A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 3 November 2014

Cornish Road trip Part 1

Thursday the 23rd October saw the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo bring a whole host of American goodies to our shores, with a scattering of mega thrushes discovered in the usual inaccessible places whilst good numbers of seabirds passed by, brought closer by the strong buffeting winds. It was with great anticipation that we waited for the inevitable mega alert to go out, and sure enough, there was little disappointment as news of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo hiding in the valleys of Porthgwarra broke first, swiftly followed by the incredible record of a Black-billed Cuckoo on North Ronaldsay, (the first for 24 years) and a Chimney Swift soaring across the skies of the Outer Hebrides. As the Black-billed cuckoo had disappeared as quickly as it had dropped out of the sky in hot pursuit by the Merlin chasing it, and that the Chimney Swift was on a remote island hundreds of miles away and largely inaccessible, whilst being nearly 350 miles away, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo was the only realistic option.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - America
Yellow-billed Cuckoo in its native America
With a track record of quickly perishing (usually after 1 or 2 days) or moving on, we were slightly apprehensive as to whether it would still be showing on the Saturday. Sure enough, as we were making the 6 hour long journey to Cornwall, the negative news that there was no sign was a little disheartening, as the bird had either done a Friday night flit or had succumbed to the cold Cornish weather that night.

This was probably our best chance to see this species without having to travel to an island location, and this was the first mainland bird since 2000 (also in Cornwall), so we were desperately hoping it would be relocated. Quite frustrating, as the bird could simply be hiding out of sight, hidden in a tangle of twigs and branches just a few hundred metres away over the vast moors. After joining in the hundreds of other birders in a fruitless search of the surrounding moorland, we decided to call it a day and head to the bay at Porthgwarra for a spot of seawatching after hearing that several Balearic Shearwaters were moving through that morning.

Upon arrival, several Balearics were quickly picked up shearing across the waves (a lifer for me) and their dusky under parts in comparison to the white of the more regular Manxies was apparent. I was quite keen to see this species, as it isn’t one you would usually see with ease or at close quarters living in Cheshire. I don’t normally get good views of birds whilst out seawatching (more often than not usually just distant dots) but the extremely close proximity of the passing birds at Porthgwarra was an excellent opportunity to see commoner species at a closer range than I’m used to. Several Arctic Skuas travelled past in the half an hour or so that we were there, both dark and pale phase, and it was great to see their plumage at close range, as opposed to a distant black speck on the horizon harassing terns.

With no sign of the American Golden Plover that had been reliably present until today, we decided to try and track down the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling that had made a home of Penzance’s retail park, taking a liking to the Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and KFC car parks. The bird proved tricky to track down, but after around an hour of driving around we eventually spotted it perched on the wires outside Sainsbury’s (and then again at Morrisons where we’d moved to get better internet signal!) showing well.

The Rose-coloured Starling juv showing on the wires opposite Sainsbury's

Unlike the Rhos-on-Sea adult that I saw back in 2012, this juvenile was quite grotty looking, with no sign of the handsome pink and glossy black colouration of the mature birds. It clearly stood out among the European Starlings however, the paler sandy brown colouration making it relatively simple to pick it out with ease.

The adult bird from Rhos-on-Sea back in 2012 - a lot nicer to look at!

With a few days off work, we decided to stay in Cornwall and make a long weekend of our failed cuckoo mission, and with late news of the American Golden Plover returning towards dusk, we had positioned ourselves perfectly, staying at a Golf Club just 10 minutes away from the site, ready to track it down the next morning and make the most of our Cornwall trip.

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