As points of reference go, the buoy marking the position of the treacherous Runnel Stone off Porthgwarra/Gwennap Head isn’t a bad one to lock your ‘scope on for a day or two of top drawer seawatching.
With Neill at the wheel, and Jase Stannage, Bazzo and I stuffed into his Alfa as it stuck to the tarmac like a magnet for the long hours down into west Cornwall, we motored down on Wednesday night.
Finally familiar place names flashed by in the grey first light, on road signs engulfed in the lush vegetation of high summer hedgerows – Marazion, Mousehole, Lamorna, Rosketal….
We struggled up onto Gwennap Head loaded down with chairs, brollies, scopes, cameras, scoff etc early on Thursday morning (I’m sure that hill has got steeper since I was last here) and scanned the waves from 0630 to 1345.
A gentle westerly brought cloud and mist, before brightening later.
As ever, Cornwall did not disappoint, and a constant westerly procession of Manxies and Gannets, bore quality shear action cruising along with the local traffic.
Porthgwarra/Gwennap Head, 27.7.17, 0630-1345:
Sooty Shearwater 13
Manx Shearwater approx 4,000
Cory’s Shearwater 4
Balearic Shearwater 3
Great Shearwater 3
Storm Petrel 18
plus Chough (9), Shag, GBB, Herring Gull, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Bottle Nosed Dolphin (3), Harbour Porpoise (1), Common Dolphin (7).
With the weather calming down and getting almost too nice we called it a day and headed back towards Penzance, carefully checking behind the settee and under the carpet at St Buryan to see if the Amur Falcon was still about – it wasn’t.
Neill had booked us into the Lugger Inn, which certainly had more beer than we needed, but that didn’t stop us trying to test the fact beyond endurance, before we wobbled off into the tender embrace of a Thursday night in Penzance.
What goes on tour stays on tour – but thanks to Dan Pointon for making sure we all got back to our pit in one piece.
Friday morning was a bit, ahem, tricky after that, and remained so even after a restorative full English.
Still we got back up the cliffs and were settled with 15 or so other birders up on Gwennap Head for round two by 0845.
Greyer today, with a stronger westerly and frequent rain.
Conditions were promising and birds came in much closer, with more big shears and better views of them – and a stunning surprise Wilson’s Petrel, dancing, gliding and pattering over the waves.
The star bird came past at 0910, heralded by the call “interesting petrel” coming from a birder just below me (thank you, thank you).
After a stressful few seconds I had it in my ‘scope – big white rump, straight back edge to the wing and square tail (although this was hard to see).
It didn’t fly like a frantic Stormy, which always look to me like they are running late as they scuttle over the waves – “wind-blown Mars Bar wrapper” remains one of the best birding descriptions I have heard.
At the same time the Wilson’s Petrel lacked the sharp, pointed wing shape of a Leach’s, appearing more compact.
It danced along on dangling legs, pattering before stalling in the wind and sweeping into controlled glides low over the waves. Marvellous.
First one I have seen in British waters (happy, happy, happy).
I lost the Wilson’s as it drifted off west behind the headland, one of many that are off the south west as part of a mini-invasion at the moment.
Porthgwarra/Gwennap Head, 28.7.17, 0845-1130:
Cory’s Shearwater 23
Sooty Shearwater 5
Great Shearwater 3
Manx Shearwater 2,000+
WILSON’S PETREL 1
Storm Petrel 11
Sandwich Tern 1
Med Gull 1
plus Chough (2), Shag, Herring Gull etc.
Some of the Cory’s and Greats were reasonably close in, giving stunning views – the big Cory’s aimlessly wandering along, looking like they had no particular place to go, while any Great Shear close enough to clearly show plumage detail always prompts a big big smile.
We pulled out to head back north just before midday, joining the rain-swept car park otherwise known as Britain’s motorway system to grind up the road with all the other lost souls in bumper-to-bumper tin cans.
Despite a tremendous driving effort from Neill, it took about five years to get back to Merseyside.
Luckily the cliffs and seabird passage were still burnt into our mind’s eye…