Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cornish day-trip

To get your copy of Digiscoping Made Easy DVD, see Bird Watching Magazine

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:
As photographs of a White-billed Diver at Hayle, Cornwall became more and more outrageous at the beginning of March, so the nagging temptation grew to go and see what would be a tick for me. With a white-morph Gyr not that far away, and the Hayle itself overbrimming with juicy back-up, such as Spotted Sandpiper and Franklin's Gull, I had to do a spot of work to keep focussed on my beloved Peterborough area patch. Then on Friday March 2nd, a message came out on our local mailing list, Peterbirder, with local birder Jonathan Price looking for a lift share to the south-west. Within minutes I had an e-mail from my friend Kevin Du Rose saying he was off to Cornwall and was I coming?
At midnight Friday/Saturday, Jonathan pulled up outside my house with Kev and we were off. Jonathan had already had a decent sleep, he assured us, and he ploughed off, like a hero, through the most torrential rain imaginable. I snoozed in the back.
It was still dark and the near full moon quite high as we snaked our way through winding lanes near Padstow to park in the lanes near Stepper Point. Already more than 50 cars were emptied, their owners trudging along along the sodden, slippery path to the quarry near the point itself. We stretched briefly, then headed off on unfamiliar slopes (unfamiliar to any Peterborian) to our quarry – the mighty Gyr.
It was lightening as we got close, and we started worrying that the Gyr may have left its roost-site. Then we saw birders coming down the path towards us and we knew the game was up. Sweat beaded on my bald head – what a waste of time. But, no, they had merely taken the wrong turn and the locals had resuced them and sent them back on the right trail to the giant white falcon.
A crowd of some 100 birders were squeezed onto the precipice above the sea craning to see into a rocky cliff, with views impeded to newcomers by a blinking great rock. There it was through my bins, disguised as white lichen, but moving its head to confirm it really was a monster falcon. Kindly, some birders were offering views in their scopes, and I took the opportunity for a great look at the magnificent arctic beauty.
Meanwhile, Kevin had sneakily and unobtrusively found a tiny window to set up his scope and digiscope the Gyr. The trouble was it was only 6.40am and the sun wasn't due until 7. Huh! No worries, using the kit featured in the Digiscoping Made Easy DVD, Kev produced a shot at 1 sec exposure time. And what a shot!

Gyr, Stepper Point, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Kevin Du Rose

A few minutes later, it lifted its mighty bulk and on surprisingly broad wings powered across the estuary. Cue a mass exodus to Hayle. On the way back I overheard a birder telling another how on Thursday they'd seen Barrow's Goldeneye at 8.30am (at Callander, Forth) and White-billed Diver at Hayle at 6.30pm. Outrageous.
We were in Hayle in an hour or so and had no problem finding the library and parked by some birders who were looking straight down. We stepped out of the car and five metres from us there was a superb White-billed Diver fishing away happily. The sun was up now so after a brief spell of awe, Kevin and I tried a few photos. Though flightless owing to a bit of heavy primary moult, the loon was unimpeded in catching flounders, and caught a few while we watched, including one whopper which eventually won a battle of strength, twisting and slipperyness.

White-billed Diver with flounder, Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

After watching this beautiful diver at close range for a good long while and seeing loads of familiar faces (including another car-load from the Peterborough area), we went down towards Lelant to look for the Franklin's Gull. We joined a row of cars and birders parked just by a creek with a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing its way along. Then someone pointed out a gull-like speck a million miles up in the sky – Franklin's Gull, but untickable views and heading south to Penzance. Unpleasant.
Still the Spotted Sandpiper was new for me, so I got on with a bit of watching, digiscoping and digiscope-videoing...

Spotted Sandpiper, digiscoped at Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

We then went further toward Lelant and after a few minutes fruitlessly looking for an eastern Lesser Whitethroat, we heard that the Franklin's Gull was viewable from the train station up the road. In a few more minutes I was watching another 'tick'. Pleasant.

Birders at Lelant Station, Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

Franklin's Gull, digiscoped at Lelant Station, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

We tried a wee bit of digiscoping, and bathed in the sunshine and simply enjoyed all the seemingly-tame birds – waders, egrets, gulls – and the general good mood of a happy crowd of birders. Then we checked the time, thinking it was probably getting on for about 4 o'clock. It was 11am!

Mixed waders (Redshank, Greenshank, Knot, Spotted Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit), digiscoped at Lelant Station, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

Little Egret, digiscoped at Lelant Station, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon
After a bit of leisurely birding, we returned to Hayle for another spot of photography with the wonderful diver. I tried a bit of digiscoping, while Jonathan took a few hours sleep. At 2.30pm we were off home, after a brilliant day's birding a long way from home.

White-billed Diver, digiscoped at Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

See Bird Watching Magazine and follow the links to get your copy of Digiscoping Made Easy DVD.
See Mike's blog for more photos from Mike's trip.

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