Friday, 16 November 2018

Calm after the storm, 14th October

After spending the evening listening to more heavy rain and strong winds battering the cottage, oh yes, we live it up alright, the morning welcomed us in with persistent but lighter rain. So we sat still and took our time, relaxing (hardly) and winding down like you're supposed to do on holiday. Except we are not, or at least I'm not, like most folk on their vacations and as soon as the skies brightened a little bit out we went!

The forecast was for the weather to improve into a fine and sunny day (wow!) so we decided to take in a cliff top walk around the old tin mines, famous for being used in the Poldark TV series, at Botallack just a few miles down the road. This part of Cornwall is very popular with tourists (because of that TV series) so can get busy,, in relative terms of course. I resisted, thankfully I hear you all say, stripping off to the waist and gazing longingly out to sea as per Ross Poldark himself, but stared just as eagerly into every bush, patch of gorse and tree instead. Rough weather can bring scarce and rare birds into this part of the world but, as my regular reader will know, the chances of me actually finding any are extremely slim (I did find a Wryneck here once, just once). The weather hadn't quite settled yet and there was still rain on the air so Mrs Caley and I did have the area to ourselves for a while longer at least.

It was evident that there had been a minor "fall" of thrushes and chats to the scrubby area at the cliff edge and many Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins were evident, many using the puddles left over by the storm to wash and brush up. The migration of birds is a subject that (mildly) fascinates me and I never cease to marvel at how birds that weigh less than the filling of a Cornish pasty can survive on such long journeys. If there are a lot of common birds around then there's always a good chance that something less common may be around too. Except you know the answer that question already!

We encountered the local Kestrel pair perched upon one of the old mine buildings. This time last year we had watched them go through the initial stages of producing more Kestrels but this year they were obviously fed up at being ogled at and flew off at our approach. The Kestrels would be hungry too after the foul weather and any one of the tired migrant birds would make a good breakfast. The female of the pair soon returned but appeared to be grasping a big cricket or similar insect of some variety (photo is rather blurred but you can see the prey item).

"Not today, thank you!"
Breakfast, Kestrel style

Without us even noticing, the sky had metamorphosed into a brilliant blue and there was barely a cloud! Good things come to those that wait. With the warmer and more settled air came the rest of the avian predators. We spotted a pair of Raven drifting toward us bound for the same pile of rubble and stone that the Kestrels had just vacated. One of the Ravens passed very closely and appeared to have its own take away breakfast, not sure what it may have been but the Raven looked fairly satisfied.

Raven with breakfast
Once settled the Ravens also had a preen and spruce up, they are really handsome birds when the sun illuminates their glossy black feathers. Ravens also have an air of intelligence about them and are definitely much more sophisticated than the evil brutes that are frequently portrayed in films and books. Mind you they may still be as sinister as they are perceived, I just think they are a beautiful evil. 

The pair of Ravens were joined by a third bird which had a look of freshness about it so I assumed it must be a juvenile bird. The younger bird decided it would be good fun to circle low over our heads a couple of times seemingly as interested in us as we were of it. I'm not sure what I said to upset it but we were lucky to only just avoid wearing a deposit of the stinky kind! 

The next birds to check us out were a couple of the "Cornish" Choughs. The Cornish folk have become so enamoured with their local Choughs that they've adopted them as their own. These most acrobatic of our corvid species were as vociferous as ever as they enjoyed, as they always seem to do, flying in the updrafts at the cliff edge. Mrs Caley loves Choughs but despite that outpouring of affection she couldn't woo them in close enough for my liking and for the lens to reach them adequately.

The bird that I wanted to see and to hopefully get a decent photo of was the Peregrine Falcon. We had seen one earlier fly south but far out to sea and now I had spotted one soaring above Kenidjack Castle (a ruin stuck out on a headland above the valley). I watched the raptor just hanging on the breeze as it surveyed the ground below for a good five minutes or so hoping that it would come a bit (a lot actually) closer so that I could get that photo but the Peregrine was having none of it. Then it drifted slowly northwards without coming any closer before plunging steeply down until lost below the cliffs. I wondered what unfortunate bird had probably succumbed to the supreme predator.

Peregrine on the attack
It had been a nice and refreshing walk along the clifftops but it was getting busy now with wannabe Poldark suitors and Dog Walkers so we retreated to the car and drove down to the head of the Kenidjack Valley. On our walk back we surprised a fine male Merlin from the track. Merlin would definitely be chasing the small migrating songbirds in the hope of catching one or two. As usual it was away quickly over the scrub reacting far faster than I ever could with the camera and so, not for the first time with Merlins, another photo opportunity was lost. 

After the wild conditions of the previous day it was good to be working the valley in more sublime weather, at least now we'd have a chance of seeing some birds in the trees. A Grey Wagtail looked rather incongruous perched in a roadside tree and a young Kestrel, a bird that we'd become used to seeing through the following week, stood sentinel on a tree stump, totally unfazed by anybody that walked past.

Grey Wagtail
By the engine shed a few birders were stood looking into the sycamore trees and, when asked upon what their attention was focussed on, informed us that both a Yellow-browed Warbler (the bird that I most have to catch up with in Cornwall in October) and a Willow Warbler were present. At first I could only hear and see Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches but after a few minutes the unmistakeable "tsweeeeet" call of the Yellow-browed was heard. The bird itself though was tricky to pin down but eventually we had views of the little sprite flitting amongst the branches. Last year it had taken us all week to "get" a Yellow-browed so seeing one so soon into the week was a blessing and I, for one, could relax a bit. I'd be sure to get better views and photos later in the week. The Willow warbler put in an appearance and showed much better than its smaller cousin, staying out on view in the sunshine for a fair while.

Willow Warbler
We headed down further into the valley and were alerted by the calls of another (or the same) pair of Choughs. These birds appeared to be occupied with harassing one of the local Buzzards although in truth they may have just been sharing the same thermal since there was always a bit of distance between them.

Buzzard & Chough
Our most favoured spot in our most favoured of valleys is at the Donkey paddocks at the seaward end of the valley. The house that nestles in against the hillside there would be our dream house to own since the garden and the trees opposite are a well known hotspot for migrant birds. I could, and have done many times before, spend hours here searching through the stunted trees for warblers and crests. It is a reliable spot for Yellow-browed and we saw a fine Red-breasted Flycatcher here a few years ago. The birds tend to do a circuit of the garden and the paddock trees and the views are good since from the path you look down at the action. Initially the only birds we could hear and see were once again Chiffchaffs. Interestingly they kept low down in the branches often dropping to the ground to catch food, perhaps insects were dislodged from the trees during the stormy weather and were now stricken and easy pickings down there. The Chiffchaffs were actively feeding on the sunny side of the small sallows, I guess insects are attracted to the warmth and soon a smaller and quicker warbler joined them, a Yellow-browed! Last year it took me until the final day of the holiday to see a Yellow-browed so I was delighted to see one so quickly this time. Typically it was very nimble and would only be on view for a few seconds but with perseverance I managed a couple of record shots.

Yellow-browed Warbler
As Mrs Caley will testify I would quite happily spend hours watching and trying to photograph Yellow-browed Warblers but time was pressing and the sun began to dip behind the cliffs so for once I dragged myself away and back towards the car. I took a few shots of some of the local Jackdaws, a much ignored subject, lit by the late afternoon sunshine as they flew around the tall chimneys of the old mine workings.

It had been a good day and the calmness of the weather after the storms was welcomed. Hopefully we'd be blessed with decent conditions for the rest of our stay and maybe a new bird for our life list would appear and be twitchable! Watch this space......

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