Monday 22 January 2018

Gull Fest in Cornwall

Saturday 20th January and it was time for my usual New Years trip down to Penzance in Cornwall for a days birding. I was awake at 5am and so decided to get up and catch the 6:28 train instead of the 8:18 train as originally planned - the train fare would be the same and it would give me more time birding.

Arriving in Penzance on a Crosscountry train (smelly as per usual but with excellent conductors as always) and it was just getting light on a grey and claggy morning. I had a quick look off the sea wall by the railway station but couldn't find anything more than a few gannets offshore in the gloom and so I headed off to the Jubilee Pool just as the infamous Westcountry mizzle-drizzle arrived and which stuck around all morning.

From the promenade by the pool there were 26 purple sandpipers roosting on the rocks at high tide with the turnstones while offshore were 5 great northern divers, a few guillemots and 2 grey seals poking their heads out of the water.

Purple Sandpipers, Jubilee Pool, Penzance

Purple Sandpiper, Jubilee Pool

Onwards towards Newlyn and a brent goose just off the beach with 3 juvenile mute swans was a surprise.

Brent Goose, Wherrytown Beach, Penzance

Arriving at Newlyn fish quay and I immediately found a first winter glaucous gull roosting on the roof with herring gulls, very pale and almost glowing like a beacon in the gloomy light. Part of the fish quay was closed off for building work but by the time I had walked around the outside of the buildings to get a better look at it it had flown off! A nice compensation was an adult Iceland gull bobbing around on the water amongst the boats before flying up onto the fish quay roof and eventually I refound the glaucous gull roosting on the roof of another nearby building - the first time I have seen both species together in the UK.

Adult Iceland Gull, Newlyn

1st Winter Glaucous Gull, Newlyn

Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls, Newlyn

Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

1st Winter Glaucous Gull

The usual turnstones were running around the quayside and out on the harbour water were a few shag and a razorbill.

Turnstone, Newlyn

Razorbill, Newlyn

I had a scan from the harbour wall and picked up a few more gannets flying around offshore and 4 kittiwakes (2 adult and 2 juveniles) resting on the water. A trawler dropped anchor close to the harbour entrance and attracted a melee of gulls including what at first I thought was another first winter glaucous gull, being a digestive biscuit brown colour with pale wing tips and having a black tipped pink bill but the bill was weedy and it was quite small looking against the nearby herring gulls - a presumed herring x glaucous hybrid. Later I refound it on the fish quay roof with the glaucous gull where it looked tiny in comparison.

Herring x Glaucous Gull?

Walking back towards the train station and I had planned to have a quick look around Morrhab Gardens where firecrests and yellow browed warblers have been reported but I mistakenly ended up in nearby Penlee Park instead which was firecrest and warbler free but I did see a few redwings, a coal tit, a nuthatch and a party of long tailed tits.

Back at the railway station and I had a quick look offshore again from the sea wall where I picked up a few gannet, some distant auks and great northern divers offshore and the resident male eider diving at the harbour entrance. I also picked up a juvenile white winged gull flying west offshore heading towards Newlyn, a paler bird then the hybrid seen earlier and with pale wing tips but looking small and not quite right and so presumably another hybrid bird.

I caught the train to St.Erth and walked down to the causeway overlooking the Hayle Estuary where the weather worsened and it became very windy and showery, the conditions not helped by being out on the exposed estuary. There were masses of gulls roosting on the mudflats on the low tide and I picked out herring, black headed, lesser black backed and great black backed gulls but nothing more unusual.

There were plenty of waders and ducks around - lapwing, golden plover, dunlin, redshank, bar tailed godwit, a lone black tailed godwit, curlew, a greenshank, oystercatcher, grey plover, ringed plover, wigeon, shelduck, teal and a redhead goosander - and rock pipits were flitting about on the rocks below the bridge.

Teal, Hayle Estuary

Teal, Hayle Estuary

I walked on to the Carnsew Pool where an adult Mediterranean gull was roosting with some black headed gulls and an adult kittiwake flew over the water but there was no sign of the resident spoonbill and so I walked around to Copperhouse Creek which was spoonbill-less too (but I did get a pasty from Philps for lunch along the way which was delicious). Back at the Carnsew Pool there was still no sign of the spoonbill and so I headed back to the causeway bridge where I eventually found it feeding along the main river channel and being buzzed at times by adult herring gulls. The golden plover flock of around 200 birds had disappeared but the lapwings were still present and very flighty and nervous and my plan to look for yellow legged gulls amongst the gull flocks went out of the window when a particularly heavy shower arrived and so I walked back to St.Erth to catch the train back to Plymouth. Annoyingly there was engineering work being done on the railway track between Plymouth and Exeter and so an amended timetable was in operation which I hadn't realised and just as I arrived at the station a nice GWR train was pulling out which I could have caught if I had known. And so I ended up catching the 15:01 train as planned but it was a little GWR skipper train and as we arrived in Truro the sky cleared and the sun shone brightly but it remained very windy - typical but it didn't detract from an excellent days birding with 8 gull species on the days list.

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