Seems a long time ago (and a lot of road miles), when Neill Hunt picked me up on Thursday evening and we drove through the night to Cornwall, pitching up at Sticklebrick Lake before dawn.
I think that’s what it was called, it may have been Siblyback Reservoir – either way, we were both knackered and it looked mighty fine at first light, with the surrounding moors covered in a heavy frost.
Pretty as the lake was, the long-staying drake Lesser Scaup was nowhere to be seen, so with mild frostbite, we headed out as the sun began to warm the landscape to Dozmary Pool – no sign of the Smew that has been hanging around there, but luckily the Lesser Scaup had relocated and we had good, if distant, ‘scope views of the little beauty.
With the temperature rising (we’re a good week or two behind spring-wise up here), we drove onto Perranuthnoe and went scrambling over the scree, boulders and rocks to the east of the village in search of the Hudsonian Whimbrel.
Great Northern and Red Throated Divers offshore, Fulmars overhead, but the Whimbrel was AWOL.
St Mounts Bay looked good, but it would have looked better with the Hudsonian Whimbrel in it, and after checking the waterfront around Marazion for the Yankee wader without result, we moved on west of Penzance for pleasant, if uneventful birding in the sun.
We got back to Perranuthnoe in the early afternoon, and this time walked west to Boat Cove, where after a bit of a wait, the Hudsonian Whimbrel suddenly emerged from its hiding place in the rocks, pushed out by the rising tide.
It treated us to a buff-rumped five star fly-past.
It looked small and uniform-coloured in flight, and in a bizarre way it reminded me in flight of an Upland Sand (apart from the bendy beak of course).
Was the trademark Whimbrel trill a bit different too? Perhaps softer toned, or quieter than our birds….not sure?
Superb – my first British tick of 2016.
The bird circled out over the sea, before dropping back onto the shore to feed amongst the rocks around an old high tide strand just beneath the coastal path.
Small Tortoiseshell and numerous bees out as we walked back to the car, mojo reinstated, all smiles and ready for more Cornish birding.
We called into the rocks behind Penzance railway station, a particularly salubrious neck of the woods, hidden to the world by a high wall, and consquently the haunt of loons (no, not the diver kind), teenagers and all manner of local “character”.
At least two of the six Black Redstarts wintering here were showing and a fine drake Eider was offshore.
Goldcrests were singing as we pulled away from the Penzance harbourside and went round to Mousehole to settle in outside the Rockpool cafe with a strong coffee to check the gull roost that builds every evening on St Clement’s Isle just offshore.
Remarkable how quickly spring disappeared as the sun sank and the mercury plummetted.
We couldn’t pick out the American Herring Gull or Glauc that have been coming to roost here and called it quits at 1730 to whizz back to Penzance, book into a splendiferous bnb, shower, then speed walk down to The Dolphin for a Friday night away game.
This marvellous pub is apparently the site where Walter Raleigh smoked his first potato, the humourless ghost of Oliver Cromwell scowls at the clientele and most importantly it has long been the watering hole of choice for the unit whenever we find ourselves in Penzance.
It would have been rude not to spend the evening there…
A good kippage later and stuffed with a full English brekkie we hit the Hayle Estuary first thing this morning for Kingfishers fishing from pylon wires, hordes of Med Gulls and a young Spoonbill sweeping the still shallows at Ryan’s Field.
A reasonable gull roost on the mud at the end of Lelant Water had a corking young Glaucous Gull, 30+ Med Gulls, and at least four Greenshanks, while two Chiffchaffs were singing in the trees behind us.
With Neill at the wheel, we left the Hayle at about 10am and began the long journey back uphill to the north.
A minor detour later and we were able to check out Broadsands on the English Riviera for Cirl Buntings by lunchtime.
Two males and one or two females came down to the feeding station in the warm sun and a Raven croaked overhead, like they always do.
My attempts at photography were as risible as ever, although the chance to watch the wary Cirls for the first time in Blighty for many years was mighty fine.
Offshore a Black Throated Diver was roll-preening before we returned to the tarmac.
Thanks as ever Neill – a great two days, plenty of miles, plenty of laughs, plenty of birds.