I have been working this summer on surveys of Common Shellduck in Bridgewater Bay, mapping distributions and monitoring disturbance levels as part of the discharge of conditions for construction work at Hinkley Point. The final round of surveys took place in early September and coincided with the presence of a Eurasian Wryneck and a Grey Phalarope at Steart. I managed to see both after work on the afternoon of 05/09 along with Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint.
Eurasian Wryneck, Steart Point.
Grey Phalarope, Steart Gate.
Grey Phalarope, Steart Gate.
Once the surveys were finished I drove on from Somerset to Cornwall to spend a couple of days birding with Martin Elliott, picking him up from north Devon on the way. It was a long drive to Penzance and we stopped off at Marazion to have a look at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the beach before heading for the flat. It was a good job we did as it left the next day, the relentless disturbance from free running dogs presumably getting too much for it in the end.
The following morning we birded Land’s End and had scarcely arrived when Mark Wallace called having found a Eurasian Dotterel at Porthgwarra. I was very keen to see it as I had not seen a juvenile for years but didn’t want to derail the birding so we continued with our original plan. The sallows below Swingates appeared quiet but the wind was so strong that you’d never really have stood much chance finding anything in there anyway. Moving on we discovered several Wheatear and Stonechat a long way off on ‘Bunker Hill’ with a single Whinchat mixed in. I had seen something else in flight a couple of times and was tempted to have a closer look, principally because this was the first collection of migrants we had encountered. Out in the middle of the moor Martin found a Wryneck perched in a low bush next to the Whinchat. We lost it pretty quickly and were on our way back out half an hour or so later when I picked it back up on a boulder, distant as ever.
Eurasian Wryneck, Land’s End.
Martin thought it may be the same bird reported from the Trinity Loop that morning but when we passed there that individual was still present and had been for some time. A couple of days later there were five on Land’s End, part of a large influx in to the UK.
By mid-afternoon I felt justified in nipping off to Porthgwarra for the Dotterel. The bird had gone missing and we overshot in our attempt to re-find it on the moor but bumped in to some friends of Martin’s who were watching it as we worked our way back to Coastguards. After an age of us waiting for it to come to us, it took up residence on the edge of the coast path where people were walking right past it. We simply followed the ramblers.
Eurasian Dotterel, Porthgwarra
Friday was sea watch day and the wind was strong enough but perhaps had too much south in it to deliver on an epic scale. A Pomarine Skua at extreme range and two Grey Phalaropes were the only notable ‘non tube-noses’ seen by the assembled group on the cliff between Porthgwarra and Gwenap Head. Several European Storm Petrels were seen but the day was all about the shearwaters. We arrived at around 07.00 and over 30 Balearic, a number of Sooty, 12 Great and 30+ Cory’s were logged (group totals) before we gave in to extreme cramp late that afternoon. The notable occurrence of the day was a Cory’s which Martin picked up coming right underneath our position a little way off the rocks, I imagine that views like this off the English mainland are truly exceptional.
Cory’s Shearwater, Porthgwarra, photo by Martin Elliott.
There followed a twitch for the Dalmatian Pelican which had taken up residence on Helston Lake. It was a pain in that we had to walk a long way and the bird was asleep but it was useful to bag it whilst down there rather than making a specific trip for it. On the way back one of my headlights gave out and I was pulled over by the police. I was unable to get the light fixed that night and we determined to go to Pendeen on Saturday morning as the wind was swinging round to the north-west.
The next morning we had to spend a while at the top of the hill, where I had phone reception, whilst I made calls about the dead headlight. Despite the light winds things looked promising in that both Great and Cory’s Shearwater were seen. Dropping down we discovered a small knot of like-minded souls staring intently out to sea. The move was a sound one with more large shearwaters, along with Balearic and Sooty, several Arctic Skuas, a couple of flocks of Sandwich Tern and a passage of Common Scoter. I then picked up two juvenile Sabine’s Gulls but lost them almost immediately. I pointed out the rough area of sea and a minute or so later they were picked up again. Again they were lost and not seen subsequently by the observer. This pattern repeated itself over a period of several minutes and in the end I think most of the people in the group got on to them but never for long. A pale phase juvenile Long-tailed Skua was my other stand out bird of the morning. As we rounded the end of the wall we were told by the few birders on the other side that two adult Sabine’s Gulls had just gone past, but were short of time to try and find them as I agitated about needing to get back and fix the car. Long-tailed Skua was seen again after we left but I had decided to make the long drive home and get some rest before returning to work on Monday.