Sunday 21 February 2016


The dramatic Mount's Bay from Trenow Cove.

I never need much of excuse to head down to Cornwall, even if it may be due to work commitments. With a quick job to carry out on Monday morning, I decided to head southwest a day early and get a spot of winter, seaside birding under my belt. While it is not to everyone's taste, I just love hiking along the deserted coastal footpaths and doing battle against the elements at this time of year.

Following a 1.00am departure from Warwickshire and a quick kip at the birder's traditional stop-over site of Exeter Services, my initial port of call was a blustery Stithians Reservoir. Here I enjoyed great views of a mobile Slavonian Grebe, a long overdue 'Cornish tick'. Other sightings included a female Pintail, four Goldeneye and a mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare

I then continued my journey west, stopping off at Helston along the way. It was here where I could not resist paying the boating lake on the outskirts of town a quick visit to check on a particularly obliging adult Whooper Swan. It is pretty unusual to get so close to this 'wild' species of swan and it will be interesting to see how long this bird lingers at this unusual location. Whilst it did pay a bit of interest in the Sunday morning 'crust-chuckers', it did keep a respectable distance and there was no sign of any rings to suggest captive origin. I am willing to give it the benefit of doubt, like the drake Wood Duck I saw at the same site a fair few years ago whilst twitching a Ring-billed Gull...... only joking folks!

Whooper Swan (adult) - Helston, Cornwall.

Following a quick circuit of the lake I then headed across the road to check out the local sewage works. Up to three Common Chiffchaff were found fly-catching around the pans along with a couple of Grey Wagtail and several Pied Wagtail. Along the perimeter fence, several Goldcrests were spotted and a Firecrest was heard calling several times, but unfortunately not seen. There was also a small flock of Siskin feeding in the birch and alder. 

Boat Cove looking eastwards.

It was then onward to the quiet village of Perranuthnoe on the south coast. From here I took the coastal footpath west towards Marazion to search for a Cornish mega-rarity. A thorough search of Boat Cove produced just a Little Egret, a few Curlew and a number of Oystercatcher. Undeterred, I then continued my way further along to the more substantial Trenow Cove. Searching this location was a daunting prospect with the vast rocky shoreline easily able to swallow up and conceal a small, American wading bird.

Further searches produced the same species already mentioned, in addition to several pair of Rock Pipit. There was hope though. The tide was coming in pretty quickly and this would in theory make my task slightly easier. As I waited, I decided to check the sea where a couple of Black-throated Diver showed particularly well on the choppy water. As much as I tried, I could not string either of them into the much rarer PACIFIC DIVER that has spent a number of winters in Mount's Bay since 2007. Other species of note included a pair of Red-throated Diver and several small groups of Guillemot.

It was while tracking yet another Curlew in flight that my luck suddenly changed. As the bird landed, I noticed that it had sought out a small flock of the same species to snuggle up with. At the edge of this group there was a smaller, duskier looking bird with a stonking eye stripe. This was the bird I had been eager to see, Cornwall's first and only HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL. a first-winter individual. The bird initially spent the majority of time sleeping until it was eventually disturbed by the incoming tide. At this stage, fantastic scope views were enjoyed as it poked around the rocks for a while and preened in the open for about thirty minutes. It then took flight in an easterly direction and was lost to view.

Hudsonian Whimbrel (digiscoped)

As I happily skipped back to the car for lunch, I stumbled upon the bird once again, this time in Boat Cove. The tide had also brought in larger quantities of both Oystercatcher and Curlew along with much smaller numbers of Turnstone and the odd Common Redshank. As the water encroached further, the HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL became agitated once again and flew high east. This was another opportunity to view its all dark back and rear end, features that distinguish it from our familiar Eurasian whimbrel species.

After devouring my packed lunch, I continued onward through Marazion and Penzance until I reached Newlyn harbour. It was time for marathon session of Laridae appreciation. Observing gulls at a location like this sure beats a gloomy West Midlands reservoir roost in the middle of winter. You are able to sit back, relax and study the intricacies involved with aging the different species without straining your eyes and developing hypothermia. Having said that, Caspian Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls are pretty hard to come by all the way down here in the extreme southwest.

Initially the number of large gulls around the fish market was disappointingly low, however I soon picked up the head of a curious juvenile Glaucous Gull at it peered down at me from the edge of the roof. All gulls then took flight and spread out around the town, calling noisily as they went. These consisted mainly of argenteus race Herring Gulls along with small numbers of Great Black-backed Gulls and the odd Black-headed Gull

Glaucous Gull (juvenile female) - Newlyn.

Whilst waiting for the flock to settle down I decided to turn my attention to a bit a sea-watching again. In the relatively calm waters off Tolcarne Beach there were two Great Northern Diver as well as the odd Guillemot, Cormorant and Shag. Along the shoreline itself there were also plenty of Rock Pipit and a few Pied Wagtail.

Glaucous Gull (juvenile female) - Newlyn.

With the gulls refusing to settle down, I then made my way over to the Penlee Lifeboat Station to check the general area. Almost immediately I picked up the same juvenile Glaucous Gull as before as it loafed among the moorings. Whilst trying to secure a few photographs, an extremely friendly, salty old seadog advised me that another bird was perched up on the harbour wall. No sooner had the fisherman chugged off in his little boat than the second bird appeared and almost landed on top of the first. This new bird was an absolute brute, similar in size to a Great Black-backed Gull, a large male bird no doubt. What a treat it was to enjoy not one, but two of these scarce visitors from the Arctic at such very close range.

Glaucous Gull (juvenile male) - Newlyn.

With a fabulous day drawing to an end, I travelled the short distance around the coast to the beautiful village of Mousehole (pronounced mow-zel in Cornish). It was here I positioned myself at the excellent Rock Pool Cafe, grabbed a brew and started my quest to find a troublesome first-winter AMERICAN HERRING GULL. A bird had been present in the roost at St Clement's Isle the previous night so my fingers were crossed that it would reappear this evening. I have seen this recently split species up in Scotland before, but it would have been a bonus to add it to both my English and Cornish lists.

Mousehole - from the Rock Pool Cafe.

After over a hour of scanning, I finally picked up a possible candidate. This young herring gull type was extremely dark below, with a distinct cut off above the chest, a pale head and a pink-based bill with a dark tip. Unfortunately before I could study it further it dropped down into one of the ravines on the island. I was pretty gutted not to get a view of the wing pattern or the tail. It was all pretty frustrating, but that is 'gulling' I suppose.
American Herring Gull by K Mullarney

With the cafe about to close, I joined a small group of local birders up in the car park where most of us hung around until dark without any further sign of the bird. Despite this disappointment it had been another truly memorable 'dawn til dusk' birding extravaganza in my favorite of all the English Counties. It was then time to make my weary way back up the A30 to Launceston to spend the night at my dad's place in Egloskerry.

St Michael's Mount selfie!

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you had a good time mate and some nice birds, nice images of the Glauc...............