Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Pennington Marsh, Cornwall and Portesham - 20th February - 11th March 2016

After my trip to India I have generally lacked the motivation to get out and about particularly given the poor weather and general lack of birds at what is typically a slow time of year. With some brighter weather and a few mornings to spare I have been able to drag myself out into the field. On 20th February I visited Pennington Marsh, birding was classic February, high numbers of waders and wildfowl, the former just beginning to enter summer plumage and the latter often in courtship display. Golden Plover numbers exceeded 300 birds and the site and sound of these birds was stunning, the flock often rising as a Peregrine buzzed overhead or the local Marsh Harrier performed a fly-by. Two Spoonbill were fairly showy, a juvenile and an adult, while a female Long-tailed Duck off Keyhaven only gave me very distant views as did two Slavonian Grebe off Normandy Lagoon. Up to six Ruff were also present, most often on the flood off Lower Pennington Lane but also on Fishtail Lagoon. The wintering first winter Long-billed Dowitcher also showed on Fishtail but spent most of the time that I was there asleep mixed with the Snipe and Redshank. Below are a selection of images from Pennington Marshes on 20th February.

Lapwing - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Golden Plover - Pennington Marsh

Brent Goose - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Ruff and Herring Gull (1st winter) - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Herring Gull (3rd winter) - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Great Black-backed Gull (adult) and Black-headed Gull - Efford Lagoon, Lower Pennington Lane

Brent Goose - Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill (juvenile) - Saltmarsh off Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill (adult to left and juvenile to right) - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Spoonbill (adult) - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Tufted Duck (pair) - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

On 4th March we drove down to our cottage at Trowan just to the west of St. Ives. I was feeling like shit with classic winter man-flu so I treated this as a bit of an R'n'R weekend. Although the presence of Scarlet Wines nearby meant that I tried to drown my bugs in red wine rather than having a sensible detox recovery! I did manage to get out on 5th where I birded round Perranuthnoe to Boat Cove (looking for the Hudsonian Whimbrel) and then the coast at Marazion and Penzance (for the Pacific Diver). It was a pleasant enough morning but there was no sign of the Whimbrel until I returned to my car and bumped into an old friend, Adam Davison, who I had visited Venezuela with way back in 1992. After a bit of a catch up blah we headed down to the bay where I had a few minutes for a final scan and picked up the Hudsonian Whimbrel flying in high from the west with a Curlew. Its dark rump was visible even at this distance, we hoped the bird would drop in onto the sands in front of us but unfortunately it continued east and dropped into Trevean Cove. I had to go but Adam wandered along the cost and had great views - he gripped me of by sending images later in the week. A quick scan from near to Jubilee Swimming pool for the diver produced nothing more than a single Great-northern Diver and a Guillemot on the rather rough sea. Sarah, Tobias and I spent the afternoon at St.Ives with an evening return to Perranuthnoe for the Whimbrel but with no luck.

The 5th was spent having a wander on the beach at Perranuthnoe and then the afternoon was spent eating and drinking in celebration of Mothers Day at the Gurnard's Head  - a hazy red wine fuelled afternoon for me which saw the Hudsonian Whimbrel showing well for much of the afternoon at Trenow Cove but I was in no frame of mind to go to see it - nor fit to drive either.

I decided to get up early on 6th and do a dawn raid on Trenow in the hope that the Hudsonian Whimbrel was still there but I only had until 09:00 before having to get back to load the car for the drive back to Hampshire. I intensively walked and scanned the shoreline from Perranuthnoe west to Trenow. There was a lot of shoreline as low tide was at 08:20 and it was hard work scanning the exposed rocks, sands and muds. A Whimbrel in Boat Cove got the heart thumping but when it flew the distinctive white rump ruled out Hudsonian. Other than Curlew, Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatcher there were no other waders and the Hudsonian Whimbrel was resigned, like my views of the Church Norton bird, to shite views only from Saturday's session. Still, the sea was exceptionally calm and St. Michael's Mount was stunning in the early morning sun and after a bit of scanning I picked up the Pacific Diver albeit distantly to the 'left' of the island as well as five Great-northern Diver.

St. Michael's Mount in the early morning sun

Whimbrel - Not the one I was looking for though

Grey heron fishing in the rock pools

I cannot remember the last time I saw Pallas's Warbler in the UK, it was almost certainly on the Isle of Wight and probably at St. Catherine's Point and possibly in the late 1980's, it was certainly a long time ago. So, the species has been on my radar to see again for a few years but its not the sort of bird to drive a great distance for particularly as I am not inclined to twitch birds at anything more than an hour or two from home.  Its a rare bird in Hampshire thats for sure. I guess its a little more regular at Portland but Portland is a little far for anything other than a decent tick - Pale-legged Leaf-warbler would have done it! So, when news of a wintering bird broke on 25th February at Portesham, Dorset I quickly looked at my options of paying the bird a visit. My first trip on 3rd March had ended in failure in a howling south-west gale and I had a fleeting fight view only. Then on 11th March everything fell into place, a free'ish morning before a bird survey and a fine, albeit overcast, day. The bird showed well as it fed along the disused railway line to the west of the village, a seemingly rather random and obscure patch of bramble in a similarly random patch of the Dorset countryside, this bird had presumably arrived in north-west Europe or the UK in the autumn and had filtered its way slowly south to this location. It amazes me that such tiny birds make it all the way from Asia,  truly staggering feet. Anyway, it was a stunning little bird and hyperactive flicking through the bushes, sallying after flies and rarely staying still for any length of time.

Pallas's Warbler - Portesham, Dorset

Range of Pallas's Warbler (screen grab from HBW Alive) - Simply amazing that such a tiny bird can travel all the way to the UK on such a regular basis

On the way back from the Pallas's Warbler on 11th March I popped into Pennington Marsh for an hour. There were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit on the floods off Lower Pennington Lane and the usual range of common wintering birds on the floods. The light was superb but I had only carried my 7D Mark II and scope with me, I am still practicing with this combo and many of my shots were not sharp.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult) - Efford Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit - Pennington Marsh

Pintail - Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Pennington Marsh

Displaying Teal - Pennington Marsh

Shoveler - Pennington Marsh