Saturday, 19 August 2017

Cornwall in August

Once again here is a compilation of my Pendeen Birding posts from a recent two-week family holiday to Cornwall.

Sunday 30th July: Pendeen & Hayle

We're back down in our beloved Cornwall again, this time for two week for our family holiday. In order to avoid trouble with the traffic on Saturday we waited until after 4 pm before leaving Oxford and this ploy seemed to work out well with hardly any traffic at all though we did have to contend with driving rain on the way down. Fortunately it was starting to fizzle out by the time we were unpacking the car at the cottage and we hurried inside to get set up for the evening.


On Sunday we had a very lazy morning just loafing around at home. I went for a little wander around and saw the usual suspects in the usual places. As I've been trying to shake of a sore throat for quite a while now I decided to have both a morning and an afternoon nap and this seemed to help. Given that we needed to head over to PZ for some shopping we first went to Marazion only to find the Jordans car park absolutely heaving - it turned out that there was a festival on of some kind. So in the end, given that I was still rather tired, I dropped the others off so that they could walk to Marazion whilst I headed over to Hayle to do a spot of shopping for gluten-free bread. My daughter and I are both gluten intolerant now and after some experimentation we've decided on the M&S bread as the best one so I was heading over there to stock up on supplies. On the way of course I stopped off at the Hayle estuary, well it would be rude not too! The main occupants were a bunch of loafing Herring Gulls though I did pick out a single juvenile Med. Gull in amongst the BHG. On the wader front there were just four Black-tailed Godwits to be seen and right in the distance were the five Black Swans that had been reported previously. I don't think that I've ever seen that many Black Swans in one place.

Juvenile Med Gull
Distant Black Swans
Next it was on to M&S & then back to Marazion to pick up the others before we headed back to the cottage for the evening.


Monday 31st July: Pendeen & Geevor

I was woken up this morning by the sound of Chough calling outside the cottage and found four of them about the cottage with two even sitting on the wires over the garden.

Garden Chough

After our day of rest yesterday it was time to get on with things. As usual we had a list of DIY tasks and as the weather was actually quite sunny and not too breezy we decided to work on some outside stuff. Whilst my VLW worked on an exterior window (one of her pet projects) I did some long-overdue pruning in our garden that our gardener, for some reason, had decided was too much for her. I made a reasonable start on this and then it was time for lunch.

We pootled about the cottage until mid afternoon when we decided upon a walk over to Geevor for tea in the café. As usual I kept a look-out for Wheatears in amongst the mine ruins and was rewarded with a trio of birds, at least two of which were juveniles. It is possible that they have bred locally rather than being migrants, which would be nice.



Juvenile Wheatear
I had very much hoped to escape my work during my two weeks down here but there were some serious developments with one of the businesses for which I was working. There was much WhatsApp'ing going on between myself and a colleague as we worked out how best to handle what was a rather delicate situation. Accordingly our tea was punctuated by regular messages updates which I relayed to the rest of the family who were rather enjoying this real life soap opera.

We walked back through the village where I noted that Heathers was still for sale. I did half wonder if the tea shop might re-open for the summer given that they'd not yet sold it but it was rather hard to tell from what we could see.


Tuesday 1st August: Morvah (No) Pasty Day

Today was Morvah Pasty Day and we decided that once more we would walk over there for a pasty lunch. First however I had to make a Skype call to someone else involved in the business drama but as our internet was rather unrelilable in the end I went up to the Pendeen Centre to use their WiFi. The meeting went well and things were moving in the right direction as far as the drama was concerned so it was back home to get ready for the walk. All this had rather meant that we ended up leaving later than intended and by the time that we actually arrived at Morvah all the pasties had gone! We made do as best we could with the snacks that we'd brought with us and listened to the various local musicians and wandered around the small fair. There was something very Cornish about it all which I'm coming to appreciate more and more.

A musical performance ourside Morvah church
We walked back along the coastal path where the summer heather was looking wonderful along one comparatively bracken-free stretch. We got back late afternoon for a much-appreciated cup of tea and a bite of something to eat.

Heather along the coastl path between Morvah and Portheras beach


Hybrid Monkeyflower growing by the stream at the top of Portheras beach
A Ruby Tiger came to the porch light this evening

Wednesday 2nd August: Porthgwarra

Today and tomorrow were forecast to have a proper wind worthy of a sea-watching session. Now, I don't often actually have a chance to sea-watch in a decent wind so I was keen to have a go if possible. The main issue with this was that I was with the family and as the wind was almost due south it would have to be a Porthgwarra day which was a bit of a fag to get to and which would mean spending at least the whole morning away. I cautiously put the idea to the family and they didn't seem to mind too much so I decided to cash in my brownie points and made plans to get up ridiculously early in the morning.

I duly awoke at around 4:30 and was up and out the door by 5:30, heading south through the driving rain and howling wind as it slowly grew light all around me. "I must be completely mad to be doing this", I thought. I mean why would I want to go and sit on an exposed headland in the pouring rain in the teeth of a gale? Anyway, it would at least be an "experience" if nothing else and I girded my loins and pressed on southwards. I arrived just after 6 a.m. to find about a dozen cars parked up in the car park. As I got ready in umpteen layers of waterproofs I chatted with the guy next to me who had driven down overnight from Wiltshire. "We must be mad", I joked as we hurried along the coastal path towards Hellas Point where we found the birders all huddled behind the large protective rocks there. I spotted DP in the throng and installed myself next to him. A quick enquiry revealed that so far I'd only missed one large Shearwater so I got installed and tried to get my eye in. The rain fortunately had more or less stopped by this time but the visibility was rather poor and kept coming and going so that sometimes it was too poor to be worth watching. I soon found that my viewing spot was less than ideal: from where I was sat I only had a small angle of visability before the birds disappeared behind a rock and despite numerous things being called I failed to get on a single one in the brief time that they were available to me. I did manage to find a Storm Petrel of my own which I called out just before it too disappeared from view.

Porthgwarra Sea Aster

After a while, someone else vacated a standing position to return to their chair so I went to take their place. I found myself standing next to a relatively young but eagle-eyed birder whom I recognised to be one of the Punk Birders. He was pretty amazing at picking stuff out and I gradually realised that it was down to eyesight. These days my eyes aren't so great: my left eye is stronger than my right so it's my scope eye yet it's my left which has quite a lot of floaters in so it's not so easy to see. When trying to pick out a tiny distant Petrel in the murk I just couldn't see what he was finding. Still it was useful to be standing next to someone who was often "on the bird" as I could at least get a bearing from his scope. It was also useful to be able to ask what someone else had called. My hearing also isn't what it used to be and I often struggle in windy conditions to catch what's being called out but fortunately I could ask my companion in such circumstances and actually the hearing situation wasn't too bad in the prevailing conditions. 

Sea-watchers in the fog

Gradually as I tuned in I started to manage to connect with stuff so after a while I'd had what had actually been pretty good views of a Great Shear, several Cory's, a couple of Sooties, one close very dark Balearic Shear, the tail end of a Pom as it passed the Runnel Stone and a few Stormies. During the murky periods I chatted with my neighbour or wandered over to chat with DP. Time marched on and eventually I got the "when are you coming home" text from my VLW and it was time to head off. As it was pretty murky at the time and had gone rather quiet I didn't have too many qualms about leaving and it was with a fair feeling of satisfaction that I headed back northwards along what were by now pretty foggy roads towards Pendeen. This feeling of contentment lasted about an hour when news came over on RBA of a Fea's Petrel having gone through at PG. I must admit that was a bit of a kick in the n*ts though I was always going to have been able to do only the morning session so it was just a bit of bad luck with the timing. To rub salt in the wound, no less than four Wilson's were then reported on RBA over a period of no more than half an hour and I later learnt that these were relatively close and ID'able. I'd tried to be philosophical about it all as after all it had actually been a pretty enjoyable session but quite frankly it really hurt to have left just before such an amazingly productive period.

Anyway, back at base there was a certain amount of debate as to what we were going to do in the afteroon though in the poor weather conditions our options were limited and we weren't able to agree on anything. In the end I went off for a nap to make up for the lack of sleep whilst the others amused themselve in the cottage. Later on we went for a mercy dash up to Pendeen stores for chocolate and after dinner we went down to the lighthouse to stare at the sea for a bit and we even managed to spot a couple of Porpoises. Then it was back to the cottage and off to bed.


Thursday 3rd August; Pendeen & Marazion

Today was going to be another day of strong wind, good enough for a sea-watching session though the wind direction wasn't exactly ideal, being only just south of due west. Whilst this direction meant that PG was still the preferred destination (only just though), after yesterday's complaints from the rest of the family I didn't feel that I could  really head off there once again. So instead I got up at around 7:15 and wandered down to Pendeen lighthouse for a session there. I had the place to myself and it all started off quite well with a couple of Sooties and a pair of Stormies going through almost immediately. There were several Balearic Shearwaters passing through as well but it soon fizzled out with just a pair of Common Scoter to add to the noteworthy column and I left after an hour and a half. Back home as I did some chores around the cottage, occasional glances at the sea seemed to show things picking up again later in the morning and late morning a Cory's was seen going through by JS.

Pendeen Painted Lady

Back at base we decided to head over to Marazion as we had to run a few errands over there. We first nipped into Sainsbury's to pick up some lunch things which we then ate at the Station Inn car park, overlooking what was a pretty stormy sea. I nipped over to the Marsh where I had 8 Canada Geese, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret and a Little Grebe for my troubles. On the beach itself all I saw were a dozen or so Sanderling and an adult Med Gull go by. 

Next it was off to the Long Rock area to explore a couple of new shops. We were partially looking for a replacement source of DIY materials since the departure of B&Q and we were quite pleased to discover a couple of places which seemed to be good alternatives. Next it was off to the railway station to pick up our younger daughter who'd be away in France with some friends earlier in the week and so had come down on the train today. After the family reunion the rest of the family wanted to go shopping in PZ so I opted for my usual alternative which was to stare at the sea from the bus station car park though there was nothing of note so I soon gave up and headed off to join the others at a café. Then it was back to Sainsbury's for some more shopping and then back to the cottage for dinner. After our meal we headed down to the lighthouse to look for Dolphins once more though this time without any sucess.

Juvenile Herring Gull at the bus station


Friday 4th August

We awoke to calm and sunny conditions today. I decided to take advantage of the fine weather and to get on with painting the top part of the outside of the the cottage, a task which required going up onto the roof and reaching down with a roller. As this would involve a fair bit of flexibility and suppleness on my part I first went for a brisk walk to warm up: after all I didn't want to be pulling a muscle up on top of the roof. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see at this time of year with the usual Ravens, a Kestrel, a Buzzard and a pair of Chough being the most noteworthy but in the sunny and calm conditions there were plenty of photo opportunities.

Pendeen Buzzard

A Common Blue by the lighthouse

A Common Darter in the vegetable garden behind the coastguard cottages

A Kestrel on the rocks

The painting task went well and by late morning I'd managed to put the first coat on all four sides. We then had a quick lunch during which we decided on the spur of the moment to do the St Just to Pendeen coastal path this afternoon. As the requisite bus was going to go in about half an hour we had to rush to get ready and then to hurry up the hill to the bus stop for the short hop into St Just. There we bought ice creams and my VLW just wanted to nip in to the arts and craft fair there before we started on our walk. This "nip" turned into more than a thirty minute browse by the end of which I (having stayed outside as I wasn't that keen to go in) was getting very impatient. Finally we were on our way and in the sunny conditions with just a moderate breeze it was all very pleasant. The main birds of note on this occasion were Wheatears with one at Botallack and a pair at Geevor (of course - there's always at least one there). The scenery was stunning as always and the sunny conditions really brought out the beautiful colours.

Botallack Wheatear

Chamomile (I think) on the coastal path

We arrived back at the cottage after a good couple of hours for a well-earned cup of tea before rustling up some dinner and then settling down to watch a movie for the evening.


Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th August

Saturday
Saturday had been forecast to be a reasonable Pendeen wind though as Friday progressed the predicted wind strength kept dropping and by Saturday morning it was a mediocre 16 mph average speed. Not really good enough to tempt any locals out of bed but as it was only a few minutes walk away I thought that I'd pop down there once I was up. So it was that at around 8 a.m. I wandered down to find about 20 people there though only one local whom I recognised so it was mostly visitors. It turned out that I'd not missed much with just one Cory's having reportedly gone through so far. Sadly the sea bird action was really slow with very little of note apart from a remarkable passage of Common Scoter. Several big flocks of 30+ and 50+ were going through and SR who was there all morning recorded a finally tally of 548 which was the new one day county record for this species. Apart from that there was a single Bonxie, as well as a few Arctic Skuas and Sooties that I didn't get on. I have to say that the directions that were called out for birds were remarkably poor and there wasn't much of a sense of a group sea-watch session at all - perhaps because they were mostly visitors. Given how slow it was I only gave it until 9:15 before giving up and heading back to the cottage.
 
Today we decided to visit the Pendeen Farmer's Market, which we've been meaning to do for years but which hitherto we'd never actually managed to do. As I was feeling rather tired and given that I wasn't so keen to see the market, I decided to stay at home and have a nap whilst the rest of the family walked up the road to check it out. After my rest I drove up to Pendeen to pick the others up from what had been a successful visit, judging by their purchases. Our next stop was to head over to Zennor where apparently there was a local art's and craft fair. The fair was the usual stuff and for me the highlight was a pair of Swallows that seemed to have taken a wrong turning somewhere and had ended up in the main hall itself. One of the locals was trying to open the windows so they could get out but they all seemed to be locked. I hope that they eventually managed to free them. 

The two Swallows, admiring the art
After the fair we had a little wander about Zennor: there were loads of Swallows on the roof of the small terraced cottages at the end of the village and in the bright sunshine it all looked very picturesque.

Calamint growing on a Zennor wall

Then it was back home to the cottage for a late lunch and an afternoon of pootling around doing not very much. Late in the afternoon we headed down to Boat Cove to stare at the sea for a while before heading back home for dinner.

Sunday
On Sunday the weather was forecast to be reasonable so I decided to crack on with the second coat on the top of the cottage and headed once more onto the roof. Fortunately this task didn't take too long and my VLW made good progress with her windows and also the front door which also needed her attentions. 

Wall Brown, sitting on a Pendeen wall, appropriately enough
Then after lunch we headed over the hill, first to PZ where our son wanted to nip into a local shop to buy some computer game. Then we decided to visit Tremenheere garden, one that we hadn't been to before. It turned out to be wonderfully jungly and overgrown and one could just image Yellow-browed Warblers in the wooded section at the right time of year though the only bird that I saw there was a Buzzard. We enjoyed a good tea in the café there before nipping over the road to Sainsbury's for some shopping. Then it was back home for dinner. 

The view from Tremenheere, looking over towards the Mount

Looking out of the window after our meal I saw that there seemed to be a reasonable amount of movement in the last hour so I headed down to the lighthouse for a brief watch. The only bird of note was a single Sooty Shearwater though I did also get a brief glimpse of a Porpoise as well.


Monday 7th & Tuesday 8th August

Another quiet couple of days

Monday
The forecast for today was for rain so we planned to do some rainy-day stuff today. First off I had to make a trip to the dump at St Erth to get rid of some Tamerisk trimmings from the garden. Our younger daughter asked if she could come too and be dropped of in PZ and before I knew it the entire rest of the family wanted to do this as well. After the drop-off I went to the dump & then on to Hayle M&S to stock up on gluten-free bread. Next was the obligatory visit to the Hayle estuary though I had to endure a terrible traffic jam all the way there.  There was precious little reward for this suffering on the estuary with just the four (at least) Black Swans still about, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and a surprisingly large number (at least a couple of hundred) Canada Geese. 

One of the Black Swans was reasonably close this time


I did nip over to Ryan's Field but the only bird of note was a Common Sandpiper. Then it was back to PZ to pick up the others before heading back to the cottage.

The Ryan's Field Common Sandpiper

In the afternoon we'd arranged to go for a swim at the Bosweddan Hotel pool - one of our classic rainy-day activities though in the end the weather was nice and sunny by the afternoon. Still we had a good swim and then headed back to the cottage to loaf about for the rest of the day.


Tuesday
As the wind wasn't particularly exciting today (albeit was a north westerly so at least in the Pendeen direction) I decided to have a lie in this morning. However at around 8:30 news came through on RBA of 6 Great Shearwaters having gone past Pendeen in the first couple of hours. "I'd better go and take a look" I thought and duly got dressed and headed over there. I found just two birders installed underneath the lighthouse who, upon enquiry, confessed that they were rather bemused by the RBA report as they'd not seen any. They did say that another couple of birders had been there next to them but that they'd certainly not called anything out. Anyway, I got set-up only to find things were remarkably slow. In fact during the one hour that I gave it there were only two small passing flocks of Common Scoter to break up the Manx Shearwater monotony. I was just getting ready to leave when a birder turned up with his daughter in tow. He told me how he'd had "thousands" of Balearics go by at Porthgwarra the previous evening. The explanation for this amazing count soon followed when he called the next two Manxies as Balearics and I realised that in the bright sunshine he was mistaking the brown-looking Manx backs for Balearics.

Back at the cottage I first unpacked the moth trap. Last night had been the first time that the weather had been good enough to contemplate putting out the trap. I hadn't had room to put the full moth trap in the car but instead had managed just my actinic and a few egg boxes. Still I rustled up a Heath-Robinson affair out of a plastic box which seemed to have caught and retained a few moths overnight though there was nothing of particular note.

Rosy Minor

After that, as the weather wasn't too bad we decided on a bit of exterior DIY and I soon really got stuck in and before I knew it several hours had passed and I'd managed to paint a fair chunk of the exterior walls.

In the afternoon we were going to go for a walk but a sudden and prolonged rain shower put paid to this so in the end we headed over to Mousehole for tea at the Rock Pool café. After this L (our son) scrambled about on the rocks whilst I sat and stared at the sea in quiet contemplation, rather enjoying the sun and the sound of the waves etc. Right in the very distance I noticed some bird activity and realised that there was a shoal of fish being attacked by about 100 Manxies and 100 Gannets and just occasionally I could see some Dolphins breaking the surface. This was all extremly distant though (it was only just below the horizon) and it was very hard to make things out.

Some of the feeding flock, so far away that they're only just below the horizon
Mousehole Rock Pipit
Eventually the others returned to break my reverie and we headed back to the car. Then it was back home via Sainsbury's for a spot of shopping. We ate a hearty dinner and then pootled around the cottage for the rest of the evening.


Wednesday 9th Pendeen

Today was forecast to be a strong wind, almost exactly due north so clearly a day which favoured Pendeen over Porthgwarra. That was good because we had my VLW's niece visiting us this morning so I wasn't going to be able to head off to PG anyway. Instead I got up reasonably early and headed down to the lighthouse where I found twenty or so birders all gazing intently at the sea. The first thing I noticed was that there were no locals apart from TM there. That was a bad sign! I was guessing that actually it was too far north for their liking - Pendeen is really at its best with a north westerly wind and this was probably just too straight-on into the shore. Also, it's relatively early in the season and Pendeen only really comes into its own from September onwards apparently. I asked the birder next to me how it had been and apparently I'd just missed a single Cory's so far. I sat down to watch and it was really slow, I mean, pretty terrible to be honest. During the hour and a half that I gave it, I personally saw just two Common Scoter flocks of note. Around me a couple of Balearics were called and TM had a couple of Arctic Skuas that no one else could get on and that was it. I soon gave it up as a bad job and headed back to home and had a quick catch-up nap to compensate for my getting up earlier than I would have liked. Mid morning our visitor arrived and we duly passed a very pleasant few hours with her and her two children, including her few month old new daughter who was one of the most placid babies that I'd ever met!

After lunch we pootled around for a bit and I suggested a local walk to check out some of the speciality butterflies that can be found in the area. Just two members of the family decided to accompany me so we headed off to the "adder pit" as it's affectionately known by us though we didn't encounter any today. In a relatively quick wander around I managed to find a Grayling and some Blues that may well have been Silver-studded though they never settled for long enough and I didn't really have the time to stake them out thoroughly. I had a quick look for Heath-spotted Orchids though there was no sign and I'm guessing that if the Penwith peninsular has been anything like up country, then all the orchids have been really early this year and had probably gone over already.

A Grayling
Then it was back to the cottage for dinner and to settle down for the evening.


Thursday 10th August: Marazion to Perranuthnoe

Today, with some nice weather forecast with just a gentle breeze, we decided to spend the morning working on our DIY. I therefore spent the morning leaning out of a window and gingerly walking on the roof painting the seaward wall of the cottage whilst my VLW carried on with her windows and front door. After lunch we decided to do something a bit different and so headed over to Marazion to walk to Perranuthnoe, have tea at the café there and then head back. So this is what we did.

Marazion was predictably heaving with tourists but we got a parking space easily enough in the overflow car-park and headed eastwards. The girls wanted to looking at the shops in Marazion on the way so I took our son and we explored the rock pools around Top Tieb whilst we waited for the others to finish. There were a few birds taking advantage of the rotting sea weed just east of the Godolphin Hotel: there were half a dozen juvenile Dunlin, some Ringed Plover and a Black-tailed Godwit as well as lots of Rock Pipits. 

juvenile Dunlin

One of many Rock Pipits

Once the others arrived we headed east around Little London and Trenow Cove. The beaches on this side of Marazion are much quieter and more pleasant and our walk was very enjoyable. My previous visits to this side of the Bay had been for the unobliging Hudsonian Whimbrel which had taken a few trips to see so it was nice to visit again without the pressure of trying to find a skulking Whimbrel hiding away in amongst the rocks. There were plenty of Little Egrets, Curlews, Oystercatchers and smaller waders to be seen but little else of note. At Perranuthnoe, since it was getting on in the day there weren't the huge queues here that I'd feared and we managed to get our tea and cake without too long a wait. We then retraced our steps back along the coastal path.

Autumn Squill

Back-lit Whimbrel

Back by the Godolphin Hotel, with the tide now in, there were loads of gulls that had joined the waders at the rotting sea-weed section (with had a distinct whiff of sewage as well which may have added to the attraction). There were now a couple of Med Gulls (2s & juv), a 1w Common Gull and a Redshank in addition to the same birds as before. It's clearly a bit of a hot spot for feeding birds and is a nice spot to bird as the birds are all concentrated together there.

Lots of gulls at the rotting sea weed section

Back at the car, we nipped into Sainsbury's for the obligatory spot of shopping before heading off home to eat and then settle down with our nightly DVD.


Friday 11th August - Porthgwarra

At the start of the week the wind for today had been forecast to be a quite strong south westerly though by Thursday evening it was a much more moderate forecast, for the morning at least, though predicted to increase in the afternoon. With a bit of rain thrown into the forecast as well, we'd decided as a family that the rest of the gang would head of to St. Ives for the day for a spot of shopping whilst I would have the day free for some sea watching. A whole day of sea watching was quite a novelty for me though it a shame that the weather was distinctly mediocre on that front. Still, at around 10 a.m. I dropped the rest of the team off at the bus stop in Pendeen and headed off on the half hour journey down to PG. I parked up, bought my "all day" parking ticket from the café along with a tea "to go" and headed along the coastal path to Hella Point, wondering if there would be anyone else there. As it turned out there were about ten or so people there, including P&H, MW & TM so it was quite a sociable affair. I spent a fair bit of time nattering with P&H whom I'd not seen for a while - it was good to catch up on all the local news. 

Betony is very much the fleur du jour at the moment, with lots of it brightening
 up the coast and roadside banks all over the place
The sea watching itself was actually far better than I'd feared: visibility was good, and whilst the wind was very moderate there were enough interesting birds to keep boredom at bay. Sooties were the order of the day and we must have had a good couple of dozen during the day, with plenty of Stormies as well. Occasionally a large shear would be picked out though they all turned out to be Greats today. There was also one Bonxie, an Ocean Sun Fish and the odd Balearic in what was a very pleasant albeit rather low key session. More than once during the watch I thanked the stars for the presence of the Runnel Stone which was such a good marker that however incompetent I was at getting on other people's birds, I'd always be able to make amends when the buoy was reached. I kept hoping that one of the Stormies would turn out to be a Wilson's though sadly it was not to be. On that subject though, during our discussions some of the locals helpfully gave me pointers as to how to tell the difference between them on jizz which was very useful. I was told that "Stormies always look like they're in a great panic when they fly" (which is very true), whereas Wilson's look much more calm and in control as well as doing a lot of gliding and pattering on the water (when feeding). So at least now I know and going forward I should be able to pick it out if one should fly past me in the future.

By mid afternoon a mist started to come in and the visibility got very poor so with time marching on I took this as my cue to leave and headed back to the car. On the way back home I got a call from the St. Ives party saying that they were on the bus back but as they'd bought a large item (a small cupboard that my VLW had been looking for for a long time) could I come and pick them up. We rendezvous'd at the Pendeen stores and headed back to the cottage. By all accounts the other party had enjoyed a good time as well so it had been a successful day.

We were due to leave the next day so after dinner we started to clear up and pack up before turning in for the night.

Saturday 12th August - Pendeen & Back Home

Today we were leaving but as our cleaner wasn't able to do the change-over today we'd said that we would do it. So instead of having to leave first thing we were able to take things at a more leisurely pace. After packing up all our things I started to pack the car whilst the rest of the team worked on cleaning the house. All this cleaning took quite some time and I did have time for a brief walk along the cliffs where I came across a charming family of freshly-fledged Stonechats looking very cute atop the heather and gorse.

Young Stonechats
Mid afternoon, and finally we'd cleaned the cottage and had managed somehow to pack my VLW's new cupboard into the car along with all our other stuff though the children all had quite a few bags around their feet. We headed up to Pendeen first to drop off the last of the recycling, then to Sainsbury's to fill up with petrol before starting our journey homewards. We were hoping that this late departure time would result in a trouble-free journey as it had on the way down and fortunately this seemed to be the case with no traffic issues to blight our way northwards. We arrived back mid evening to be reunited with our two cats who were very pleased to see us.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Local Botanising

I've been on various relatively local trips over the last few weeks looking for one flower or another so I thought that I'd write them all up under one post. The first one was a few weeks back now at the start of July when I went to Bald Hill, near Aston Rowant, to look for Frog Orchids. Never having been there before, I started off looking in the wrong field until a call to my go-to orchid guru Wayne put me straight. I found one almost immediately but try as I might I couldn't find any more and later on couldn't even re-find my original one though I think that by that time I'd gone grass-blind from staring at all the greenery for so long!


My one Frog Orchid
The Yellow-wort was just coming into flower...
...whereas this Chalk Fragrant Orchid was just going over


My next trip was just over the border to the ancient hill fort at Ladle Hill in Hants. This was supposed to be a good site for Burnt-tip Orchid and even though it was rather late for this species, having been told that at this location they were the late flowering July variety I thought that I'd give it a punt. It was a very interesting location and covered in flowers of all varieties but try as I might I couldn't find any Burnt-tips at all. I did manage to find a few other things of interest and it was good to acquaint myself with a new location so I was happy enough.


Clustered Bellflower.
Not Autumn Gentian as I mistakenly posted - thanks to Ian Elkins & Steve Gale for the correction
Dwarf Thistle
There were plenty of Pyramidal Orchids
My last trip was a sortie to a location north of Oxford. Having had a tip-off from Wayne I ventured forth one eventing with the family in tow. I dropped most of them off at Sainsbury's for a shop whilst our son L and I headed off to a remarkably non-descript farmland area to pay homage to the rare Downy Woundwort that was now in flower. The actual location itself was full of all sorts of wild flowers and I would have loved to have spent some time rummaging around but as we had to return to pick up the others from their shopping expedition, in the end it was a very quick visit.


Nettle-leaved Bellflower
Wild Basil
Woolly Thistle
The Downy Woundwort - very downy indeed but already past its best
There was a little small one as well which was even more downy
I'm just starting to appreciate how Oxon, whilst being rather poorly located for birds, its actually quite well situated for plants. So expect a few few more of these local botany posts to come.



Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Durham Run, Summer 2017

It was time for the second university run of the summer, this time up to Durham to fetch Daughter Number One back down. This year both daughters had lingered for a week or more at their respective universities and whilst this has meant that I was too late for the Fen Orchids at Kenfig, it did also means that I was going to be a bit later up to the North East. Now, a couple of years ago at this time I'd visited Bishop Middleham quarry to look for Northern Brown Argus (see write-up here) and in passing had found some yet to flower Dark Red Helleborines. Now with my new found interest in orchids I was keen to pay another visit and this extra couple of weeks meant that this time it was more likely that they would actually be in flower. So that was my main target for the trip but there was also the small matter of the flock of up to 7 European Bee-eaters that had turned up in the Midlands near Loughborough. This was very much en route by anyone's standards so it seemed rude not to pop in and pay my respects on the way. I'd also made note of another stop-off, namely a first summer Sabine's Gull that was lingering up in Yorkshire at Nosterfield reservoir which was also just off the main route north. So with my itinerary planned, on Thursday last week I sallied forth on my way up north. 

Things didn't start too well, I left at some time after 9 a.m. only to find a huge set of roadworks out of Oxford which took a good twenty minutes to get through. I then nipped into the petrol station to buy a sandwich for lunch only to discover that I'd left my wallet behind so it was back home through the roadworks once more and then back again so it was getting on for an hour later by the time that I finally left Oxford behind me. I'd made a mental note of the turn-off for the Bee-easter and it wasn't until I'd reached Junction 24 that I switched on the Sat Nav. It was only about 15 minutes or so from there to the large RSPB-manned field that had been set aside for parking and I was soon turning in, parking and tooling up. I paid my £5 fee and walked along the busy road to the start of the bridleway where in the distance I could soon see the lone Ash tree that the birds favoured as well as the twitch line.

The Quarry. You can see the lone Ash tree on the left, and just make out the twitchers on the right
Five minutes walk found me at the end of the path where a modest throng of upwards of fifty people were assembled.

The crowd
Not long after I arrived the birds were seen low down in a hedgerow in front of us. It was very difficult to see the birds due to their low elevation and various people's heads kept getting in the way but I managed some record shots of them in the gloomy conditions before they flew off.


First views were rather distant

The birds were first discovered a few days ago and what's more had been seen mating so, given their location, there was some speculation that they may well stay and breed. Historically quarries have been the preferred breeding location for this species in the UK and in fact in 2002 they had bred successfully at Bishop Middleham Quarry where I was heading later on in the day. I'd first seen this species in this country on the Isle of Wight in 2014 (see here) though the views then had been frankly piss poor and lack lustre so I was keen to get better views of this colourful species.

In the crowd I soon bumped into Peter Law and Jim Hutchins from Oxon and we nattered away whilst waiting for the return of the birds. After perhaps half an hour or so a single bird was spotted, this time to their favoured tree, a lone Ash tree. From this vantage point the bird would fly up and pluck some hapless bee out of the air before returning to its perch to eat the insect at its leisure. Despite the gloomy conditions it seemed to have no difficulty finding prey.

Digiscoped Bee Eater
After a while a second bird appeared and it too caught insects regularly and easily.

Two Bee-eaters

The birds were still on show when I decided that I should head off. I had a long way to go still and after my delayed start I wanted to crack on. So I headed back to the Gnome mobile and retraced my way to the M1 and continued on north.

Time passed and the miles slipped slowly by. As I got to Yorkshire I started to think about whether I wanted to stop off at Nosterfield for the Sabine's Gull. Due to my late start time was marching on so in the end I decided not to bother and instead headed on to Junction 60 where my turn-off for my second quarry of the day was. It was only ten minutes or so off the motorway and I was pulling in at the familiar layby next to the small gem of a reserve that is Bishop Middleham Quarry.



It had clearly just finished raining quite heavily as everything was coated in rain drops and quite a few of the flowers, especially the numerous Common Rock Rose, appeared to have taken a battering. The reserve was as beautiful as I remember it and I wandered about taking it all in. When I'd first visited a couple of years ago I was only just starting to get into Botany whereas now I was more familiar with what I was looking at though I still very much consider myself a beginner. There were loads of Common Spotted Orchids dotted about the place and Wild Thyme was everywhere you looked. I soon found my first Dark Red Helleborine though it was still tightly in bud and I began to wonder if I was still a week or so too early. Over in the butterfly hotspot that I remembered from last time, I did chance upon a roosting butterfly that appeared from it's underwing pattern to be a Northern Brown Argus.

roosting Northern Brown Argus
After a while I wandered down to the quarry floor itself where I soon found a lot more Helleborines. In fact this seemed to be the main area for them and fortunately some of them were just about fully out in flower.


The quarry floor
Common Spotted Orchid

Crosswort

Common Twayblades

Dark Red Helleborine

Dark Red Helleborine

Dark Red Helleborine

Fragrant Orchid species, perhaps Marsh?
Northern Marsh Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid
After I felt that I'd covered the whole of the quarry floor area I nipped over to where I'd seen the Moonwort last time though despite reasonably extensive searching I couldn't find any this time. 

With time marching on now and having pretty much seen all I wanted to, I headed back to the car. Whilst I'd made some provisional plans to visit some of the other nearby DWT reserves as well, it was getting rather late so I gave my daughter a call and then headed back towards the motorway, arriving in Durham itself some half an hour later. Then it was a chance to catch up on my daughter's news as well as to catch up on cups of tea that I'd missed during the drive up north. She had a friend's graduation dinner to attend so I ordered a take-away and caught up on some of this year's Glastonbury acts on the iPlayer. She was back reasonably early and with a spare bed in her room we soon settled down for the evening.

The next day was just a case of packing the car and heading off home. As we were both Gluten-free now, we found a new café which did GF sandwiches (and rather nice GF cup-cakes as well!) to take with us for the journey home. The journey itself was uneventful and we arrived back at Casa Gnome mid-afternoon with the whole Gnome family back together again for the first time in a while. It had been a productive trip up north with some nice things to see to make the long slog worthwhile.


Bedraggled Meadow Crane's-Bill