Cornwall, October 2011

I don't normally do a trip report for UK holidays and this is not a full report with details of all species seen. It's just a one-page diary-style report covering the highlights of birds and moths.

We stayed in Corner Cottage in Porthgwarra, one of the St Aubyn Estate self-catering cottages - a perfect location for birding.

 

Saturday 1st October

We headed down to Cornwall today having spent the night with friends at Bradford-on-Avon. First we stopped off at Black Down in Somerset where a juvenile Pallid Harrier had been seen recently. We parked at the radio masts and walked west towards the trig point where we could see a crowd of expectant twitchers looking. We were barely past the car park when I picked up the Pallid Harrier close to us and moving south across the footpath in front of us. Got great views, although by the time I switched from looking at it to photographing it was too late to capture the underparts.

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Pallid Harrier, Black Down, 1st October

We carried on along the path, unsure of exactly where it had now gone, but then I picked it up again, flying back towards the radio masts (and now in dreadful light with the sun directly behind it).

 

Pallid Harrier, Black Down, 1st October

For the whole time the crowd on the Trig point had their backs to us and the bird - presumably they did not see it at this time! There was also a good southerly passage of Swallows going on for the whole time we were there and a Wheatear.

Now the pager informed me that an adult Spotted Sandpiper was still at Chew so, as that was only a few minutes away we headed up there. It was an awkward bird to see and, if it hadn't been an adult still with some spots I don't think the views I got would have been adequate to clinch the ID - certainly the photos wouldn't have been!

Spotted Sandpiper, Chew Valley Lake, 1st October

Also a couple of Green Sandpipers there.

I'd not seen a Semipalmated Sandpiper since the spring bird at Trimley way back in 1993 so we decided to make Axemouth en route to Cornwall. It had been reported roosting at Seaton beach but I figured by the time we had got there it was more likely to have returned to its feeding area off Coronation Corner on the estuary so we went there first. There was one couple there watching the Semipalmated Sandpiper, feeding on the mud close enough for good views, preferring the company of Ringed Plovers to the Dunlins.

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Semipalmated Sandpiper, Axemouth, 1st October

Also here were two colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits and a colour-ringed Herring Gull - we await details of where these were ringed.

A quick stop at Marazion produced Whinchat and 4 Wheatears but not a lot else - a rusty-thighed Grey Heron ought to have been a Great Blue Heron, but sadly it wasn't!

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Wheatear, Marazion, 1st October

We finally arrived at our cottage at Porthgwarra in time to spend the last hour of daylight with a glass of red wine and watching Gannets and Shags (but nothing more exciting) fly by. Annoyingly I discovered I had forgotten to bring an extension lead which meant I could barely get the MV light out of the door, but it still managed to attract a few moths. Best of these, and the only one that was completely new to me, was a Vestal.

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Vestal, Bawdeswell, 1st October

Other commoner species which I have only seen here before were 2 Autumnal Rustics, 2 Feathered Brindles and Black Rustic while species I've only occasionally seen at home were Rusty-dot Pearl and Rosy Rustic.

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Black Rustics, Bawdeswell, 1st October

 

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Rosy Rustic (left) and Autumnal Rustic (right), Bawdeswell, 1st October - the one I've identified as Rosy Rustic doesn't look very rosy but I can't think what else it could be

 

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Rusty-dot Pearl (left) and Feathered Brindle (right), Bawdeswell, 1st October

Apart from that there were Light Brown Apple Moth, Eudonia angustea, Brimstone Moth, Lesser Yellow Underwing, 3 Setaceous Hebrew Characters, 9 Square-spot Rustics and Large Wainscot.

 

Sunday 2nd October

Vis mig at Porthgwarra this morning consisted of a variety of finches, pipits and Skylarks, the best of which were 2 Tree Pipits. Being Vitty's birthday I didn't have much time to look round for grounded migrants and we had lunch at The Gurnard's Head in Treen.

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Pied Wagtail, Treen (left) and Buzzard, near Pendeen (right), 2nd October

After lunch I did have a bit of time to look for the Kites that have been in the area for a few weeks now. An initially fruitless search turned up Clouded Yellow near St Buryan and 2 Ravens at Drift but eventually I found a group of people who'd been watching the 2 Black Kites near Drift for over an hour.

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Black Kite(s), Drift, 2nd October

 

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Buzzard, Drift, 2nd October

The pool at Sennen held a Beautiful Demoiselle.

Back at Porthgwarra a tame Red Fox was hanging around the cottage at dusk.

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Red Fox, Porthgwarra, 2nd October

The light attracted a few moths (and a Red Admiral), most notably another Vestal, my first Aspilapteryx tringipennella, my first Rush Veneer, a Pearly Underwing and my first Frosted Orange since 2002.

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Aspilapteryx tringipennella, Porthgwarra, 2nd October

 

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Frosted Orange (left) and Pearly Underwing (right), Porthgwarra, 2nd October

 

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Rush Veneer, Porthgwarra, 2nd October

Of lesser interest the light also attracted Eudonia angustea, Double-striped Pug, Dingy Footman (late?), 2 Large Yellow Underwings, 4 Autumnal Rustics, 2 Setaceous Hebrew Characters, 2 Square-spot Rustics, 3 Black Rustics, Beaded Chestnut, 2 Lunar Underwings and Pink-barred Sallow.

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Beaded Chestnut (left) and Double-striped Pug (right), Porthgwarra, 2nd October - I was convinced the Pug was something more interesting as it seemed enormous (i.e. as big as any Currant or Freyer's Pug) and the wing-shape was very rounded, but in the end I can't find anything apart from Double-striped that fits the markings - confirmation or correction would be welcome - contact me!

 

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Lunar Underwings, Porthgwarra, 2nd October

 

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Autumnal Rustic (left) and Eudonia angustea (right), Porthgwarra, 2nd October

 

Monday 3rd October

Vis mig at Porthgwarra this morning consisted mainly of Meadow Pipits and there wasn't a lot in the bushes either - a Sedge Warbler at Trevean Pool was about the limit.

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Sparrowhawk, Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Wheatear (left) and Sedge Warbler (right), Porthgwarra, 3rd October

I continued on to Higher Bosistow where the 2 Dotterel were still present.

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Dotterel, Polgigga, 3rd October

A quick shopping trip to Penzance produced a Gannet on the harbour pool inland of the road - presumably a sick bird and certainly a grubby one.

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Gannet, Penzance Harbour, 3rd October

 

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Herring Gulls, Penzance Harbour, 3rd October

Marazion delivered the juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper which performed astonishingly well, apparently unconcerned by the photographers or dog walkers.

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Pectoral Sandpiper, Marazion, 3rd October

 

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Dunlin, Marazion, 3rd October

With the Pec there were 5 wagtails all of which looked like good candidates for White Wagtails and at least one of which did indeed show an entirely grey rump.

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White Wagtail (left) and Rock Pipit (right), Marazion, 3rd October

On the way back to Porthgwarra we stopped off near Drift to have another look at the 2 Black Kites which were both showing well.

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Black Kites, Drift, 3rd October

 

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Wheatear, Sennen, 3rd October

In Penzance I'd bought an extension lead so I could put the light in a slightly more sensible place for attracting moths. This combined with a warm calm night meant an excellent selection including several scarce migrants: Uresiphita gilvata, 2 Old World Webworms, 3 Small Marbleds, a Purple Marbled (all firsts for me) and at least 4 Vestals.

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Old World Webworms, Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Purple Marbled (left) and Uresiphita gilvata (right), Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Small Marbleds, Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Vestals, Porthgwarra, 3rd October

As welll as the scarce migrants there were plenty of commoner species to look at: 3 Eudonia angustea, 2 Rusty-dot Pearls, 2 Rush Veneers, 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 2 Brimstone Moths, Yellow-tail, 3 Dingy Footmen, Dark Sword-grass, 2 Large Yellow Underwings, 10+ Autumnal Rustics, 2+ Setacous Hebrew Characters, Square-spot Rustic, 2 Feathered Brindles, 5+ Black Rustics, Beaded Chestnut, Lunar Underwing, 3 Frosted Oranges, 2 Vine's Rustics, 2 Silver Ys and Snout.

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Dark Sword-grass (left) and Common Marbled Carpet (right), Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Feathered Brindle (left) and Dingy Footman (right), Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Rush Veneers, Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Rusty-dot Pearls, Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

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Yellow-tail (left) and Vine's Rustic (right), Porthgwarra, 3rd October

 

Tuesday 4th October

It was quiet again at Porthgwarra although 2 Tree Pipits flew over again and a Lapland Bunting was heard calling.

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Stonechat, Porthgwarra, 4th October

 

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Wheatear, Porthgwarra, 4th October

I pressed on as far as Faraway Cottage then crossed to Raftra Farm and down to St Levan and finally came across a half-decent bird in the stubble field half a mile north of St Levan. I was hoping to put up something like a Red-throated Pipit among the Meadows but instead I flushed a Quail. Got a relatively decent view of it as it flew low and quick into the adjacent field. Not as good as a rare pipit but nice. St Levan held a Pied Flycatcher and a Snow Bunting flew over.

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Wheatears, St Levan (left) and Grey Wagtail, Polgigga (right), 4th October

 

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Buzzard, between Porthgwarra and St Levan, 4th October

In the evening I headed up to the moor again, flushing another Tree Pipit and then locating the Red-backed Shrike that had been reported earlier but had eluded lots of visitors subsequently.

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Red-backed Shirke, Porthgwarra, 4th October

Interesting corvids included 2 Choughs and 5 Ravens.

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Chough, Porthgwarra, 4th October

When darkness fell it started to rain - not much but enough to put me off putting the light on, so no moths tonight.

 

Wednesday 5th October

A south-westerly blow wasn't much but I hoped it would be sufficient to push a few seabirds close inshore past Porthgwarra. Unfortunately I was wrong and 2 half-hour stints of seawatching during the morning produced a Pomarine Skua, 2 Bonxies and a Sooty Shearwater but virtually nothing else apart from Gannets - only 1 Kittiwake!

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Gannet, Porthgwarra, 5th October

 

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Razorbills, Porthgwarra, 5th October

The land wasn't up to much either though the Red-backed Shrike was still there.

Hayle produced nothing better than 2 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Greenshanks and a Sanderling.

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Black-tailed Godwit (left) and Curlew (right), Hayle, 5th October

A Glossy Ibis had been reported at Stithians so we headed there next, but failed to find it - just 4 Wheatears. Plans for a cream tea before heading back to Porthgwarra were interrupted by a report of a Melodious Warbler at Nanquidno. We couldn't find it, or anyone who'd seen it, but there was a Willow Warbler in the same place that it had supposedly been seen.

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Willow Warbler, Nanquidno, 5th October - was this the bird reported as a Melodious Warbler? It was in exactly the right place and was a sickly individual that sometimes appeared fat and sluggish...

I'd planned to seawatch again from Porthgwarra this evening as the wind had got up but as we arrived back at the cottage it began to rain heavily. I can watch the sea from the cottage, though it's far from ideal being low and further back. When the rain eased a Bonxie went by so I headed up to the headland where I discovered there were still virtually no seabirds passing apart from Gannets - 2 Balearic Shearwaters being the exceptions. With the wind forecast to increase and turn to the NW hopefully Pendeen will be better in the morning.

Balearic Shearwater, Porthgwarra, 5th October

 

Thursday 6th October

With the wind turning to the NW and strengthening Pendeen was the place to be this morning. A most enjoyable seawatch ensued, the highlights for me being 2 Great Shearwaters (including one self-found and pretty close), 4 Sabine's Gulls, 2 Pomarine Skuas and about 90 Balearic Shearwaters.

Sabine's Gull, Pendeen, 6th October

 

Pomarine Skua, Pendeen, 6th October - like many of the Bonxies (see below) this adult Pom showed a white patch on the inner wing, although only present on one wing

 

Balearic Shearwaters, Pendeen, 6th October

Other bits and pieces included 21 Sooty Shearwaters, 40 Arctic Skuas, 60 Great Skuas and Mediteranean Gull. The Bonxies were interesting as many of them showed white patches on the inner wing which, I think, were a consequence of secondary coverts being moulted out revealing white bases to the secondaries that are not normally visible. Presumably it's a normal moult thing as it affected so many birds but strange that I don't remember seeing it before despite having seen many hundreds of Great Skuas off Norfolk at this time of year. There was also a strikingly pale Bonxie.

Sooty Shearwater, Pendeen, 6th October

 

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Great Skuas, Pendeen, 6th October - each row shows one individual

 

Arctic Skuas, Pendeen, 6th October - both birds on each row are the same individual

 

Razorbill, Pendeen, 6th October

 

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Kestrel, Pendeen, 6th October

I headed back to the cottage at lunch time and joined Vitty for a cliff-top walk to the Minack Theatre for cream tea. A glimpse of a largish passerine-like bird looked like a good candidate for Wryneck but I couldn't get it to emerge - but a short distance further it or another Wryneck appeared on the path in front of us. There have been loads of Wrynecks reported in SW Cornwall during the last few days so it was about time I saw one!

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Wryneck, between Porthgwarra and St Levan, 6th October

 

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Ravens, between Porthgwarra and St Levan, 6th October

 

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Cattle and rainbow, Porthgwarra, 6th October

After returning I toyed with the idea of returning to Pendeen for a late afternoon sea watch but decided I'd be looking into the sun which wouldn't be much cop so checked St Just airfield instead. Here I heard that yesterday's Melodious Warbler was still at Nanquidno and had been showing 20 minutes ago, although the person reporting this to me hadn't seen it. I headed straight down and met two guys who described where it had been flitting around. Having seen a Willow Warbler in this location yesterday and knowing that Melodious Warblers aren't renowned for flitting around I didn't have high hopes of seeing a Melody... Sure enough there was the same Willow Warbler, though at times it was lumbering around in a much more Hippolais-like fashion than you might expect. I noticed that the bird was showing some facial damage (including a manky eye) and this was effecting the appearance of the head pattern and I guessed this had contributed to the confusion. Also the bill was permanently slightly open which perhaps created the impression of it having a larger thicker bill. The facial damage appeared more obvious than it had done yesterday (in fact I didn't even notice it yesterday, though the photos all show the bill open so presumably it had already occurred).

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Willow Warbler, Nanquidno, 6th October - with enough imagination this can look just like a Melodious Warbler, apparently

Finally a dusk visit to Drift Reservoir failed to deliver any interesting waders, or any waders at all, but then again it was getting dark. 2 Wheatears on the far shore were all I could muster up. The weather wasn't suitable for mothing again tonight but a Vine's Rustic was found inside the cottage.

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Vine's Rustic, Porthgwarra, 6th October

 

Friday 7th October

With continuing northwesterlies Pendeen seemed to be the sensible place to start, but it proved very disappointing. A Puffin and 8 Balearic Shearwaters later I decided to give up early.

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Great Skua, Pendeen, 7th October

I popped in to St Just where the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling was found, thanks to a local knowing exactly where to look. It performed extremely well and seemed to rule the bird table in one particular garden.

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Rose-coloured Starling, St Just, 7th October

Another attempt at the Glossy Ibis at Stithians was as unsuccessful as the first but Pectoral Sandpipers were seen from both causeways, along with Curlew Sandpiper. On the way there 120 Golden Plovers were flying around Nine Maidens Downs but none seemed to have grey underwings unfortunately.

The Semipalmated Sandpiper hadn't been reported today at Davidstow but it hadn't always been reported early so I thought it was worth a try, especially as a Long-billed Dowitcher had now been discovered there too. I might have left it to the journey home tomorrow as it's a fair way from SW Cornwall, but I was anticipating the drive home to be rushed, needing to get to Suffolk to see the Sandhill Crane that had spent all week there.

None of the birders on Davidstow airfield appeared to be watching anything but at the east end, where the Dowitcher was meant to be, a single photographer was poking his lens out of the window towards a small pool. I pulled up behind him and immediately discovered the Long-billed Dowitcher was just a few feet away from us and the only bird there. To my amazement the photographer proceeded to get out of his car and stroll over to me - surely he would flush it! He then announced that he'd not seen the Dowitcher and was slow to react when I pointed out that it was under his nose and he should get back in his car to avoid flushing it. Incredibly, as he continued talking in a loud voice and then wandered back to his car the Dowitcher continued to sleep completely unconcerned by his bizarre antics. Another birder on the airfield directed me to a Snow Bunting but there was no sign today of the Semi-p.

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Long-billed Dowitcher, Davidstow Airfield, 7th October

On the return to Porthgwarra I paused again at Stithians and yet again the Ibis refused to perform. With cool moon-lit skies and plenty of wind weather was not ideal for mothing but it wasn't raining so the light went on again. Best was what I assume was a Feathered Ranunculus although the markings don't seem to be a perfect match (confirmation would be appreciated). No migrants tonight apart from 4 Silver Ys; just Eudonia angustea, Common Marbled Carpet, Feathered Thorn, 6 Autumnal Rustics, Setaceous Hebrew Character, 2 Feathered Brindles, Vine's Rustic and Snout.

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Feathered Ranunculus (left) and Feathered Brindle (right), Porthgwarra, 7th October

 

Saturday 8th October

Last week a Sandhill Crane, the third for Britain and first this side of the Orkneys, departed from NE Scotland where it had settled for a while and worked its way south down the Scottish and English coasts. When it reached Yorkshire it disappeared and I predicted that it would arrive in Norfolk on Saturday, once I was safely out if its way in Cornwall. It turned out that I was right - it was at Snettisham on Saturday (although not widely reported until after it had gone so not seen there by the masses). My prediction wasn't completely right though as I'd also predicted it would remain in Norfolk until Friday, so I'd miss it upon my return from Cornwall. This was slightly out because it moved to Suffolk on Sunday, not Norfolk, though that was close enough. Unfortunately that wasn't the end of the accuracy in my prediction - I predicted it would leave on Friday just before my return and that's exactly what it did.

Hoping my prediction wouldn't come true I'd been looking forward to seeing it on my way home all week. Each day that passed and the bird was still in place it looked increasingly likely I would connect. It had disappeared briefly a few times, so when I got the message on Friday that it hadn't been seen for a while I wasn't too worried (I'd missed the message about it flying off high to the south). It wasn't until Saturday morning when the journey home had started and I'd emerged from the pager/phone/internet black hole we were staying in that I knew it hadn't been seen again at all on Friday, or that it had flown off high, not just disappeared into the next field. There was perhaps a chance that it would get re-found, in Essex maybe, but it was a long and disappointing drive home - this was a bird I'd have really liked to have seen.

Two Red Kites were seen above the M4 in Berkshire and when I got home Redwings were heard flying overhead.