Adventures in an empty corner

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

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Long time no see

I hadn't realised that it has been so long since I updated this blog, but truth be told I haven't really done that much to warrant committing it to cyberspace. Of course I've been out birding but the quality has been pretty poor and the spring migration has sort of passed me by.

Recently I've been spending my free time writing species accounts for the Cornwall Bird Report - I've now only got hirundines and Rock Pipit to do, which I hope to finish this weekend. Dave and Mark will be pleased!!! Writing about all these fabulous birds is no substitute for actually going out and seeing them, so as today was rather sunny I decided to spend a day in the field.

 I chose to forgo the delights of coastal birding at Rame for the chance of actually seeing something in the Fowey Valley - the very northern tip of the empty corner. On a good day this is birding at its best - and easiest! A good spread of species in a very small area, and all within yards of where you are standing. Locally the area is known as Ninestones, and on a warm sunny day there really is nowhere nicer.

As soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear at least two Cuckoos, and after a quick scan I could see one of them on a distant fence post with the characteristic drooping wings. The other dominant sound was Willow Warbler, they were everywhere. I really don't know of another site, at least not locally, where this species is so abundant. Of course this doesn't make them any easier to photograph!

Thinking about it, most of the birding here is done by ear, at least initially. Birds are calling everywhere and from every bush so it is as well that you know your bird calls before venturing too far - more of which later. A flyover Tree Pipit was nice, and a distant Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly, but my attention was drawn to the unmistakable wheezing call of a Willow Tit. This is the real prize species here, and you are not guaranteed to find them on every visit. Willow Tit is a very rare bird in Cornwall with only around 15 pairs, mostly in this valley. The birds at Lower Tamar Lake don't count - they're in Devon! I was lucky today with at least three birds calling and feeding along the track.

Blackcaps were singing, and I could just make out the song of a Garden Warbler amongst them. I felt very pleased with myself when he popped out of the bush for a look around, confirming my identification.

In the distance was the one bird I really wanted to see - Redstart. He was singing in a far off group of trees - if you  can really call it a song. I always think that the male sounds like he starts off meaning well but then loses interest and forgets about a proper ending. I may have really wanted to see him but I'm afraid I had no luck tracking him down - most frustrating.

One bird which should have been present is Sedge Warbler. It struck me at the time how odd it was that I didn't hear one. I hope nothing has happened to this species this year. I was  up at Walmsley a few days ago and was surprised to only see two. Of course they are probably doing just fine, and it is my bird finding skills which are at fault.

Thinking back to that Tree Pipit got me wondering about a breeding site I found a few years ago when surveying for the Cornish Atlas so I decided to go and check it out. This involved a short drive to the very western tip of the empty corner - talk about birding the extremities! Again there were plenty of Willow Warblers and Blackcap singing, along with Robin and Chiffchaff. And then the strangest thing happened. I heard a Lesser Whitethroat. That buzzing Cirl Bunting like call is one I haven't heard for a couple of years in Cornwall, so it really made my day. Of course I didn't see it - it was in the middle of a thick expanse of scrub  but it didn't really matter. I waited a while and was just about to move off when a Yellowhammer flew out of the scrub and began to sing - minus the cheeeese!! Had I got it wrong? Had I mistaken Yellowhammer for Lesser Whitethroat? Surely I couldn't be that naive? Well we'll never know for sure. The Lesser Whitethroat didn't sing again after the Yellowhammer flew off, but then he hadn't sung for at least five minutes before the Yellowhammer showed up. I'm confident there were two birds - but then I would say that, wouldn't I?

Oh - and as for the Tree Pipits, like me, they'd moved on too.