Monday, 20 March 2017

Durham Run, March 2017

It was time to fetch Daughter #1 back down from Durham again. I thought that I'd more or less weaned my two daughters off relying on me for a Uni taxi service but it seems that there's been a bit of a relapse. Anyway, in the weeks leading up to the trip I was keeping a keen eye on birdy goings-on up in the North East. Naturally, the number one target on which I was fixating up there had been the long-staying Pine Bunting just outside York. This would be a lifer for me and seemed to be being seen fairly regularly each day so I was keeping my fingers firmly crossed that it would linger long enough for me to see it. However, it was not to be: exactly a week before my departure it was reported first thing on Saturday morning but not ever again. What's more, on Bird Forum someone said that they saw a Sparrowhawk fly into the hedge where the Bunting was sitting and then fly out again with a bird in its talons so it's possible that it was taken in this way. Anyway, whatever happened to it, it wasn't going to be an option for me so I had to re-set my targets for the trip. In the end I decided on the very long-staying Easter Black Redstart at Skinningrove in Cleveland. Whilst this is officially only a sub-species of our own Black Redstart, it is generally considered that this is a rather poor classification and it should really be split. Moreover, even if it didn't represent a tick for me (I'd seen the one at Mousehole right on the last day of last year anyway), they were always such lovely looking birds to see. What's more, due to on-going problems sleeping I didn't have a great deal of energy to go running after some half chance bird sightings so something nailed down and certain and fairly close to Durham would very much suit my purposes. So with that in mind, on Saturday morning at around 9 a.m. I set off on the long slog up north. The traffic wasn't too bad and with the radio for company gradually the miles slipped away on the familiar route northwards until at junction 49 I turned off the M1 towards Thirsk and fired up the Sat Nav. This took me along increasingly small roads into the rather featureless countryside of the area. I recognised some bits from previous trips to the area as I drove along. Eventually the Sat Nav took me off the main road onto a minor road leading towards the parking area at the mouth of the Skinningrove Beck as it spilled out onto the beach. As I tooled up I surveyed the rather bleak coastal scenery there: in the overcast conditions it was all rather austere and grim though mercifully underneath the lowering cliffs we were nicely sheltered from the prevailing biting westerly winds.

The rather austere and grim northern coastline at Skinningrove
Pleased finally to be out of the car I walked the hundred yards or so along the coastal path towards the jetty which was home for the winter to the Eastern Blck Redstart, looking at the scenery and coastal flora as I went.

Reflexed Stonecrop - a naturalised garden escape, growing in the car park

There was quite a lot of Coltsfoot growing next to the path 
There were some loafing gulls and Oystercatchers down on the beach to my right and I gave them a quick scan but there was nothing of note.  A perky Stonechat posed nicely on some rocks just before I reached the jetty, enough to tempt me to get out my camera though the lighting was terrible.

Perky Stonechat
I soon reached the jetty, rather familiar to me thanks to the blog posts of previous visitors. There were a couple of other birders wandering about and clearly not looking at anything in particular so I went over to chat. It turned out that they'd not seen the bird so far though they'd not been around that long. As it had been reported "still present" on RBA morning I wasn't particularly worried about it, feeling confident that it would turn up in due course. 

The Skinningrove jetty, home to the Eastern Black Redstart
I wandered along the base of the jetty keeping a careful look-out for movement. A few Rock Pipits were kicking about and my first Wheatear of the year turned up, posing on top of the jetty for a while before heading up into the imposing cliffs behind us where nest-building Fulmars were circling, their cries a constant backdrop to the scene.

My first Wheatear of the year
After I while I noticed that one of the birders had wandered along the beach a bit and was looking at something intently on the sand by the strand-line, quite close to him. I looked over with my bins: "was that a Shorelark he was looking at?" I mused. I hurried over to find that a lovely first winter Snow Bunting was hopping about close by, in the confiding manner that is so typical of this species. I spent some time taking photos of this charming bird.

First winter Snow Bunting
Suddenly a bit of movement in the Sallows behind the Bunting caught the eye of the other birder who exclaimed "I've got the Redstart" and sure enough there it was skulking around in the middle of the Sallows and sitting on top of a sand dune. Relieved, we watched and waited for it to come out into the open a bit more.

After a while it duly obliged and posed quite nicely though the light was still terrible. It even sang for us and I manged to capture a bit of video with it singing.

Then suddenly, it flew off back towards the jetty area where I'd originally been expecting it. I wandered back over there and with a bit of patience it soon came nice and close where I was able to get some better photos.

...posing nicely by the jetty
When it flew off again back towards the Sallows I decided that I'd had enough and wandered back towards the car. I'd not got any definite plans after having seen this bird other than making my way over to my daughter's place in time for the kick-off of the rugby between England and Ireland at 5 p.m. For England there was quite a bit at stake: not only would it make back-to-back Six Nations grand slams but it would also be the record for the number of consecutive wins for any rugby nation, a title which England currently jointly held with New Zealand. Ireland on the other hand would relish the opportunity to piss on England's parade so I was expecting a tense match. On the birding front I had done some research and had unearthed some Lapland Buntings nearby though as they'd not been reported all week they were a long shot. So in the end I decided to head over towards Durham and just to nip into a nearby local reserve at Rainton Meadows just to see what it was like. I'd only got to hear about the reserve when a Snow Bunting was reported there the previous day but looking on their web site I'd seen a nice photo of a Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem flower posted there so I thought that I'd go to see if I could find it. The Sat Nav took me there easily enough though I'd seen on their web page that the site closed some time after 4 p.m. so I didn't have a great deal of time. In the event I arrived at a little after half past three. I quickly went to find out where I might find this flower only to discover that the Wildlife Trust reception was shut at the weekend and there was no one to ask. In the end I decided just to have a quick wander about and went over to look at the nearby bird hide which overlooked some pools, There were just a few bits and pieces on the pools, nothing of note and no sign of any Buntings so I headed back to the car. 

Back at the car park I heard some chirping in the bushes that was just sufficiently different from House Sparrow to have me wondering about Tree Sparrow instead and sure enough I soon found quite a few of them lurking in the bushes. As this is sadly quite a rarity in Oxfordshire these days I spent a little while trying to take some snaps of them though in the gloomy and fading light it wasn't easy.

Tree Sparrows are relatively common up in the North East
Then it was over to Durham to veg out with my daughter. We watched the rugby whilst eating take-out pizza. It was a tense match as predicted and Ireland managed to shut England out of the game to take a well-deserved win. Shame about the record but you couldn't but admire Ireland's passion. Actually my daughter, who has Irish citizenship thanks to my VLW's father, was supporting Ireland anyway so at least one of us came away happy. As she and her boyfriend were going out to the cinema that evening I soon left and headed back to the car and up the motorway again to my lodgings for the night. This was an Air B'nB place in Washington, part of the vast urban sprawl that surrounds the Tyne area. The Sat Nav took me straight there and I was soon chatting away to my hostess for the night, a very talkative and friendly lady who was soon filling me in on all the details of her life. At around 10 p.m. I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and headed up to bed for the night.

The next morning, after as good a night as one can expect when sleeping away from home I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out the door. My daughter wanted to get back home relatively quickly to catch up with Daughter #2 who was down chez nous for the weekend before heading back to Swansea University for a few more weeks. I just had one bird target lined up for this morning which was a few Waxwings that had yesterday been reported quite close by to where I was staying so I thought that I'd go and take a look. After stopping off for petrol I was soon doing the Waxwing curb crawl down a quiet residential cul-de-sac in Oxclose. I couldn't obviously seen any of them so I parked up half way down and searched the area again on foot. Eventually I found a total of three of these beauties, hiding in a small tree and feeding unusually surreptitiously for Waxwings. Instead of sitting on a lofty perch before making a sortie into the berries, these three were just sitting quietly in their tree and feeding away. It was quite hard to get a decent photo as they were well bedded down in the centre of the tree but eventually I got a good line of sight to one of them and was able to get off some shots though the bird was in deep shade so I had to crank up the exposure.

The last of the winter Waxwings
With the Waxwings in the bag I headed back onto the motorway on the short hop down to Durham. There I met up with my daughter (and the boy friend whom I finally got to meet - he seemed very nice) and we loaded the car up with her bags. Then it was back onto the motorway for the long slog home. I caught up on her news as we drove down, stopped off to pick up some lunch and then listened to the radio as the miles slipped by. Eventually at around 1:30 p.m. we arrived back, in time for our two daughters to catch up with each other before #2 had to head off again. 

Reflecting on the trip, it had been a fairly low key trip up north but at this time of year it was only to be expected. Still it had been nice to see my second Eastern Black Redstart (which is still a massive rarity in this country) and with a modest supporting cast it had been a pleasant enough trip.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Cornwall for February Half Term 2017

Once more a compilation of my Pendeen Birding posts from a recent trip down to Cornwall

12th February - Back Down Via Bodmin
We're back down in Cornwall, for our usual half-term visit. Traditionally, this is a time for us to check how the cottage is surviving the onslaught of the winter weather and to start doing some interior decorating for the coming season. With our two eldest daughters now at university it was just my VLW and our ten year old son accompanying me on the journey down on Sunday. I'd initially been somewhat reluctant to come down as I have so much work on but the more I thought about it the more I realised that actually I really needed a break so it was with a sense of optimism I loaded up the car ready for the long slog south west.

We set off at around 11 a.m. and only stopped briefly at the Bodmin turn-off to look for a Waxwing that had been reported yesterday as coming to Crab Apples in a garden. Normally en famille I wouldn't bother trying to persuade the rest of them to make a detour on the way down but as this bird had been reported literally no more than a couple of minutes off the A30 they were happy enough for a bijou stopette. I'd spent no more than a few minutes peering into the gardens by the side of the road before a lady came out of a house and told me that it had been her who'd reported the bird yesterday but that there'd been no sign of it at all today. Disappointing but at least good to know so I thanked her and we continued on our journey down, arriving at some time after 3 p.m. for our traditional tea and shop in Sainsbury's before heading over to boot up the cottage. It was nearly dark by the time we arrived at Pendeen and the only bird I came across was a distantly cronking Raven. We unloaded the car and hurried inside to shelter from the freezing north easterly wind that chilled to the bone. Fortunately the forecast was for much warmer weather for the rest of the week as the cottage was unpleasantly cold in these conditions. We ate a hearty meal to warm up and then pootled about the cottage in the evening before retiring to bed early.

13th February - Pendeen & Hayle
We all decided to have a bit of a lie in this morning after our long journey down so it wasn't until mid morning that we'd fully surfaced. There were really strong winds forecast for today though fortunately with much warmer temperatures which should just touch double figures at their peak today - such a contrast from yesterday! We started off by doing a thorough inspection of the cottage and compiling a list of all the things that needed to be done. My VLW then went about doing some general cleaning whilst I got distracted by a whole succession of work-related phone and Skype calls which kept me busy until lunch time. The only Pendeen birds that I spotted was a single Raven and a single Chough. The sea was quiet with just a few Gannets hunting in the bay just west of the Watch.

After lunch we decided to head over to Hayle. My VLW wanted to explore the antique shops there and I was keen to take a look at the estuary. So we stopped off at the causeway bridge and parted company; whilst she and our son walked onwards towards the town I set up my scope and started to grill the estuary. My main interest in this location was that an Avocet had been reported there for the last week or so. "So what?" I hear you cry but actually down in the Penwith peninsular, this is actually quite an uncommon bird and it's one that, embarassingly, I still needed for Cornwall. As additional inducement a Green-winged Teal was about and had been seen that morning as well as a Glaucous Gull that in fact had been reported less than an hour ago so there were plenty of other birds to look for.

I started from the causeway bridge and soon found a trio of Mediterranean Gulls loafing nearby though there were only half a dozen or so Teal to be seen and there was no sign of the American visitor in amongst them.

Loafing Med Gulls
Along the river there was a single drake Goosander and the usual Redshank and Curlew and a whole mass of distant large Gulls. Now, one of my  favourite winter birding activities is grilling a large gull flock -  it's what I spend most of my time doing down on my Port Meadow patch back in Oxford. So in the scope-shaking wind I carefully went through each and every one. I couldn't turn up the Glauc though I did manage a couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls which are probably actually rarer down here than the white-winger I was looking for. Over on the other side of the river there was what was almost certainly the near-resident adult Ring-billed Gull though given the distance I wasn't 100% certain. There was also a Pipit buzzing around with a rasping call that frustratingly would never actually settle for me to get a view. Later in the evening a Water Pipit was reported there and thinking about it, that would fit with what I'd seen and heard. After a while I'd satisfied myself that I'd searched the area thoroughly and decided to head over to Ryan's Field.

A distant mass of gulls, all asking for a good grilling

Here I met a couple of birders, a rather senior lady and a young lad who told me that the Avocet had been there behind the island a short while ago but unfortunately it was now nowhere to be seen. The lady then asked me to take a look at an Egret at the next pool which she was wondering about so I went to look though it turned out just to be a Little Egret. Back at the main pool there were plenty of Lapwings, a single Shelduck and a few Wigeon but little else so I decided to walk back to the main road to see if the Avocet might be out of sight behind one of the islands. Out of the shelter of the hide the wind did it's best to hinder me scanning the area with my bins but eventually I spotted the Avocet as it swam out from the island area. Relieved, I took a few record snaps of it as well as a Black-tailed Godwit that happened to be within range before crossing the road once more to see if anything new had come in on the main estuary. 

Black-tailed Godwit

On the estuary there were now 17 Dunlin within view which hadn't been there before, as well as a Bar-tailed Godwit but nothing else so I headed back to the Ryan's Field hide in order to get out of the wind. Back there the Avocet was now actually pretty close in front of the hide so I busied mysef with taken some better photo's..

Avocet photos

Given the very poor light conditions there was no point in trying too hard with the photos and I soon gave up. I felt that I'd covered the whole area well enough now and with time marching on it was time to rendezvous with the others So I gave them a call and as they'd finished as well I picked them up a short while later in the town centre before heading back towards Penzance. We made a quick detour down to St Erth to look for the long-staying Cattle Egret though whilst we could find half a dozen or so of his commoner cousins there was no sign of the star bird himself.

Back in PZ we stopped in at Sainsbury's for a welcome cup of tea as well as a chance to buy the things for the cottage that we'd decided we needed from this morning's stock-take. Then it was back to the cottage for a meal and a chance to put our feet up after a long but productive day.

14th February - Marazion, Penzance & Mousehole
I didn't sleep that well last night: for some reason I woke up at 3 a.m. and in the end it took a couple of hours and finally a quickly-downed large glass of wine to get back to sleep. Once I was finally back under I was dead to the world and I slept through our alarm this morning. The reason for the alarm was that we needed an early start as we were going  to head up-county to meet my VLW's niece who'd just had her second daughter. Finally awake, there was just time for a quick wash and breakfast before heading out. Whilst getting ready, I did grab a few moments to stare out of the window at the glorious weather to see what bird life there was this morning. There was a lovely flock of 30 or so Linnets in the field next to the cottage and the two Ravens were back on their favourite perch by the stone wall. 

Local Linnets

By 9:30 we were off and on the road only to receive a text that the niece was running a bit behind and could we make it a bit later? As it turned out this suited us well as we could then pop in to the Cambourne B&Q en route to pick up a few things that we needed for the cottage. As I have blogged about before, it's a crying shame that the PZ B&Q closed - there's now no where local to source things like this any more and we now need to grab opportunities like this at Cambourne when we can. We got most of what we were looking for there and then headed on to meet up with the new family member who seemed a bonnie wee girl and we passed a pleasant couple of hours making her acquaintence.

By the time we left it was getting on for lunch time so we decided to pick up some sandwichess on the way back and to head over to Marazion beach to eat them. We did nip into St Erth as we passed in order to have another go at the Cattle Egret but once again all I could find were its commoner cousins. Marazion was gorgeous and bathed in beautiful sunshine and we passed a pleasant hour or so munching on our food and messing about on the beach. There was a nice flock of 100 or so Sanderling, looking for all the world like little clockwork toys as they ran about on the beach. I didn't bother scanning the sea as at this timeof day I would have been staring straight into the sun from this vantage point.

Marazion Sanderling

Next my VLW wanted to pick up a few things in PZ so we parked up near the bus station and I scanned from there (as it was a better angle for the sun) whilst our son L clambered about on the rocks. There wasn't much to see and the best I could manage was the usual drake Eider, one Guillemot and a couple of Razorbills as well as a couple of Rock Pipits in amongst the rocks. My VLW returned to report that most of the shops that she wanted to visit seemed to be closed already, some sort of local early closing "dreckly" concept I  suppose.

Tolcarne Eider

Next it was on to Newlyn where she had a few more shops to visit. I did a flying stop at Jubilee Pool to check the Battery Rock beach where there was a nice little mixed flock of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone but sadly no Purple Sandpipers. At Newlyn we parked up at the Tolcarne Inn and whilst my VLW pootled about in the shops, L and I went to look at the harbour. There were almost no gulls about at all though L very much enjoyed looking at all the ships and has now decided that he's going to buy himself one when he's grown up

Newlyn Turnstones enjoying some spilt food

Finally with time marching on it was over to Mousehole for the Rock Pool Café. More precisely, the other two went to the café whilst I joined the small party of St Clement's Island gull roost watchers in the car park. There was MA, ME, MJS and RV, the latter being a young lad who told me that he read my blog (nice to meet you!). It was really slow going with the roost this evening and I was soon longing for the other two to come back from their post-café walk into the town so that I could get out of what had suddenly become rather biting cold. Just before they returned I managed salvage something from the session when I found the first winter Iceland Gull on the rock. I was just getting the others onto it when my party returned so I took a quick bit of record-shot video and then went to join them in the sanctuary of the car.

Then it was back home to the warmth of the cottage for a bite to eat and a chance to put our feet up in front of the telly. It had been a very relaxing day with remarkably little DIY at all. My VLW and I both remarked that it seems rather strange just to be down here enjoying ourselves rather than rushing about doing various tasks but I'm sure that we'll get used to it. The weather is forecast to be pretty reasonable tomorrow as well so I suspect that there might well be more time spent outdoors enjoying ourselves. Long may it continue!

15th February - Hayle & Pendeen
Once again I managed to have a rather poor night's sleep. I was woken up by a passing rain shower in the night and somehow couldn't get back to sleep again for several hours so once more I was rather tired when I finally got up this morning. My VLW had also had a poor night and was still dead to the world when I awoke so I tip-toed about the cottage until she was awake. 

We didn't really have a plan for today except that Badger, my birding chum from Oxon and partner in crime for the running of the Oxon Birding Blog, was down in Kernow with his VLW and we'd made a tentative arrangement to meet up at the Hayle estuary. Once my VLW was awake I checked that this was OK with her and having been given the green light, I hastily got ready and set off for our 10 a.m. rendezvous at Hayle. The weather was absolutely gorgeous down by the estuary with bright sunshine and very little wind. We started off at Ryan's Field where the long-staying Spoonbill was tucked up asleep though he did lift his head once long enough for me to take his photo.

There were the usual Med Gulls, a flock of 50 or so Golden Plover, the roosting Avocet and right at the back was the Water Pipit that I'd sort of seen last time. Badger is a master of the video and spent some time taking some footage for what will no doubt be an excellent montage in due course. After we'd both had our fill we wandered over to the causeway where Badger almost immediately picked out the Green-winged Teal, in amongst his Eurasian cousins by the bank of the river.

The Green-winged Teal

We soon started grilling the gulls, looking for one of several rarer gulls that had been frequenting the estuary of late, namely a Caspian Gull, the Ring-billed Gull and an Iceland Gull. In the bright sunshine it was hard work as all the colours were bleached out and it was difficult discerning the different shades of grey. Badger and I spent some time debating a distant gull which in then end we decided was just a Common Gull rather than the RBG. Gull numbers were lower than last time I was here and it didn't take long to work through them all though with a steady coming and going of birds one had to keep re-scanning regularly. Eventually I picked up the Iceland Gull quite close in in front of us. It had a good wash and brush up before having a brief loaf on the estuary until eventually it flew off in the general direction of Helston, one of its other regular loafing spots.

The Iceland Gull - better views than yesterday at Mousehole!

There were good numbers of Dunlin on the estuary today with a flock of at least 100 birds along with a scattering of Barwits, a few Shelduck and a single Grey Plover. It was very peaceful sifting through all the birds and we whiled away the time together until I felt that I should probably be heading back. So I bade Badger farewell and headed back towards the car park. I was nearly back at the hide when I heard a Crest calling in the scrub. Expecting a Goldcrest I lifted my bins to find a lovely Firecrest in front of me. I followed it through the scrub for a short while before I lost it somewhere. I gave Badger a call to let him know but for some reason he wasn't answering his phone so I went back to tell him personally in case he was interested. Then it was back to the car and off towards PZ. I did nip into St Erth for one last try for the Cattle Egret but there was only one Little on display so I officially gave up on the bird - it is now dead to me.

Avocet and Green-winged Teal

In PZ I nipped into Sainsbury's for some provisions and then headed back over the hill to Pendeen. I was just walking back to the cottage when I put up something which flew over my head and over the rooftops behind me. In the bright sunshine I caught a good look at a bright red tail, black body with some white in the wings - it could only be a male Black Redstart. I had a quick look around the other (sheltered) side of the cottages but it was almost certainly hiding in one of the gardens there out of sight and I had to leave it.

The rest of the day was spent in pootling around the cottage doing DIY tasks  as well as having a catch-up nap. I did manage to see the Black Redstart again briefly but properly this time. It was a cracking full adult male - I'd love to get a decent photo, perhaps tomorrow if there's less wind. Apart from that there were two Chough and the usual two Raven, a flock of Linnets again and a Kestrel but that was it. As usual we vegged out in front of the telly in the evening before turning in. It had been a good day's birding: I'd managed to catch up with some more of the long-staying Hayle birds and had turned up a Firecrest and a Black Redstart of my own. Not bad for February!

16th February - Pendeen
I don't know what it is about the cottage but for some reason I seem to struggle with sleep when I'm down here. After last night's problems, predictably I awoke in the middle of the night again. This time, however, rather than lying in bed fretting I got up immediately and went to another room where I did a good session of EFT. For those of you not familiar with this, it stands for Emotional Freedom Technique and is a weird process of self-tapping whilst saying positive things (see the web-site for more details). My VLW swears by it and used it to cure a severe bout of insomnia last year and I've now taken to using it in all sorts of situations with great affect - it really is quite amazing! After about half an hour of tapping out all aspects of my insomnia that I could think of I came back to bed and was soon fast asleep.

After our usual morning cup of tea in bed whilst putting the world to rights we decided on a local Pendeen day today as there were some DIY tasks that needed doing; we'd also arranged to meet up with our handyman at the cottage early afternoon so we couldn't stray too far today anyway. I started off doing the initial preparation for a part of our bedroom that needed re-painting and then whilst that was going off I went out for a little walk around Pendeen. There were the usual two Ravens and pair of Chough and various other bits and bobs but nothing particularly out of the ordinary and I didn't see my Black Redstart. Still it was nice to be wandering about the place re-acquainting myself with its various nooks and crannies.

The two Pendeen Chough
Back at the cottage I did a little bit of office work until lunch and then we met up with our handyman to discuss some jobs that we wanted doing. After that I did the next layer of preparation on my painting and then we decided to head out for an afternoon walk. Just as we were getting ready the Black Redstart appeared in the field next to our cottage and I did my best to take a photo though it was rather distant.

This photo doesn't really do justice to what was a great looking bird
As it was getting late we opted for the usual loop down to Geevor then up into Pendeen and back down to our cottage. We normally stop off at Heathers Tea Shop on this route but a bit of Googling seemed to indicate that it wasn't presently open so we went for the Geevor café instead, managing to get there just in time for a quick tea before it closed for the day. In Pendeen we discovered that Heathers had closed for good and was up for sale. A sad day indeed!

A sad day as Heathers was much loved by visiting birders
We wandered back to the cottage as the light started to fade and I did a bit more of my painting work before heading back into Pendeen. I'd been contacted by a reader of my blog who also was a birder with a cottage in Pendeen who'd suggested a drink in the North Inn. One aspect of birding that I always like is how you can meet with a total stranger and have loads to talk about and we passed a very pleasant time supping our beer and regaling each other with our birding tales. Then it was back home for dinner and time to put our feet up in front of the telly after what had been a low key but productive day.

17th February - Back Home
It was time to head back home already: my VLW's mother was rather poorly so we were going to head home early so that my VLW might go to visit here on Sunday. Therefore we got up and spent a good couple of hours packing up the cottage and getting ready to depart. I kept an eye out for interesting birds during this process but the only thing of interest that I saw was one of the Ravens and there was no sign of the Black Redstart. I don't know where this bird is hanging out but it's somewhere quite well hidden as even on days when I see it, it's only very occasionally. One of the coastguard cottage gardens I suspect.

Anyway, we were on the road by about 11:30 and after the usual stop-offs to dump the recycling, to fill up with petrol and to buy some sandwiches for lunch we were finally properly off some time after midday. As I drove I reflected on the trip: it had been a nice, albeit rather low key visit but then in February that was only to be expected really. I'd got my Avocet Cornish tick and had caught up with the Green-winged Teal, the Spoonbill, the Iceland Gull and the Water Pipit all at Hayle. I'd also found a Firecrest there and a local Black Redstart at Pendeen. We'd enjoyed some remarkably good weather this week which had really helped to make for a very pleasant few days away - I think that our experience would have been very different had there been torrential rain and gales all week.

We arrived back home at Casa Gnome later afternoon after an uneventful journey where our two cats were very pleased to see us once more.

I'll leave you with some Danish Scurvy grass - just coming into flower at Pendeen

Monday, 23 January 2017

Local Birds for Local People

After what was a rather poor year in the county last year with only one county tick (Purple Heron) and very little in the way of good birds, this year has got off to a flying start. It all started when three Cattle Egrets were found frequenting a pig field near Middleton Stoney. I don't know quite how they were found as it's really not an obvious birding spot but they seemed to like it as they've been around for a while. So on the 9th January and with not much else to do I thought that I'd go and pay my respects. I turned up late morning on a grey though rather mild day and slogged for half a mile along a really muddy footpath to find a few county birders holed up in a gap in the hedge and scoping the neighbouring pig field. Only two of the Egrets were on view when I arrived and one of them soon disappeared over a ridge to a hidden lower part of the field. They were rather distant and in the poor light my digiscoped photos are little more than record shots. Still it was nice that Oxon was finally getting in on the action in what has proved to be a bonanza autumn and winter for this species which has invaded the country in large numbers.

On the way back I decided to make a detour to Marston to catch up with the half a dozen or so Waxwings which had been present since the previous day. I'm always happy to make a bit of an effort for this charismatic species and as these were in Oxford itself, it wasn't too far out of my way at all. They were immediately on view when I arrived and I took a few snaps with my super-zoom camera though the light conditions were appalling. After only a few minutes they flew off again and I took this as my cue to leave as well.

After that little flurry of local activity it was back to wait and see mode in the county. Fortunately we didn't have to wait too long before our esteemed county recorder, Ian Lewington, manage to turn up a Little Bunting in a rather unlikely location in some farmland at Over Norton. This is a real county Mega with the last one having been seen no less than twenty eight years ago! It was found on Sunday afternoon and Badger put out a local "heads up" text though details of the location and access arrangements weren't released until after dark. The next morning the keenest of the county birders were there at first light whereas I decided to play it cool, partly as there was a forecast for thick fog that morning and partially because I had work commitments. Mid morning, after a reassuring "still present" text from Badger, I headed off towards Chipping Norton and parked up "creatively" near the roundabout, before donning every item of clothing that I could wear and still be able to move in order to keep out the bone-chilling cold, and then yomping off along the footpath.

After a few minutes walking I came upon the usual local suspects all staking out a fifty yard stretch of the footpath which apparently had been well seeded by the local farmer and to which birds were regularly coming down. There was a moderate mix of Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Yellowhammers with one Linnet and on one occasion even a Brambling (the king of finches!). A couple of Ravens were "cronking" away nearby, making a welcome distraction whilst we all waited for the star of the show to make another appearance.

Actually my first Yellowhammer of the year
I was told that the bird had been seen about half a dozen times so far that morning but in the end we had wait for getting on for an hour before someone finally picked it out at the far end of the viewable area of footpath. Thereafter it showed periodically in this distant location, usually for a relatively short period of time before finally putting in a prolonged performance for several minutes. 

Well satisfied with my views and having had enough of the cold at that point I decided to head back to the car before driving back to Casa Gnome, basking in the warm glow of a shiny new county tick.

A fantastic photo of a great little bird courtesy of Terry Sherlock (c)