Thursday, 1 September 2016

Hudsonian Whimbrel (at last!) and a Penzance Pelagic

Friday 26th August and with 3 days off following my unscheduled days annual leave we headed off on the train to West Cornwall. Unfortunately it was the August Bank Holiday weekend and bright and sunny and warm and so it was a little busy but overall it wasn't too bad.

We had the first class carriage of the train to ourselves from Plymouth to Hayle which was very nice and we enjoyed complimentary tea, coffee, biscuits and cake for breakfast. We alighted at Hayle and walked along the estuary to the railway station at St.Erth so I could do a bit of birding. The tide was heading in and I managed to see a nice selection of waders - 3 greenshank, 2 whimbrel, 2 black tailed godwit, curlews, redshanks, 2 dunlin and a curlew sandpiper (my 3rd in a week after a complete dip last year). Also seen were a greylag goose amongst the Canada goose flock, 5 eclipse plumaged wigeon amongst teal and mallard and a 2nd summer Mediterranean gull moulting into winter plumage.

We caught the packed out train from St.Erth to St.Ives and had an enjoyable few hours wandering around St.Ives. Despite the crowds and sunshine I managed to find a few gannets and fulmars offshore along with an adult kittiwake and a juvenile and 2 adult winter plumaged Mediterranean gulls. A grey seal was also seen swimming in the water off the beach near The Tate Modern with swimmers nearby totally oblivious to its prescence.

We then caught the train from St.Ives to Penzance for an overnight stay at The Union Hotel ready for an early start on Saturday morning (for me) to go on a seabird pelagic trip I had booked (yes, I had finally gotten around to doing it!). The trip was planned for a 7am start but was cancelled due to a lack of people but I was offered an afternoon trip from 5pm instead and so our plans for the Saturday were rearranged and it meant that I now had the opportunity in the morning to visit Marazion while David visited Newlyn.

The Egyptian House, Penzance - opposite our hotel

I headed off on the bus to Marazion and then walked along the coastpath to Perrannuthnoe to look again for the long staying Hudsonian whimbrel which has been appearing, disappearing and then reappearing in the area since November 2015. I hoped that this 3rd visit would be the charm and indeed it turned out to be.

 St.Michaels Mount, Marazion

The tide was heading in and the sun was shining and I found a group of curlews roosting on the rocks with oystercatchers and little egrets. No sign of the Hudsonian whimbrel amongst them but a neurotic sounding whimbrel was whistling away further along the footpath. I scanned around for it along the shore with no luck but as I peered over the clifftop I flushed a curlew then a whimbrel and then the Hudsonian whimbrel which had been making all the noise, noting its dark toned plumage and lack of white rump in flight which looked quite outstanding especially when compared to the curlew and whimbrel flying with it. It disappeared along the coast but I headed back to the curlew roost amongst the rocks and quickly refound it with 3 whimbrels, its uniformly dark plumage and much brighter and distinct head patterning being very noticeable. I often find whimbrels have variably patterned head markings with some more distinct than others but the Hudsonians was very outstanding. It flew off with the curlews and whimbrels a few times as the tide continued to rise and it was quite noticeable amongst them with its darker plumage tones, no white rump and small size - finally I had seen it, a British life tick for me at last.

 Hudsonian Whimbrel with Curlews

 Hudsonian Whimbrel (centre) with Whimbrel (right) and Curlews

Hudsonian Whimbrel and Curlews

Other birds seen along the beach were ringed plovers, dunlins and turnstones, a kingfisher, a grey wagtail and rock pipits with fulmars flying around offshore.

Goose Barnacles on driftwood, Marazion Beach

I met up with David back in Marazion and after a pint we walked back to Penzance for lunch, enjoying an ice cream in the hot sunshine along the way. After lunch and a look around Penzance it was time for David to head back to Plymouth on the train while I headed down to the harbour for my pelagic trip.

We headed off on The Mermaid II along the stunning coast towards Lands End as the sun started to become more obscured by clouds rolling in from the south west. The weather conditions were not looking great for seabirds but I was just excited to be out on a boat with the glorious views and a sense of anticipation.

Turnstone, Penzance Harbour

The guide began to chuck food over the back of the boat which attracted gulls as we sped along the coast and amongst the herring, great black backed and lesser black backed gulls of various hues and ages a juvenile yellow legged gull was picked out. I managed to get onto and noted its white rump, black tail band and dark upperwings with a poorly marked  inner primary window as we bounced along over the waves but it was a brief view only as it disappeared in the melee of gulls. An ocean sunfish was also seen flapping its fin in the air as we whizzed by.

 Here Come The Gulls!



A juvenile kittiwake, variously aged gannets, fulmars and Manx shearwaters were also seen before the engines were cut off Lands End and chumming began. The silence was a shock after all the engine noise and it was peacefully beautiful as we bobbed around in the waves waiting to see what would appear. Manx shearwaters and fulmars circled around the boat at times but didn't linger unlike the mass of gulls. I managed to find 2 Balearic shearwaters flying by but they were distant and quickly disappeared off into the Atlantic, being noticeably paler toned and with dusky looking underparts compared to the crisp white underparts and dark tones of the Manxies.

Some fins were seen breaking the sea surface, presumably common dolphins, but they were very unobtrusive and quickly disappeared. Compass jellyfish were also seen but it was decided to head back towards Penzance as there was little seabird action going on.

Heading back and a lone common dolphin came to the boat, circling a few times and leaping out of the water before disappearing behind the boat. A circling group of gannets gave away the prescence of a group of feeding harbour porpoise which gave their usual brief fin views before moving away. Another group of common dolphins came to the boat but also quickly disappeared from sight and with the light fading we continued on our way back to Penzance, watching Manx shearwaters and gannets and gulls along the way.

A fellow birder on the trip called a large shearwater off the back of the boat and I quickly got onto it in the dull and fading light as it flew low over the waves away from the boat, noting its long wings and pale brown looking upperwings. At first I thought it was a Corys but it banked to the left before appearing to land on the sea, showing a distinct dark cap and looking almost skua like before I lost sight of it - a great shearwater and another British life tick for me (my second of the day!). Despite going back and searching for it we couldn't refind it but it provided an exciting end to the trip.

We arrived back at Penzance harbour just before 9pm and it was quite dark by this time as I headed off to the railway station to catch the 21:30hrs train to Plymouth, the last train of the day. My shins were black and blue from knocking against the boats benches in the choppy swell and my core muscles ached too from trying to keep myself upright as we bounced across the waves but it was worth it - I had had a fantastic time despite the less than ideal conditions and I am looking forward to doing a pelagic trip again next year.

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