Sunday, 12 March 2017

Cornish Gulling in the Mist

I finally managed to catch the train to Penzance for a days birding on Saturday 11th March and being a Saturday it only cost me £10.40 return. It was a grey and dull day and as the train passed through Hayle it was clear but on arriving in Penzance I was greeted by thick fog, I couldn't even see St. Michaels Mount! All thoughts of searching offshore for divers and sea ducks were abandoned and I decided to give Jubilee Pool a miss too and headed off along the coast path to Marazion.

Mounts Bay from Penzance Bus Station

A quick scan from the sea wall by the bus station failed to find any black redstarts but resting on the rocks on the low tide was a smart male eider, my first of the year.

Male Eider in the Gloom

I did have a few scans of the sea although visibility was very poor but I did pick up a few disorientated adult gannets close to the beach and 2 great northern divers together just about visible in the murk. A small flock of small waders flew along the beach before alighting in the surf, presumably sanderling but I could pick out no plumage detail on them in the fog. A sad sight was a dead harbour porpoise along the beach, tagged by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and with an injury to its eye or having been nibbled at by gulls or crows.

 Harbour Porpoise

Harbour Porpoise Teeth

It felt very mild and humid and on nearing Long Rock Pool I could see a line of birders scanning the Pool from the road and on a quick scan around I picked up a sand martin, my first proper spring migrant of the year. I headed up to the road to join the group and I eventually picked up 4 birds swooping around and chittering away but surprisingly easily overlooked in the murk. Even better though were lovely views of a 1st winter little gull flying back and forth over the water and dipping down to pick at small flies on the water surface, a lovely looking bird with red legs and smart black and white plumage. It eventually settled on the water and swam around snatching at flies, looking very monochrome on a very monochrome day.

 Little Gull, Long Rock Pool

 Little Gull

Little Gull

Also seen on the Pool were a pair of teal, a little grebe, 2 male tufted duck, moorhen, a pair of mute swan and lesser black backed gulls, while in the vegetation were long tailed tits, chiffchaffs and Cettis warblers. A brief look at nearby Marazion Marsh revealed a male gadwall, a male shoveler, 2 Canada geese, a little egret, teal, mallard, moorhen, a coot, 5 male and 9 female wigeon, a pair of stonechats, more Cettis warblers, grey herons on nests in the reeds and a brief view of a water rails backside disappearing into the vegetation.

Grey Heron, Marazion Marsh

I decided to cut my losses and caught the bus from Long Rock to St.Erth earlier than planned (£4 for a single ticket for a 4 mile journey!), hoping that it was going to be clear over the Hayle estuary as it was earlier when I passed through but unfortunately it was shrouded in mist too although not as thick as it had been in Penzance.

I scanned across the estuary on the low tide from the causeway bridge and quickly found the regular 1st winter Iceland gull roosting on the mudflats in the gull flock nearest to the bridge despite the poor visibility. It was quite unsettled, constantly getting up off the mud and changing position, probably not helped by the attentions of nearby immature herring gulls which kept hassling it including one bird which kept tugging at its tail feathers.

 Iceland Gull, Hayle Estuary

Iceland Gull - just about to get its tail pulled

I decided to walk to Hayle to buy some lunch and then walk back to the causeway bridge, hoping that the mist might clear a little. It did eventually lift when some rain showers arrived and the temperature noticeably dropped too and at last I could actually see the birds.

On the Carnsew Pool were 4 little grebe and a male red breasted merganser while on the mud were 12 grey plover and a lone 1st winter common gull. Variously plumaged Mediterranean gulls were mobile around the Pool and gave a few high pitched calls.

The resident spoonbill gave some good views again as it busily fed along the waters edge. At one point it walked out of the water and onto the mud to do a very pinky coloured poo before returning to the water to recommence feeding, a behaviour I have seen before in a spoonbill along the River Lynher (and also a white billed diver at Hayle) - I guess you don't defecate where you eat as per the old adage - although the spoonbill had no trouble pooping over the roosting gulls as it flew over the estuary later.

 Spoonbill, Carnsew Pool



Back at the causeway bridge on the incoming tide and as expected there was no sign of the Iceland gull but I did see a greenshank, wigeon, redshank, curlew, 12 bar tailed godwit, a ringed plover, a summer plumaged black tailed godwit, 2 adult and 3 1st winter common gulls, a male and 6 female teal, oystercatcher, a mute swan, grey heron and little egret. The male red breasted merganser seen earlier on the Pool appeared on the river close to the bridge along with the spoonbill out on the mudflats and a rock pipit fed along the causeway wall. Interestingly a few of the roosting gulls were seen to cough up pellets which were immediately investigated by nearby carrion crows.

 Little Egret


I kept scanning through the gulls but could find nothing unusual amongst the great black back, lesser black back, herring and black heads but eventually the Iceland gull flew in and gave some great views with its ghostly pale plumage being very obvious amongst the other roosting gulls - and definently an Iceland gull!

 Iceland Gull

 Iceland Gull

 Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

And so a good day out with some nice views of a good range of birds despite the misty gloom.

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