Adventures in an empty corner

Birding musings and ramblings around South-east Cornwall - the empty corner of the county.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Of Mice and Men

Best laid plans and all that... Yesterday was fairly warm and bright, with a lovely force 6 SE wind - and what better way to spend a Sunday than to go seawatching at Looe. What I forgot was that this week is half-term and half the population of the midlands had descended on the place to enjoy the break. Dogs and kids were everywhere on the beach and seeing anything at all was a struggle. To make matters worse, even though the wind was blowing there was clearly no passage. Never mind, it was midday so I shouldn't expect much and I had three hours to go until high tide.

The View

Down at more established Cornish seawatching sites such as Pendeen during a decent NW wind you can expect to see a bird every few seconds, but here, I was treated to just 5 Kittiwakes, 12 Gannets and a few Razorbills. Finding your own birds in the empty corner is sometimes very trying!

I had a nice surprise in the form of a smart drake Eider which was patrolling just off the beach. I suspect that this is the bird which turned up as a juvenile three years ago so it's really just re-finding a returning bird, but he was much appreciated all the same.


Wherever he's come from we can safely say he's not one of the birds present earlier in the month.

Great Black Backed Gulls were present in some numbers, with around 200 sitting out the storm over on Looe Island. The lee of the island, usually a great place to find sheltering Duck, Grebes and Divers was disappointingly empty.

High tide arrived and an amazing thing happened. The cloud came over, the crowds disappeared and the crashing waves churned up the accumulated weed and attracted hundreds of gulls. OK so they were just the local gulls but the sight of them feeding was fascinating. They were almost exclusively Black-headed and Herring gulls, but that didn't really matter as I was kept busy just trying to photograph them. The poor light and the speed of the birds necessitated upping the ISO to 800 which introduced an element of grain but that couldn't be helped.

A couple of Mediterranean Gulls added a little spice to the group, even though they are now regular at this site.

Even Turnstone numbers had increased, from a paltry seven on the beach earlier to an impressive 42 at the high tide roost.

Having gone through the group numerous times and satisfying myself that I hadn't overlooked that elusive Sabine's Gull I decided to check just down the coast at Seaton where I knew there was a regular high tide roost. Here I found more of the same - Black-headed and Herring Gulls with a single Med amongst them, but this time there was also a splendid Little Gull dipping in and out amongst the waves, and far too far out to get anykind of photo. C'est la vie!!

Monday, 17 October 2011

A truth universally acknowleged...(with apologies to Jane Austen)

There seems to be a generally held belief that I always find a good bird on or around my birthday. Over the years I've managed to find the odd Yellow-browed, Pallas' and the like. I turned up a Penduline tit once - and a Monarch, but of course the Rame Bluetail in 1999 was the real biggy, not least because back then Bluetails still had a certain cache and this was a county first! I must admit that I've spent quite a few hours up at Rame over the past couple of days in an attempt to replicate that day, and whilst the results were not as exciting as in 1999, they weren't disappointing.

I started off at St John's Ford to see if I could see the Sabine's Gull reported there yesterday afternoon. I didn't - but the place looked great in the early morning light.

Skylarks are plentiful and the Linnets are still around, but the majority of the hirundines have moved on. One or two Siskins and small groups of Redwing have been giving their presence away as they call overhead. The highlight yesterday was undoubtedly the Short-eared Owl which came over the Military Road and was immediately set upon by the local gulls and corvids. There was a second bird apparently but unfortunately I missed it. I did however manage to get a distant record shot:

Up at the Head the Yellowhammers and House Sparrows were in their usual place around the coastguard cottages. It seems incredible that I have to mention this as both species used to be numerous but have declined dramatically over the last few years. Sparrows seem to be making a comeback and numbers are building nicely, but Yellowhammers are a serious cause for concern, not least because East Cornwall is really the centre of the Cornish population.

Cirls were in evidence today with at least two males and two females in amongst the Yellowhammers

These are natural colonisers from the Devon population rather than part of the reintroduction scheme which has been going on further down in mid Cornwall.

The first Black Redstart of the year - a drab female was found around Rame Barton briefly before it was chased off by a Pied Wagtail. Hopefully now that the first bird has turned up a few more should follow.

Bird of the day was undoubtedly the Yellow-browed Warbler I found around Penmillard Farm. I say I found it but unfortunately I didn't actually see it - it just called three times from one of the gardens before presumably moving on with the Long-tailed and Blue Tits. My birthday luck continues!!

Tip of the day - literally! Don't go for a pee in a nettle patch...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

And as if by magic....(with apologies to Mr Ben)

The birds appeared!

That easterly wind completely transformed the peninsula with wave upon wave of pipits, hirundines, larks and finches moving through all morning. Expectation was high for a fly-over goodie but despite searching the fields for a couple of hours nothing out of the ordinary could be found.
This wagtail with white coverts had me going for a while, but I think any hope of lucopsis is just clutching at (very short) straws

It's a heavy crop in a strong wind so please excuse the quality!!

Coming up with any numbers is always difficult with birds moving constantly. I'm pretty sure that around 300 linnets is about right because they were pretty settled in a couple of newly ploughed fields. As for the rest - well 100+ Goldfinch;200+ Meadow Pipit;  400-500 Skylarks and about the same number of Swallows, with a few House Martins for added interest. I missed the 100+ Redwing that Bruce found earlier in the morning but managed to catch up with a couple gorging on berries around the church.

I tried to take a few photos of the movement but with a 120-400mm lens the field of view was very narrow and my futile attempts don't convey just how many birds were moving through:

 Part of a group of Skylarks moving east over the Military Road Penlee looking over Towards Maker.
 More Skylarks moving east.
Linnets taking advantage of a newly ploughed field.

Most of the movement was over by midday though a few hirundines continued to move through until mid afternoon. It certainly kept the local raptors busy and two Kestrels and at least three Sparrowhawks were in view almost constantly. A Merlin was also buzzing the area though sadly it wasn't the kind I was hoping to see!

Surprisingly, given the numbers of birds moving through, there were considerably fewer around the church and down at Forder. The Firecrest from yesterday had disappeared and most of the Goldcrest and Chiffchaff had gone too. It only takes one bird though and with continuing easterlies I hope it won't be long until something rather special turns up!

Friday, 14 October 2011

A Game of Two Halves

In essence - lovely in Saltash, foggy at Rame, sunny at Forder, still foggy at Rame.
 The wind has moved around to the east- only slightly but it's amazing how it gives you that extra 'pep' with the expectation of finding good things. There were  certainly more birds around the church today than I've seen all week, including a fine mixed group of Goldfinch, Chaffinch and, thankfully, Greenfinch - a species we've seen all too little of this year. The star bird however had to be the Firecrest flitting around the holly and sycamores

I didn't get a photo but it does give me the opportunity to show this from earlier in the year.

Down at Forder the sun was out bird activity was high with good numbers of Goldcrest and Tits, including some new Coal Tits. Three male Blackcap were also new so I have high hopes for this site over the next few days.
I've been looking for opportunities to photograph common birds as I think we tend to neglect them at the expense of more glamorous rarities, so it was nice to have the opportunity, albeit brief to grab a couple of shots of this:

Back up at Rame Head and the fog was persisting making finding anything very difficult. The Yellowhammer group was in its usual place but sadly today without any accompanying Cirl Buntings. The Meadow Pipit group has built up to around 50 birds so I'll be keeping a close eye on those over the next few days. The resident Kestrel was also loafing around the Coastguard station, occasionally dropping to the ground for worms. She is getting remarkably used to humans and allowed me to get nice and close for this shot:

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Bio Blitz

Just got back from a two-day marathon recording session at Mt Edgcumbe. The event was organized by the Marine Laboratory in Plymouth and aimed to record as many species as possible between 11:00am on 30th September and 1:00pm on 1st October. The place was crawling with recorders and volunteers documenting everything from plants to fishes, moths to mammals - and of course birds.

Bruce and I did the Friday stint - and it was a bit of a slog. The empty corner lived up to its name and birds were hard to come by, we spent hours looking for a Great Tit - and we didn't find Dunnock or Pied Wagtail all day. Even the resident Gadwall, present for 10 years eluded us!! Other creatures were also thin on the ground but a nice Male Emperor came to check us out.

Saturday was much better, and substituting Bruce for Derek we decided to try our luck in the Deerpark. Vis mig was pretty good and fly-over Siskins reached about 100. We had a Lesser Redpoll, which was nice, but bird of the day came in the form of a fantastic adult male Cirl Bunting which passed over our heads. This was at least 3km from the nearest breeding site so I'm not convinced it was a wanderer from there.

We arrived back at the pool to watch Mark giving a ringing demonstration. We had missed a fly-over Crossbill but it was fantastic to watch him showing Blue Tits, Great Tits and Goldcrests to a captivated audience. One of theGoldcrests sat for a while after release and allowed me to get a nice picture.

During the ringing session I had a phone call from Ray to say that Mike had just seen an Ortolan Bunting at Penlee so after finishing at Mt Edgcumbe I headed up onto the Military road to see what I could find. I met Mike and Tony who hadn't had any luck since the first sighting at 09:15. This didn't bode well but I decided that the only thing to do was to go looking for it so a little field walking was needed. A few Wheatears were welcome and I managed to get off one shot of a bird before it disappeared.

I put up a couple of Yellowhammers and a bunting with a seemingly concolorous brown back and rump which scarpered into the next field before I could get a decent look at it but it seemed a good candidate for the Ortolan. I went to have a look but if you knew the size of the field you'd realise how fruitless the task was. All wasn't in vain however because I disturbed a Short-eared Owl which glided low across the field before ditching in the dump- not the most salubrious place to spend the rest of the day.