weeks work. So, like a child on Christmas Eve my anticipation and excitement steadily grew as the holiday neared and I wondered what delights would the 2020 week produce?
Saturday 10th October
Sadly, Bob had to work on the first morning, so I opted to play to my strengths and head to Nanjizal for a mornings ringing. The weather was settled and with the local knowledge that this could change any day I thought it prudent to make the most of it.
I was pleased with my choice as it was my first real taste of some decent autumn visible migration in action and by the end of the morning I had totted up a nice bit of variety overhead including 1 Crossbill, 13 Siskin, c.50 Meadow Pipit, Ringed Plover, 1 Merlin and a Peregrine. I was also pleased with the 48 new birds ringed. I had some great variety in the form of 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, 1 Firecrest, 5 Chiffchaff, 14 Blackcap, 1 Garden Warbler and 12 Meadow Pipit. A really enjoyable morning and a most pleasing start to the week. By lunchtime the valley had gone quiet and the birds overhead had also dried up, so it was on to my next mission.
There was one very rare bird that had turned up during Chough Junior week a number of times before that we had just always struggled to connect with and always ended up dipping. A bird of this species had been reported in Kenidjack Valley and appeared to be quite settled so as news broke that it was still behaving as I was departing Nanjizal I knew where I had to head. As I parked up and started making my way down to the spot where it was frequenting a small group of khaki clad individuals could be seen. As I approached it was refreshing to see most seemed to be adhering to strict social distancing and were also wearing masks. I settled near the crowd and bumped into some locals including John Chapple, Steve Rowe and Peter Clements. The latter had the bird pinned down in some deep cover and a few moments later the bird shifted from the spot and flew into some isolated willows lower in the valley. I soon had glimpses of the bird and was delighted to finally add Red-eyed Vireo to our Chough Junior list!
|My first glimpse of the Vireo was somewhat fleeting but exciting nonetheless!|
This species tick so many desirable boxes in my mind, they are stunning to look at, are a long distant vagrant, coming all the way from America and have real rarity factor! I decided to stay with the bird and just enjoy it in all its glory. This move paid off and a little while later I got some terrific views that really made my day and made for some fantastic memories of this yankee visitor!
|After spending some time with the bird it eventually gave itself up and offered much better views!|
Sunday 11th October
After the previous days results and with little change in the weather conditions we opted to head back to Nanjizal Valley for some more ringing and to see what else might occur overhead.
The morning started well as it was obvious that some thrushes were on the move and we had our first Redwings of the week shortly followed by a mobile Ring Ouzel! These highlights were soon eclipsed by a bird tacking hard on one of the ponds near the ringing hut. Obviously, all present were soon binocular clad and scanning the area in hopes it was going to transpire into something notable. However, after a brief wait a Sedge Warbler came into view leaving the majority a little disappointed. Secretly though Bob and I were delighted as it was another new species for our list and the first we had caught up with during this period. As the morning progressed we had some nice birds overhead and in the general area including, Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Golden Plover, 2 Snipe, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Water Rail, 1 Merlin, 80 Skylark, 24 Siskin, 7 Common Crossbill, 2 Grey Wagtail, 150 Woodpigeon. However, the highlight of the morning came at around 11am as Bob and I were watching the birds flying through the valley I picked up on a large finch bounding across in front of us and that was reminiscent of a woodpecker in flight and it didn’t take me long to realise that it was a Hawfinch and I soon made Bob aware of it by bellowing its identity in his ear despite him being stood right next to me! We finished the morning with 43 new birds ringed. Including an incredible 5 Yellow-browed Warbler, 1 Firecrest, 5 Goldcrest, 12 Blackcap and 4 Chiffchaff.
|Yellow-browed Warblers were abundant in the area and it seems set to be another great season for the species in Cornwall.|
The day had run away with us and it was now mid-afternoon, so we opted for a leisurely look at Hayle Estuary. We had some lovely birds including 7 Pink-footed Geese which is still a notable sighting in the county. We were also pleased to see 2 Pintail that seemed to be new arrivals and the Spotted Redshank that had been frequenting the area for a few weeks. An enjoyable end to another fantastic days birding and ringing.
Monday 12th October
The forecasted weather for the day was pretty dire and was due to rain quite heavily throughout! We decided to stick to our local area in North Cornwall and utilise time in the car and see what we could turn up. But there was a short window of drizzle forecast from dawn, so we decided to start near home at Park Head and see if some birds were on the move overhead.
I have to confess I wasn’t expecting much as we made it to our usual standing spot with brollies to the ready. However, the distinctive raspy rattle of a Fieldfare and seeping calls of Redwing in the early morning light, soon had my attention pricked and I started to realise that we might just do alright! It wasn’t long before small pockets of Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches passed overhead in dribs and drabs and then a familiar rather full and dry rattle call of a Lapland Bunting was omitted as two sailed passed, things were looking good!
A short while later a bird passed over that had me a little perplexed. It was accompanied by a couple of Meadow Pipit and didn’t appear much bigger than these; it was dumpy and showed broad wings and short tail and was undulating as it flew towards us. It then omitted an almost bunting like call reminiscent of an Ortolan and I did not know where to start with it! Luckily, I had Bob’s years of experience to draw on and he whipped out his phone and played me a call which was spot on and concluded that it was a Woodlark! I have never heard the species call like this before, but it seems it is quite common for birds on the move to do so. Here's hoping that I have successfully logged it into my memory bank and that I get to recall on this knowledge again in the near future! By 9am the weather had worsened but we had a great list given the conditions that consisted of 5 Lapland Bunting, 1 Woodlark, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, 113 Meadow Pipit, 21 Skylark, 6 Fieldfare, 8 Redwing, 21 Chaffinch, 23 Goldfinch, 1 Siskin, 2 Grey Wagtail, 8 Pied Wagtail, 9 Starling, 1 Stock Dove, 1 Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker over. I was pretty upbeat and the start of our day was much more productive and enjoyable than I ever imagined it would be but now we were relegated to the car for a few hours so decided to take a look at some other interesting spots nearby that we could check from the vehicle. Firstly, we headed to St Eval Airfield and were pleased to see 142 Golden Plover, 14 Snipe, 1 Lapwing and c. 50 Skylark and then on to a little wetland area in Mawgan Porth that can be a superb spot for wildfowl but today it sported just 1 Mediterranean Gull, 90 Black-headed Gull and 4 Teal. Not a bad little tally when you are just 10 minutes away from your own front door!
We then took a drive to our furthest point with the plan of checking a couple of places on the way back once the rain had eased a little. We arrived at the infamous Davidstow Airfield but our expectations were low given the conditions. We managed a list far better than I was expecting in all honesty with 15 Lapwing, 40 Golden Plover, 1 Snipe, 110 Lesser-black Backed Gull, 10 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing, 1 Swallow, 2 Wheatear. The beauty of this little expedition was that we also stayed nice and dry. Oh how I love a bit of car birding on a grey gloomy day!
On our way back home the rain had started to ease so we opted to check Walmsley Sanctuary where we observed 8 Shoveler, 40 Curlew, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Ruff, 1 Lapwing, 8 Shoveler, 3 Swallow, 2 Redwing. It is such a shame the tower hide has to remain closed at this reserve due to Covid-19 restrictions and makes you realise that sometimes you take a facility for granted only realising its true value to you once it has gone! Our final stop of the day was the Camel Estuary, and it was pretty evident that a fair few waders were present. We had around 200 Dunlin and 30 Ringed Plover to trawl through but sadly couldn’t find anything rarer but we also logged 24 Grey Plover, 6 Knot, 2 Ruff, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Whimbrel, 2 Snipe, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit and 47 Wigeon. Not a bad list of birds considering the conditions we were presented with and another great day under our belt!
Tuesday 13th October
We had made some plans to seawatch today as there was a strong wind and once again, we were due to be hit with rain all day. However, that plan went awry as I had woken up late and was in a foul mood! The past few months of hard professional work combined with the getting up early every morning to go ringing and birding had finally caught up with me and the thought of getting pi**ed wet through and cold did not appeal to me one bit! Bob cottoned on to my thought process quite quickly and as he was driving opted to change our plans and venture near the county border which was less taxing on my morale and would allow me to relax a little before the interesting weather pattern hit us in the coming days and we would need to be much more astute in our ventures and effort to optimise on it. However, today we did have a target in mind that we had been unable to catch up with on a previous Chough Junior week as the species normally arrive in the county much later in the year. Would we finally catch up with our target today?
We started on the River Lhyner which we checked thoroughly but had little to show for the effort with the exception of a Barnacle Goose! We did however tally 10 Great Crested Grebe, 51 Shelduck, 45 Wigeon, 125 Teal, 3 Swallow, 1 Mistle Thrush and there are much worse place to spend your mornings when weather conditions are not in your favour! Content with our efforts we then headed to St Johns Lake, Torpoint where we had an incredibly early season count of 642 Wigeon. There was also a good scattering of waders that included 1 Whimbrel, 4 Grey Plover, 56 Dunlin, 79 Turnstone. But our intended target had still not been found! It was time to up the game and head to the real hotspot.
It had been some time since I had ventured to the China Fleet Club at Saltash but always think of it fondly as it has been kind to me in the past and I had often come away from the location with something noteworthy for my efforts. We ambled to our intended location where we would have a good vantage point to overlook the hightide roost and were greeted by a smattering of loafing Curlews and Little Egrets. Our attention was soon pulled from the river and drawn into the sky as Bob clocked a large flock of Hirundines feeding over a distant woodland. A few minutes later they had neared and consisted of no less than 60 Swallow clearly making the most of the food supply before continuing on their journey south! I started scanning the shoreline again and although a little distant and obscured by other waders I clocked our intended target! 2 Avocet were asleep on the far bank and now firmly on our Chough Junior list. We stayed and watched the roost grow as the tide came in and ended with a nice tally consisting of 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 48 Black-tailed Godwit, 84 Curlew, 2 Avocet, 6 Dunlin, 1 Greenshank, 1 Grey Plover, 1 Snipe, 1 Spotted Redshank, 10 Little Egret and c. 60 Swallow. We were pleased with the day and I was in much better spirits which I hoped would bode well for the rest of our week!
Wednesday 14th October
Finally, the wind was swinging and coming from the east and we had a much more interesting weather pattern to contend with! Viz Migging had been kind to us and conditions looked good for some more action so today we opted to visit Porthgwarra.
We arrived just after dawn and stayed at the top of the valley to ensure we could connect with birds moving overhead. It didn’t take long for birds to stir and the first thrushes and pipits started to move. At 8.15am we had the first bird in some time that we had to let get away. A Bunting estimated to be roughly the size of a Reed Bunting passed behind us quite quickly and omitting a distinctive “zit zit zit”. Bob and I had recently brushed up on our Bunting calls mainly due to the incredible fall of birds on the East coast and us strongly suspecting that something unusual from this taxon may well turn up! With the views that we had and the recognition of the call we strongly suspected that this was a potential Rustic Bunting candidate but alas we were far from getting any required detail on the bird and logged it into the “might have been” folder. As if by coincidence a Rustic showed up once again in West Cornwall around Nanjizal less than a week later! Hopefully, the next time it happens we get some more prolonged views and a sound recording.
We settled ourselves back down and continued to concentrate and it didn’t take long for a decent bird that we knew somewhat better to materialise. At 8.50 am we heard the distinctive and characteristic explosive "shreep" call of a Richard’s Pipit and managed to get brief but pleasing views of it as it strongly undulated past accompanied by some Meadow Pipits. By 10 am the passage overhead was starting to dwindle so we dropped into the bottom carpark and started to flog the bushes and fields to see what else may be lurking. Our final tally for the morning was pretty impressive and included 40 Golden Plover, 3 Snipe, 23 Pied Wagtail, 153 Meadow Pipit, 1 Richards Pipit, 1 Swallow, 4 Yellow-browed Warbler, 4 Firecrest, 31 Skylark, 6 Fieldfare, 24 Redwing, 3 Song Thrush, 5 Chough, 1 Jay , 1 Goldfinch, 11 Linnet, 9 Greenfinch, 19 Siskin, 3 Redpoll, 259 Chaffinch, 4 Brambling, 1 Lapland Bunting, 5 Reed Bunting. It was a very autumnal morning full of the signs of migration all around us. Exactly the reason we like to have this particular week off!
|It wasn't only exceptional Viz Migging, the view was pretty special too!|
Before heading to our next port of call, we popped into Nanjizal for an hour as conditions looked good over the coming days to mist net some Meadow Pipits so we erected a triangle in anticipation! After the eventful morning at Porthgwarra and then struggling to get nets set up in the fierce wind I was pretty beat. Bob still had a bit of fuel in the tank and suggested that we stop at Drift Reservoir where he could take a walk and check it out properly and I could continue to scan what was heading over above us. It sounded good to me and I certainly felt like I had the better end of the deal. Fast forward 20 minutes and I was merrily scanning away when Bob called to say that there were 2 adult Whopper Swan in the Northern Arm and would be shortly showing well as they were heading out of the channel and towards the main lake. It was a delight watching them through the scope and was pleased that Bob had a decent reward for his efforts. It felt like the perfect conclusion to another brilliant day in the field.
|These Whopper Swan's were a fitting end to a truly enjoyable day and a nice reward for Bob's efforts.|
Thursday 15th October
|We were all really pleased to get such fabulous views of Stone Curlew in Cornwall!|
|Two of the three Great White Egrets that added some exciting variety to our morning!|
|The two Cattle Egrets at Drift Reservoir were a pleasing find to end our day |
After yesterday’s exciting happenings and similar weather conditions forecast for the day, we opted to head to Nanjizal once again to see what had dropped in! Bob, John and I were onsite ready to go and Reuben planned to carry out some Viz Migging above the valley but was ready to help ring if we were busy and needed him.
It was apparent that more Thrushes were about as calls of Redwing and Fieldfare echoed over the valley in the early morning gloom. There were also a good number of finches on the move; predominantly Chaffinch but the occasional Brambling omitted a piercing “yeck” call from within the flocks. Perhaps the most exciting movement was that of Crossbill and they appeared to be much more abundant compared with yesterdays tally. The nets also produced some interesting birds early on that included a good Siberian Chiffchaff candidate, a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Fieldfare in the first net round.
|The first Siberian Chiffchaff of the autumn was a welcome surprise.|
|The Juvenile Brown Shrike was a long awaited lifer and a superb bird for our list!|
Saturday 17th of October
The wind was still coming from the east but was stronger than the previous days and was being accompanied by drizzly rain and heavier showers throughout the morning. Bob and I had had some luck in the past around the Lizard in similar conditions so decided today would be a good day to give it a go and see what we might kick up.
We arrived on site just after dawn and proceeded to our normal spot near the main National Trust car park which was a location that had been generous in the past and we had some previous success whilst vis migging here. Conditions started pretty dire and the drizzle turned into prolonged periods of heavy rain! Not what we were after, however the updated forecast was suggesting that it would eventually clear so was worth sticking it out. Time soon ticked by and was aided by overdue catch ups with two top notch local birders. Firstly, legendary big year lister Mark Pass who was on his daily rounds and then top county ecologist and superb birder Tony Blunden. It was great seeing them both after Covid-19 restrictions earlier in the year meant that visits to the Lizard were sadly off the cards! After a good natter and the world put to rights it appeared that conditions were improving somewhat and finally bits and pieces started to move overhead. However, our attention soon got drawn to the nearby bushes though as several Crests started to grab our attention. We decided to flog the area and see what we could turn up and were delighted to witness a real fall of Goldcrest accompanied by the odd Firecrest and Chiffchaff. It is a real pleasure witnessing such movements of migrants and whilst it would have been nice to find something rarer in the roving flocks we were content with our start and had a great count consisting of: Black Redstart, 2 Chough, 4 Firecrest, c.50 Goldcrest, 5 Chiffchaff, Fieldfare, Woodlark, 7 Skylark, 4 Blackbird, 4 Song Thrush, 1 Redwing, 49 Chaffinch, 17 Goldfinch, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Siskin, 8 Collard Dove, 27 Wood Pigeon, 2 Grey Wagtail, 25 Pied Wagtail, 99 Meadow Pipit, 42 Swallow.
After our pleasant morning around southerly point we opted to cover some more ground that was a little more sheltered so headed for Church Cove. This historical and quaint little valley is surely one of the most picturesque locations in this part of the world and it has a fantastic track record for turning up several rarities over the years. We spent a lot of time around the church yard and it was awash with Goldcrests and several tit flocks making their way around the mature trees and hedges. Another local resident and top birder David Collins had already given the area a good scouring and soon got us on to a lovely Yellow-browed residing in the area. We leisurely made our way down the valley and checked several likely looking spots along the way gently adding to our count as we went. Again nothing that unusual became apparent but we still had a wonderful time and after a tot up recorded 1 Yellow-browed Warbler, 1 Firecrest, c. 30 Goldcrest and 1 Grey Wagtail.
Once again the day had run away with us but we couldn't resist grabbing a bite to eat from the infamous Anne's Pasties to fulfil our late lunch requirements. As always they were incredibly good and definitely in my top 3 favourite pasty makers. Not a list I take lightly or for granted!
|If you are visiting the Boating Lake keep your eyes open for local resident Blue W:546|
Sunday 18th of October
|We were all delighted to get a Meadow Pipit control which is a rarity in itself!|
|This Short-eared Owl put on a truly incredible display for all present|
After our superb views of the Owl our attention was drawn back to the Cuckoo and it had finally started stirring from its favoured Willow clump. Once out of its slumber it started to dart around the moorland, bounding from perch to perch with intermittent drops to the ground where it would gorge on large hairy caterpillars of which there seemed to be a good supply in the locality! It was a very pristine looking 1st calendar year bird and seemed very bright eyed and healthy. Questions around the origins of this bird started to get raised? Why was there a Common Cuckoo hanging around at such a late date in October? How do you identify 1st year Oriental Cuckoo's? Unfortunately, we couldn't answer these questions and as it transpires the later question is a pretty difficult task in itself. However we did hear through the grapevine that a faeces sample had been collected the day after so we are hopeful that a DNA sample can be taken and assessed which will put the matter to bed once and for all! Watching a Cuckoo go about its business is a pleasure at anytime of the year but to observe this individual so late in the season was a real delight and seemed like a very fitting end to our week.
|The Cuckoo at Lands End was a fitting end to our week and it was real bonus finishing on another Chough Junior tick! |