Thursday, 8 September 2011

Early Autumn update

Haven't posted in a while, partly because with the new job I haven't had as much time to write rubbish blogposts, and partly because I haven't had as much time to be a rubbish birder.

Anyway, in terms of actually finding stuff for myself, the summer has been pretty uneventful. I added Quail to my self-found list (as has everyone in the country I think), and found some breeding Nightjar near Harrogate, and a pair of HB's at a new location in the New Forest(for myself at least, I'm fairly sure the locals know about them). Twitching was also fairly uneventful, with new birds in the form of a long overdue WR Sand at Saltholme, and a hugely distant and hazy Stilt sand at Lodmoor RSPB. A return trip to Salthome a bit later gave nice comparisons of the back and tail of a Semi-P with a Temminck's Stint(the Semi-P was being thoroughly crap and not coming out from behind the causewy at all). I probably saw more stuff, but I was presumably so un-enamoured with it that I can't remember them.

But now Autumn has started, the blood is up again, and the first trip in anger was had, down to Cornwall for a spot of seawatching on August bank holiday weekend. In hindsight, I clearly chose the wrong weekend, and sat in the wrong location in Cornwall pretty much everytime I moved, but these things can't be helped. I console myself with the thought that I was at least out in the field seeing birds rather than sat at home on my arse, despite the trip having cost me 150 quid+ with only 1 very crap tick to show for it,despite the weather, time of year and location promising a whole lot more.

Thursday night saw me and Tim heading down from York at 7pm, aiming to get a little sleep in PG car park before dawn. As we hit Cornwall, a storm was brewing, wth immense lightning flashes over Dartmoor and Bodmin, promising a good seawatch ahead. As dawn broke, Ash Howe and Joe Stockwell pulled into the car park, and we headed for Gwennap head. The day started well at PG, with 3 Great Shears, 10+ stormies mooching, and our best counts of Balearics for the weekend. In the afternoon, we moved on to Pendeen as the wind had switched a bit, and arrived to the impressive site of thousands of Manxies streaming past, with good numbers of Sooties caught up with them. However, I found it more of a struggle to get on birds from here with the higher elevation, and missed all 3 of the large shearwaters that were called out, which resulted in a rather bad tempered seawatch on my part. A couple of Basking sharks thrashing around went some way to cheering me up a bit.

Saturday saw more of the same off Pendeen, with large numbers of Manxies and a good passage of skuas as well, which included 3 poms, including one stunning intermediate morph bird with full spoons just beyond the rocks. (Joe and Ash missed most of the moring, including that Pom, through a combination of sleeping, getting breakfast, and generally being a bit dudey). By about half 11 the passage had dried up, and we headed down to the Hayle, where we found (at least we didn't know of their existence before we rocked up) a Little Stint and a Curlew Sand, along with about half a dozen Med Gulls of varying ages. We headed to Long Rock, full of sunbathers, holidaymakers and a few definitelynotstrungasapurplesandcostheyweresatonrocksinmountsbay Knot, where we got a call from Ash to say the Black Kite had been seen again on the Lizard. We headed off to see the bird, and I picked it up briefly dropping down behind a house in the direction of Lizard point. Unfortunately the others wouldn't leave with only 3 second, head on views of a Black Shite (in fact, didn't even believe I had identified it), so I wasted at least half an hour of seawatching time watching the most boring raptor in the world fly around a field eating a vole, whilst locals and holidaymakers borrowed our bins and said stupid things like 'isn't it beautiful' and 'look how big it is'.
We headed back to pendeen, to hear we had missed about 3 manx shearwaters, and continued to see about 3 more for the rest of the afternoon. then we went to the pub and drank Rattler. After the Pom, that was probably the highlight.

On Sunday we got up, I chucked some grass in a north easterly direction, and we drove to PG. Quickly realising I am an idiot, and cannot tell which way the wind is blowing, we headed back to pendeen (but not before logging a few Sooties)and didn't see a lot from there either, the highlight of an otherwise quiet morning being an adult Sabs Gull picked up by Brett. By (sometime before) midday it had gone dead again, so the three others went to string stuff at Drift whilst I slept. None of us were particularly succesful. An afternoon session off PG was more fun, with a steady drip of Sooties and skuas keeping us in good humour, with Joe being a wuss and staying down in the cove (but still managing to see roughly the same birds). The highlight was an adult Roseate tern which we succesfully picked out, despite the obvious skepticism of the Seawatch SW observer, who missed it, picked it up late, then sounded very doubtful about its identity. We were very pleased to have it confirmed later by Brett and Joe who had watched it at much closer range as it had passed the Cove.

On Monday, the wind had completely died, so we sacked of seawatching, Tim dragged me down to Devon kicking and screaming, to sit in Bank Holiday traffic round Paignton and eventually look at a few partially concealed Cirl Bunts in a hedge in Broadstairs car park (tart tick number 3 for Tim). We split from Ash and Joe who headed back to watch woodpeckers in Hants, whilst we continued on to stare at a reedbed in Somerset (Meare Heath). The pool in front of the reeds had a couple of Garganey, a Spotshank, a few Greensands and other bits and bobs that made for a pleasant few hours unsuccesful wait. I wandered down to Noah's lake to watch an osprey sit on a large stick, and I'm told that if there had been space in the hide for me to turn my head, I could have seen a Great White Egret (which Tim promptly ticked on my return to Spotted Crake watch). There wasn't, so I didn't, and a chat with Dan Pointon, sheer laziness and a pressing engagement with a 6 hour drive all conspired to stop me returning to the hide for a second attempt to see one of the largest and most obvious birds on the British list.

Overall, it wasn't a bad weekend, with some very good birds seen. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, it is the story of what might have been that means it was not a pleasant an experience as it might have been otherwise. On the Saturday, we (and everyone else watching) missed what seems to be a very dodgy claim of Yelkouan Shear, on the Sunday, we missed a close in Little Shear (that passed PG cove whilst we were watching from Gwennap) last thing in the evening, partly because we had decided passage was done for the day despite all evidence to the contrary, and because we were looking to far out at Sooties, despite repeated warnings from regulars that the biggies pass close in. It was even worse for Joe, who had left the cove ten minutes before it was seen, due to another pressing engagement with a nap. On the same evening, one of our number (who shall remain unnamed *cough* hants birder *cough* Cockram *cough* failed to mention an unidentified bird which possibly/probably got picked up and seen on Scilly the next day, until we reached the pub that night. A few days (one??) after, a Baird's was found on the Hayle, and this week, record numbers of Great Shears and Balearics went past. Overall, these cast a bit of a shadow on our trip, but at least we saw the birds we did, better than being stuck in front of the TV any day of the week.

The big question is, with more weather fronts piling in to the Uk over the next few weeks, where to head to next? My money's on NW Ireland, where I fully expect to find myself, hopefully finding, not twitching, before September is out.

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