Monday, 18 November 2019

Just Daft! 2nd November 2019

Year ticking takes over, believe me. So much so that you start making irrational decisions that get you nowhere at the end of the day. The weather forecast for Saturday had promised extremely heavy rain and strong winds and the sensible option would have been to stay at home and watch the telly. But we are trying to hit that magic 300 mark so there had to be a bird out there for us somewhere even in foul conditions. I settled on twitching a Hoopoe that had been found near Worksop, an area that I knew little about and had hardly ever visited. The rain wouldn't bother us since we'd twitched a Hoopoe at almost the same time last year in Wiltshire on an equally wet and windy day and had been rewarded with brilliant views.

Hoopoe, Hilmarton Wiltshire, 10/11/2019
As we left our nice cosy and warm living room and opened the door to the howling gale and torrential rain outside, an update to the phone via Birdguides informed us that there was "no sign of the Hoopoe at Brancliffe Grange, Shireoaks" that morning so far. Daft then to even contemplate driving for over two hours to look for a bird that probably wasn't even going to be there. But the bird in Wiltshire had also gone missing on the day we went until I found it some four hours after arriving on site (read about that here, Pretty in Pink). So with no other decent birds on offer unless we drove to Cornwall for the dodgy Pipit, we decided to go for the Hoopoe anyway in the hope that history would repeat itself.

The drive was highly unenjoyable and I was very pleased to finally turn off the motorway and calm my nerves with a coffee in a farm shop cafe not far from Shireoaks. There had still been no reports of the Hoopoe but that was hardly surprising considering the weather. I mean, who would be stupid enough to be out in such inclement conditions looking for it? Mmm....Who indeed! We left the sanctuary of the warm and dry car around midday and walked the half mile down the farm track towards the farmstead where the Hoopoe had been. We saw the weather vane in the shape of a Pheasant from afar but there was no Hoopoe perched on it as there had been on both days previously. We checked everywhere where a Hoopoe might be, garden lawns, orchards, house roofs and even inside a barn but to no avail. We tried hard for an hour but it was obvious that the bird had indeed departed and you couldn't blame it one little bit! Soaked to the skin we retraced our way back to the car and drove disconsolately away.

As we neared Nottingham I had a brief moment of inspiration and suggested to Mrs Caley that Rutland Water wasn't so far away and that we could have another go for the Red-necked Grebe that we'd already failed to see twice before already. Since dipping the last time I had found out that the Grebe liked to hang out to the East of Old Hall next to the South Arm of the reservoir and so far we had only searched to the West. The rain had actually abated by the time we parked up next to Old Hall but it was still a very dreary day as we walked out to the edge of the South Arm. I did a quick check for the Grebe but could only see the usual Great Crested Grebes, Coots and Tufted Ducks there so we walked towards the Eastern end. Here you follow a path that reaches the water after a hundred yards or so. There we stood under a find Oak tree and I scanned the bay formed by the promontory that the Old Hall stands on. The first bird I saw was another Great Crested Grebe. The second looked far more interesting and I hesitantly said to Mrs Caley, "This might just be what we're after". I set up the scope but the bird had disappeared, presumably dived to fish. When it resurfaced I quickly refound it, this time with the scope, and lo and behold I had it, the Red-necked Grebe! Third time lucky!

Red-necked Grebe
We attempted to get closer to the Grebe and were thankful that we had donned Wellies since the ground was absolutely sodden. But walking across the wet ground only alerted the Grebe and it actually swam back to where we had been stood earlier! Hence we hurried back to the tree and I managed to get some proper ropey record shots, bearing in mind it was now past three in the afternoon and almost dark. The Red-necked Grebe made it #279 on the Old Caley year list.

It was the second time this year that we'd saved a failed twitch by heading off somewhere else in order to add a year tick after our jaunt across the M62 to see a pair of American Golden Plovers after dipping a Little Crake at Blacktoft Sands in September. 

Friday, 15 November 2019

All the Wrong Grebes!, Rutland Water, 27th October 2019

After spending a frustrating Saturday mostly watching rain fall from the sky like stair rods and failing to see both a Bittern and a Caspian Gull at local sites, we decided that we needed to get the Old Caley year list ticking over again. We were still a bit jaded from our Cornwall trip so settled on another visit to Rutland Water where there was potentially a couple of new birds for the year that we could see. Rutland is only about 60 miles away from us and takes just an hour and twenty minutes on empty Sunday morning roads. 

We headed straight to the South Arm and to the area known as Old Hall which is the regular hang out for the Red-necked Grebe that we'd already failed to see once before a few weeks ago. An Egyptian Goose stepped off the bank and swam out a short way as we walked past. Egyptian Geese are odd but exotic looking wildfowl that I think have brightened up our avifauna. It's only about ten years since I saw my first one but they are quite widespread now and are often encountered when birding near larger lakes and reservoirs.

Egyptian Goose
We walked down the path alongside the water into a bitingly cold wind but despite searching virtually everywhere we could only find Great Crested Grebes, stunning in the bright sunshine but not the Red-necked Grebe that we were hoping for.

juvenile & adult Great Crested Grebe
That sunshine was also illuminating a flock of Starlings that were feeding on the berries of a hawthorn tree. But we had come for year ticks so didn't linger too long, it was too cold for idling anyway.

After checking into the visitor centre and getting our parking permit and relevant info on what was about, we headed straight to the Mallard hide where a female Smew, also known as a Redhead (confusingly since there is a North American species of duck also called a Redhead), had been found a few days before. The Smew would be a year tick for us since we'd managed to miss them in the first winter period. On settling down in the hide, we scanned lagoon 1 for the duck but couldn't find it. There were many other ducks about including Goosanders and Pintails which are always nice to see although most were too far out to photograph. A Great Egret was much more photogenic when it landed in the reedy edge in front of the hide.

Great Egret
I was becoming a little bit fidgety when after fifteen minutes I still hadn't found the Smew and began fearing that this would be "one of those days" when nothing would fall into place. Then, thankfully, I spotted it right in close by the bank although still a fair way out to the left of the hide. I had been scanning the water far too far out expecting the diving duck to be out in deeper water but it appeared that it was content to hunt for food in the shallows. I took a few record shots for this blog and willed the bird to come closer. It didn't and I don't think I've ever had close views of a wild Smew, but at least this "redhead" clocked the year list up to #277.

female Smew
A fabulous male Green Woodpecker flew in, yaffling noisily, and landed in the rough grass in front of the hide. Green Woodpeckers are very wary birds and can be difficult to see at close quarters so I fired away freely with the camera at this unusual opportunity.

male Green Woodpecker
After some "Birding bores" had joined us in the hide who had initially asked as to the whereabouts of the Smew, which I gladly shared, but then became first class know it alls and incredibly irksome, Mrs Caley and I left and retraced our steps towards the visitor centre again. Busy hides are my least desired places to birdwatch from but I admit that it's difficult to find solitude at a reserve like Rutland. On our way we passed a herd of cattle which appeared about as interested in us as we were in them, which wasn't very in actual fact but I dwelled long enough to take a couple of shots. Fine looking horny beast it was too.

"Here's licking at you...."
I had inquired earlier at the centre about where we might find the Red-necked Grebe but hadn't been able to gain any more info than we already knew. We had already decided to head out to the Lapwing hide and view the opposite end of the South Arm from where we'd looked earlier from the Old Hall. While walking there Birdguides informed us that a drake Hooded Merganser was present on lagoon 2 and was currently showing well from, ironically from the Smew hide. The Hooded Merganser would probably be an escape but they are a strikingly handsome duck so would be worth seeing. Before we got halfway there an update informed us that, while the Merganser was still there, it was now best seen from the Grebe hide. We joined just a handful of other birders in the hide and I instantly spotted the duck swimming rapidly past but almost as far out as it could possibly be. More record shots then but we tentatively had #278 on the list. I'm pretty sure though that it will be relegated from the year list but for now, (and if I get stuck on 299 at the end of year maybe), it could stay on. A few years ago we had fantastic close views of a drake Hooded Merganser at Radipole Lake in Weymouth. That bird had arrived as a juvenile and had stayed in the area for seven years but was still not recognised as a genuine vagrant by the powers that be so there would be next to no chance of this one being accepted.

drake Hooded Merganser
Far more confiding was a family of five Little Grebes that were hunting for titbits in a small channel to the left, our chosen side, of the hide. I waited for the small waterbirds to swim even closer before taking a volley of shots. On a couple of images you could see what they were eating but I couldn't tell you what is was that they were eating!

Little Grebes
The three bores arrived at the hide and continued their bolshy behaviour so we left quickly again. We were overtaken several times by faster moving folk on our way to the Lapwing hide. Apparently the Hooded Merganser had flown from lagoon 2 in the direction of the South Arm which is best viewed from Lapwing hide. By the time we reached it the hide was pretty full but we managed to wedge ourselves in at the left hand end. I wasn't really interested in looking for and finding the likely "plastic" duck and instead searched in vain once more for the Red-necked Grebe. Great Crested Grebes were showing really well as were hundreds of Tufted Ducks but the rarer Grebe had given us the slip yet again. I gathered that, owing to the negativity amongst the rest of the hide goers, that the Hooded Merganser was hiding too although it did reappear later on.

Great Crested Grebe

drake Tufted Duck
A brief look from Dunlin Hide at lagoon 4 added some waders to the day list. Our first Golden Plovers of the winter were huddled up against the wind along with their usual Lapwing mates. Snipe probed around the edges of the islands and Mrs Caley spotted four Dunlin on a slender strip of mud. Lagoon 4 is usually the place where Smew are found at Rutland but there were none there yet. There were quite a few Pintail and Goldeneye amongst larger flocks of Wigeon and Teal.

Golden Plover & Lapwing
We dropped into the visitor centre once more to inquire whether the entry price included access to the Lyndon side of the reserve, which it does, since a Slavonian grebe had been seen from the Teal hide there. The Red-necked Grebe had been seen occasionally from the southern bank too, the South Arm extends all the way into Manton Bay where the Ospreys breed in the summer. Lyndon is only a few miles away from Egleton and the Teal hide is right next to the information centre. We briefly stopped to admire a couple of Tree Sparrows and then made our way to the hide which has been built on stilts over the water. There was only one other chap in the hide and before I could stop him he barked "the Slavonian Grebe is right there, look!" People who tell you where stuff is before you've had a chance to look for yourself are a pet hate of mine. If I wanted to know then I'd have asked. The Slav was indeed just metres out in front of the hide so it wouldn't have taken much finding if I'd been allowed to find it for myself. In keeping with most Grebe species in the winter period Slavonian grebes don a subdued mainly grey and white plumage as opposed to their bright gold and black summer garb. At all times of the year though they still retain their piercing bright red eyes!

Slavonian Grebe
The Teal hide was perfectly placed to get close views of a number of water birds and both a Cormorant and a Little Grebe gave equally good photo opportunities.


Little Grebe
I spent the last few moments of afternoon light scanning where I could, looking for the Red-necked Grebe but to no avail. It was proving to be one very difficult bird to find, in fact impossible so far, and it would take another try yet if we were to add it the year list. Perhaps we would get lucky the third time around. I even contemplated trying for the one that was wintering at Cliffe Pools in Kent but after two failed attempts at twitching a Marsh Sandpiper there earlier in the year, that wasn't a place that I fancied going back to.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Back to Life and Back to Reality but some Bonus Sprites on the Way! 19th October 2019

I never like going home after a holiday, "Back to life, back to reality" as the song goes, just doesn't fill me with glee at all. I'd much rather be birding! But, in keeping with most folk, I have to earn the pennies to be able to take the holidays that I love. Hence I always try to stretch out our trips by looking for birds to twitch on the way home. Over the years we've picked up some really good birds on the way home from holidays, our only Solitary Sandpiper was seen at Colyford in Devon, a Hoopoe at Carsethorn in Dumfries, two Pectoral Sandpipers at Shapwick Heath in Somerset, a Woodchat Shrike at Cheddar in Somerset and so on. We don't always get to see what we go looking for of course, we dipped a Hudsonian Whimbrel at Barrow-in-Furness mainly because the marshes there are so huge and we had no idea where to look and we abandoned a search for a Rock Thrush near Abergavenny in Wales because of torrential rain although we did get to see that bird a week later.

Rock Thrush, Pwll Du, Wales, 28/10/2019
We stopped for an overpriced and distinctly average breakfast at an "industrial" style cafe on a trading estate near Redruth and checked the bird news. There was nothing interesting or new for the year that would be worth detouring for so after our food we headed for our traditional stop at Darts Farm near Exeter. Darts Farm is a retail extravaganza where I did lots of work once and the farm shop there serves excellent coffee and cakes. It was too early to indulge too much though so I chatted away to Gareth in the RSPB shop about birdy stuff and the recent badge releases. Mrs Caley suggested we drop into Slimbridge for a couple of hours on the way home which seemed a reasonable idea. However, just as we were about to get in the car, I received notification that a Pallas's Warbler had been seen at a place called Sand Point on the Somerset coast. Even better was that there were also a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers present there as well. We didn't need either species for our year list since we'd already seen a Pallas's Warbler in County Durham in February and Yellow-browed's in Cornwall during the preceding week but, hey, who doesn't love those little sprites?

We pulled into the car park at Sand Point just after one o'clock. The place was busy with walkers and other "recreationists" but at least the National Trust parking area was free, something that doesn't happen very often! Only because the pay machine was broken mind. The birds were reported as being in trees along the path next to the car park. We found the path easily enough and the other twitchers, Pallas's Warbler would be a rare bird in these parts, who were a little disconcertingly spread out over a large area which is never a good sign since if the bird was showing then all attention would be directed at the same point. Our well met friends, at a Hoopoe twitch last November, @PaultheBirder and @batesy31 were there too and they told us that they'd seen the Pallas's about half an hour before and showed us the tree where it had been. It was keeping tabs with a highly mobile flock of small birds containing various species of Tits. Usually a flock of birds keep to a circuit and will come back to the same place in due course so I decided to stake out the area where they had seen the Pallas's even though most of the other birders were studying other places along the path. And we rewarded almost immediately, not by a sighting of the Pallas's but of a Yellow-browed which flew into the top of a tall tree and caught a fly.

Yellow-browed Warbler
We wanted the Pallas's Warbler so when a group of birders suddenly all became interested in a part of the wood about thirty metres away we joined them. I heard comments such as "It's there, right at the bottom of that Oak tree" and " Low down by that bush" but could see nothing. Then I saw it, the tiny seven striped sprite in all its glory in full view but just for a few seconds before it flitted away into the bushes to the side of the Oak. Sadly Mrs Caley hadn't seen it and I hadn't managed to get a photo. We didn't see the Pallas's again.

Pallas's Warbler, Fishburn, Durham, 21/02/2019
Mrs Caley retired to the car and I promised that I'd only be half an hour then we'd get off back home. Credit to my wife then that it took forty-five minutes before she sent me a "Where are you" text message, she must have fallen asleep! In that three-quarters of an hour I chose to walk up and down the path and bird on my own away from the other folk who just seemed to want to chatter incessantly. I've noticed that talking at twitches is becoming commonplace like talking at gigs and I find it a bit irritating at times but I guess it's just the excitement getting to folk in both instances. Also I was probably a bit gloomy since I was going back home to, well, work again. There was a beautiful Oak tree close to a very desirable residence at the northern end of the path (which also served as the driveway). I studied the Oak for a while since the sun was at my back and one of the Yellow-browed Warblers chose to feed within it and showed for me and for me only. Of course once other birders see you photographing something they race over to see what it is you're taking pictures of. 

At one point both Yellow-browed's were in the Oak but one flew out almost as soon as I spotted it and into trees behind me where it was backlit so photography was more challenging. Both Yellow-browed's were doing a fine job of limiting the local fly population.

But it was time to go and get back to life and back to reality!

Saturday, 9 November 2019

A Lifer, At Last! But Which One? 17-18th October 2019

With the birding so slow in West Penwith we were out on the Lizard again, this time at Kynance Cove, on Thursday morning. This was our third trip there this week and I wondered if we should have rented a cottage there instead of where we did! We were hoping to find a Red-backed Shrike that had been found the day previously, north of Kynance Cove close to Predannack Airfield. It would entail a decent length walk to an area we knew very little about but I'd studied the maps and information available about the sighting. We didn't need Red-backed Shrike for our year list because we'd seen four on a Red Letter Day in Aberdeenshire in June, a day that also yielded a fabulous Blyth's Reed Warbler.

I usually try to avoid parking in National Trust car parks but today, as in September when we twitched the Brown Booby from the same place, I had to shell out six quid which made me feel exactly like the proverbial poorly Cephalopod! The heavy rain of the past few days had turned the path into a quagmire in places and, on the hillier parts, it resembled a fast flowing mini river as water run-off cascaded down hill. Birds were keeping low even though the sun shone brightly for a change. We bottomed out where the path crosses a stream and did find a Firecrest and some accompanying Goldcrests but all were too frisky to follow and capture on memory card. Apart from a couple of exceptions I wasn't having my best moments so far with the camera on this trip!

A couple of miles later, despite searching far and wide and scrutinising every likely looking spot, there was no sign of the Red-backed Shrike. The only birds that we'd seen were a large flock of Meadow Pipits, sadly not containing a hoped for Richard's, and a pair of Ravens that appeared to be having fun dive bombing a herd of cattle creating much bovine annoyance. We had exhausted our search so turned back and retraced our steps back to the car park. I noticed a couple of thrush sized birds flying towards us which then flew right over our heads. I tentatively called out to Mrs Caley, Ring Ouzels! I was pretty sure that's what they were, they could have been Blackbirds, but I'm sure I noticed lighter wing panels as they whirred past and they seemed a bit bulky. Our luck was in however, when two of the birds circled back and landed amongst nearby rocks. They were indeed Ring Ouzels, both female types, so my snap judgement was at least correct. At least we had something to watch and I had birds to photograph!

Ring Ouzel, female
The Ring Ouzels were interested in the berries sported by the heather plants and after checking out the immediate area began furtively feeding. Ring Ouzels are wary birds though and they were always restless and most often perched on one of the rocks to further survey the area.

In response to the loud "chacking" sound made by the third bird which had landed in bushes to the West but which couldn't be seen, the two females took to the air and joined in the noisy chorus. They were united with the other bird which flew up from the bushes which was a fine male with a very prominent white bib. All three birds whirled around and flew over our heads and then disappeared northwards.

It was midday when we refound the carpark so we elected to find some sustenance. We had considered walking down to Kynance Cove itself and visiting the cafe there but didn't really fancy the hike back up the hill! Instead we enjoyed a fabulous slice of cake and coffee at a local garden centre, Tregenna Cross garden cafe is highly recommended, while debating our plans for the afternoon. While we were in the cafe the heavens opened up outside and the rain came teeming down once again so further walking was postponed for another day, we had considered investigating Prussia Cove and Perranuthnoe where I had finally nailed the Hudsonian Whimbrel at the fourth attempt a few years ago.

The rain increased in intensity as we drove back to St Just so we actually decided to call it a day and head back for a restful afternoon at the cottage, not something I enjoy doing since I hate wasting time indoors when I could be out birding! We were barely out of the car when a double volley of local bird news hit my mobile screen. First there was a report of an Icterine Warbler at Sennen Cove which was followed quickly by a sighting of a Subalpine Warbler at Cot Valley. We had never seen a Subalpine Warbler before whereas we already had a couple of Icterine Warblers in the bag from previous trips to Scotland so the decision where to go was an easy one.

The Subalpine Warbler had been seen at the top of the Cot Valley close to the Youth Hostel so rather than park in the valley I chose to park at the Kelynack junction and walk in. That was fine to begin with but halfway along the access road the rain started falling again and increased in intensity as we found the small group of ten or so fellow twitchers. They were all stood intently looking at a small bush about ten metres away from the road. I asked a chap, incidentally the finder of the bird, for details of the sighting and he explained how he'd found the bird perched on top of the said small bush about an hour or so before. It was definitely a Subalpine Warbler but a juvenile or female type and had disappeared into the bush. Apart from a brief flight view when the Warbler had flitted from the bush to another close by and then returned, it hadn't been seen subsequently.

So we now knew that the bird was almost definitely in the bush somewhere but in the heavy rain, which was soaking us through to the core, was bound to be keeping low. Josh joined us, by some stroke of luck he had booked into the Youth Hostel just before the bird had been found. The heavy rain shower passed and those with weather radar Apps checked to see how long it would be until the next one arrived, the big yellow splotches across the phone screens indicating that it wouldn't be long!

Then there was some slight movement in the left side of the bush as a small longish tailed bird appeared but partially hidden by twigs. Within seconds it had dived back into the mass of leaves again. I hadn't seen the head and my only impression was of a small light grey-brown backed bird with that long tail, resembling a pale, small and slender Blackcap which of course is a fellow Sylvia family member. The original finder and others were convinced that the bird was the Subalpine Warbler so tentatively I added it to my year list and to my life list to boot. But I was less than satisfied with that view and would need more to convince myself that I had indeed seen it. As the birders unwritten code goes, "if you can't positively identify a bird yourself then you shouldn't be counting it". But identification skills vary from birder to birder and I'm by no means an expert and occasionally have to rely on others to help to confirm a birds identity so this was no different. 

For the next hour or so there was no further sign of the Subalpine Warbler with only a Dunnock and then a Wren, which briefly appeared in the same bush and had me going since I excitedly managed to secure a couple of photos only to be deflated when viewing the shots on the back of the camera, livening things up. Another squall passed over leaving us wet through again and people began drifting away. We'd had enough too but just as we were about to leave a fellow watcher called "Merlin!" and looking up I could see the small Falcon hurtling towards us. I pointed the camera and took some shots but the settings were all wrong against the grey sky so I'm still waiting to get a decent photo of a Merlin. Nice to see though!

As we drove along the muddy farm track made even muckier by the rain, our car will need a deep clean when we get home, we had to pull over to allow a farm worker out. I noticed a movement to the left and there in a small puddle was a Green Sandpiper! Birding always surprises, I never expected to see such a bird in such a small pool of water but I guess migrating birds are happy to take any opportunities to feed. Before I could get the camera pointed at it though the Sandpiper flew off across the field calling rapidly.

Friday, our last full day of the trip, dawned with heavy rain once again battering the lean-to roof that covered the cottage kitchen. I had sort of made the decision to go and look for the Subalpine Warbler at first light thinking that in the inclement conditions of the previous evening that it would have hunkered down and stayed in the same area, but this mornings continued rain had me hesitating and then changing my mind with a trip Pendeen for some sea watching from the car more appealing. We finally ventured out around nine o'clock. As I loaded the gear into the boot my mobile buzzed away and informed me that the Subalpine Warbler had been seen again in the same place. Why, oh why, don't I stick with my convictions and act on them sometimes?

Ten minutes later, I parked much closer this time in a disused gateway, we joined just half a dozen other hardy souls on the road overlooking the same bushes where the Warbler had been found the day before. Noticeably there were a few eminent Cornish birders amongst them. Over the next hour we were soaked through from a heavy shower, dried out a bit in warm sunshine then drenched again as another belt of rain rattled through. I was heartened, and a tad disappointed, when I spoke to the chap who had refound the bird this morning. Heartened because I knew that the bird was definitely still in and around the small ivy covered hawthorn bush, but disappointed because if I had stuck to my guns and gone straight to Cot earlier then I could have found the bird for myself! After all and apparently, it was perched right on top of the bush! But for now Mrs Caley and myself peered at and into the bush just hoping that the Subalpine Warbler would show again. There was a false alarm when a Dunnock flew from one bush to another which was then mistakenly put out as a sighting of the Subalpine Warbler by an over eager birder but then at 10:20 the Subalpine Warbler did put in a very brief appearance when it appeared at the right end of the hawthorn. Again I didn't see the all important head! A few minutes later the small bird, unmistakable now since there was nothing else it could have been on colouration itself, flitted across to a larger hawthorn but frustratingly dropped down where the bush was obscured by bracken. This was very hard work!

The sun was now shining brightly and we almost forgot that we were still soaking wet from the rain of before. Then a call went up, "There in the bracken!". I'd seen the bird fly into the bracken to the left of the hawthorn and automatically raised the camera and fired off a volley of shots. The bird had been on view for less than a couple of seconds and through the viewfinder I had seen nothing! I quickly checked the back of the camera and couldn't see any bird on any of the images. Dammit, why didn't I just look through my bins at the bird but to be fair it all happened so fast that I probably wouldn't have focussed them quickly enough anyway! The good news was that Mrs Caley saw the bird and better than I did at that! I asked a couple of chaps stood next to me, one of whom had called the bird, whether they had got any photos. One of them had just managed to capture the warblers tail! Over the next hour and a half we saw the Subalpine Warbler in flight a couple more times but we never got the clear view that we wanted. At midday we gave up!

So, imagine my absolute delight and surprise back at the cottage later, when I studied the images that I thad taken. In the last few frames I had actually managed to capture the Subalpine Warbler! Without any doubt too, it was definitely the bird even though I'd failed to get its head yet again. 

female Subalpine Warbler, Cot Valley 18/10/2019
Of course twenty minutes after we'd left the Subalpine Warbler appeared right at the top of the bush once again and perched in full view for a few seconds! Next time I invest six hours into getting a good view I must tell myself to give it another twenty minutes! Fellow Oxon/Berks birder Marek Walford obtained these really good images shown below. Lucky fellow! There are two species of Subalpine Warbler which has been recently split into Eastern and Western varieties. Unfortunately female types can't be differentiated between in the field so the sighting has to be recorded as Subalpine Warbler species but either way it was a lifer for us and made it #274 for the year.

Subalpine Warbler (courtesy of Marek Walford)
We had left to go into Penzance for two reasons. One we wanted to eat some fish and chips by the sea, always tastes better, and secondly there was a bird that had been showing really well in the marina that we wanted to see. The fish lunch was excellent but there was no sign whatsoever of our target bird in either of the two harbours. Also the tide was out which had left very shallow water and lots of mud behind so we weren't confident of finding the bird either. We checked out the beach and rocks by the Jubilee Pool where we found Ringed Plovers and Turnstones but no Purple Sandpipers.

Ringed Plover
Returning to the harbour the only birds in it were a couple of Shags and some Herring Gulls. We  looked into every corner of both basins and made sure that we checked in between every moored boat but there was still no sign of our goal. 

Then on our fourth sweep I spotted it, a Red-throated Diver way out beyond the harbour wall. We walked out along the permissive path to the end of the harbour wall where the Diver was floating on the sea preening. I had seen many cracking photos of the bird but at the distance it was out from us I wouldn't be getting any to match! I had never obtained a decent photo of a Red-throated Diver in summer plumage, this bird was still sporting much of its breeding finery, and after the trials and tribulations associated with seeing the Subalpine Warbler earlier, I felt more than a little bit miffed that the Diver was now teasing me by staying out at sea!

Red-throated Diver
Thankfully I have my wife by my side and she urged me to exercise patience and frequently suggested that the Diver was coming closer, even though it wasn't. We could see that the tide had turned but still the bird remained out beyond the harbour walls but then, almost imperceptibly at first, it was indeed swimming, or rather being carried, towards us. At around half the original distance out the Diver did what it does best and dived! When it resurfaced it was right in front of us and I started snapping away. With each dive it halved the gap between us until it was directly underneath us stood on the wall.

The red throat shone resplendently in the bright afternoon sunshine, fairly typical that decent weather would see us on our way home after being awful for most of the week before, and I finally added some reasonable images of a Red-throated Diver to my portfolio. 

The Diver was now fishing earnestly within the harbour and we could watch it really come into its own when under the water. Once submerged the Diver used its powerful legs and feet to propel itself at rapid speed meaning that any quarry wouldn't have a chance once targeted. Mind you judging by the murkiness of the water the Diver would have to have excellent eyesight as well.

I took Mrs Caley back to the cottage and then went back out to see if I could get a better view of the Subalpine Warbler. I didn't and got wet through yet again when another heavy squall descended on that little part of Cornwall and no doubt it was lovely, dry and sunny everywhere else. On my return to the farm track I saw some of the Curlews that I'd been hearing most evenings in one of the fields. Without leaving the car I stopped next to a small gap in the hedge and took some photos of the birds bathed in late afternoon sunshine, amazing that just a few miles away in Cot Valley it was probably snowing!

We'd had a good holiday, not our best in Cornwall, but we had still added Red-eyed Vireo, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Cirl Bunting, Barred Warbler and, a lifer, Subalpine Warbler to our year list as well as seeing Yellow-browed Warblers, White-rumped Sandpiper, Firecrests, Turtle Dove. Ring Ouzels, Red-throated Diver, Merlin, Choughs, Spotted Redshank and Spotted Flycatcher amongst others. Not too shoddy!