Friday 4 June 2010

Devon and Cornwall for Gilbert and Sullivan.

I had high hopes for this weekend. Not only was I going to see my sister sing in G&S's Ruddigore but I could spend a whole day going down to Devon. I had high hopes of seeing cirl bunting at Labrador Bay, just South of Teignmouth. After a gorgeous day on Thursday 13 May, the Friday turned out to be awful in the West. It rained most of the day and I only heard the cirl buntings. I don't blame them for not coming out to show for me. I wouldn't have come out either!

Well, dippers aren't afraid of rain are they? I knew there were dippers at Aveton Gifford in South Devon. I just couldn't find the right spot on the map. After that, I went for a coffee and cake in the local shop; comfort eating!

Well, the next day was lovely so I thought I'd head for Cornwall where quite a number of useful birds had been sighted. I left early for the Camel estuary for 3 spoonbills and a lesser yellowlegs, a rare wader from America. Got there quite early and went down to the flats only to be greeted by thick mist. Before it cleared a fox came along the path towards me, stopped briefly, before carrying on straight towards me. He looked me up and down, then passed within two metres of me on his way somewhere. He did have a rather opaque looking eye so maybe his sight was bad.

Fox with dodgy right eye!

  I made out a heron in the mist



The mist cleared half an hour later but I was clearly in the wrong place. Further up the river I met someone from Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society who very kindly told me the spoonbills were at their private sanctuary but the yellowlegs had gone. He said he was sure the others wouldn't mind if I had alook from their hide, and they didn't. Just that the spoonbills had flown a few minutes before I got to the very impressive new tower hide (thanks very much guys, much appreciated).

Ah, well. There was still the woodchat shrike at Polgigga, near Lands End. I was halfway there already! Cormwall is surprisingly difficult to get about in. It took nearly one and a half hours to get there. The instructions on the pager were unusually accurate. I got straight to the spot to find another birdwatcher, David Bradford, already there and not having seen it. It didn't show up in the next ten minutes and we judged it too near the middle of the day. I wanted to see the choughs at Lands End and it turned out that David had had a hot tip on where to see them. "Lead on" I said.

We went to one of the valleys by the airport. I had been there once before and I had seen a chough fly over last year. We followed the coast path round and saw some charming stonechats on the gorse. The yellow backdrop of the gorse made the stonechats stand out in a lovely way. I spent some time taking pictures.

 Stonechat - male

In scanning the cliffs I saw a buzzard fly to it's nest and closer inspection with the scope showed two chicks.

Buzzard on nest with chicks

David decided to call it a day. He left wondering if he'd see from my blog that the choughs came after he left! I continued with the stonechats for a while and then decided to go to Cot Valley, the next valley over from where I was. This is quite hard to get to because you have to go through St Just where the lure of the fish and chip shop proved too much. With full stomach I pressed on. At the bottom of Cot Valley I walked along the coast path towards where I had just been. I met Peter Tonkin. He was also looking for choughs and had his camera ready. Two choughs flew to the top of the cliff above our heads and out of our sight. We pressed on and after ten minutes two choughs came very close. One went into an old mineshaft. The other posed for us on the edge for 30-40 seconds, long enough to get good views. It was, I think, the closest either of us had been to a chough. Very nice.

 Chough, Land's End

It was getting late and the satnav showed over two hours to get back to Plymouth. I decided not to look for shags as I would surely see them in July when I would be back in Cornwall.

The light opera was very enjoyable, despite their selling out of ice-cream very quickly.

On Sunday, after lunch, my sister came with me to Plymbridge Woods for a walk to see the peregrines. They had young in the nest. We talked to the volunteer. The dipper hadn't been seen that day. While we were talking I kept an eye on the river and suddenly the dipper was there!! Great! Gill, my sister, was chuffed at seeing nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker and a grey wagtail that also appeared over the river.

I left after breakfast on Monday and decided to visit Labrador Bay again to see if the cirl buntings would come out to play. A couple of hundred metres from the car park I saw a chap with binoculars and I stopped to ask him if he had seen any cirl buntings. "I'm doing a survey of cirl buntings" he said! There were some in the hedges along the main road, but he advised me to look from the carpark. It was good advice. I went down the ridiculously steep field and immediately saw a female. I couldn't take any photos though, coz I'd left my tripod in the car! I had to walk up the steep field again to get it.

Cirl bunting, male.
Labrador Bay, Devon

As I wasn't a million miles away from Dawlish Warren I decided to go there and see what was about. It was quite a hot day and I had forgotten how tiring it is to walk through soft sand. At the far end of the spit I saw a group of whimbrel. I managed to get fairly close before they flew off.



There was a small flock of dunlin too, almost unnoticeable on the edge of the water.

They just looked like pebbles.


That was the highlight of the afternoon apart from a few common whitethroats, greenfinches, goldfinches, and mainly herring gulls. There were a few shags / cormorants on a distant sandbank but they were far too far away to be sure what they were.

At home I was pleased about the choughs, the dipper, cirl buntings and the whimbrel. Wonder what my year list would be like if I saw, say 90% of the birds I hoped to see!!

1 comment:

  1. brilliant photos Phil, love the Stonechat and Chough especially. Definitely something not right with that Fox's eye.


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