Monday, February 23, 2009

23 years ago this week

This was one of the first long-weekend twitches I ever undertook. It was so long ago the photo of the least sandpiper above is in black-and-white!

1/3/1986 Cornwall trip no rain, calm
Set off by train at 2000 on the last day of February to make the most of the British Rail offer. Only cost £12 return to Cornwall – not bad. Slept a little after Paddington and arrived at Bodmin Parkway at 0700. Pete’s mate Pat picked us up at about 0715. Then straight to Porthscaso via a petrol station where the car refused to start. The petrol-geezer told us it was the starting rod and that all we had to do was push the car backwards in gear. Sure enough she started. On arrival at Porthscaso, a rather pleasant little seaside village, Pat immediately located the king eider (female) along with a great northern diver (a tick for Will). We gave it a quick look before heading for the least sandpiper which was all of 500 yards away. Found this one straight away too. A gorgeous little bird completely dwarfed by the nearby golden plovers. Reminiscent of Temminck’s stint; yellow legs, collar band of speckles (faint in middle), dark streaked crown, faint pale supercilium, bill thinner than little stint and down-drooped at tip. Watched for 20 minutes, also 2 shag on the sea nearby. Then went back to look at the king eider again (nice pale eyering, softer rounder bill and whiter chin than eider). By this time the great northern diver had been joined by five black-throated divers a fantastic sight.

Then onto Port Leven for Iceland gull, via a place called Tresillian where we stopped to look at waders. A tidal river with mudflats which produced redshank (2), little grebe (2), curlew (3) and masses of dunlin and bar-tailed godwit. From here we birded around Falmouth picking up very little but great crested grebe (a good Cornish bird I am told). Had three buzzards en route. Finally arrived at Port Leven to be greeted by a very obliging black-throated diver in the small harbour, scoped it down to 10 yards. Also rock pipits and a mass of gulls, from which Pete finally extracted a first winter Iceland gull. Not typical of the species, the bill inclined towards the bulky side (as was the bird) but unanimously decided to be an Iceland.

Dropped in on Marazion for a quick look; some good birds including Will’s first ruddy duck (female – another good Cornish tick) along with ruff (1), shoveler (15), teal (5), gadwall (10+), pintail (3), little grebe (2) and about 20 wigeon. Whacked up to Penzance Harbour, so Pete and Will could buy a smock each [the Bryan Bland look was big in the 80s!], whilst they did that Pat and I scoped the harbour turning up great northern diver (1) and razorbill (1). A mile up the road was Newlyn Beach, one of the haunts of the Bonaparte’s gull. Arrived there to be greeted by a mass of gulls. Started leap-frogging, checking all of them, when a shout came from behind us. A Cornish birder was beckoning wildly across the road. We ran to him and he led us to Newlyn boating lake and there in the corner with about 20 black-headed gulls was the Bonaparte’s and what a bird! A real stunner and only 30 yds away. Sitting as tight as could be whatever went past. Seen swimming, standing and flying – a mind-fucker. Pale pink legs, slender black bill and black eye. Black crescent behind eye, dark scapular/shoulder patch, dark primaries, 4-5 brownish secondaries, fantastic smoky cap, nape and incomplete breast band. Two thirds size of black-headed gull. In flight white tail with black sub-terminal band and disjointed black W, wings have black trailing edge, two white patches on leading edge of wing either side of elbow [underwing not noted!]. A really superb bird and it was difficult to wrench ourselves away after 20 minutes. But now time was beginning to press, so we headed for Drift. This was what I had secretly been waiting for – black-necked grebe. Drift really did turn up trumps, crossed over the dam and walked up the right arm. Picked up yet another great crested grebe immediately, further along two curlews flew up out of the fields and then it started to happen. Picked up a female scaup (one of nine) and Pete found me the black-necked grebe – a really good bird but a bit distant. Also around at this point little grebe (1), black-throated diver (1) and goldeneye (female). Moving around the corner we scoped through all the ducks; wigeon (40+), pochard (25+), tufted duck (20+) before I spotted the ring-necked duck amongst the pochard – a cracking male. It was all going so well, we could not believe our luck, we had not dipped a thing.

Pat took us back to Bodmin to stay the night at his place, after a quick trip to the pub we had little trouble getting to sleep (even though my sleeping bag had gone mouldy).

2/3/1986 Devon Coast sunny
Got up at about 0800 and headed for Rame Head in the vain hope of a Dartford warbler. No joy – but nice place with buzzard (3), kestrel (1) and sparrowhawk (1). After about an hour we gave up and Pat took us to the ferry where he intended to leave us. On the way we had greenshank (3) at Millbrook Lake. Missed the ferry by ten minutes, so went for a pasty and a pint in the nearby pub. Here we met two local birders one of whom Pete knew from Poly. They told us of a red-necked grebe (a potential tick for Pat and Will) and a black guillemot (a tick for Will) at Jenny Cliff on the other side of the Plym estuary. Pat was raring to go, so off we went taking the ferry across the estuary, getting spotted redshank at St John on the way.

Jenny Cliff was crowded with Sunday walkers but no black guillemot but we did get red-necked grebe (2), great crested grebe (2) and red-throated diver (1) though. As Wembury was so close we had to go for it, one road was blocked by snow so we had to go round it. This was the only trouble we had with snow the whole trip. Not bad because the weather the weekend before had been foul. Wembury did not produce the goods either but after the day before we did not care much. Did see another red-necked grebe, purple sandpipers on the rocks and a nice female grey wagtail down on the beach. And so the day was over a lot quicker than on Saturday. Pat dropped us off at the station, amidst profuse thanks and invitations. Caught a 1750 train. Slept pretty well this time. Had to bus from Newton Abbot to Exeter as we did on Saturday morning because the line was down at Dawlish. Arrived at Paddington at 1015. Dashed to Liverpool Street but the only train was the 2300 to Ipswich. Slept all the way on this one. When we got to Ipswich, Pete tried to get us on the mail train to Norwich. No joy – wrong type of carriage. So we had to wait/sleep until 0730 for the next train. Frosty night, all clothes and barbour on in the sleeping bag. Very amusing! Pete found a shop open at 0600 and brought breakfast. Straight to work, what a day. Took ages to recover but well worth it (Pete got three ticks, I got six and Will nine).

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