Saturday, 28 November 2009

Birding Cornwall

After getting off the Isles of Scilly, we stayed overnight in Penzance on the southwest tip of Cornwall. We had planned to gradually bird our way home, but although the previous day had been a beautiful blue sky and sunshine day, this day dawned cold and grey and drizzly. In spite of this, we managed to get a couple of hours birding in before having to call it a day and head home. The photo below shows St Michael's mount which is a small island just off Penzance. At low tide there is a causeway across to the island.Our first birding stop was at Nanquidno Valley. The scenery here is wonderful even on a drizzly day!We were hoping to see Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler down this valley, but the weather conditions just weren't right. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful walk along the Cornish cliffs here.You wouldn't have liked standing so close to the cliff edge as my friends did Evie! (-:
On the way back up from Nanquidno valley, we stopped briefly near St Just airport to see this Snow Bunting. As you can see, this photo is heavily cropped and taken in bad light, so not a brilliant capture, but a nice record shot.We couldn't leave Cornwall without having a famous Phipps Cornish pastie, so as it was nearly lunchtime by now and the weather was worsening, we stopped at Copperhouse Creek to have our pastie lunch. The photo below shows the estuary.At least here, there were some bird photo opportunities. This Little Egret was feeding just below us. You can just about see it's bright yellow feet in the water.
I think the birds have got to know that many people come here to eat their pastie, so as we munched away, we became aware of many beady eyes watching. Rooks are generally found out in the countryside around agricultural fields, but this one has discovered an easy meal can be had at Copperhouse Creek!
They differ from Carrion Crows with their more shaggy look and bare parts around the bill.This is easily my most favourite corvid, the Jackdaw. They have the most wonderful 'chacking' call and that white eye and pale neck are distinctive. They are quite a bit smaller than Carrion Crows or Rooks.These two look like right Jack the Lads! Ready for a bust-up! (-: All they were doing though, was waiting for me to share my pastie with them!Which I eventually did, and then it was a free for all!After lunch, the weather deteriorated even more, so it was time to head home back to Chris after my week away.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Scilly odds and ends and farewell

First of all, I apologise for the length of this last post from the Isles of Scilly. The following photos are some odds and ends that didn't really fit into a whole posting but that I wanted to share with you, so I've stuffed them all in here along with photos of my journey back to the mainland.
This photo below was taken on the island of St Agnes. The plants here thrive in a mild almost semi tropical climate. It would be wonderful to visit these islands in May or June to experience the flora at its best. The succulent below seems enormous compared with the ones that grow back at home on the mainland.Here is a heavily cropped photo of a juvenile Rose coloured Starling on St Agnes. This bird is an annual vagrant to Britain from eastern Europe and beyond. It is a much more sandy coloured bird than our juvenile European starling with a striking yellow bill. In flight it was a very obvious bird. I think the shrub it is hiding in here is a type of Pittesporum, but please feel free anyone to correct me on that.Another bird on St Agnes was this Northern Wheatear posing nicely on a rock on the Wingletang area of the island.Again, a heavily cropped photo of this beautiful bird.The boat trip back from St Agnes was reasonably bumpy, but I did manage to stand up briefly and take this photo of a fishing Northern Gannet. Like the Oystercatcher, another bird that is ubiquitous to the beaches on these islands is the Ruddy Turnstone. I spent an hour on Thomas Porth beach on St Mary's trying to get close enough for some shots of these characterful birds.They're always on the move, turning over stones and seaweed looking for tasty morsels.
Also on Thomas Porth beach I was entertained by this White Wagtail flycatching.I'm not sure it was as successful as the Stonechat in my previous post!And so, as must always happen, my last day on the Scillies came around. It was a beautiful sunny blue sky day and the helicopter waited to whisk us back to the mainland and reality.I managed to get a good window seat right at the front and so got a look at all the mind numbing array of controls needed to fly this thing! Our lady pilot gave us a great trip.We had a pleasant surprise when we got on the helicopter. We were told that we would be taking a small detour to the island of Tresco to pick up some passengers from there. Here we are approaching Tresco to make the landing.Here you can see the Abbey pool on Tresco where earlier in the week I tried to photograph a Long-billed Dowitcher. I wish I'd had time to spend on some of those soft sandy beaches!Having picked up our passengers, we set off away from the islands, heading for Cornwall. The views of the islands from the helicopter were a real treat. I think this was the uninhabited island of St Helens or Tean, I'm not sure which.
The last island I saw from the helicopter was St Martins. I didn't get to visit it on this occasion, but will hope to maybe on my next trip over.After about a 10 to 15 minute flight we were approaching Lands End on the tip of Cornwall. The cliffs in the late afternoon sunshine were lovely. I should say that the window on the helicopter was filthy otherwise all these photos might have come out a bit clearer.Passing over Lands End.A Cornish village with the church at its centre.Our destination, the Cornish town of Penzance.The harbour at Penzance from where the Scillonian ship sails. My helicopter lands a little to the right of this picture a short way out of town.Well, thank you all for coming along with me on my first proper holiday for three years! I had an amazing time and I've really enjoyed sharing it with you all. I hope this has encouraged some of you to visit these amazing islands.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

St Mary's, Holy Vale and the Airport

One thing that the Isles of Scilly lacks is much extensive woodland. However, towards the centre of St Mary's, there is a valley of tall deciduous trees called Holy Vale. This can be a magnet for tired passerines during migration.It is also wonderfully atmospheric with an almost Tolkeinesque feel to it. If you click on the photo of the sign above, the last paragraph warns the walker to beware of slippery roots and the uneven path.I visited this area twice during my week, firstly with my friends. This was on a bright day and the light for photography was quite harsh.So I went back a second time on my own when it was a bit more overcast to try and get some better shots. I wanted to convey how you have to wend your way inbetween the tree trunks and over the worn tree roots, so I got down closer to the ground to try and get a better perspective to show this. If you want to bird while walking through this place, you really have to take your time and watch your step. It's hard to be looking up and around for the birds while making sure you don't go arse over tip! When I went this second time, it was pretty quiet birdwise. It has been known in the past to hold some stonking rarities though.

I did get to see some birds in this area. This Chiffchaff was sitting in the sunshine at Higher Moors which is an area of reeds just before entering Holy Vale.

I think this Goldfinch was actually at Lower Moors having a quick preen in the sunshine.

This Dotterel (first seen here on the golf course) is in it's more drab winter plumage. In summer they have a wonderful chestnut red belly, the female being brighter than the male.
This second photo is taken from the airport of the same individual. This is only my second ever Dotterel sighting. One day, I'd love to see one in it's summer plumage!To give perspective on how far away this bird was, the photo below was again taken from the airport with a wonderful view of some of the other islands in the background. If you click to enlarge, you should see the Dotterel a bit better! (-: We didn't want to get too close to this bird as it seemed quite alert and we didn't want to flush it. Dotterels are mountain birds. It breeds in small numbers up in Scotland and further north in Scandinavia.While we were up on the airport (Sundays only as there are no flights on that day), I managed to get a couple of shots of this Stonechat on gorse.I love this shot (the background is the sea by the way). If you click on this photo to enlarge, you will see the tiny dot of a fly that this bird was after.There were some lovely skies while I was on the Scillies, but I think this is my favourite, taken from the airport, looking south out over the Atlantic Ocean.