Saturday, 1 March 2014

West Cornwall - part 1

Oh, good grief. Where do I start? And where do I finish? So many birds. So many photos. Returned late last night from a great week in west Cornwall with Rob and Dianne. We stayed in Mousehole, at this place which I can VERY heartily recommend. Weather was mostly very good, lots of sun, mild enough for butterflies. We had one day of greyness and gales which happened to be the same day I'd arranged to go out birding with a local, Jayne from the RSPB forums. I'm actually glad it worked out that way in retrospect, as if I hadn't had plans I might have done nothing much that day, and it turned out that we saw loads, despite it being a bit grim. I've been through my pics and selected... too many for one post so I'll cover the week in two or more separate posts. Here is day 1 - covering Saturday 22nd, our first full day.

First of all - here's Mousehole. An absolutely lovely little village just three miles along from Penzance. It is centred around a little harbour, with an entrance that's surely too small for most boats (this is the 'mousehole' for which the place is named, if the children's book I read on the subject is to be believed). The village is a maze of narrow roads and alleyways that scramble up vertiginous hillsides.

So. Day 1. First thing I had a walk around the village. You can go north along the coast a short way via a low concrete path (which gets seriously splashy at high tide) alongside the rocky shore, so I did that. It was a clear start to the day, though a bit too early for my camera to cope with the light. Still very much worthwhile heading out at dawn though.

Gulls were all over the place. Mostly Herring, also a few Great Black-backs, Black-headed and the odd Kittiwake.

This Grey Seal swam slowly past, heading north, and frequently turning to eyeball me as it went. I saw it or another exactly like it pretty much every day.

Down on the rocks, Oystercatchers prowled. This isn't really a good sort of shoreline for waders, but there were lots of Turnstones around the village harbour. Offshore there is a long, thin rocky island, and from here nine Curlews headed inland, giving their lovely musical calls.

Returning towards the harbour in the heart of the village, I stopped dead when this little beauty popped up on a rock by the main car park. A female(ish) Black Redstart, my favourite bird species. Sorry about the noise - the sun was up by now but light was still very low. I tried to manouevre to a better viewing position but the Black Red was having none of that and flipped neatly up over a wall and out of sight.

Every rooftop had its Herring Gull pair. I felt very at home with the constant background of their conversations.

Proper sunshine now, and it was good to see lots of garden flowers in bloom.

I found a nice spot to stand on the side of an elevated road giving views north across the harbour, and mentally bookmarked it for later use. While I was there I saw a Pied and a Grey Wagtail, the latter the only one of the trip. Pausing only to photograph a Dunnock, I returned to the cottage for breakfast, and later Dianne and I went on a slow stroll to Penzance.

I showed Dianne the Black Redstart spot and the bird appeared again, but even more briefly than the first time.

Also scored a Pied Wagtail here. There is a bit of a beach among the rocks, all flat slaty grey stones with a liberal scattering of the leaves and stems of what looked like kelp.

A Kittiwake tried to sneak by unnoticed in the general southwards drift of gulls. We took the shore path as far as it went, then returned and climbed up to the coast road which would take us to Penzance, via Newlyn.

At Newlyn, we stopped to buy snacks, and fortuitously found our way to a corner of the harbour to eat them. As I walked across the harbour, a little swarm of Turnstones came skittering after me, and responded with great excitement when I threw them a few bits of crushed-up Mini Cheddar biscuit. Once we'd sat down, they came almost within touching distance and hoovered up every crumb, in between squeaking agitatedly at each other.

The harbour waters are clear and strangely swimming pool-like. In them swam this Shag. We had already seen plenty of Shags offshore but it was lovely to get a really close look at one.

There were also a couple of Great Northern Divers in the harbour. Again, we'd seen a few offshore but not close up and personal like this. I don't know this species well at all, but over the course of the week I must have seen about 20 of them, and feel a lot better acquainted with them that I did before. Gorgeous birds.

On with the walk. We stuck to the coast when paths allowed it, and noticed as we headed into Penzance that the damage from the winter's storms and big tides is still very much in evidence. In particular, the Jubilee pool looks really battered, and a notice on its railings says that the entire structure is now dangerous and without a big cash injection it will have to be demolished. That would be a shame. This is a beautiful art deco lido and clearly much loved by the people of the town. Hopefully it can be saved.

We lost the sun about now. But gained a couple of new seabirds - a drake Eider whose presence was revealed by the juvenile gull that kept bombing it, and a Razorbill doing its best flying penguin impression.

We went into Penzance for tea, cake and shopping. Then walked back the same way, a little more briskly than the walk out because we were tired of foot and keen to get back. However, we did stop again at Newlyn on the way back. Dianne went to the Co-op and I went to the harbour, and I'm glad I did because I found something special.

There's something very disconcerting about finding a rarity in a busy towny sort of place, but there it undeniably was, just a few feet away in the quiet bit of the harbour, alongside lots of other more mundane larids. An absolutely beautiful adult Kumlien's Gull - my first. This visitor from North America is a bird of cryptic nature. Some say it's a subspecies of Iceland Gull. Others say it forms a stable 'hybrid swarm' between Iceland and Thayer's Gull. The rest say it's a full species in its own right... but Team Subspecies seem to hold sway, at least at the moment. I had known that there was a Kumlien's at Marazion, a few miles down the coast, so supposed that this bird must be the same one, on a day trip to Newlyn. But a look at Cornwall Birding's website later on revealed that the Marazion bird was still present and correct at Marazion while I was looking at this bird in Newlyn, so it's a different one. Not sure if I was technically the 'finder' of this bird, but I didn't know it was there and no other birders were around so I'm calling it a self-found :) A great way to finish the birding day. I insisted Dianne have a look at it too and she seemed quite convincingly impressed. Unlike Rob, who on being shown my photos that evening said 'It's a gull. Another bloody gull.' Philistine.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Sounds and looks like a great place Marianne. Nice to get up close to a GN Diver, what a super looking bird!
Well done finding the gull, always good to find the unexpected and a rarity is even better.
Look forward to part two.