Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cornwall Holiday - Day Nine

Saturday was the last day of our holiday and we really wanted to have another go at finding an unusual migrant, so headed down to Rame Head. We were probably too late in the day (around 9:30am) as there was very little about. However this Common Buzzard was flying around calling very distinctly, and was joined by a second, we watched them for around fifteen minutes gliding around overhead:

From Rame Head we went across to Penlee Battery Nature Reserve ( which is a small nature reserve but was frankly excellent. There were a lot of warblers around. This ChiffChaff was very curious and got to within 2 metres of us:

He showed really well and was for me the highlight of the holiday in terms of photography:

Further round the reserve we encountered a group of Goldfinch including this juvenile, who was checking out the juvenile Willow Warbler next to him:

I could have stayed here for hours but we decided to crack on and head to Cotehele ( We didn't go into the house but explored the grounds, having lunch down by the river, a very picturesque spot. We walked from the river up to a working mill, and bought some fresh ground floor. It is still a water powered mill:

Cotehele for me had much more to offer than Lanhydrock in terms of location and opportunities to explore. Our final bit of birding was watching Coal Tits and Willow Tits flitting around the yews. While watching this group we were sure we could hear a woodpecker. We spent about ten minutes scanning the trees and eventually spotted a Nuthatch furiously bashing a nut against a branch - which was a first!

Cornwall Holiday - Day Eight

Day Eight started with a trip across the Tamar to Saltash to meet our 73 year old guide for the day. She has been leading walks on Dartmoor for years and knows the area very well. We'd requested a walk that took in both the landscape and the history. We parked up and headed up Down Tor. This is view from the top back towards the car park (down there somewhere), with the reservoir beyond:

The weather just got better while we were on the moor, and the walking was mostly easy. After about 2 miles we came across this bronze age stone circle and stone path which appears to lead up to some sort of mound, perhaps a burial site:

Our guide had told us we wouldn't find any birds but while walking through some thick brush trying to find some rodding rocks (used to pump air into the mines), we startled a Woodcock which was up and gone before I could swing my camera round! We also encountered Skylarks, Woodlarks and Meadow Pipits, in fact Dartmoor has a large population of ground nesting birds, significantly more than we expected to see. We settled down for a packed lunch by the ruins of a blacksmiths workshop and were munching away when this Red Fox appeared, no more than 10 yards from us. He watched us and we watched him then he pottered away:

The walk carried on into the afternoon past more standing stones, burial mounds, mining ruins and other marks of human activity. The Dartmoor ponies had found a use for one of the stones as least:

We completed an approximately 10 mile loop with the last half a mile across very thick bracken that really punished the feet but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening experience, enhanced by exceptionally calm weather. The skies and landscapes are huge up on the moors:

Cornwall Holiday - Day Seven pt 2

The views on the whole walk around Fowey and Polruan were stunning I have picked out a couple of highlights here. This snap shows the view overlooking Polruan and beyond towards Gribbin Head from the point near Bodinnick.

This secluded beach is at the bottom a very steep cliff path, if you click on the photo and zoom in there's one person on the beach:

Finally this tall ship was one of two anchored up on the river, taken from the foot ferry as we passed below her:

Parking and getting about both Fowey and Polruan is a bit of a nightmare but they should be seen at least once!

Cornwall Holiday - Day Seven

Day Seven promised excellent weather - all day - which would be a first on this holiday! We set off after a big brekkie to walk a 6 mile circuit around Fowey and Polruan including the cliffs along from Polruan. We got the foot ferry from Fowey across to Polruan and then climbed to the cliffs. Along the cliffs after about a mile of wobby legged drops and awesome views, we turned into a cove. The path we were on had a fresh water streamlet running across it and was very busy with birds around us, warblers, a Blackbird, Yellowhammer and Linnets (thanks Will):

There was a flock of them however so we had plenty of chances to study them! We stayed in and around this spot for twenty minutes observing them drinking in pairs and groups:

This spot was magic, truly magic, you just didn't know what was going to turn up next. I think after a while though the birds wanted us to get away so they could drink in peace so we carried on along the path. As we approached the turn in-land, which I was really looking forward to after two miles of cliff path, we encountered a group of stonechats including this one which took off close-by:

The last part of the cliff walk is a truly steep climb at the end of which I was absolutely gasping so a five minute break was called for. This is the view back from the top of the path. The published walk actually takes you round the other way but frankly turning round once or twice is just as good!

Having cut in land, we skirted around the Fowey river and descended down to a crossing at one end. Perched on the quayside was this young Shag, my first chance to photograph one at a sensible distance. He/she seemed blissfully unaware of us so I maanged to get quite close before we headed on.


Cornwall Holiday - Day Six

Day six started with a dash to get to Eden and beat the crowds, we got there around 9:30 which i'm sure was the right thing to do. Walking around the perimeter planting areas there was still plenty of birds around and not too many humans. It is a most impressive facility:

In the tropical biome they have introduced some beasties including tree-frogs and these Sulawesi White-eyes:

The White-eyes, bred at Newquay Zoo, have obviously settled in as there were youngsters begging for food from the adults feeding on these paw-paws:

There were native birds in there too including a quite bedraggled looking Robin, which by now we had come to observe was the most ubiquitous bird in Cornwall, they are literally everywhere!

I had to include this snap of these Globe Artichokes, from the temperate Biome as their form and structure is so visually appealing:

Eden was great, if expensive, but we were delighted to head out around lunchtime as there were people and coaches pouring in. From Eden we went on to Lanhydrock House (National Trust - which was quite interesting. We trekked around the grounds and the gardens but it didn't really inspire, so back to the Fowey Hotel for dinner (which did inspire!).

Cornwall Holiday - Day Five

Day five started with a trip down to the Lizard which we'd both been keenly anticipating for its birding opportunities and in particular reports of an Aquatic Warbler 2 days previously. On the way down we stopped off at Poldhu Cove.

There was a lot of bird activity in the reed beds by the car park. Heading out to the beach this Robin got very close, taking insects from the path around our feet then popping up to sing literally a few feet away. He was a very bold Robin:

It was remarkable how clear the day was just a mile or so north of Lizard Point. We decided to walk around the cove area towards the church and loop back to the car and encountered these Stonechats:

Lizard Point however was deeply blanketed in a combination of fog and sea mist such that you could see barely 10 metres and all you could hear was the intermitent hoot of the fog horn. We turned tail and headed back in-land.

Halfway up the lizard coast between Lizard Point and Culdrose is Gunwalloe, which is a very pleasant spot as you can see from this snap below. We encountered Wheatear, Linnet and a significant number of Barn Swallows either around the hedgerows leading to the cove or perched in numbers on a rock looking out to sea, which is something I really didn't expect to see. My guess is the wind direction and strength was putting them off starting their mammoth journey.

We decided to head from Poldhu Cove up to Truro and to follow the River Fal in-land. We stopped a short way along the road to observe the Curlews and gulls in the river estuary and this White Wagtail was hopping along the path by the car. I followed him and grabbed a snap as he hopped on to the roof of a nearby house.

Finally we headed on again, this time to Par Pool, which was over-run with Canada Geese and Mute Swans. There were a couple of Herons and Cormorants but they were highly outnumbered. There's a patch of rough land between the pool and the beach however which was teeming with tits and finches. These Long-tailed Tits did their usual trick of following us from where we'd been watching them all the way to the edge of the trees:

They are the most inquisitive birds.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cornwall Holiday - Day Four

We started Monday morning by heading to Hayle Estuary and the RSPB reserve car park. There were literally hundreds of gulls around and a fair number of curlews in the distance. Hayle is quite a remarkable spot and we think its draw has increased as other natural resources are used or spoiled (like Stithians Reservoir which was a major disaapointment).

Back in the RSPB hide overlooking the scrapes we saw our first Greenshank, but the distance was too great for a photograph. We headed up in to Hayle itself where the estuary ends in a bank. The tide almost high leaving little wading room but we did happen across our first Whimbrel:

You can distinguish between a Wimbrel and a Curlew both in terms of the length of the beak - the Whimbrel's is shorter - and by the head markings - the Whimbrel having a prominent pale median crownstripe and darker eye stripe than the curlew.

From Hayle we headed on to Marazion and the RSPB reserve, Marazion Marshes. The sea mist was lying heavy such that you couldn't see St Michael's Mount and the visibility on the marshes was poor. We were hoping for an aquatic warbler but no such luck. Having been back and forth through the marshes, and with the tide now mostly out we decided to cross the causeway to the mount ( On the climb, which is acutally quite steep in places, we spotted this Chough, you can tell it by the colour (red) of its beak and the location - coastal Cornwall.

The views from the mount were excellent although I suspect the whole experience would have been much better had it been a clear day. As the there was still plenty of daylight left and with the tide still mostly out we headed back to Hayle Estuary for a second look. The view from the road, just outside the reserve itself, was as busy as usual but a bright yellow flash caught my attention. We only saw it for a minute but the Yellow Wagtail drinking from the stream in the middle-distance was a clear spot (and a first), I hope to see more and closer next year. Back then into Hayle itself, where we parked briefly to observe the feeding Little Egrets on the incoming tidal waters:

Cornwall Holiday – Day Three

We headed for Marazion and St Michaels Mount first thing but the sea mist was so thick we turned around and headed back to Helston (where we were staying) and then set out on a walk around Loe Pool and on to Porthleven. The mist stayed close and at one point you couldn't see across Loe Pool at all, even from the bank. The owl that was hooting on the far bank added to the eerie feeling. Porthleven was a very pleasant place to stop for a cup of tea and we even enjoyed a brief moment of sunshine!

This juvenile Herring Gull was begging from the tops of cars, so clearly someone had been feeding him recently:

We got the bus back from the top of Porthleven to Helston and then jumped back in the car and headed to Stithians reservoir, which is supposedly a nature reserve. This place was a shambles with accesses closed, the nature reserve looks like it has been resolutely ignored for years with only the watersports folk up the lake getting their half of the bargain. We did venture into one of the hides and spotted a pair of juvenile Common Buzzards wandering around on the ground, which frankly is very unusual behaviour. This one got close enough to snap:

We left Stithians very disappointed and headed back to Portreath for a cup of tea, this is the rock in the middle of the bay, which was looking dramatic I felt :)

Cornwall Holiday – Day Two

Day two was spent with family and included a trip to Porthtowan, with it’s wide-open sandy beach amongst the looming cliffs. It turns out we had picked a week with spring tides, this it what Porthtowan beach looks like at very low tide:

Out to sea we observed a Shag, a distinct cormorant like bird but it was too far out to get a useable snap. Having trekked for a couple of miles across the sand, we headed around the headland for an ice cream. This Rock Pipit was bobbing around the tourists looking for tidbits:

I pursued the Rock Pipit around the hut and found this juvenile:

Having spent ten minutes observing and photographing these birds we headed back around to the car, with this iconic view of Cornwall behind us:

Heading off the beach we found a clearly exhausted racing pigeon (it barely flinched as we approached, as it couldn’t muster the effort having barely made landfall), which we collected up and delivered to a relative who races them, the latest update was the pigeon was being fed prior to being released in Bristol to make its way home to Northern Ireland!

Cornwall Holiday – Day One

We started our trip by heading to Cornwall via Devon (there ain’t no other way!) and broke the trip up by stopping off at Roadford Reservoir, which wasn’t too far off the track. The reservoir itself was very quiet with only a few geese and ducks in one corner, so having had tea and cake we decided to drive further along the perimeter to the suggested ‘birding’ location. En route we spotted a raptor landing in a tree alongside the road. We were very close to a Common Buzzard, which was a great start to the holiday! I tried to close enough to get a decent snap but as I approached it took-off and headed out across the field, so this was the best I could get:

The views from this side of the reservoir across the Devon countryside were stunning and the weather boded well for the holiday: