Thursday 21 December 2017

Surf Scoters at Porthpean, Cornwall

With a beautiful day forecast for Monday 18th December I decided to head down to Porthpean near St.Austell on the train and things were back to normal - the train was late and packed full. At least the weather was as forecast with blue sky and sunshine and not a hint of any breeze.

I have visited Portpean once before back in March 2013 on what was a mizzly and misty day and I failed to find the red necked grebe and surf scoter being reported from there, not helped by the poor visibility over the sea. I also got lost on the walk from St.Austell railway station to Porthpean but this time I was better prepared (thank you Google Maps!) and I duly arrived at Porthpean beach at 11:15 with no navigation issues. I was met with a calm flat sea and excellent visibility but the light was harsh and the suns position meant viewing the sea was very difficult and so I headed south along a very muddy coast path to a better vantage point where the sun was behind me and I began to scan across the water with my telescope.

Porthpean Beach, Cornwall

There were plenty of birds across the bay including a large number of noisy fulmars flying around and sat on the sea along with shag, cormorant and gulls (herring, common, black headed, lesser black backed and great black backed) and amongst them were 2 black necked grebe, a long tailed duck, 6 female common scoter, 10+ great northern diver and an immature male and a female surf scoter - result!

The great northern divers were mostly distant and constantly diving and therefore difficult to keep track of but the grebes and ducks were much closer in and easier to view despite constantly diving too. The surf scoters showed very well together, keeping seperate from the common scoters and regularly chasing off a black necked grebe which kept getting too close. The immature male had a noticeable pale eye, almost black plumage and a pale bill especially on the left side and with a hint of white nape feathering when preening, and it was good to compare the female surf scoter with the nearby common scoters - certainly the best surf scoter views I have ever had and nice to see 2 together.

Other birds of note were 2 buzzard and 2 raven overhead, a goldcrest in the coast path hedgerow, a grey heron being mobbed by gulls as it flew across the bay and a great spotted woodpecker flying between trees in the village gardens.

There was no sign of the reported red necked grebe (again) nor the reported black throated divers and pomarine skua but it had been a very enjoyable few hours away from the building Christmas frenzy.

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