West Cornwall 2021

Phil Beraet
October 9th-15th

October is often a good time to visit West Cornwall with the draw of autumn migrants and the chance of rarer visitors from both the east and west given favourable weather and wind conditions. The weather for this trip was influenced by a fairly static area of high pressure and the resulting conditions were mostly mild and unchanging. Some of our highlights included Black-necked Grebe, Rose-coloured Starling and Semipalmated Sandpiper. These were amply supported by excellent views of Common Firecrests, Spotted Redshanks and the now well established population of Red-billed Choughs. This autumn, all across the region, including the Isles of Scilly, migrants and rarities were very low in numbers and variety. The next visit to this area of West Cornwall is in October 2022.

October 9th: Drift reservoir, Land’s End Airport, Nanquidno valley, Trevescan, Mounts Bay
Daily 53 New 53 Running 53
Weather: Mild with sunny intervals, a light SE-SW wind, 16ºC

We met up at the station in Penzance and, once gear was stowed in the vehicle, headed off to our first birding stop at Drift Reservoir. Here, water levels were very high with little edge showing but we did manage to find a Black-necked Grebe along with the more common Little Grebes and Great-crested Grebes. A Little Egret and Grey Herons were feeding along the edges as a group of Canada Geese and a few Great Cormorants pottered about on the water. These water birds were supported by a cast of common species such as Common Woodpigeons, European Herring Gulls, Rooks and Carrion Crows. Up to the airport next where only Eurasian Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were added with this area always worth a look en-route to Nanquidno. In the valley there was a nice selection of species including Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Common Chiffchaffs, Northern Ravens and Stock Doves and our first seabirds of the trip with Northern Gannets and European Shags. The highlight here was two close Red-billed Choughs in a trackside field giving great views with a group of Western Jackdaws. On the way back towards Penzance, I thought we would try Trevescan for the reported Rose-coloured Starling. We successfully found it and watched the juvenile bird for some time fly-catching from wires alongside a group of its commoner cousins. We ended the day with a look around Mounts Bay and the harbour where a smart drake Common Eider was diving for crabs and Ruddy Turnstones, Common Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings were added to the day’s tally.

October 10th: Pendeen, Kenidjack valley, Marazion Marsh
Daily 53 New 14 Running 67
Weather: Mild with sunny intervals, a moderate N-NE wind, 15ºC

We began the day at Pendeen where the sea watching was hard work but we did manage to add a few species for the trip including our first Common Guillemots, Rock Pipits, Northern Wheatear, Common Linnets and a total of 70 Common Scoters heading south. Both immature and adult European Shags were lined up on the rocks offshore along with a few loafing Eurasian Oystercatchers. Scanning the fields behind the lighthouse I managed a very brief flight view of a Merlin which suddenly appeared chasing Meadow Pipits and then, just as suddenly, disappeared below the hillside. We next went looking for migrants in the Kenidjack valley and managed a skulking male Eurasian Blackcap, a late Eurasian Hobby, a Peregrine Falcon, plenty of Common Buzzards and six more Red-billed Chough but no rarities amongst the all the Common Chiffchaffs. The day ended with a short visit to Marazion Marsh where we heard the distinctive calls of Water Rails and Cetti’s Warblers, found a cryptic Common Snipe and a small party of Long-tailed Tits.

October 11th: Hayle area including Ryan’s Field and estuary, Carnsew Pool and Copperhouse Creek, Marazion Marsh, Mounts Bay
Daily 62 New 16 Running 83
Weather: Mostly sunny with light NE winds 16ºC

Having checked the tide times I decided to go to the Hayle estuary first thing today as it gave us the best opportunity to view birds at high tide and as the tide fell on the estuary. We got off to a good start with a vocal and showy Common Firecrest in the RSPB car park! A good range of birds were on view from the hide on Ryan’s Field including Common Kingfisher, Ruff and a late Whimbrel as well as both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and Eurasian Curlew. From the causeway overlooking the main estuary many hundreds of birds were on view and we added Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and Common Shelduck to our wildfowl tally. Among the masses of gulls on view I managed to find four Mediterranean Gull of various ages and plumages as well as a single immature Common Gull. Our next port of call was Carnsew Pool where more of the same species were present however, we were unsure of the identity of small ‘peep’ at the far end of the pool. (This bird was probably the Semipalmated Sandpiper reported from there later in the day.) Over to Copperhouse Creek next where we consumed lunch. Birding whilst eating produced good close views of more Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Greenshanks and large numbers of Canada Geese! On the way back to Penzance we stopped again at Marazion Marsh – this proved to be a good decision as we found a nice mixed flock of European Goldfinches and Eurasian Siskins in the pine trees at the end of the boardwalk. A look at the offshore rocks near to the swimming pool produced a couple of Sanderlings, taking today’s wader list to 14 species.

October 12th: Pendeen, Hayle estuary and Carnsew Pool, Drift reservoir, Sancreed
Daily 61 New 4 Running 87
Weather: Sunny intervals with moderate NNW-N wind 16ºC

According to the weather forecast, today was the only opportunity for another sea watch from Pendeen before the wind direction became unfavourable. As soon as we arrived, we could see there was a large movement of auks taking place. During the hour and a half we were watching we saw in excess of 2,500 – these were mainly Common Guillemots but some groups of Razorbills with their shorter, stocky outlines could be identified. Plenty of Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes of various ages were seen and a group of five Balearic Shearwaters powered through quickly, close under the cliffs, before anyone else had a chance to get a bearing on them. After Pendeen we decided to get a proper look at the Semipalmated Sandpiper at Hayle. Shortly after we arrived it gave excellent close views for about 15 minutes before disappearing along the estuary with a group of Dunlins with which it was associating. We were able to clearly see the size difference between it and the surrounding Dunlins, the “blob-tipped” bill and lack of obvious ‘V’ on the mantle. The bird’s partially webbed toes were not visible but showed in photographs other observers took and posted online. Despite another look around the estuary, no new birds were to be found so we headed back towards Drift Reservoir to see if anything new had arrived there. Again, nothing new was found so we headed off to search the area around Sancreed. There were plenty of Rooks and Pied Wagtails in the churchyard and in the surrounding fields and hedgerows we found Eurasian Wrens, European Robins, Common Blackbirds and Common Common Chaffinches, migrants remained absent.

October 13th: Church Cove, Kynance Cove, Stithians reservoir
Daily 54 New 3 Running 90
Weather: Mostly sunny with light S-SW wind 16ºC

Today we headed out onto the Lizard Peninsula with Church Cove being our first port of call. We parked by the church and took a slow walk around the churchyard and then down towards the sea and the lifeboat station. Lots of common species showed on the walk with plenty of Common Chaffinches, European Goldfinches, a European Greenfinch and 4 Eurasian Siskins, but a number of flicking ‘phylloscs’ all turned out to be Common Chiffchaffs no matter how hard we tried to turn them into something rarer! Five Jays flew over and a Eurasian Rock Pipit and Grey Wagtail were on the rocks at the foot of the valley. We retraced our steps back to the vehicle and drove across the peninsula to Kynance Cove. European Stonechats, Eurasian Skylarks and Common Kestrels were added to the day’s birds and extremely close views were had of two feeding Red-billed Choughs, one of which was sporting some nice colour rings. We finished the day with a visit to Stithians Reservoir which, unlike the one at Drift, had plenty of muddy areas. Waders came up trumps here with 6 species including our first Common and Green Sandpipers of the trip. Also present Eurasian Curlew, Northern Lapwing and Common Ringed Plover but the stars were two elegant Spotted Redshanks feeding in their unique style in the shallow pools at the southern end of the reservoir. Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard and Canada Geese were the only wildfowl represented but other birds on and around the water included Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Great Cormorants and Grey Herons. At the northern end of the reservoir we saw two more Northern Wheatears.

October 14th: Nanquidno valley, Sennen Cove, Porthgwarra and Gwennap Head, Drift reservoir, Mounts Bay
Daily 60 New 5 Running 95
Weather: Sunny intervals with light SW winds 16ºC

There was thick fog first thing in the morning giving some hope that a few migrants may have been grounded! We first tried Nanquidno valley and there were indeed more birds present compared to our first visit 5 days before. Along the length of the valley we found 4 Common Firecrests, at least 4 Song Thrushes, a Mistle Thrush, several Common Blackbirds which looked like they were from northern climes, at least one Goldcrest and two Eurasian Blackcaps. Common Chiffchaffs could be seen and heard from various locations and above our heads were the calls of Meadow Pipits, Eurasian Skylarks and Eurasian Siskins. As the tide was nearly high at Sennen Cove I thought it was worth a look to see if there were any birds on or around the offshore rocks, on the beach or on the breakwater. Unfortunately, the place was busy with visitors and fishermen so few birds were seen. Cutting our losses we headed down the narrow, winding lane to Porthgwarra and searched the bushes around the car park area but only more Common Chiffchaff, some common finch species and a few other disappointed birders were seen! We walked up to Gwennap Head and sat on the rocks for a late lunch – we were joined by at first one then a second Northern Wheatear that seemed undecided about whether to fly off out to sea or stay and feed for a little while longer. With no seabird activity we walked back to the car park and decided to try Drift reservoir again on our way back towards base. Almost at once we found an elegant Great Egret which, at one point, gave splendid comparison views alongside a Little Egret. Also new for the site and trip was a group of four Tufted Ducks, seen mostly at the far end of the reservoir long with Little Grebes, a couple of Eurasian Teal and some Common Moorhens. There were more of the same waders and seabirds in Mounts Bay this evening and we finished the day with 4 ‘cronking’ Northern Ravens flying over us, heading from St Michael’s Mount, illuminated by the low sun.

October 15th: Kenidjack valley, Cot valley, Drift Reservoir, Coronation Park Helston
Daily 54 New 5 Running 100
Weather: Mostly sunny with a light SW wind 16ºC

Today we looked for any newly arrived migrants in the Kenidjack valley and an increase in thrushes was evident with more Common Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Whilst watching these birds feeding in some hawthorns and elder bushes, a Eurasian Bullfinch briefly appeared and then dropped back into cover. The sycamore trees along the road held Eurasian Blue and Great Tits, Goldcrests and a couple of Eurasian Siskins which gave good close views. There were plenty of Common Chiffchaffs along the valley and one particular individual by the water treatment works looked and sounded right for a bird of the ‘tristis’ or Siberian Common Chiffchaff race. A short drive took us next to the Cot valley. Here we encountered more Common Chiffchaffs, another group of 5 Eurasian Jays and a noisy but elusive Common Firecrest. A familiar call from a stand of conifers alerted us to a lone Coal Tit which showed briefly before flying off up the valley. Its place in the conifers was taken by a Great Spotted Woodpecker before that too moved on. Two more Eurasian Siskins and assorted common finches completed the assortment of birds to be found. On the way past, we made one final short stop at Drift reservoir. From the dam we noted the number of Canada Geese had swollen to over 100, the four Tufted Duck were still present, a Eurasian Jay screeched overhead and the Black-necked Grebe was seen again. A Common Buzzard was sitting on a close wall in the dam run off area and a smart Grey Wagtail perched several times on the handrail just along from us. A final attempt at some additional waterfowl was made at a small lake near Helston where we managed find the only Mute Swans of the trip as well as about a dozen Eurasian Coot, also missing from the trip list. In amongst the Mallards, Common Moorhens and Tufted Ducks we also saw a pair of Gadwall, taking the group total of species seen to a nice round 100.

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