Adventures in an empty corner

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

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ruffing it!

Looking out of my back bedroom window I can see the Tamar estuary up as far as Skinham Point. This means that I can see the entrance to Kingsmill Lake, and I have often put the 'scope up to have a look at the Avocets and Black-tailed Godwit as they congregate at the mouth of the lake on a rising or falling tide. Over the years I have seen some decent birds from home, including Cattle Egret, Osprey and oddities such as Velvet Scoter. What I seldom do however is actually take the trouble to walk out to the lake to see what is in  there. This is unforgivable given that it is so close and in the past I have found Least Sandpiper, Bonaparte's Gull, Pec Sand and numerous Ospreys in there.

The report of a Ruff there at the begining of December was interesting but hardly earth shattering news so I didn't bother to go and have a look at a bird which had already been found by someone else. Last night however I had an email from Mike, who originally found the bird, enclosing a photo which clearly showed a Lesser Yellowlegs. Mike said that he had only seen the bird on four occasions since the first sighting and each time it had been at a great distance. He had always suspected that it wasn't a Ruff but because of the viewing distance and his unfamiliarity with American tringa species he preferred to exercise caution. Yesterday however it came close enough to get a digiscoped photo which allowed me confirm his ID.

This morning I was down there to catch the falling tide to try and relocate the bird. I always have a great time when I get to the site so it is even more perverse that I go so seldom. Today was no different with decent numbers of Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit. Searching around turned up a couple of Knot and a Spotted Redshank. A nice male Shoveler was a surprise here and a dozen or so Greenshank completed the wader line-up. After an hour or so I was joined by Mike who had brought Ray along with him. Ray saw the last Yellowlegs on the Tamar in 1958 which was on the Devon side. I've never been convinced by the record from Millbrook -to me it was a Juv Redshank, but it was accepted by BBRC so technically this bird would be the second for Caradon.

After a further twenty minutes or so I suddenly saw the bird feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh. It was at least 250m away but was identifiable all the same. Mike got on to it and Ray got it just before it disappeared up a channel. This was to be the pattern of the morning - a couple of minutes on view followed by fifteen minutes of waiting for it to reappear. We used the time when it was out of view to phone around a few locals and put the news out to Birdline SW. Keith arrived in the hide, followed soon after by a reappearance from the Yellowlegs,and this time it flew a short way allowing us to see the white rump. It was still a long way off but at least we were getting views of it in the open

It had been a good morning, and it was particularly nice that before I left Steve arrived and was able to get to see the bird - even if it had only been there for 90 days!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Change is Gonna Come (with apologies to Sam Cooke)

First day out today for quite a while. Work commitments have curtailed my birding since the New Year so the fact that today dawned bright and sunny added to the desire to get down to Hannafore to see what was about.

Spring is most definitely in the air, and the short drive down to Looe was very pleasant with the hedges full of daffodils and primroses. I was out and about before the Sunday drivers too so the journey was nicely uneventful and stress free. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for Hannafore - the dog walkers were already on the beach and the usual wader roost site had become a spaniel playground. This is a frequent occurance and there's nothing we can do about it. It seems to have been going on for ever but it doesn't seem to discourage the birds, they just move out to the rocks to roost.

Dog walkers were not the only distraction. I hadn't been there long when I heard the distinctive "Oop-oop-oop"of a Hoopoe. I was naturally delighted and looked around to try and find it. This would be my second Hoopoe in Looe, the first was about six years ago when myself and Steve went to check out the Heronry which is opposite the municipal car-park. As it was early morning the car-park was empty and I took my time trying to find the best parking spot. I located my chosen space and was just about to drive into it when I had to brake suddenly because a Hoopoe was nonchalantly walking up the white line. That bird was in May, but with the weather we've had over the last few days a February bird was surely not out of the question. I followed the sound of the bird and came upon this:

Some bloke practicing his flute - pity the only noise he could make was a Hoopoe imitation!

With hopes of a goody dashed it was time to check what else was around. The weather notwithstanding it is obvious that the change to Spring is just around the corner.The Meadow Pipits have already departed and the Rock Pipits, which reached up  to 50 in December, are now down to around 15. None of them are yet showing any signs of being definite littoralis but I suspect that will change over the next couple of weeks. Turnstone numbers are also down to about half their winter peak. A new arrival was a Common Sandpiper which dashed along the bay, first one way, and then the other. This is the first one I've seen there this winter and I suspect is a bird on the move rather than an overlooked wintering bird.

At first sight the bushes were surprisingly empty, though the local Dunnocks and Blackbirds must be the most photogenic in Cornwall:

As if not to be outdone by all this showing off for the camera, a Common Chiffchaff put in an appearance and performed beautifully

At times this bird came so close it was almost possible to touch it, and this brought back memories of the tristis type which was present last year which behaved in exactly the same way - I wonder if there is a reason for it?

tristis type from Jan 11

The Black Redstart, present since January put in an appearance but was surprisingly distant and elusive. Other birders here keep telling me of the amazing photo opportunities they have had with this bird but I just can't get the shot I want. Yes it comes close at times but as Hannafore faces south there is always a problem with the light, and if the bird is on the beach you are looking down on it, which does nothing for the composition - still if you're happy with photos like this!

I was soon joined by Gary and we spent an enjoyable hour or so watching the Chiffchaff and Black Redstart, but always keeping an eye out for something else. A Peacock butterfly was a first of the year for both of us, and the Mediterranean Gull group on the rocks reached an impressive 13 birds, but that hoped for Firecrest or Iceland Gull never materialised.

Not content with a Hoopoe imitating flautist, the appearance of the sun also brought out a group of ...well, I don't quite know what they were. I think they were Spanish, but I don't think that Spaniards as a nation routinely walk onto beaches, dance around in a circle, shake their hands about a bit and then go they?

Going home after a bit of a dance!

There was no bird at Hannafore that could possibly top that performance and with a lunchtime bacon butty and an afternoon painting windows beckoning I reckoned it was time to head home. It may still be an empty corner, but it's certainly not dull!