Thursday, 9 September 2010

Some dirty filthy twitching ...

(Ok, so maybe there is some point to going to see birds ... Or is there... ? ).

Tuesday 7th September 2010, West Cornwall

For the second time since I moved down to Cornwall about a year ago, I succombed (succame?) to the pressure and moved out of my Falmouth comfort zone, fired up the motor, and helped the globe warm up a little bit more to try and add a few new species of birds to my meagre UK life list (still sub 220 or thereabouts (ish...ok, its a bit more, but not much) ...

The last time was this spring and only as far as the Lizard on an unsuccessful foray to get the two long staying Woodchat Shrikes (both 'species' - normal and balearic). Needless to say both had cleared out overnight. Anyway ...

With fellow birder and Falmouth resident Will, we were on our way at the pleasant hour of 6am. First stop on the way was near Treverva in order to check out the moth trap. Unfortunately, with a clear sky overnight there was not an awful lot in the trap, although 3 were lifers for Will. More exciting for me was the presence of a young Wheatear on the windbreak fence around the veg patch - a long anticipated patch tick. A good sign for the day ahead? There were 3 or 4 lifers on offer for us in the far western reaches of the region - however, would the birds still be around? - Or would those same clear skies have led to a mass exodus for climes warmer? - nothing we could do about it, and in that slightly over-relaxed frame of mind we made a few random stops to check random field of gulls and the like... Realising this could become silly, we eventually pressed on and reached our first real birding destination, the car-parking valley of Nanquidno sometime after 8:30, with 18 or so species already on the day list. A walk southwards was then in order, and so we arrived at our first main destination; Tregifffiffian farm, where a couple of fairly good birds had been resident for the last 3 days ... would they be making it a fourth? We would have to see, fingers crossed ...

A single birder was set up and busy eating his breakfast as we arrived, but he did also report that he had a good contender for target bird no 1 - the bird had been on the muddy puddle not 20 yards away from our position, it looked good, but the light was bad, and it had then flown off into the middle of the field and was currently dodging cow legs ... (he didn't have a scope, and still couldn't confirm it's identity). However, his suspicions proved correct, it was one, as we and another group of birders were able to confirm. A first winter Citrine Wagtail - a very good bird and a lifer for us both. Smart! It continued to dodge cow legs and bodies, the second from our point of view at least, but after a while, and after most of the other birders had left, it flew back in to the muddy puddle where it performed brilliantly in all its stripey superciliumed beautyness. Five or so Yellow Wagtails further out in the field were nice, and additional to the 16+ we'd spotted in a field of cows on our walk up. Mr local birder without a scope then received a phone call from one of the other local birders who'd just been present to tell us that 2 of target species no 2 were performing well on a nearby roof of a house by the ploughed field they had been frequenting. How useful and friendly was that?! With due haste we left our new friend to its muddy puddle and headed out.

A distant stripey back was visible on one of the randomly dotted buildings roofs almost as soon as we left the farmyard, but it took the walk back to the beginning of the field and a quick disappearing act and return of 2 feathered parcels before I could confidently gain my second lifer of the day. Ortolan Bunting!! On the ridge tiles, eyering and submoustachial and all. Shortly afterwards they flew down into the field margin where they performed well along with the ubiquitous Wheatears, a Stonechat, Willow Warbler and the like. I recall seeing a pair in France maybe 15 years ago or more in my youth, but these (and there were now 3) were pretty good, and they were in Engerland. Part of a flock of 6 which had been present (almost unprecedented in recent times?) and especially nice considering their current declining status within the near continent as a whole (people eat them - not so good).

Moving back for the next course, we decided not to check out a report of a possible Melodious/Icterine (in hindsight we should have given it a go as well at least), and instead headed for Sennen along the coast path for the chance of Black Tern and more migrants. As it was we heard a good contender for Wryneck a short while ahead of us (spot on as compared to the sound recording on my phone, but countable?, and there had been a reasonable influx in the region...), and an exciting little scrubby flush filled with Whitethroats, Whinchats and Sedge Warblers (4,2,2, I think). Another field with 15+ Yellow Wagtails... More than either of us could recall seeing in a day ever before... Moving on, and terns were noticeable by their abscence in the bay, with a single Sarnie, and myself getting 2 Common Tern distantly. A Whimbrel calling, and one later seen, the most exciting bird of Sennen, and then we had the long slog back to Nanquidno and the car, were we ticked off Carbis Bay (wherever that is) resident and Cornish birder Ash for our respective day and life lists. Not very much else about at all, 4 sentinel Whinchats in a cornfield aside, and a possible heard flycatcher sp. (we later learnt a female Pied Fly had been seen at about the same spot earlier).

A quick step onwards by car and we were suddenly at Arden Sawah Farm near Porthgwarra. Lots of fields, of which we could see very little from the gateways, and it didn't seem very likely that the elusive Short-toed Lark reported from 2 of the previous 4 days was going to be seen. And it wasn't. Shame, as it would've been a UK lifer for me, and a second for Will. We decided to give Porthgwarra a go and try and boost our day list with a bit of a seawatch. This was very quiet too - 5 species in our half hour before we gave up included reasonable numbers of Gannet, 1 Fulmar, 3 Kittiwake, and then Will had a fast and dark auk which I couldn't get onto, and which he believed to be a Puffin, and I had a dark morph Balearic Shearwater (which Will couldn't get onto). Both relatively close in, but the light was poor, and it's hard to call the range accurately when you've just started a seawatch I guess. A thrash of the habitat, including 60 foot cover, merely resulted in lots of vegetation attacking us and us getting our feet wet.

So there we were, 51 or so species for the day, and target bird number 4 on The Hayle estuary to aim for. Obligatory stops at Drift and Marazion added a range of new species for the day, the highlights proabably being a distant scoped Common Sandpiper at Drift reservoir, and assorted waders on Marazion beach, with a briefly seen probable Curlew Sandpiper for Will. Reed burning was in progress on the other side of the road, so I don't think we even bothered to scan for Spotted Crake or Yellow Rail. And on to the Hayle for high tide.

Eventually parking up at Ryan's field (not actually in it of course) we joined the other birders present to be presented with no target bird no 4. Good numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, with Greenshank and singles of Knot and Black-tailed Godwit, but no Wilson's Pahalarope unfortunately. One had been found the afternoon before, but presumably it had moved on overnight (along with two Pectoral Sandpipers), so we were out of luck. We gave it a good go, checking out Carnsew Pool, and Copperhouse Creek, but only added Shelduck to the list, with Ryan's Field a positive melee of waders and gulls, Bar-tailed Godwit and Greylag Goose being new for the day. (I'm sure my expectations are going to be unfairly and disappointingly raised for my next visit ...)

And so the day drew to a close, although not quite, as we still had the premier birding hotspots of College and Argal Reservoirs to look forward to ... joke. Actually I did have high hopes of a Black Tern or ten, given the influx west Cornwall had received the previous day, but, sadly, it was not to be. We did add another 7 or so species to the day list, with a Great Crested Grebe on Argal probably the most notable in local terms (and the first Wigeon of the season on College too). My target prediction for the day had been 82, and we could have met that depending on which of the various permutations of heard only/subspecies/seen by all parties etc we included; Green Woodpecker and White Wagtail being two examples to play with.

Actually, achieving a good day list, or even accurately predicting it is a little bit besides the point (irrelevent?) ... we'd seen 2 Lifers apiece, good birds at that (common as muck I'm sure for some, but hey) ... Citrine Wagtail and multiple Ortolan Bunting. An excellent days birding, all 13 or so knackering hours of it. We'll both be a lot more confident when we find our own ones shortly ... ;)

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